Here we go, hypnosis, here we go!
Tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers will try to overcome “negative thoughts” and pass the test of the taunting Cincinnati Bengals.
For many Pittsburghers, this weekend also poses a big test. When watching the game, will they be able to pass on seconds at the pizza buffet, avoid smoke breaks at crucial moments and stick to New Year's resolutions?
There's a link between pro athletes with resolve and regular resolutionists: Dr. George Pappas, PhD.
Pappas is a board-certified psychologist who uses hypnosis and cognitive therapy to help elite athletes overcome negative thoughts to maximize performance. He uses similar techniques to help non-athletes stick to resolutions and/or overcome problems.
On a recent Thursday, Pappas worked with several Steelers on maximizing their performances at the football team's South Side headquarters. Later, at his Squirrel Hill home office, he talked to an 85-year-old woman about her sleep difficulties and a 55-year-old woman about quitting smoking.
“Realize it's going to be difficult to accomplish all your goals — don't set yourself up for failure,” he says, from an office filled with autographed Steelers photos. “You have to prioritize. ... An example is someone who wants to quit smoking and lose weight. If you try to do two at one time, it makes it more difficult to succeed.”
Choose one and focus there, he suggests.
Pappas does not always use hypnosis, but says “for certain issues hypnosis is beneficial — it's very helpful for those with anxiety, insomnia, breaking certain habits. … Most people can be helped to lose weight through hypnosis.”
He advises those interested in trying hypnosis therapy to check reviews online.
“There are a number of people out there that give false advertising,” Pappas says. “Hypnotism is not as carefully scrutinized as other health care fields.”
Before hypnotizing a client, Pappas holds an hour-long consultation, talking about what the person wants to achieve, asking what benefits the goal will bring and what negatives are getting in the way. At the next session, he encourages the client to record the hypnosis session, so he or she can repeat the hypnosis daily.
Former Steelers safety Ryan Clark and kicker Jeff Reed have been in commercials touting Pappas, who worked with both in their playing days. Pappas does not name his current clients, but says he works with 10 of the Steelers — roughly 20 percent of the team that will take on the Bengals.
A common theme with the football players is “get rid of self-fulfilling prophesies. If a receiver dropped a pass, it's getting him not to dwell on it, to say, ‘This was a fluke. My hands are like glue, I can catch anything.'
“The first session, before hypnosis, I let the player talk about what are some negative thoughts.”
Negative thoughts can haunt anyone, Pappas says, from the football player who can't get over a key mistake to the accountant who has tried to lose weight in the past — and failed.
“The athlete is more likely to reach goals,” Pappas says. “For the everyday person, it's easier to give up to barriers. The athletes realize their careers are at stake. The elite athlete is better at tuning out negatives.”
That was something he worked on with several players this week, he says.
“When the Steelers play Cincinnati, there's going to be a lot of emotions. The elite athlete is able to tune it out. … To achieve optimal performance, you have to decrease tensions.”
If Pappas treated the entire Steelers team as one, what would his hypnosis therapy focus on for the battle against the hated Bengals?
“That they are all on same page; they all have a common goal,” Pappas answers to the hypothetical. “To know how important it is to play as a team and not to be self-centered. How to ignore negative comments being said by other players.
“There will be people who try to get you to blow your cool — just smile in their faces. The best way to deal with that is to win the game. Then you'll get the final laugh.”
Tom Scanlon is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.