Reflections of the Researcher at the End of the Study

My motivation to write this psychobiographical study was based in my own subjective reality as a scientist, therapist, writer and researcher, as explained in Sect. 1.9. At the end of the study I feel strangely familiar with the writer, Paulo Coelho, without having seen him once in my life. After having read so many documents on him, all of his books and many of his documents, articles and comments, the writer seems to be very well known to me, very close. The image that I had held about him several years ago had changed, as emphasised in the quote at the beginning of this chapter (Coelho, 2005), and a new one appeared.

At the end of this study stands a new “story” about the writer Paulo Coelho, about his holistic wellness and his faith development, mirrored by myself. Working through all of the documents on and of Paulo Coelho, analysing the data in the context of the theories and methodologies applied, I am left with mixed feeling on the study and on the subject studied. On the one hand, I am even more fascinated by the phenomenon of Paulo Coelho, his writings and the resources that supported him in becoming such an extraordinary person. On the other hand, I do have even more questions with regard to Paulo Coelho. The key interest in the beginning was the question of the resources that support the writer to cope with life’s challenges and follow his dream. At the end of this study, there are several responses to this question and even more questions. The study showed me that the writer Paulo Coelho has a strong holistic wellness and a strong faith, which both support him in writing and which are both supported through writing. I did expect this, and still I feel this is only half the story.

During the course of the study, I reached clarity on the question, “Why this individual in particular?” (Schultz, 2005b, p. 42). I realised during the conduct of the study that I was fascinated with the writer Paulo Coelho, with his success and his ability to write on the one hand and his ability to market himself on the other hand. Which other artist and writer has such strong management qualities? I was struck by Coelho’s ability to be an artist and his own best manager.

During certain parts of the study, I could feel that I was positively biased towards Paulo Coelho and that I even felt rather “disappointed” when the findings did not agree with my imagined ideal of him. I, for example, struggled with the fact that I felt that Coelho does not create friendships in the way I feel friendships are valuable and important. I also struggled with Coelho’s highly individualistic side, his strong self-interest and the fact that he hardly displayed social care in terms of caring for friends and his wives. It was a very important process during the research, to balance my inner researcher’s bias and to self-reflect about my personal values, ideals about holistic wellness and faith, thoughts of ideal ways of behaviour, actions and my expectations of famous and “extraordinary” people on the one hand and unknown and ordinary people on the other hand. The deep-rooted analytical process of Paulo Coelho’s life led in several cases to deep ways of self-reflection and new thoughts on Coelho as a representative of the societal elite of the global players in this world.

Early during the research study, I had to realise that I had actually wanted to study a positive, extraordinary, happy and successful person who had made it to the top of the (Brazilian) and global societies, only to find very quickly that often in his life, Paulo Coelho had to cope with challenges, depression, doubts, resignation and negative feelings and events. When I realised that the writer had gone through many difficult times in this life, I was disappointed and shocked, since I could not only look at the glamorous side of the writer; there was also a “shadow” side to him, which contributed to his extraordinary development and his identity as a writer and person. It was highly important to recognise that even this outstanding, spiritual, faithful and healthy writer had to face challenges in life that needed all his attention and that he had to resolve creatively to re-evolve strengthened. I realised that kidnapping, torture and visits to the mental hospital brought about significant development potential in Coelho’s life, and that he would probably not have become so successful and motivated without these challenges in his life.

In the several years of my research, I developed an “empathetic relationship with the subject” (Anderson, 1981, p. 474) and after a while I could accept the positive, bright side of the writer Coelho and his doubtful, depressed, critical and egoistic side. During the research I went into a mode of reflection on Coelho and self-reflection and this interactive understanding of the other and the self through scientific research contributed to building a positive and constructive relationship between me and the researched, which was further built on (self)awareness of the self and the writer, the topics and the interpretations.

