No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Coach’s Diary: A Burden too Heavy to Shoulder


A physical ailment reveals a much deeper psychological pain for coach Olivia Stefanino's client this week.

Patricia – an accountant with her own practice – had been suffering with a painful shoulder for nearly three years. With her prescribed pain-killers becoming less effective, she had visited her consultant again – but had been dismayed when he’d told her that her only option was a potentially dangerous operation. Not keen on the odds, Patricia had decided to go down the “alternative” route, which is how she came to be sitting in my office.

As soon as Patricia had walked through the door, I felt an immense sadness – coupled with the feeling that something traumatic had happened in her past. As I poured her a coffee, I asked Patricia if she felt weighed down by responsibility in her life. “Absolutely,” she said, “as well as the practice, I also run the family home single-handed and make sure that my elderly parents are looked after too. Why do you ask?”

I explained that the mind and body are very strongly connected – and that very often issues that have psychological roots express themselves as pain or problems within the body. “Curiously,” I told her, “the body tends to speak in puns. For example people who have difficulty expressing themselves often develop ailments around their throat – which is the area we associate with communication and free speech.” Leaning forward in her seat, Patricia looked at me with an intense gaze and softly asked what problem shoulders signified. “It could be one of several things,” I replied, “but it’s amazing how often shoulder problems seem to be connected with ‘shouldering’ too much responsibility.”

Patricia agreed that the concept made sense – but as I looked deep in her eyes, I had the overwhelming sense that we needed to explore deeper into the pain. I asked Patricia to close her eyes and talked her into a deep state of relaxation. Then, drawing on the techniques used by the ancient shamans, I asked Patricia – in her mind’s eye - to travel into her shoulder and describe what she could see. “I see a black pyramid – with a lid.” I asked her if it would be safe to remove the lid from the pyramid and as she nodded her response, I directed her to do so.

Immediately Patricia began to sob. After five minutes or so her tears started to subside – and still in a light state of trance she began to talk about how her father had both sexually and physically abused her as a little girl. The tears started again as she recalled her terror. I asked Patricia if she was prepared to do whatever was necessary to free her shoulder from pain. Again she nodded, and together we went through a psycho-dynamic exercise in which she eventually chose to forgive her father, while of course not condoning his actions. Patricia had been quick to realise that only she was being affected by the past, not her father – and that forgiving her father would be her pathway through to freedom.

As we finished the exercise, I asked Patricia to revisit the black pyramid. “Oh,” she said, “its smaller now – but its still there.” Once again she began to cry, this time more softly. Her voice was heavy when she started to speak. “I have never told anyone about the abuse as I didn’t want the family to break up and I thought no one would believe me anyway. But now I’m frightened for my daughters – they don’t know what their grandfather is capable of doing and it would hurt them dreadfully if I shattered their image of him. I have tried so hard to make sure that I am always in the room whenever we go to visit him, just so they are protected.”

Suddenly I began to understand the real message from her shoulder. Patricia was shouldering the responsibility for protecting her daughters – and her father. But she had left herself out of the equation and now her mind was asking her – through her shoulder pain – to deal with the situation. Adamant that she couldn’t tell her daughters the horrible truth, I knew that she had to be shocked into seeing the potential disaster that lay ahead if she kept quiet. “How will you feel if you discover that one of your daughters has been abused by your father – knowing that you could have prevented the situation by being honest?”

A shocked silence lay heavy in the room. “You’re right – but it’s going to be very hard.” I brought Patricia out of her light state of hypnosis and together we worked out a plan for telling her daughters in a way that would protect them but not frighten them.

Patricia left my office looking as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She called me a week later to say that her shoulder pain had eased considerably – and that she was sleeping better than she had for years. A further update a month later revealed that she had gently warned her daughters without going into too much detail – and that her shoulder pain had gone entirely.

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet "128 ways to harness your personal power" at


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!