In every theoretically-based model of therapy, the role of how the therapist functions in the system is a major aspect of how that model is applied to real life situations and relationships. Famous examples of this include Freudian therapy, where the therapist was seen as a “blank slate” and whose objectivity was as critical to the relationship as the client’s willingness to explore aspects of their childhood. Another example can be seen in Rogerian therapy, where the therapist displays unconditional positive regard for the client. The therapist’s role is to act as a mirror to the client and to mirror the client’s language both for clarification and to identify needed areas of change.
In Competitive Therapy, the framework of competition is turned on its edge. Rather than competing against each other in family relationships, individuals can learn to direct their competitive drives in more positive ways. As a therapist, the role is similar to that of a coach on a sports team. An effective coach is in a positive of authority, while also a defined role of someone who does not engage in the behavior in the field of play while also has an immense impact on the success of the team. This can be seen across types of sports, and positive models of coaching can be seen in individual and team sports. Similarly, positive coaching in therapy sessions can be applied both to individuals and families.
A quality coach has a mission to positively motivate and bring out the best in each member of the team. A coach can define how the team operates within itself, and use the roles of the team members to complement one another rather than vie for popularity or leadership roles. Indeed, some of the most successful coaches in history may not have had the most talented individuals but rather have been able to capture the talent of each individual and maximize potential. Such an approach in therapy can be used to harness the positive aspects of every family member, and to help each other identify family roles and fulfill their potential within each of those roles. Leadership positions can be obtained in a family is a manner similar to a team, and with the assistance of the coach/therapist, the leader can become a “coach on the field/court” and act in a way to effectively replace many of the coach’s responsibilities over time. In sports, an example of this can be seen in Peyton Manning, who is a team leader and is given freedom to direct teammates and playcalling that he believes will be successful. His progression in this area occurred along with his experience, and in this manner, a family can mimic the success. The most experienced family members are also the eldest family members of a nuclear family – the parents and grandparents. In this way, the initial role of the therapist is to redefine the family in terms of leadership, and to grant a leadership role to each parent.
Leadership is not something which is assumed, but is a learned skill. Parents who have lost this role as dysfunction has occurred within the family have a difficult time in reassuming this position without assistance, and here is where a coach can assist the process. Children feel most comfortable in families where boundaries, rules, and determined roles are clearly defined and supported. Knowing that a parent is in control, while may initially be opposed in the process of change, inevitably brings a feeling of stability and control to a child, and a sense of belonging to the overall family. In sports, an example of this would be a role player in a basketball game being asked to determine the final play of the game – a task that is outside the expected range of that role.?? Rather than putting that pressure on a role player, that role being assigned to a team leader will make the role player feel increased comfort and a focused aim on his task – one aspect of the overall team goal. In families, children can excel when they know that their tasks are focused, simple, and direct. Go to school. Do homework. Make your bed. These types of tasks are simple and clearly defined. For parents, each of these fit overall into making life as a family cohesive and functional. When any of these tasks go unfulfilled, the overall system goes into chaos. Recognizing this is a role of a family leader, and supporting each task to be fulfilled is best guided within that role. As such, ensuring that children know what these roles are and attend to them can fit within parental guidelines as a family leader.
Another role of the therapist is to grant credence to every family member. If some family members do not feel heard, their likely reaction is to act out or withdraw from the system. While hearing each voice does not necessarily infer that each person’s preferences for the family will be carried out, many times issues in family or team dynamics is based on participants feeling alienated or unheard. The role of the therapist is to also enable a team leader/family leader to mimic this behavior when the coach is no longer around – to teach a leader how to listen to all participants while not relinquishing that role of being in charge.
Good coaches do not coach the same individuals for forever, and indeed one of the beauty of sports is that lessons learned on the field are more valuable as life lessons than merely for that specific function. Similarly, Competitive therapists do not intend to have long-term therapy. Like most other systemic therapies, Competitive Therapy is brief in nature, and is aimed at specific problem-solving behavior. It is not meant to form full analysis of the self, but is rather to determine how to make the family/couple function happier and more effectively. A coach should teach?? the family leaders the skills to continue this work after therapy, so that a constant involvement in the therapeutic process is not needed.