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Applications of Humanism in Sports Psychology and Applied Practices

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2756 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Using one philosophical approach to applied sport psychology critically review its impact on applied practice. Use both theory and research to support your answer.

Sports psychology has four main Philosophical Approaches: Psychodynamic, Cognitive, Behavioural and Humanistic. An applied Sports Psychologist should adopt an approach to underpin their practice as a practitioner. Poczwardowski, Sherman, and Ravizza (2004) suggested that the professional philosophy, which a practitioner holds, significantly shapes their approach in consultations. Building rapport with clients, assessment and interventions are all underpinned by the professional philosophy of the practitioner. They suggested there are five interrelated aspects of professional philosophy: the theoretical paradigms in psychology, a model of practice, consultant role, intervention goals, and intervention techniques and methods. Practitioners need to pick a philosophical approach that aligns with their core personal values and beliefs; Corlett (1996) states that it is important for a sports psychologist to clarify their professional philosophy as it defines their whole practices with their clients.

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Corlett (1996) recommended that practitioners adopt either one of two approaches – either the Sophist and Socratic approaches. Sophist approaches focus on skill-development and instruction-based interaction with clients. This approach aligns with the cognitive and behaviourist approach that is more practitioner-led. The Socratic approach involves a broader knowledge base into the wider life of an athlete and how they understand themselves as an individual. This approach aligns with a Humanistic approach and is driven by the client. I am going to critically review the use of the Humanistic approach in sports psychology practise.

Humanistic psychology began after many psychologists, including Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, thought that the deterministic thinking of Behaviourism and Psychodynamic approaches failed to fully understand humankind. The Humanistic approach encourages free will, and suggests everyone is unique in the world, so each case will be different. When people are given free will, they decide the direction of the session and this helps develop creativity and increased motivation to achieve their potential (Shaw,2005). Athletes will be more motivated to adopt techniques to help performance if they have chosen them themselves. Humanistic psychology sees people as self-actualized, and motivated towards goals and holding themselves accountable for their own development (Nesti, 2004; Orlick, 1990).Self-actualization has been defined by Couture et al (2007) as “the psychological process aimed at maximizing the use of a person’s abilities and resources. This process may vary from one person to another.” (p.11). Within a sports psychologist-client session, the practitioner is non-directive and the approach is very much client-led. It involves asking questions about the individual and involves a career-long personal development. Lombardo’s humanistic model of coaching (1987) suggested that the athlete is the driver of their goals, not the coaches.

One of the main theories within Humanism is ‘hierarchy of needs’, which were devised by Maslow in 1943 when he suggested that people are motivated to fulfil certain needs. This is done through personal fulfilment and personal growth. A person who is completely fulfilled is self-actualized. For Maslow motivation is best understood through five needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualisation (Bagozzi, Bergami, & Leone, 2003). Each person is unique in their motivations for self-actualization so will go in different directions (Kenrick et al 2010). In elite sport someone maybe self-actualised if they are a Commonwealth champion, while others may not be fulfilled until they are an Olympic champion, as their motivations are different. People who aspire for self-actualization strive to reach their full potential in every way they can.

Maslow’s work on ‘Peak Experience’ plays an important role in self-actualization. A peak experience is a highly valued experience, which is characterised by feelings of euphoria that is significant for the individual and stays with them (Leach,1962). This experience is not solely for self-actualized people. A study by Privette (2001) on the characteristics of peak experience found three key characteristics:

-    Significance: peak experience increases awareness that can serve as a pivotal point for individuals.

-    Fulfilment: peak experience generates positive emotions that are intrinsically rewarding.

-    Spiritual: during peak experience people feel at one with the world.

These peak flow experiences allow people to acquire new perspectives that can contribute to personal development (Breed and Fagan, 1972; Wilson and Spencer 1990; Privette, 1983). Flow is an important part of peak experiences, Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi’s (2002) suggested that flow is a state of consciousness where we are totally absorbed in what we are doing, and thoughts and emotions are excluded.

Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi (2002) stated nine dimensions of flow in sport: clear goals, concentration, loss of feeling of self-consciousness, distorted sense of time, feedback, the balance between ability and challenge, control, activity intrinsically rewarding, and being absorbed in the activity. Wuthnow (1978) found that people who have experienced flow, live a well-balanced life and think about the purposefulness of their life. Within sport, this perspective will allow athletes to see the bigger picture rather than short-term performance goals, or controlling environments solely from a performance stance.

The Humanistic approach suggests that therapy should be more person-centred and therapeutic. Rogers (1951) suggested that developing a therapeutic environment best supports a client’s growth. Rogers (1985) suggested three conditions to develop deeper communication with athletes:

-    Congruence: being genuine with the client, being aware of the practitioner’s own thoughts that may be displayed to the client while listening to what the client is saying (Wyatt, 2001).

-    Respect: providing an environment which is not intimidating, where the client can open up and express their thoughts and feelings (Bozarth,2001).

-    Empathy: the ability to feel what the client feels, while keeping an emotional awareness of things (Parry,1996).

These personal qualities of a Humanistic practitioner play an important role in an effective therapeutic relationship, which is important for athletes in a very pressured, performance environment (Corey,2009). Within coaching, the Humanistic approach is often used. Lombardo (1999) found that Humanistic coaching keeps athletes enthusiasm about their sport, and reduces burn-out at a young age.

The Humanistic approach conversely still has a lot of critiques. It has been criticised for encouraging self-centeredness and narcissism (Rowen, 2001), due to not having an empirical scientific base and the large emphasis on self-actualisation. The approach assumes that people are good and are motivated to be good, which may be not the case (Pastonrionio and Doyle-Portillio,2011).

Within a sporting context we assume that people are motivated to succeed, however some athletes – such as Andre Agassi – hate the sport at which they excel. Agassi wrote in his autobiography “I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have”(Agassi and Moehringer,2009, p.232). This raises questions of how a Humanistic sports practitioner could help someone who does not want to fulfill their full potential in their sport. Other approaches such as the cognitive, which help people overcome performance related cognitions, may work better in this situation.

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Many have criticised the approach for not being generally applicable – the experience of one individual and the strategies to treat them are unlikely to be the same for someone else (Jarvis,2006). However, many studies have found that the unique, individualised and caring nature of Humanism has been regarded highly in the sporting world. Gilbourne and Richardson (2006) who studied an English football team suggested that “a caring dimension to practice is anchored at the extreme by a psychologist’s ability to embrace the self-awareness and empathic qualities that engender compassion”(p.333). Similarly, Brady and Maynard (2010) found that in an atmosphere where sport is winning at all cost, they found that is essential for athletes to have an established sense of personal well-being and sports psychologists act to support them in this manner in order to enhance performance. Many studies find that Humanistic approach sees people as a whole, which allows the trust to be built up and supports athletes to open-up. Dorfman (1990) found that in a professional sports environment, if a sports psychologist has an athlete’s confidence and trust, they will uncover the deep-rooted issues interfering with performance. Bond (2001) suggested that mental skills alone will not sufficiently address performance and personal concerns of the athlete, he stated that in his “experience in the field clearly points to a need for holistic psychological development programs for elite athletes” (p. 218). Many studies have supported Humanistic approaches and that athletes appreciate the techniques of more Holistic personal counselling, with many techniques such as Gestalt therapy being used to help develop self-awareness (Simon, 2009). A Humanistic approach is still a relatively new approach in comparison to the other approaches, however seeing an athlete as a whole has shown to be very effective in a high-pressure sports world, Ravizza (2002) discussed how athletic identity is strong in athletes that it embodies many aspect of an athlete’s life, so treating them as a whole person is paramount.


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