When I train managers as coaches I always ask them to respect the power of coaching questions and to recognize the possibility that what starts as an innocuous, business related conversation, may lead to the unveiling of a deeper issue. Coaching managers would be advised to develop at least a little insight into the signs of abnormal psychology. Consider for example, that most commonly diagnosed form of mental disorder; thought to affect about 1% of the population at some point – schizophrenia.
It is a popular misconception that schizophrenia means a split personality. This is not true. It is actually a generic term for a group of psychotic disorders characterized by disturbance of personality, loss of contact with reality and so on.
Let’s look at how the condition might be described and the symptoms one might expect to be present.
Firstly we’ll consider Schneider’s first rank symptoms (1959):
Typical symptoms under this heading include Word Salad – bizarre verbal association and Clang Associations – linking words by sound rather than meaning
This is the classic “I heard voices”, where the sufferer believes some external force is directing them to do something over which they have no control.
Delusions are misrepresentations of what most people would regard as the reality of situations. Common schizophrenic delusions include:
Delusions of influence – the sufferer believes they at the mercy of external forces Delusions of grandeur – e.g. “I am Jesus” Delusions of persecution – “The secret services are after me”, i.e. paranoia
Next let’s consider the symptoms outlined by Slater and Roth (1969):
Disturbance of Affect:
Here the schizophrenic exhibits emotions that are clearly inappropriate for the situation e.g. giggling on receipt of bad news
Including odd hand gestures, twitching and peculiar facial expressions
Lack of Volition:
Schizophrenics often have trouble conducting a normal day to day life. They can have difficulty with even simple activities and can often become withdrawn and reclusive.
Schizophrenia is a term that has perhaps become rather confused at the hands of thriller writers and satirists. In truth it represents an horrendous burden for sufferers and their families both of whom deserve our sympathy.
It is unlikely that the coaching manager would be the first to stumble upon such symptoms, but it is not unheard of. Sufferers are often able to carry on in their job roles after perhaps some minor adjustments or be moved to other duties. A coaching approach to communication amongst the colleagues of the newly diagnosed schizophrenia sufferer should also prove a sensitive way to enable everybody to adjust.
Some studies indicate that schizophrenia – like many abnormal psychological conditions – can be triggered or exacerbated by stress, and work is the most common arena for experiencing stress these days. We coaches may be in a very good position to notice early signs of stress and where it might lead.