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Basketball’s Top Shrink on How Finding Purpose Lifts Performance

William Parham says self-reflection can help workers across industries deal with emotional baggage.

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Long taboo, mental health is becoming a water cooler conversation at workplaces everywhere—professional sports included. Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, DeMar DeRozan, and Michael Phelps are among the star athletes bringing international attention to matters of the mind. And while the pandemic has inflicted a psychological toll on workers in all industries, it’s also given people a chance to reflect on what matters most, says William Parham, the National Basketball Players Association’s director of mental health since 2018.

Parham, who hangs out on courts and in locker rooms to help NBA players work through real-time stresses and deal with past traumas, has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. He teaches at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on topics including trauma counseling, multicultural counseling, and emotional and behavioral functioning. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.