Might Psychotherapy Have Rescued Tiger Woods?

by Dr. Stephen Walker – CC-AASP

Tiger’s Infamous Fall from Grace

Belief Systems Drive Behavior – Both Good & Bad Behavior: The case for therapy in Sport

The end of 2009 has brought us some unforgetable moments both in and out of sport.  What will undoubtedly be remembered as a tough year for everyone – now includes Tiger Woods amongst the fallen.  The exposure of Woods’ not-so-hidden life has seen comedy skits on SNL, and no end to the hungry sleaze mongers who just can’t get enough.  That Tiger’s transgressions keep on coming with a growing list of ready willing and able accomplices hurts us all.

Woods was a bonafide hero, by all appearances, until the beginning of this month.  Then a strange car crash and three days of  ‘no comment’ had the press clamoring for more.  Woods’ handlers even putting the Floriday Highway Patrol off.  This odd behavior triggered a fire storm of investigations into every aspect of Wood’s life, and now the toll continues to climb – a lost marriage, two more kids from a broken home, sponsors executing damage control plans, and a mother who doesn’t know what to think anymore.

Tiger is sorry.  But is he sorry for what he did  – or – is he sorry for getting caught?   Sport Psychology encompasses all that involve an athlete’s performance and psychotherapy done right might have saved a family and several others a whole lot of heartache.  Here’s what needed to happen….

Is Tiger sorry for what he did or is he sorry for getting caught?  This is the elemental question  because his character will be defined by how he responds to this challenge – the challenge of his life.  This is no US Open – this is the major of majors.  Will the real Tiger Woods please stand up?

Therapy – The Side of Sport Psychology that Helps people Define ‘Who am I?”

You won’t find a chapter on this topic in Dr. Bob Rotella’s golf psychology books.  As good as Rotella’s tournament preparation plans may be – Woods needs another type of sport psychologist now.  One who can help him explore his values…at the deepest level.  His is a spiritual crisis of the “who am I?” variety.  He is not the first, nor the last person to ask themselves that – and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” reminds us that taking stock is an inside job.  It requires mindfulness, contemplation, and a deeper level of communication than any ‘spin doctor’ is capable of.  It calls for us to look in the mirror deeply, often, and have a chat…not about skin care.  Tiger Woods needed therapy then, and still needs it now.

Yes, he let himself down…he let Elin down…he let his kids down…and he let his fans down – at least those fans who believed Tiger was the ‘real deal.’

The shady side of life Tiger gave into is indeed glitzy.  It’s also sensational, sexy, and offered him one way to get away from the pressure and ‘blow off some steam’.  People throw themselves at Tiger Woods hoping for a little piece of his shirt, and maybe their 15 minutes of fame.  It was the easy thing to do – it was there for the taking.

I wonder if his handlers talked to him about it?  I find it hard to believe they didn’t know – but if they did – their complicity fueled an indeterminate amount of heartache.  They should be fired.  They let him down.  They didn’t ask him the tough questions.

Imagine if Tiger and Elin had openly addressed these pressures in couples therapy – or – Tiger focused on the core issue of what kind of man he wants to be.  Not from the “impression management” side his handlers care about – but from the inside out – so he might carve out his character, beliefs about being a man, a husband, a father, what he wants his kids to be proud of, what he wants Earl to remember him for, how his relationship with women both honors his mother and himself.

The pressures on a celebrity of his stature must be legion.   The relationship issues and challenges too numerous to mention.  Most of us marry to have a partner, a confidant, a person who’s opinion we trust and listen to.  In the best of circumstances – our spouse provides us with a pillar of strength.  In the worst of circumstances they hold us back from reaching our best self.

Couples therapy might have helped Tiger and Elin to build that sanctuary.  All the other hoopla is just that – and these women?  Maybe they cared for Tiger – but they didn’t care enough about Tiger to care about his marriage or his children.  Relationship counseling is difficult indeed.  It calls upon each partner to strive for a special bond, a level of teamwork that makes the Ryder Cup pale in comparison.  That we often fail in achieving this bond – even without the temptations Woods was exposed to – is the story of marriage in America.  Even if Tiger was very unhappy in the marriage, and it was clearly the best thing to divorce, a therapeutic intervention could have helped avoid the disaster we see before us now.  How a divorce plays out is key to the childrens’ well being.

Clinical Sport Psychology – Helping Someone Build Character – Who is qualified?  Who isn’t?

A simpler life lets us rejoice in the bond we have with those we most care about.  But how do we get there?  John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach recently wrote a book on “Mentoring”.  He is one of a few people whose example might have influenced Tiger.  I’m confident Wooden would have asked Tiger many of the questions designed to help him define his character.  However, few sport psychology consultants are qualified to delve into these matters and facilitate the psycho-surgery that might have helped Tiger and Elin avoid the firestorm.  A sport psychologist trained in psychotherapy might have helped him develop routines of conduct, set boundaries and clarify personal limits, maybe even assist him in managing the stress of it all.   Perhaps the work might have examined Tiger’s criteria for choosing “who” and “who not to” let into his inner circle.  Perhaps he might have equipped him with radar to avoid the deceitful and insincere people clamoring for access in his world.

Sport psychology consultants come from two different schools of training.  There are those who are trained in the sports sciences – and then there are those who come from a clinical psychology background.  Tiger’s issues require a trained therapist just for himself – and – a marriage and family counselor for he and Elin.   I believe this is paramount whether Tiger and Elin ultimately reconcile and stay together or not – because unless the children have an advocate (focused exclusively on their best interests) the likelihood their mom and dad will understand the pitfalls of divorce as it impacts children is diminished greatly.  I certainly understand Elin taking the kids out of the fray, away to a safe harbor.  But Tiger’s access to them should be extensive.  I’m confident they both genuinely care for the welfare of their children.   Doing the right thing under these circumstances is far more difficult than doing the right thing to avoid the mess.  Any way you look at it, the kids will be at greatest risk.

John Wooden once said, “Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.”  Lets hope Tiger makes good use of his leave of absence – and discovers that developing his character and overhauling the beliefs that set this mess in motion – are whats needed now.   I wonder how Ed Bradley’s interview with Tiger might go now?


2 thoughts on “Might Psychotherapy Have Rescued Tiger Woods?

  • July 26, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Looks like the Tiger Woods scandal has not done him excessive harm. He still earned $90 million last year!


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