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Q&A: telehealth best practices for athletes and high-performing individuals

Portrait of Erika Barr, a telehealth provider

Key takeaways

  • High-performing athletes with busy schedules benefit from the flexibility of telehealth (and so do their providers).
  • Athletes are often visual learners who benefit from Telehealth Tools like whiteboard and screen share. 
  • Athletes and healthcare professionals have a lot in common—and practicing self-care is a must for both.

Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka, Noah Lyles… these are just a few of the decorated athletes who, despite their many successes, have spoken out about their struggles with mental health. 

Still, you don’t have to be an Olympian for an athletic career to take its toll on your mental health.  


That's why in this blog, Erika Barr, LMHC, CMPC shares how she uses telehealth to connect with athletes and busy, high-achieving professionals.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Erika Barr and I am a licensed mental health counselor and a mental performance consultant certified by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. I own and run a fully remote private practice and I specialize in supporting competitive athletes in a range of ages, from high school through college. I also work with busy, adult professionals.

As a former D1 athlete myself, I know how demanding it is to be a student athlete practicing sometimes twice a day and traveling most weekends. It's a lot.

What is unique about sports psychology? 

Having sports psychology knowledge gives me more tools to bring into the therapy space when working with an athlete. I also have personal experience competing at that high college level as a D1 athlete and I know that my clients really appreciate that because there's this kind of shared understanding. Juggling a paper due tomorrow, an exam on Friday, practices, and a competition next week. It's a lot, and I know exactly what it's like.

“I find that the mutually beneficial aspect of flexibility just creates a better experience for everyone.”

Why did you choose telehealth?

I've been using telehealth since the start of my practice. Telehealth allows me flexibility, which means I can take better care of myself. For example, if I need to travel, I have that ability and accessibility. 

I also love that I can offer a very accessible option for student athletes to get support. Finding time in between travel to go to a physical office is enough of a barrier to make some athletes shy away from therapy and say, I just don't have the bandwidth. With telehealth, all they need to do is find a quiet and private space. That can be as simple as taking a telehealth session on their laptop in the car.

I find that the mutually beneficial aspect of flexibility just creates a better experience for everyone.

How does telehealth affect your business and operations? 

One of the obvious perks of being fully remote and using telehealth is that I cut down on overhead. That takes some stress off me as a provider and allows me to really focus on giving the best clinical care possible. Maybe that means I have a little extra time to go and research something that I think could really help a client. 

Just having fewer expenses frees up more of my time—and time is so valuable. I want my time to be spent for the benefit of my clients. So from a financial side, telehealth has been great. 

Another aspect is that I'm licensed in multiple states, so I'm able to serve even more people and more athletes.

How does telehealth benefit your clients? 

The accessibility helps student athletes stay consistent with weekly visits or every other week. In this space, the more consistent you can be with coming, the better the outcomes are going to be for you.

Most of my clients have extremely demanding schedules and everyone appreciates telehealth for that reason. Trying to make an in-person appointment can add stress and a lot of my job is helping athletes manage their stress better. So the last thing I'd want to do is add another stressor to their plate that's already (likely) overflowing.

Are your clients looking for telehealth options when they connect with you?

Students and student athletes who find me are looking for telehealth specifically for all the reasons that I've mentioned. Their schedules are really tight and the really nice thing about telehealth is you don't have to be limited to providers within driving distance. 

You can see a practitioner who's two hours away because everything's remote. So it really opens up options. Athletes can find someone who's even more tailored to their specific needs, and the better fit you can have with your therapist, typically the better outcome. So I think that's a huge benefit to telehealth.

“It [a visual cue] makes things a little more sticky.”

Do you use any Telehealth Tools when you work with clients?

I have tons of different visual aids and I find they create a robust experience to be able to look at them with clients, and athletes in particular. It’s really helpful.

Screen share

Something that I really like about telehealth is the ability to screen share and share documents and visuals. I find athletes really like having visuals they can follow when I explain a concept. For example, if I'm going to explain cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), I can share my screen and show how what we think connects to how we feel and how we perform. 

A visual cue can make it easier for athletes to bring these ideas to mind during practice or games when things are moving really fast. It makes things a little more sticky.

Another way I use screen share is more specific to sports psychology. Sometimes I’ll have the athlete video record a time when they’re practicing a skill we’ve talked about, and then they can show me the video by sharing their screen. We can then go over it together. That's more for mental skills, compared to mental health conversations, but that's another way that I've been able to use this technology.

Whiteboard

I also use whiteboard often. For example, I'll put a prompt on the whiteboard and then I'll type out responses. I'll go download whatever we worked on and email it to the client after the session so they can reference it again. It's great. You wouldn't necessarily have that same luxury in person, or it would just look a bit different, so I try to utilize all the tools possible with the platform.

What is something you’d like clients to know?

I think there's still a stigma around mental health for athletes. So I'm going to keep pushing forward and trying to break that stigma. Getting help doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. It just means that you want to give some time back to yourself and maybe optimize your life—and that is a great goal for therapy.

“Healthcare professionals, in particular, spend most of their time caring for other people and often, our care is the first to go.”

How does working with athletes translate over to working with other high-performing individuals, like healthcare professionals?

The first thing that comes to mind is just the work-life balance—it is really, really challenging for student athletes and healthcare professionals. Specifically, healthcare professionals spend most of their time caring for other people and often, our care is the first to go. There have been so many times when therapy is something that is pushed off as a healthcare professional because I didn't make the time for it, or I'm too tired, or I'm burnt out

Self-care is the first thing that gets neglected when things get busy. 

Showing up for therapy in and of itself is a great opportunity to practice self-care. Then I ask: how can we better optimize the energy we have?

I go with energy management (versus time management) first for those folks, to give them the time they need to rest. Because if you're not recovering, then you're not going to be showing up how you want to in your practice. 

Both competitive athletes and healthcare professionals experience high pressure and high stakes. So a lot of my work is helping them find little pieces of calm amidst the storm around them.