Raven Townsel hired as new psychologist for UNLV athletes

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Dr. Raven Townsel in her office. Photo by Jade Thomas.

In 2018, UNLV began placing more of an emphasis on the mental health of student-athletes. Since then, there has been only one full-time psychologist who worked with all of the athletes. And this year, the staff received an upgrade. 

Two more staff members joined the sports psychology team, and one of those new staff members is Raven Townsel. She took over as one of the new psychologists after the previous one, Dr. Kacey Oiness-Thompson, stepped down. Townsel brings an undeniable passion for her work with her big personality. 

Townsel operates as one of the full-time psychologists for student-athletes. Her personal background and endeavors in this field helped shape her into who she has grown into today. 

Townsel possesses a Mental Game Coaching License (MGCP) and specializes in working with student-athletes. Her journey to get to UNLV happened to belong, but well worth it. She started her first day at UNLV at the beginning of this spring semester.

“I think we got lucky with Dr. Raven, she’s not taking this for granted and is so appreciative to be here,” Thompson said. “I think that stands out and will be evident to the student-athletes.”

Thompson also held the title of director of sports psychology before she stepped down from that position and went part-time. Before stepping down, she hired Townsel who works full-time. Townsel possesses a bubbly and energetic personality, but her upbringing was not the smoothest. She uses her past experiences to connect more with the athletes.

“Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, you experience things that the average psychologist will never experience,” Townsel said. “So because I have different experiences than the majority of the people that I work with, it gives me a little bit of an advantage.”

Townsel’s upbringing made her and her family grow closer due to all of the challenges they encountered together. Throughout it all, Townsel became the shoulder that everyone cried on. Therefore, her decision to pursue psychology only seemed fitting. 

“Psychology basically fell in my lap,” Townsel said. “When I was in high school, I was that friend that everybody wanted to talk to, the one everybody felt comfortable talking to, and I was like alright, might as well make it a career.”

Choosing this career was not a hard choice for Townsel, but when her family started to experience mental health issues, this reassured her even more. 

“It developed and grew as I got older because my family was struggling with mental health,” Townsel said. “I have a grandmother who has severe mental health issues, I have uncles and other relatives who also suffer from mental health stuff.”

Townsel said that people do not always have the resources or support that they need so she strives to provide people with those things. In addition, she said that mental health issues can tear families apart if they are not addressed correctly, so she is trying to prevent that from happening. While Townsel has the background well suited for psychology, she also has the personality for it. 

“I always look for someone who’s really good clinically and has the ability to treat mental health, and has experience,” Thompson said. “In addition, her energy, passion, personality, excitement, and eagerness showed that she would be a good match in athletics.”

During Townsel’s 12 years of schooling, she wrote her dissertation on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Townsel took an interesting route to discover her interest in CTE.

“I was sitting at home watching the movie Concussion and was so interested, like why has nobody talked about this,” Townsel said. “By this point, I already knew that I wanted to switch over to the Sports Psychology world cause up until that point I was strictly Clinical Psychology.” 

Townsel struggled with her own mental health battles, but this helps her connect and relate more with the athletes.

“The thing that I’ve struggled with the most is body image stuff because I’m a former model,” Townsel said. “It is a brutal field and I got into it when I was in high school. Models are tall and skinny and I’m short, have hips, and am black.”

Although struggling is never desired, Townsel embraces this and has found a way to work past this issue. Thompson feels that this gives Townsel more depth as it gives her more experience in this field.

Townsel came from a very athletic family, so she already knows what an athlete’s life looks like. Her dad played basketball in college, and her younger brother and sister both played basketball growing up as well. Today her brother is a basketball coach for a high school and her sister is a police officer. Also, her entire family still lives in Chicago. 

“I am so family-oriented, the fact that I even applied for this job knowing that it was a possibility that I could end up here was gut-wrenching,” Townsel said. “We make it work. Having them here all the time and me being home once a month has definitely helped. There is talk of them moving out here or at least closer.”

Townsel loves her job and says that she would never move away from her family if she didn’t love the field she worked in. She feels like this job fits her well and so does Thompson. 

“I think she understands what we value most and understands our rule which is to take care of the student-athlete who’s in our office,” Thompson said.

This story is a student submission and is in no way associated with the paper.

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