Writing Chap. 9, I sometimes felt even more confused and uncertain about who Paulo Coelho is in terms of holistic wellness and faith than in the years before I started this research on him. I had the feeling that although - or maybe because - I had read so much about this person who accompanied me during many mornings, days and evenings, I had lost an overview and any orientation on who he really was from my own perspective. From the research perspective, I realised that the closer one gets to a person, the less one might see him. Sometimes I had to take days off, to establish the “right” distance from the subject of research again. Sometimes I felt angry and doubtful, because I became insecure about who Paulo Coelho was, how he was reflected in his books, what was part of his life story and what was part of his fictitious descriptions in his autobiographical works. This remains an open question: How Paulo Coelho, his life, his creative writing and his characters are interlinked, what is “true” and what is fiction? I also felt sad, because I could not get into a personal contact with him to discuss my urgent questions, to really find out about him, from his own perspective, about what he thought about my analysis, my interpretation and my thoughts about him.[1]

With regard to the application of the psychobiographical research methodologies chosen, I learnt about new aspects of qualitative research methodology, but also about scientific and creative writing. The idea of, as a psychobiographer, the researcher being a scientist and an artist (Schultz, 2005d, p. 13), was not easy to comprehend and to fulfil. I realised that I was more of a scientist than an artist, writing this psychobiography on Paulo Coelho. However, this might only be the first step into psychobiographical work, which might reveal lots of developmental potential for myself. I hope to uncover more creative ways in psychobiographical research, further away from satisfying expected or assumed “scientific standards”.

Furthermore, I realised that I enjoy the creative writing processes and reflecting on the question of how creativity can positively contribute to scientific writing. The concept of the “artistic scientist”, mentioned already in Chap. 1, manifested over the time of the research study and might become an applied concept in my future life. In any case, creative writing and science call for a combination in the life of the researcher, maybe even more in the life of each and every researcher and the research structures. Creativity in research, that is what I discovered, needs courage and a new understanding of research.

From another point of view than the researcher’s, namely from the therapeutic point of view, I developed ideas on how I, as an actively practising (family) therapist, could include psychobiographical work in my own therapy sessions with clients. Although I had not expected any outcome of this study in my practical therapeutic work context, I realised that I often reflected during the writing process on the possibility of applying the new knowledge and increased understanding of the person, Paulo Coelho, in my work with clients and how I could share the method of psychobiography in a suitable and applicable form during the therapeutic sessions.

Finally, I re-learnt from this psychobiographical research some very simple and basic knowledge, which found its way back from my unconsciousness into my consciousness:

Firstly, I realised that the writer Paulo Coelho is such a multiple construct in itself (as every person is) and that he as a person and his life can hardly be grasped in a holistic way in such a limited psychobiographical study.

Secondly, I realised on a deep conscious and subconscious level that development does not end throughout life and that - even if development goes back and forth and needs refinement with regard to earlier learning on an already very well- known self-development topic - these circles and refinements contribute to a deeper level of hermeneutical “Erkenntnis” (understanding) in life, as well as in science, as described in Dilthey’s hermeneutics.

Thirdly, I became aware that with each step of analysis and interpretation of Paulo Coelho, my self-knowledge with regard to theoretical understanding, methodological knowledge and self-recognition and self-actualisation increased. Fourthly, and finally to mention here, I realised my multiple identity, as a researcher, scientist, writer and therapist, and that the new knowledge gained through this in-depth single-case study can be applied in all my different life and work areas. This study thus becomes holistically applied knowledge in the context of my daily life and work.

At the end of this study, I am grateful that I could take the time to explore the extraordinary person, Paulo Coelho, in depth and explore his strong creative potential, his complexity and his uniqueness across many years of his life. Focusing on his life provided me with new ideas about my own standpoint in terms of holistic wellness and faith development, my opportunities, my limitations and boundaries, my personal vocation in life and my goals.

  • [1] I still might try to contact him after the release of this manuscript to discuss my perspectives onhis Life.
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