WashU student-athletes receive a mental health resident for the school year

| Managing Sports Editor

An image of WashU new sports performance center that was opened last semester. (Elle Su | Student Life.)

On June 20, 2023, Washington University announced that the athletic department will receive a mental health resident dedicated to supporting all university varsity athletes for the 2023-2024 academic year. This move is part of an ongoing doctoral training program aimed at expanding mental health programs for WashU students. 

“Athletes have a whole array of different challenges than their peers, ranging from the pressures of the season to a potentially career-ending injury,” Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs for Student Support and Wellness, Dr. Kirk Dougher, was quoted saying in The Source. “We want to make sure that we’re meeting their needs in a way that is functional.”

The doctoral clinical placement program will train a cohort of four residents who will be accredited through the American Psychological Association and Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers. According to The Source, Dougher compared the program to a medical residency and said the residents will complete rotations in areas such as anxiety and depression, eating disorders, group interventions, and sports psychology. 

In the past years, student-athletes have been exploring mental health with coaches and staff within the athletic community. Most specifically, the Washington University Black Winning Letter-Coalition (WU BLAC) has been campaigning for the expansion of mental health resources for student-athletes and more specifically, Black student-athletes on campus. 

I think mental health is a national crisis, and specifically in college sports, it’s something that we’re looking at very closely,” Athletic Director Anthony Azama said in an interview with StudLife in 2020. 

Back then Azama explained that the department was looking to find mental health partnerships both on and off-campus. 

“At the end of the day, we all need tools to be able to deal with mental [health] challenges, especially now with the last 10 months that we’ve endured during this pandemic,” he said.

In the past few years, psychologists have become a normal part of many student-athletes’ lives all over the country. It’s a practice that has touched DI athletics campuses all over the country, but it is not common at DIII institutions. 

WashU is now one of a few DIII programs around the country with psychologist residents for its student-athletes, but it’s not the only one in its conference.

Similar to WashU, Emory University is a member of the University Athletic Association conference and in May of 2022, hired a Coordinator of Mental Health Services in Athletics and Recreation. But unlike WashU, the position is permanent, not a resident.

Specific to Emory, the position of Coordinator of Mental Health Services works exclusively with student-athletes and oversees all the mental health services, programming, and consultation within the athletic department.

The University’s decision to award the athletic department with a psychologist resident comes in the wake of a recent NCAA Student-Athlete Well-Being Study that came out in 2022. The study examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the physical and mental well-being of student-athletes during the 2020 fall and spring semesters alongside fall 2021. According to the NCCA, the three surveys generated over 70,000 student-athlete responses. 

More specifically, this decision comes in the wake of the recent NCAA Board of Governors’ decision to approve strategic priorities for health, safety, and performance earlier this year in San Antonio, Texas. Central to those priorities was the issue of mental health and physical health. 

“It is a constant challenge to find staff. We want to train psychologists in our system and show them all that WashU has to offer in hopes that some of them will stick around,” Dougher said to The Source.

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