Student-Athletes and Counseling: Factors Influencing the Decision to Seek Counseling Services

By Watson, Joshua C. | College Student Journal, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Student-Athletes and Counseling: Factors Influencing the Decision to Seek Counseling Services


Watson, Joshua C., College Student Journal


Athletic participation adds additional challenges above and beyond the normal developmental challenges faced by college students. Despite these added demands, student-athletes traditionally do not utilize counseling and support services. Previous researchers have hypothesized reasons why student-athletes might be resistant to treatment. This study examines the results of a survey of 267 undergraduates comprised of student-athletes and non-athletes in which their attitudes toward seeking counseling services were addressed. Results partially support previous findings, suggesting that the perceptions of counseling services held by student-athletes might be changing. Time management continues to be a factor in not seeking counseling help for many student-athletes while perceptions of others and social stigma appear to be less important factors for student-athletes than they may have been in the past. Possible explanations for the findings and implications for counseling and support personnel on college and university campuses are provided.

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Researchers investigating the developmental needs of student-athletes have suggested that approximately 10 percent of American college student-athletes are dealing with issues significant enough to warrant the need for psychological services as a result of their role as student and athlete (Ferrante, Etzel, & Lantz, 1996; Hinkle, 1994; Parham, 1993). Despite the apparent need, counseling and psychological services remain underutilized. Explanations forwarded to explain these resistances have focused on both internal and external factors. The purpose of this study was to further the understanding of college student-athletes' consistent under-representation as a client group in college and university counseling centers. A comparison of athletes and non-athletes was conducted to determine if differences in attitudes toward help-seeking behavior are present.

College student-athletes have long been viewed as one of the most recognized, yet unofficial, special populations on college campuses nationwide (Valentine & Taub, 1999). For these student-athletes, their participation in collegiate athletics can at the same time be a most rewarding and most stressful endeavor. In addition to facing the collegiate experience with the same academic, emotional, personal goals, and concern as other college students (Ferrante, et al., 1996), student-athletes also must manage the rigors of athletic participation which include the stress of performance and issues of time management. Many student-athletes regularly devote in excess of 20 hours per week to sport practice and participation, leaving little time for academic work. Successfully balancing these demands may prove to be too much to handle for some student-athletes, making them more susceptible to mental and physical distress (Etzel, 1989). As the number of college student-athletes increases, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) reports that over 377, 000 student-athletes participated in intercollegiate sports in 2003, it becomes imperative that the barriers to seeking counseling and support services for college student-athletes are identified and successfully overcome.

Misconceptions and stereotypical viewpoints have to date hindered the development of effective therapeutic interventions and service delivery models. The general view of college student-athletes is that they are over privileged, pampered, lazy, out-of-control, and primarily motivated to attend school for the sole purpose of participating in intercollegiate athletics (Ferrante, et al., 1996). To the general public student athletes, particularly those in revenue-generating sports (football and men's basketball), are merely performers whose athletic accomplishments are subject to praise and criticism (Valentine & Taub, 1999). They are seen as socially incompetent and lacking in intellectual ability (Harris, Altekruse, & Engels, 2003). …

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