This was one of the four basic teachings of child psychologist and author Bruno Bettelheim. I start here, just having finished a first reading of psychiatrist and author Elio Frattaroli’s challenging and necessary book Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain: Becoming Conscious in an Unconscious World (2001). In it, Frattaroli recounts, among other important topics I will continue to discuss in future blogs, his time working with Bettelheim and the impact of his teachings on Frattaroli’s own work and understanding of the healing process. One of the basic lessons Fratteroli took from his time with Bettelheim was to always respect the symptoms of his patients.
This is the necessary first step toward healing.
Our symptoms – anxiety, inner torment, physical pain, strained business or person relationships, in whatever form – contain a message within them.
They are messages to say, “Help me! I want to understand the conflict inside me about who I am and I want to know my purpose for living!” They are signals pointing toward the undiscovered self within, as Frattaroli says.
This is our role as coach, as Bettleheim believed for psychotherapists, not to cure symptoms but to accompany a living person, our client and equal, on his journey of self-discovery. We start by listening to and respecting his symptoms as necessary messages about his needs and his life quest, a task often too scary for clients to face alone. Symptoms, however numerous or overwhelming, can be understood as our best unconscious way to communicate conflicts and callings of which we haven’t yet learned to be consciously aware. Seen this way, and with the support of a coach, we open the possibility to understand the messages contained within our pain. Clients heal themselves; we as coaches facilitate and participate in the process of becoming conscious of the how.