A Chicago-area sports psychologist, psychiatrist and hypnotist experienced in treating elite athletes are largely in agreement about the curious case of Derrick Rose, but their methods for helping the Bulls guard, if they were to work with him, are as fascinating as they are diverse.
For all of them, it begins with acknowledging fear as possibly a major component in Rose continuing to hold himself out a year after reconstructive knee surgery. Rose has maintained that while the knee feels strong, it's his confidence in testing the knee that remains an obstacle.
Vincent Chung, a hypnotist who has worked with professional athletes from Chicago teams as well as Olympic athletes, said the key for any athlete in that position is to get rid of "paralyzing fear."
"There are several factors when dealing with injuries and one is the fear of being re-injured," Chung said. "Fear is actually a useful emotion. It teaches people to be careful. You don't want to be fearless because then you are going to do things that are unsafe. But paralyzing fear also doesn't protect us, it actually makes it more dangerous so when Derrick is doing the acrobatic moves he does, he's in more danger of getting hurt."
To eliminate that, Chung, who received his MBA from the University of Chicago but said he became interested in hypnosis to help fellow Wall Street traders balance fear and greed, might ask Rose to associate a color with different emotions, then change the color and thus the emotion.
Whether under hypnosis or not, Chung said dealing with fears indirectly are effective. "If you tell an athlete 'Hey get over it, think positive,' he's going to get (ticked)," he said. "But tell him to change black to gray, he thinks 'What is this crazy hypnotist doing? But I can do this.' They play along and when it's gone, they're puzzled but that's how the mind works. They are indirectly telling their mind they can change their emotions."
Chung also has clients visualize themselves as other players. "Derrick Rose, even though he is at the top of his game, can learn much faster when he's in someone else's shoes," he said.
Visual imagery is a common method used by sports psychologists and psychiatrists as well.
Michelle Mishler Frank, a Chicago-area sports psychiatrist who treats elite-level and college athletes, said if Rose came to her saying he wanted to return but needed help, she would rely on "lots of imagery work. I'd tell him 'Let's see it all play out and then work it backward. What has to happen before that, and before that?' "
Jeffrey Fishbein, whose patients include Chicago White Sox players and Northwestern athletes but not the Bulls, said as athletes get closer to physical health, visualization can "strengthen pathways in the brain to let them know they are capable and allow for greater confidence and lesser amounts of anxiety. That's combined with a slow transition back to drills, practice and scrimmages."
Fishbein points out, however, that regardless of how strong Rose may be in practice and scrimmages, it is not the same as game speed.
"Instincts take over [during games], so if you're not 100 percent confident and you rely on instincts, that's what athletes fear about not being 100 percent mentally ready," he said. "There's that element of the unknown. When instincts take over, will your body hold up? That's something laypeople don't think about."
Frank said the pressure for Rose to come back and perform to his expected level can also be part of his fear.
"Athletes love to be the underdog," she said. "That's a much better position to be in. The goal is to keep expectations down and then over-deliver. When people expect a lot of you, whoever it is, it gets scary and remember, he's a human being too.
"Speaking in very general terms," she said, "I would suspect a large portion has to do with the fact that he became such a huge superstar so quickly. ... Athletes don't want to be worshipped as much as they want to be human. What I would do if I was working with him is to reinforce that there is something bigger than him and no matter what other people are saying, one of the strategies is to surround himself with people who look at him like any other human being. He has been very vigilant with that."
Rose, of course, has already talked about a higher power. And when he said "Nobody knows but God" in reference to when he will return, it may have been a subconscious way method of dealing with the stress of the situation, the professionals agreed.
"When talking about God, it's a coping mechanism, which should not be judged or criticized," Fishbein said. "It's something athletes use to help overcome the situation, of saying when it's time, they'll know. A lot of athletes use faith to help guide and direct them."
"What's important," Frank said, "is that every single person needs someone bigger than them. I heard a pastor speak of the power of mountains because if you stand next to a mountain, it's big. I'm 5-3 and if Shaquille O'Neal and I both stand at the base of a mountain, it's still big. It's an equalizer.
"We worship athletes so much, they need something bigger than them and the only thing bigger than a superstar in Chicago is God."
Noted psychologist and author Richard Bandler known for his Neuro Hypnotic Repatterning, is also famous, said Chung, for using actors, large projection screens and other special effects to depict such images as God in re-programming patients.
"Derrick's feelings though are very real," said Chung. "If he's afraid, there is no denying that and his answer mentioning God was really good because who is going to deny his religious beliefs? It's a good way to shut people off."
It is not known if Rose is seeking the help of a sports psychologist, psychiatrist or hypnotist but Chung encouraged him to look into it.
"If he knew how easily this could be taken care of and that he could do it very quickly, boom, it would be done," he said. "But with people pestering him, it doesn't help. Coming to a sports psychologist or even me, if it was his choice, we have a very high success rate. But he needs to take care of himself, have his own faith, do what makes him happy."
Fishbein said that while sports psychologists and mental coaches "are of great use to some, they are of no use to others. But certainly there's a lot of literature that speaks to the psychology of injured athletes and things we can do to expedite the process," he said. "Whether in Derrick's case or others, the first step is the physical healing but there's always a psychological aspect to healing and that aspect can delay the process."
Still, emphasized Fishbein, there is also no rushing the process either.
"When Derrick's ready, he'll know and we should respect that," he said. "My take is that it's about the athlete and when he's comfortable."