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NFL Mental Health Therapist On Depression In Football

Dec 26, 2018
Originally published on December 27, 2018 6:08 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Tish Guerin is a mental health therapist for the Carolina Panthers. In the NFL, she's actually the first in-house therapist, meaning she's in the building just like all of the Panthers' employees. Recently, former Carolina Panther and star wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. went public about his personal battle with depression. And when I spoke with Tish Guerin, I asked her about depression and football.

TISH GUERIN: Football, in general - just because of the schedules, the demands, the constant changes in terms of you never know if you're going to be traded or if you're just entering the league or if you're getting ready to work through, you know, retirement. There are just a lot of variables that go into the sport in general. And long term, that can definitely take a toll. In Steve Smith's case, I was just super excited that he shared his journey and just everything that he was going through to let other players know that, you know, it's OK to not be OK, right?

GREENE: Steve Smith Sr. talked about meeting his counselor when he used to do sessions at home because he was afraid that teammates seeing him walk into a therapy session could be embarrassing. I mean, how much is stigma a problem here, especially in such a tough-guy kind of sport?

GUERIN: When you're looking at a hypermasculine environment such as football, it's still, you know, getting over, I don't have to be tough all the time. Like, it's OK to be vulnerable. It's OK to cry. It's OK to have a therapist and be open to say that, you know what? I'm talking to someone. I'm working through some things just so that I can make sure that I'm in a good place mentally. I think it's fine to recognize that, you know, you have a problem and go and seek help. But I think, you know, a lot of times, when people find out that they have a name to it, that's when they start to feel more shameful and when they may be more likely to start to regress or not even seek help.

GREENE: So OK. You're in the job since September. How have players been reacting to you so far?

GUERIN: So far, really good. Sometimes, it just takes a while for people to get used to your approach. So when you put that in a hypermasculine environment like football, it could take a little bit longer.

GREENE: Why's that?

GUERIN: I think it's just the culture. My role is incredibly new, not just to the Panther organization but to the NFL in general. So this is something that they have to get used to. But I think me being personable, you know, me making sure that I'm accessible to them - and also, you know, when you're looking and thinking about the rapport-building phase, it's really just having conversation. It could be about the weather. It could be about movies, restaurants, whatever just so they could understand that, hey, I'm a person. I'm not here - just if you say hello to me, it doesn't mean that I'm diagnosing you, right?

GREENE: Are you somehow obligated? Like, if you know that a player's going through something that could affect his performance on the field, do you need to tell management or tell coaches?

GUERIN: So as a therapist and just ethically, I don't share anything that a player talks to me about. Now, if it's a situation where I have to basically break HIPAA laws where, you know, they're a danger to themselves or others, then yes. But in terms of if they, for instance, you know, may not be playing well, then no, that's something that I would work with that player on. But I wouldn't have that conversation with the coaches or the management staff. So I've made that pretty clear.

And, you know, I just have to give credit to the Panthers' coaching staff and management, that they've been very respectful of that. And no one has asked me to disclose anything. And I just think that's really a true testament to the support that they have for my position as well as the advocacy of the players.

GREENE: Tish Guerin is director of player wellness for the Carolina Panthers and the team's first in-house mental health therapist. Thanks so much.

GUERIN: Thank you so much.

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