Joan S. Ingalls.
Patrick is an elite lightweight single sculler and he's skeptical
that I can help him. But
after an introduction to sport counseling in a small group, he schedules an individual session
with me. When he arrives, he says - in response to my greeting "How are
you?" - that what is really concerning him is his
shoulder. It hurts. He thinks it is a rotator cuff injury. "Well,
what are you doing about it?" I ask. "Oh, a little Advil,
aspirin, Aleve. Actually, I've been tapering for this race so I've been able to
rest it pretty much," he ventures, clearly not thinking that I can help him
with his shoulder injury. As we sit down, I begin to
think about Patrick and what we might do together. There are several sport
counseling approaches to help an athlete with an injury that occurs just before a competition. Simply
ignoring the pain is
one. But I don't think it is a good idea because the injury could worsen. There is not enough time for so-called
"visualization for healing"
(the athlete makes a mental image of the healing process), although Patrick could begin
doing that without any adverse result. I ask Patrick to tell me more about
his history with injuries. He says that he has a certain ability to have an injury in one
part of his body for a certain period of time, but before it gets too serious,
shift it to another part. People have told him, in fact, that he is a "head
" case. Once a physical therapist told him, upon examining his
sore knee, that he could find nothing wrong with it. The pain was "in his head."
I don't work well with the it's "all in your head"
explanation, so I asked Patrick if he wanted to get in touch with his pain
and visualize it - see what we would learn from that. He nodded "yes" and
closed his eyes. "How are you seeing yourself now?" "I'm looking at myself over my right shoulder as if
through a round narrow
opening," he replies. "That's a typical trance phenomenon - the view through
the narrow round opening," I tell him and wonder at how rapidly he has
achieve this degree of concentration. "Allow the sensation of pain to
develop and notice if the pain has a color." "It's a red
oval shape bent to the shape of my shoulder." he reports, his eyes closed
as he follows my instructions to give the color a shape.
red oval shape separate from your shoulder, and drift out into space and tell
me what happens when you do that." Usually, this will reduce the pain, but
I am curious what will happen for him. "Nothing."
It is my view that it is impossible for "nothing" to happened, it's just that
I haven't been specific enough in guiding Patrick's attention to what did
happen that he called "nothing." If, for example, he really moved the image
into the distance, it got smaller, and the place
that it covered or occupied was exposed. I decide to not pursue it, but I ask
Patrick to "breathe into the muscles around the soreness, bathe the soreness with a healing
white light, and consciously relax." Next, I suggest that the part of his
personality that is responsible for the injury find new ways to protect his
from whatever it may be protecting him from so that he doesn't have to be
injured to protect his ego.
He knows what I mean, because we have discussed this in previous sessions.
I assume that his personality is made of many parts: he has a part that likes to row, another
to study, and another likes to go to the movies. In fact, he is all too
aware of the part that has him give up in the middle of a race. I also suggest to Patrick that he find a way for all the parts of himself
to cooperate so that he can achieve his goals in rowing. Then, I suggest that
he go - in his imagination - into the future, and sit at the start of the race and hear the start signal. "Allow the race to unfold in your mind's eye. Don't direct it; don't
make it happen the way you think you want it to, let it happen," I
want him to see how his "unconscious" mind will row the race now
that we have spoken to his unconscious mind about finding new behaviors to
protect his ego.
The following week, at our
meeting I ask Patrick, "How did you do?" "Really well," he replies. "I came in second; two seconds
behind the winner. I can't believe that I let somebody beat me, but I got a
five second penalty for missing a buoy. I don't think the short cut gave me an advantage;
I'll be more careful next time. Oh, and by the way, my shoulder wasn't a factor."
Then, he said something that got my attention, "You
know when you asked me to visualize my race, I saw myself sprint at the end.
Well, that happened in the race. I sprinted just like I
visualized it. I never understood how visualization worked. I have read
books and tried it on my own, but it has never worked." I offer
one possible description of how the visualization worked, "Your sprint
Pavlov's dog salivating to a bell. (Through a series of trials, a bell is rung and
food offered to a dog. After a certain number of trials, the dog salivates
when the bell rings even though no food is presented. The bell is "
associated" with food.) In your case, something happened during the
visualization in my office - I don't know, you may have squeezed your fist
the way you squeeze the oar when you row. The feelings of the energy and
confidence that you had when you saw yourself sprint in the visualization
became associated with the squeeze. When you were racing you squeezed the
oar that same way. Those feelings of energy and confidence came back. You, in a single trial, "learned"
to associate specific feelings with a squeeze of the oar. Scientists know
that we have the capacity for this kind of single-trial learning
because it is the way we learn phobias. It's an "unconscious" learning that
you were particularly receptive to because you were concentrating on what I
was saying about the parts of your personality protecting you and getting
together to do something other than have you die in the middle of a race.
That could all just be a lot of nonsense, but it is intriguing and got your
conscious mind out of the way..
A Coach's Psychology of Rowing
A case of Dying in the Middle of a Race