By Allan Erickson
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 2 seconds
Almost exactly 50 years ago, shortly after I moved out and was living at college, I successfully played a practical joke on my dad. However, in a way the joke is on me because I learned a great deal about my father during the course of this practical joke.
I had a kind of contest with my older sister, Betty Alice. We would carefully go through whatever was published about or published by my father to see if either of our names were mentioned. Of course, if we saw our name in an article or book we would “hold” it over the other until the facts changed and the next article was published.
Thus, it was with this interest in the fall of 1961, that I looked over the latest issue of the American Journal of American Hypnosis of which my father was the editor. I always started at the table of contents and would check to see if my father was the author of any article. There was my father’s name on an article about mirror writing in- and out of a trance. Even though the likelihood of my name being mentioned dimmed greatly, I turned to the article and started reading it. It did not take me long to become confused, very confused. My dad was talking about having this person mirror writing left to right and right to left, in-and out-of trance. Since I have a down-to-earth mathematical background, I couldn’t conceive of how one can mirror write left to right. Mirror writing is just backward writing; hold it up to a mirror and it looks normal as if it is written left to right!
I puzzled over this paradox for a while and decided to write my father a letter and ask. Having learned something from my father, I decided to be indirect. I would not make the letter from me. So I wrote it to have fun as well as to get information. I acted as if I got madder and madder as I wrote the letter saying more and more things about how confusing the whole article was. Then I signed the letter H.A. Noskcire, my initials backwards, and my name spelled backwards. I sent it off wondering if I would get an answer since my letter, while sincere, was a little intemperate.
Within just a few days, I got a thick envelope to H.A. Noskcire. It was a long, detailed letter from my father thoroughly addressing all the points I had raised. It seems this person, while in a trance could write four different ways. She could write normally from left to right. She could write right to left starting at the end of the words and finish at the start of the words (or sentence.) She could also do the same with mirror writing; that is, she could mirror write “normally” starting at the start of the words and end up at the last letter of the words from right to left. But she could also mirror “backwards”, meaning she could start at the end of the words and wind up at the start of the word, i.e. mirror writing left to right. My father had even enclosed examples showing where the person started and stopped writing. What a complete answer!
What this showed me was how passionate my father was about his work, something I (just coming out of being a teenager) had not realized. He also put a great deal of energy into making sure that what he learned was clear to others. Here was a completely polite letter in answer to what my father thought was a total stranger’s rather intolerant letter, and it was answered immediately in great and complete detail. What a nice letter and a thorough explanation!
I decided to come clean. I had H.A. Noskcire write a nice thank you note for my father’s prompt and complete answer. I ended my letter with the line “Perhaps, you have noticed the mirror-like quality of my name.” My mother later told me Dad came out of his office and asked her what I meant. (My mother had earlier noticed the address to which the first letter was sent was my address and had quietly figured out the joke.)
From this experience, I learned that my father respected everyone, no matter what their behavior, and through his actions demonstrated that everyone deserves their thoughts acknowledged and enlightened upon. I also learned that my father took his work (or verified others) so seriously that he naively accepted my angry response to his article as valid. It is a perfect example of how genuine and down to earth he was, even if the theme of his article seemed esoteric to me.
This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 31, Issue No. 3 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.
Tags: Acceptance, case study, Erickson, Erickson Foundation, Ericksonian, Focus, hypnosis, Implication, Indirect, interview, jeff zeig, LAMFT, LCSW, LICSW, LMFT, LMHC, LPC, MDIV, Meaning, Mental Health, Metaphor, Milton H. Erickson, Mirror Writing, Pain, Performance, phd, psychiatrist, Psychologist, psychology, psychotherapist, psychotherapy, PsyD, story, Technique, therapy, Trance, Utilization