I just came off a phone call where having told someone I didn’t think I would be the best sport psychologist for their client I was blasted with a torrent of abuse. It left me really shaken and questioning everything.

One random aggressive man can ruin your whole day.

I don’t write this for sympathy – when I hear of some of the enquiries that clinical psychologists get I know it could be worse – but it did make me reflect that there seem to be more risks as a female sport psychologist.

The plus side with being a female psych is that I have heard some men say they find it easier to be vulnerable with a female – they feel they won’t be judged. And not being judged is the absolute most important thing when you go into any type of therapeutic relationship.  

But it can also put us at risk.

When I started out I couldn’t afford clinic rooms so I would travel to clients houses. Often they were teens and it might be suggested by parents you worked together in their bedroom for privacy. I would always ask to be in a family area but you have to feel confident enough to do that.

Or you go to someone’s house to meet for the first time and it is a long way from anywhere you know and on the way there you realise the risk you have put yourself in. You agonise on whether it is ok to text your husband the address in case you go missing – but knowing even sharing an address is breaking confidentiality – and confidentiality is the second most important thing in a therapeutic relationship.

Or you work with someone that edges the boundaries of decency. If you were to say work with a comedian or an actor who works pushing edgier, sexual content – how do you push back? How do you keep yourself safe? If you wouldn’t choose to listen or watch that in your leisure time, should you in your work time?

I am lucky in that I am now established enough that I can turn down work if I wouldn’t feel safe doing it. I will only work online through Zoom or in a local clinic. But if you are starting out it can feel really difficult. So a few rules I would give myself looking back 6 years…

  • Online use Zoom to work though – Skype will show people in your contacts when you are online.
  • Find a clinic that lets you hire rooms by the hour so you can see clients there but without long term lease costs. Look up companies like www.roomsfortherapists.co.uk
  • Have a pre-planned line to use when you don’t think you will be the right psych for someone.
  • Ask your supervisor what safety measures they put in place.
  • Write down your boundaries and put them in your T&Cs so potential clients are aware. Include in those boundaries:
    • What age athletes you can comfortably work with – it can be hard on a call with a parent to say no to seeing their child even though you know you are not great at working with that age.
    • Where you will see people
    • What hours you will work – again it can be easy to offer to see someone when you know they are struggling but is that always healthy for you.
    • How you will engage with people outside of sessions – this is really important as people will naturally use their favourite route and that could be text, Facebook messenger, email, phone, twitter DMs and WhatsApp and it is really hard to keep track and not accidentally ignore someone.

I would love to hear from any other sport psychs; male or female, what you have put in place to keep yourself safe while also ensuring your clients feel safe and welcome.