Case Study

Case Study

A Cure for the Yips: Brainspotting and Performance Blocks

By David Grand

November/December 2015

For the last 20 years, I’ve worked with many athletes and artists around performance blocks and anxiety, as well as performance enhancement. This kind of work is often viewed as something quite different from psychotherapeutic work, but I see performance as playing a part in most issues, including phobias, relational and parenting problems, and stresses around the demands of work and school. As therapists, we too often fail to recognize that significant changes in a person’s inner state don’t always lead to desired changes in performance.

Early on in my work with performance blocks, I was struck by how often the root of the problem could be traced to traumatic experiences, especially with athletes. Often these traumas involved sports injuries, both recent and stretching back to childhood. I discovered that preverbal and developmental traumas were often a crucial factor, even though literature on the psychology of performance has paid scant attention to trauma and dissociation as etiological factors.

One of the most common athletic performance blocks I treat is something called the yips, the loss by an accomplished athlete of an ability to perform a seemingly simple task that was once almost automatic, like an expert golfer suddenly being unable to drop a three-foot putt. It’s primarily a sports concept, but it can be found in all walks of life, such as a surgeon whose hands inexplicably start to shake in the operating room, or a courtroom attorney who…

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