My Work in Sport Psychology
Burt Giges, M.D.

Commentary on "Current" Issues

Burt in Session

Commentary - AASP Newsletter, 11, 3, 1996, p. 24


Clinical and Sport Psychology

In a recent discussion on the Internet (Listserv.sportpsy), some recommendations were made to a runner about how to deal with anxiety during competition. A few contributors reacted to these ideas with concern about suggestions being offered without having more background information from the person seeking assistance. Such caution is both understandable and reasonable. It derives from clinical training, and is based on the theory that symptoms (i.e., anxiety) are expressions of deeper problems. Offering techniques to deal with these symptoms, therefore, would be premature, without knowing more about the underlying problems.

An important distinction must be made, however, between therapy in a clinical context and intervention in sport performance. In the world of sport, sometimes the symptom is the problem. Whatever underlying issues there may be, they are not necessarily the focus of the work. Even the presence of some diagnostic entity does not determine the appropriate intervention. It may not be why the athlete came for help; and sometimes, relieving the symptom removes the problem. I have seen this happen with runners whose performance was impaired by anxiety, anger, self-doubt, or loss of confidence, motivation, or concentration. In such instances, when the symptoms were dealt with directly, no further exploration (of deeper issues) was required.

I believe that experienced, creative practitioners can recognize this possibility, and offer relevant, effective interventions, which may, however, deviate from traditional theory and practice. Theory-based practice is an essential part of education and training. Experienced-based practice sometimes presents a challenge to originally learned theory, and then requires courage and careful reflection. A theory about what is so is not the same as what is so. The Eastern mystic knows the “the finger pointing the way is not the way.” A more Western expression of that thought is, “The map is not the territory.”

To hold one’s practice too strictly to a theoretical position may narrow the ability to consider other approaches. Sometimes a careful follow-up of an intervention may reveal unexpected lasting benefit from what seemed initially to be “first aid.” In other situations, where no such benefit is obtained, or when recurrences continue to interfere with performance, underlying difficulties might then be addressed. 


Commentary - AASP Newsletter, 10, 1, 1995, p. 24

Clinicians and Educators 

Recently there has been increasing interest and discussion, both in the literature and at conferences, of the appropriate education, training, and experience necessary for sport psychology practice, as well as the legal and ethical issues involved.

In the early years after training, the differences between the clinical and educational consultant in sport psychology seem many, the similarities few. What we are, clinician or educator, seems synonymous with what we know and what we do. Our professional discipline seems to define us. We have been educated, trained, and licensed. We have credentials. We are educators, counselors, therapists. There are books that describe our unique identities and support and reinforce our separateness. And so we stand tall. We have status, rights, and privileges. And with those rights and privileges, a territory begins to be defined. Others, without similar status and credentials, may not enter this territory.

And so it was 35 years ago, when I began my residency in psychiatry. I was one of the physicians. All others were called “ancillary personnel,” implying a subsidiary position. In the hospital setting, psychologists did testing not treatment. Nurses, social workers and other therapists each had their function and their place, lower to be sure than the physicians. Whatever anxiety there was about our territory being invaded by others was often expressed as part of our concern for patients or desire to maintain professional standards. As if these were the exclusive properties of physicians. They weren’t then, and they aren’t now. Any professional discipline can have clients as their concern and professional standards as their guidelines. And of course, any can also zealously guard the boundaries or their territory.

It’s still going on. In our own organization, vigilance is still maintained over who has the right to do what psychotherapists do. Of course, we must protect our citizens from untrained or unscrupulous practitioners. That’s true in every area of professional practice. It is interesting to note, however, that while therapists and counselors may be educators, educators may not be therapists or counselors, unless they have obtained the proper credentials. But, is helping someone learn new behavior or change their thinking, considered education, counseling, or therapy? I believe it is part of each and all three. Therefore, it can be done by an educator, counselor, or therapist who has acquired the necessary knowledge, skill, and experience to do so.

Furthermore, when one discipline tells another what it may not do, an implicit hierarchy develops which can breed resentment and create antagonism and distance. This can be intensified when referral is viewed as a one-way street, from those perceived as less skilled to those seen as more skilled. Referral can, however, be in both directions, if there is mutual respect for each other’s special knowledge and ability.

Fortunately, all is not lost. What we know and what we do need not be limited to what we call ourselves. What we do derives from multi-dimensional considerations. It is at least a blend of what we have learned – from teachers, colleagues, clients, books, journals, etc. – and what we created from our own experience. What we do also depends on our own thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. Hopefully it also derives from the people we are trying to help, the situations we deal with, the focus of the work, and the techniques we use.

As time passes, if we remain open to influence by our current experience, the sharp differences between us may decrease, the commonalities increase. Knowledge can be acquired that was not part of our original training. Others can do this too. As we learn more, we can do more; and hopefully we can avoid the pitfall of holding what we learned originally as superior to what others learned later. If we do this, then the professional discipline which defined us will not restrict us.

So continue to learn. And keep on learning. Soak up new information. Listen to differentness as an expansion of your knowledge rather than a threat to your beliefs. Be mindful of how your own feelings and wants influence your beliefs and behavior. And follow your own path to excellence.



Lectures  (There may be a small delay as these linked PDF documents load.)


AASP Presidential Address 2007

AASP Keynote Address, "How People Change", 1995

Beyond Psychopathology: An Alternative to the Medical Model in Sport

Brief Contact Interventions in Sport Psychology: Theory and Practice

Coaches Have Their Own Needs

Psychological Assessment without Psychological Tests

Psychological Issues in Sport Performance

Sport Psychology Consultation in a Central Park Tent

Workshops   (There may be a small delay as these linked PDF documents load.)

Reprinted from AASP Newsletter, 21, 3, 2006, p. 19.

A Counseling Approach to Performance Enhancement

An Eclectic Approach to Sport Psychology Consultation

Artistic and Creative Aspects of Sport Psychology Consulting

Consultant’s Self-Awareness in Sport Psychology Consultation

Consultation with an Athlete: Options in the Moment

How Can I Win If I Don’t Come in First?

Non-Verbal Approaches to Increase Team Self-Awareness

Psychological Barriers to Excellence in Sport Performance

Self-Awareness for Sport Psychology Practitioners

Self-Reflection and Change: At Home, At Work, and in Transition

Self-Reflection in Presenting a Workshop and Conducting an Interview

The Meaning of Trust in Mentoring, Sport, and Life

The Process of Change

Transitions: Endings and Beginnings in Sport and Life

Working with Athletes’ Emotions