Next up in the GladiatHers® Spotlight is Dr. Kensa K Gunter, 2019 AASP Executive Board President Elect. You’ve seen the business side, the medical side, and even the athletics side of sports, but Dr. Gunter is here to share some information about the psychological side of sports. The new Association for Applied Sport Psycology President shares what it’s like to be the first African American to hold the position and much more…
Thanks for joining us for GladiatHers® Spotlight! Can you tell our readers about your background and what it is that you do?
I am a licensed psychologist and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). I provide clinical and sport/performance psychology services to adolescent and adult populations and I am a consultant for organizations and athletic personnel.
I received my BS in psychology from the University of Georgia and I have master’s degrees in both forensic & clinical psychology. I received my doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis in sport-exercise psychology from Argosy University/Phoenix in 2006. I started my career working in a university counseling center where one of my responsibilities was to be the liaison to the athletic department. I held this position for about 5 years before making the transition to the world of private practice. Currently in my practice, I primarily work with athletes providing individual counseling, mental skills training/sport psychology services, and consultation services. In my work as a consultant, I have worked with Georgia Tech’s athletic department & with the Atlanta Falcons. I also work with high school athletes, other professional sport leagues, and I’m listed on the Sport Psychology Registry for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
So you get to work with athletes and non-athletes. What is the difference in your opinion?
Whether you’re working with athletes or non-athletes, you’re essentially working with people and trying to help them regain or enhance their overall level of functioning. The world of sport is a subculture within the larger society and some of the unique aspects of this subculture, translate to unique experiences for athletes. Therefore, when working with athletes, a large part of the difference is really related to understanding and working with the person within the specific sport context. Intense performance demands, constant evaluation, managing athletic identity, trying to excel in an environment where uncertainty is the norm and where value is more often placed on what you do versus who you are, are some of the unique elements that may show up in work with athletes versus non-athletes. Understanding the culture helps with understanding the athletes and their experiences, which will hopefully make the work more impactful.
In what better ways can we, as a community (athletes, coaches and even fans), help support the mental health of athletes?
Understand that athletes are people first. Despite the fact that they can do incredible & extraordinary things within their sport, they are human. They experience success and struggle and like all of us, they need support, respect, understanding, and space to be who they are. Additionally, I think as people become more educated about mental health & wellness, they are in a better position to offer empathy and support to others. So, continued efforts around destigmatizing mental health and mental health treatment as well as educating the community and increasing access to services are steps that we can take to offer support and create mentally healthier environments for all of us, including athletes.
Well congratulations are in order! You were recently named the AASP President Elect! What does this mean to you and what your new responsibilities will be?
I’m very passionate about the work I do and about field of Sport Psychology so I am honored and humbled to have recently been elected as President-Elect for the Association. It’s one thing to feel, within yourself, that you have something to contribute and that you can make an impact; it’s another to learn that your peers feel similarly (at least to some degree) by voting you into a position that increases the opportunity for you to do exactly that. I’m grateful for their vote of confidence & it’s not something I take lightly. In terms of the role, there are some specific duties associated with the position; however, as I see it, my primary tasks will be to observe, learn more about the inner workings of the organization, and essentially prepare to assume the role of President next year.
Can you share what that means to you personally to be the first African American Person to hold this position?
It still feels a bit surreal. I recognize that being the “first” holds a lot of significance but when asked what that means to me personally, the first word that comes to mind is: responsibility. A responsibility to the African-American practitioners, researchers, professors in the sport psychology field who did the work (are still doing the work) and paved the way for me to be in this space, despite not always feeling like there was a space in the field for them. A responsibility to peers, colleagues & students to represent sport psychology within the larger world of sport, to serve as a representative of the cultural diversity that exists within the field and work to ensure that our organization embodies the inclusivity we talk about. A responsibility to our clients and the people to whom we provide services to respect their diverse identities and experiences and to provide culturally competent services. Lastly, it’s a responsibility to my parents (who are my everything) and family – to be who they raised me to me and to make them proud.
GladiatHers® wishes Dr. Gunter best of luck within her new position. Thank you Dr. Gunter for your support of athletes as well as women within the sports world.