By Tony Attwood
There is something delightful about watching the nation’s media writers making total idiots of themselves as they respond to an Arsenal defeat – and something inevitable about the way the anti-Wengerian camp followers will pick up on the theme. But the way in which they overtly seek to mislead the public is far from delightful, and is nothing short of scandalous.
Here’s one from the Telegraph after the Watford game.
Arsenal’s failings are all too familiar – yet club psychiatrist was meant to help overcome mental fragility
It is an interesting point and it makes certain assumptions, one of which at least is rather disturbing.
The most obvious assumption (obvious because it happens all the time) is the belief that everything relates only to the last match, and everything can be fixed at once. Arsenal lose one match, and the manager needs to be sacked. Amy Lawrence does this a lot in the Guardian as with “Arsenal stuck in self-defeating cycle as they head for Chelsea showdown”
Second that fixing issues is easy. Arsenal need a new manager – get one, and he is bound to want to come to the club, his existing club are sure to release him, and indeed Arsenal are bound to be better under him. The recent failings of Manchester City and Manchester United to make much improvement immediately under new high profile managers has clearly not dissuaded anyone from this view.
But third, and perhaps most disturbing, is the notion that Arsenal are actually using a psychiatrist.
The reason I make this point is the psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who are allowed by law to prescribe medications that are not available over the counter, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment.
Of course we can start out by arguing that the writer of this article, and his editor, don’t know what a psychiatrist is – in which case it would be good if the Telegraph admitted it. I don’t think this is true. Last time I was there they had dictionaries, Google, and some fairly intelligent people around.
But let us follow this… If Arsenal are using a full time psychiatrist to work on prescription drug management with the players, this is indeed concerning. Of course when people have a psychological condition medication can help, although in recent years the move has been very much in favour of talk-based approaches in which the patient uses speech in order to re orientate his/her own world-view and come to see what has been perceived as a highly negative and disturbing situation as one which they can handle.
It is an approach that people who have not experienced it can find it hard to understand, because from childhood we are mostly taught that the world is real, and not something cooked up inside our heads. But we only have to look at different people’s reaction to the same situation to see how different world views are.
Although I chose not to publish them, we had one person on Untold after the Watford game hurling obscene abuse and threats at a large number of other readers in a long string of repetitive comments. Blacksheep and I, on the other hand, went home a bit fed up, but then got on to talking about other things. Same situation, different responses.
Anyway, after talking about Arsenal’s failings in the Telegraph article,Arsene Wenger was “strangely talking about how his players were not “mentally” up to the challenge of facing Watford.
“Given Arsenal are employing Dr Ceri Evans, the psychiatrist who worked with the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union team, to overcome the mental barriers they have faced in the past it is even more disappointing that fragility has emerged yet again at a key stage of the campaign.”
The implication is indeed clear – Arsenal are using a drugs based approach to football, which is quite possibly illegal.
Now it is true that Ceri Evans (himself a former international footballer) is a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He also studied experimental psychology as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, has a career in forensic psychiatry and worked as a sports psychologist with New Zealand Warriors.
If you untangle this a bit a sort of pattern becomes clear. Dr Evans has studied both psychology and psychiatry – and this is quite common. I am not sure that any psychiatrists have not first studied psychology – but if there are some they are exceptions. Dr Evans has also worked in both forensic psychiatry and psychology.
Now forensic psychiatry is not sports psychiatry. It deals with the assessment and treatment of mentally disordered offenders in prisons, secure hospitals, and the community and I am sure that the chief football correspondent of the Telegraph is not suggesting that Arsenal players are serious offenders, and have dangerous medical conditions.
So it is self-evident, even without a knowledge of psychology and psychiatry that Dr Evans is not at Arsenal for psychiatric reasons. The use of drugs for performance enhancement would be illegal, and the players unlikely to be stable enough to handle the results. No, he is working as a sports psychologist with Arsenal – and Arsenal have employed sports psychologists for at least 20 years. Indeed I would be surprised if any of the major teams in the Premier League try to exist without such people. Most top sports people, and indeed most top level performing artists, have psychologists working alongside them to enable to them to give of their very best every time.
Thus we come to the question of whether Arsenal have mental fragility and if Dr Evans is failing in his job.
There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever on either point. There are of course people who deny the need for psychologists, suggesting that it should be an honour to play for Arsenal, and that self-evidently everyone should be doing his best in each and every situation.
This view comes from the notion that psychology is a nonsense, that the world is common sense, and that how we see the world is how it is. If that is how people see the situation there is little that can be done for them, until they are ready to change and their belief in their viewpoint is absolute.
On the other hand the current estimate is that 17% of the world’s population have suffered a mental health problem in the last week. That is not a misprint. In the last week is correct. 25% of the population suffer from a mental health problem each year in the UK.
Now these are figures for ordinary everyday people who have regular lives. Footballers at the top level are not ordinary everyday people. They are subject to enormous pressure, hero worship, huge levels of abuse, massive levels of expectation, and little in their background and upbringing to help them cope.
But even if Arsenal gave every single player his own personal psychologist watching over them day and night (which I can’t imagine the players would accept) for many of them that would still not guarantee the team being 100% focused and ready for any random event in each match.
While rocket science is (contrary to the commonplace expression) dead simple (push a load of inflammable gas into a container, make a small opening at opposite end of the container from which you wish it to travel, and then ignite the gas so it expands and open the vent) psychology is phenomenally complicated because it deals with the most complex area of organic material by far, which appears to work in subtly different ways for each individual.
Of course the rather appalling Jason Burt doesn’t bother with such matters. For him it is just another throw away line to knock Arsenal. That I expect, but beneath it is something that does need pointing out, in my view.
It needs point out, just as I spent time showing why Amy Lawrence’s comment in the Guardian about Arsenal having only two players last season whose goal tally was in double figures. That was not untrue, but it was either a case of gross negligence in terms of research or a deliberately misleading statement suggesting in the sentence’s construction that Arsenal were unusual in this regard. As I have pointed out only five teams (one of which was Arsenal) had two or more players scoring in double figures.
Burt is likewise misleading his readership either through ignorance or deliberately, suggesting incompetence on a gross scale in the Arsenal camp. It is unlikely that someone as eminent as Dr Evans is incompetent, and indeed to suggest he might be would be a gross libel. Nor is it likely that Dr Evans is staying at a club and allowing himself to be overruled by Mr Wenger at every turn. Nor is it likely that Arsenal have employed someone as eminent as Dr Evans and then not used his professional abilities to the full. Rather, given that Burt either deliberately or mistakenly confuses psychology and psychiatry, it is most likely another over and deliberate attack on Arsenal in order to make cheap copy without having to do any research.
One might ask, if Arsenal are in such a bad situation, if they are so incompetent and so useless, why do journalists have to make these things up. As I said Amy Lawrence is at it again today. But again, why if Arsenal are so useless does she have to set out deliberately to mislead. Or really, do neither of these writers do proper research?
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