Welcoming Symptoms


(by Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP)

When anxiety, sadness or anger present themselves to you or your clients do you welcome them? What about other “symptoms”? Do you invite them to speak to you? Do you listen to their concerns and issues? Or do you or clients react to them with fear and loathing? Are they considered to be an “other” that must be banned or ”tapped” into oblivion?

Many of our clients want their problems eliminated as quickly as possible. The symptoms of whatever sort are considered unwanted, bad, problematic, a sign of weakness or illness. The allopathic medical community and the vast majority of Western culture are all too ready to frame things as DSM disorders that ought to be “fixed and cured,” preferably as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, energy psychology techniques can be used within a similar frame of reference. We can be seduced into the idea that we should “tap” or “tab” or TAT or WHEE or chakra the symptom away as quickly as possible. Whoever does it more quickly wins a prize.

We must balance our wish to help alleviate our clients’ suffering as efficaciously as possible with a deeper wisdom of being present with our clients (and ourselves) so that we can attend to the deeper and fuller holistic picture. How do we do this? I don’t really have an exact recipe. Frankly, if I were you I would be very cautious of anyone who offered one. Here are some loose guidelines or questions to gently keep in the field.

  • Spend some time and attention welcoming the symptom into the space. Have you ever done this (literally ) out loud? It has a very interesting effect.
  • Once welcomed, ask the symptom what it wants to communicate. What are you or the client avoiding or failing to see? How are you or they out of balance?
  • Get to the “real” problem, experience, block, etc. that makes the symptom a beautiful messenger. Do your tapping or treatment on that.
  • When you’re using an energy psychology approach with someone, focus your attention on “listening to” or “sensing” the information in the field rather than just getting the SUDS to “0” from an ego-based position. In other words, whatever shows up is information to guide you and your client. Welcome it.
  • Hold space and curiosity for how symptoms are our friends and teachers, or at least very interesting aspects of the human experience.
  • Be aware to what extent you or your clients are coming from places of aversion and avoidance when it comes to “symptoms.” By the way, to the extent that you become aware of this, guess what you should do? Welcome the avoidance and aversion! They’re just another symptom. What can you learn from them?

Everything I’ve been discussing here applies to working with individuals, couples, families and cultures. What would you add to my list of suggestions? Please post your comments below.

Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP

ACEP Executive Director

Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP  has been the executive director of ACEP for the last 8 years. He is the author of Tools for Transforming Trauma and We’re No fun Anymore.



  1. philippe822 says:

    This is wonderful, Bob. We are only ever experiencing ourselves, so when we try to avoid or suppress those feelings or “symptoms” we are avoiding or suppressing ourselves.

    Practicing Presence allows us to be with ourselves, to remain present and open to that process of communication within ourselves, and to learn, grow and develop with it. As practitioners, practising presence is a great way to cultivate the ability to not get caught up in the ego mind’s constant attempts to take control, to correct, to fix or to affirm our own competence.

    Practising presence on a daily basis makes it easier for me to step into the energy and flow of the session, to practice “non-doing” as taught in Qigong, and to allow the flow to guide me to appropriate action. Sometimes, this action is not my own; allowing the space allows the client to go there on their own. Sometimes the action is the same form of treatment I would done anyways, but usually the process is much more efficient and much more effective than it would have been. Sometimes – often, I am guided to say or do unexpected things that turn out to be exactly what was needed. I just had this very experience in my first session this morning!

  2. I realized from welcoming my symptoms of itchiness and rash that lack of appreciation for who I was and anger directed at me by my father were probable causes. These symptoms occur to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the issue that I’m dealing with. In fact, as I asked the question I heard an answer in my mind. “you are my loser” . Now I am tapping using words that deny that phrase. I could also use some guidance . I feel encouraged. Thank you!

    • Hi Shirley. First congratulations on listening to your symptoms. They took you to an interesting place.If the issue is with your father you might consider thinking of an incident where your father directed anger at you or did not appreciate you and tap on that until it no longer bothers you. Then do the same with additional examples. The “You are my loser” phrase is also interesting. What happens if you welcome that and learn more about it. I hope that helps.

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