Friday, June 25, 2010

"The Difference Between Me And A Trained Psychoanalyst"

A big difference.

One element of which became abundantly – and unflatteringly – apparent during a program at the recent conference Dr. M and attended, billed as “Baseball and Psychoanalysis.”

The program, which included a tour of the recently formed Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium, tickets to the game, and a complimentary Natstown t-shirt, opened with a two-hour panel discussion, featuring prominent members of the psychoanalytic community – if I collected "Heroes of Psychoanalysis" trading cards, I would probably have known who they were, but I don’t – plus two representatives from the Nationals’ organization, the team’s president, and the team’s “Director of Motivation”, or something.

The “Director of Motivation” or something’s job was to assist the ballplayers with their “issues.” Which he told me, in a later conversation, is very hard to get them to open up about, because ballplayers are macho guys, and they're reluctant to admit that they have any “issues.”

At a similar program at an earlier conference, I’ve heard the service provided the “Director of Motivation” branded “Mental Training,” a considerably less shameful labeling than “I’m seeing a psychologist.” Athletes are comfortable with training. They train all the time. “Mental Training” would simply be a training of the mind. Nothing shameful there. Nobody wants a flabby mind.

We were told that “Mental Trainers” help players deal with off-the-field concerns, problems facing exquisitely fit young gentlemen in a glamorous profession earning substantial sums of money. Temptations of various sorts. This service can be rewarding in both directions. The players get advice on handling their temptational challenges. And the “Mental Training” professional gets to hear some incredibly juicy stories.

But there are also on-the-field situations, relating to maximizing the players’ performance in the game. If the “Mental Training” professional can bring about an upgrade in performance, it’s win-win, meaning for the player and for the team, or win-win-win, if you include the successful intervention by the “Mental Training” professional.

As a natural contrarian, however, my thoughts fly immediately in another direction. Example:

A player wakes up one day, and he’s suddenly afraid of the ball.

It’s not that crazy, as anyone who has ever been nailed by a baseball will readily attest. They don’t call them hardballs for nothing. Those babies can do some serious damage.

Contusions, bone fractures, and if you’re hit in the head, anything from a concussion to amnesia, including, in the most tragic cases, your forgetting how to be alive anymore.

A player who's suddenly afraid of the ball – that sounds like a psychological problem. In which case, a skilled professional might be able to “mentally train” the player out of it.

But what if the player refuses to consult them?

Irrational? Not really. The ballplayer is acutely aware that the “Mental Training” professional he might want to consult works for the people the player would most prefer weren’t aware that he’s afraid of the ball.

This quandary led to the question, which had long been fulminating in my mind, and which I was dying to ask the panel. The question being this:

“How do you get a ballplayer to trust you, when he knows that your paychecks are being signed by his bosses?”

“So there!” (Which would be understood, rather than spoken out loud.)

When we got to the “Question Period” of the program, I couldn’t wait to throw that in their faces. I was salivating to confront them with this egregious conflict of interest, and watch them squirm, making me an instant hero to the assembled shrinkoisie, who would nod their heads approvingly, thinking, “Zis is a courageous young fellow. He is not afraid to ask zee difficult questions.”

I had them in my clutches. I would get up, and make my way to the back of the line of questioners, waiting my turn, while mentally refining my blockbuster question into its most provocative formulation.

As the “Question Period” ended, I was still in my seat.

As it turns out, however, the last question, offered by a psychoanalyst from New York was precisely my question. Presented, however, in an illuminatingly different manner, the following being a pretty accurate recreation:

“First of all, I would like to thank the panel for bringing us what was not only an illuminating but a highly enjoyable presentation. You’ve done a wonderful job."

Applause from the assemblage.

“I guess what I’d like to ask is, I mean, I wholeheartedly applaud your efforts to consider the mental wellbeing of the ballplayers. And I understand the situation when the needs of both the player and the ball club coincide. What I’m wondering is, what happens when the needs of the player and the needs of the organization aren’t quite…in sync?”

Our contrasting questioning strategies? Only one difference between me and a trained psychoanalyst.

Another is my not adopting a manicured little beard, either out of hero worship, or to fool patients into thinking they’ve somehow gotten Freud as their therapist.

By the way, no matter how sensitively the question was asked, both the team president and its “Mental Training” professional sidestepped it completely.

They said the situation hardly ever comes up.

Hearing that, I could sense a room full of psychoanalysts thinking, “My goodness. What terrible secrets are these transparent deniers of reality trying to hide?”

But that could have just been my reaction, and I projected it onto them.

I’m not really sure.

Another difference between me and a trained psychoanalyst.


Jessica said...

I really loved hearing your take on this.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

Funny you mentioned baseball today, Earl. This morning in Berkeley, near UCB, I saw the license plate YANKEES. The driver said his dad was a big New York Yankees fan. Anyway...

If you want to see a baseball movie with a shrink in it, look at "The Natural."

The Knights -think Yankees- are in a bad losing streak, so they hire somebody who lectures them on a winning attitude.

Roy Hobbs, the baseball player played by Robert Redford, walks out after the third attitude lecture. His manager takes him out of the lineup.

Roy Hobbs sits on the bench game after game, but when he persuades the manager to let him back in the game, he hits the cover off the ball. A great movie moment.