In recent years, the field of applied sport psychology has broadened to encompass not only the use of problem-solving approaches concerned with mental skills training, but also more humanistic, person-centred approaches that utilise skills grounded in counselling (Hack, 2005). Within the counselling psychology profession, the personal qualities of the practitioner, such as empathy and congruence, are considered to play a significant role in developing an effective therapeutic relationship with a client, which in turn will dictate the quality of the therapeutic outcome (Corey, 2009). The same could therefore be said for a sport psychologist seeking to operate in a similar manner (Hack, 2005), and it is at this point that I invite you to read my earlier article on the website for a review of these personal qualities in sport – Effective sport psychologists – who are they?
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) emphasise the importance of a practitioner’s personal qualities, and that “it is fundamental that these personal qualities are deeply rooted in the person concerned, and developed out of personal commitment rather than the requirement of an external authority” (BACP, 2009, p. 4). This has helped to conceptualise what personal qualities are for my research: personal qualities are not personality traits and are not necessarily innate, however they are also not skills that can be mechanically learned. I have therefore come to view personal qualities as sitting somewhere on this personality to skill continuum; they are representative of the person yet they can be developed over time. This development is not necessarily a function, for example, of teaching an individual to be empathic, but through personal experience and increased self-awareness. The concern, therefore, is with both the predisposed and developmental aspects of the practitioner’s personal qualities.
Within the counselling psychology literature, Strupp (1978) contends that “the therapist’s theoretical orientation…is over-determined and deeply rooted in one’s biography. To understand the mainsprings of a therapist’s theoretical orientation, one has to understand the therapist as a person” (p. 314). Many of the personal qualities described in the counselling literature can be summarised as representing empathy, non-possessive warmth and genuineness, which in turn can be likened to the conditions proposed by Carl Rogers in 1957 as necessary and sufficient for personality change. These represent descriptions of the therapist’s attitudes and personality (use this term loosely!) rather than just effective techniques. (Truax & Carkhuff, 1976). Thus, emphasis is placed on the therapist’s personal qualities, rather than their practical skills. Counselling psychology places a clear emphasis on the importance of the therapist’s ability to be integrated, mature, genuine, authentic, and congruent in their relationship with the client. I believe that these personal qualities are particularly important within applied sport psychology practice also. As previously highlighted, these personal qualities play a significant role in a therapist or sport psychologist’s ability to develop a positive relationship with a patient or athlete. Katz and Hemmings (2009) recognise that the disciplines of counselling and psychotherapy can “provide sport psychologists with a rich resource regarding the formation and maintenance of the professional relationship and the process of change” (p. 10). Nesti (2010) has elaborated by stating that sport psychologists and athletes “will be unable to do useful and meaningful work together without developing trust and a strong working relationship” (p. 40).
Clearly, therefore, there is significant potential for the field of applied sport psychology to learn from counselling psychology with regards to the therapist’s personal qualities and the formation of the therapeutic relationship. Given the development of sport psychology to incorporate approaches akin to that of a counselling psychologist, it is perhaps surprising that this ‘learning’ has not occurred sooner! Unfortunately this article does not allow the scope to address this development and ‘overlap’ in greater detail, but is something I have addressed within my own research and would be happy to share and discuss with any interested individuals.