By Rich Simon Like a lot of us in this field, I’ve had boatloads of therapy over the years, but never a coach. At least not until recently, when Andrew—my 26-year-old basketball coach—came into my life to school me in the fine art of the crossover dribble and how to slide my feet on defense. At no extra charge, he’s also begun providing me with some of the best therapy I’ve ever received.
We all know what good shrinks are supposed to do. They gently probe their clients’ psyches with empathic regard for their need to feel safe, understood, and appreciated. But Andrew’s focus is on instruction and challenge, and he’s certainly willing to raise his voice if he thinks it will get his point across. And yet, working with him has given me a greater sense of my own possibilities (on the court and off) than just about any relationship I’ve ever had.
A small example: One day a few months ago—at Andrew’s suggestion—I challenged a guy 30 years younger than me to some one-on-one. At first, to my delight, I was unstoppable, hitting everything I threw up, showing off like a proud 12-year-old in front of my coach. But then, my opponent began to wise up to my fancy new moves and my aging body began to run out of steam. With a six-inch height advantage, he started grinding me down, and I soon reverted to my old offensive repertoire of jerky head fakes and off-balance jumpers. In the end, he just crushed me.
Once again, I was a 12-year-old, but a demoralized, humiliated 12-year-old—I’d let the team, the school, the whole district down. As I dragged my 63-year-old body off the court, I snuck a look at Andrew, half expecting a sour face or an exasperated shake of the head. Instead, he just told me, “Go get a drink of water, and then we’ll talk about it.”
It was the perfect response. I got a moment to separate myself from my defeat and when I came back, he sat me down and said, “You know, I didn’t like your body language out there.” But there was none of the disgust I expected to find in his voice. “Do you think you’re Michael Jordan? So why did you hang your head every time you missed a shot? And what was the race out there?” He described how the more I fell behind, the more I pressed and sped up my pace. In a few moments, I had a full picture of how—body and mind—I had prepared the way for my own defeat. There it was: An indelible image of not only how I had handled myself on the court, but in plenty of other similar situations in my life.
Our November/December issue of the Psychotherapy Networker is about what coaches like Andrew have to teach psychotherapists, and the role that challenge and incorruptible truth-telling can play in the process of change. A good coach is someone who—however hard he may push you—above all respects your ability to push yourself to the next level, and sees you as stronger, smarter, braver, and more capable than you think you are. But is that approach irreconcilable with in-depth understanding of traditional therapy? And what do coaches have to teach mental health professionals about the importance of intentionality and goal-oriented purpose?
If these questions intrigue you, take a look at what Lynn Grodzki and Terry Real have to say about how they’ve integrated coaching into their therapeutic work. And while you’re at it, check out the other clinically useful, provocative, and irresistibly readable material in our November/December issue, and earn 2 CE credits by taking a CE quiz once you’ve done so. Want to have our articles delivered to your door? See about getting a subscription to the Psychotherapy Networker.