Home PageBlogAn Interview with Jeff Zeig by Dan Short

Connection with the Milton Erickson Foundation

By Marilia Baker


Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 49 seconds.

It is with immense pleasure that I present to you the engaging interview below, conducted by Dan Short with Jeffrey Zeig, founding director/president of the Erickson Foundation. The Foundation is celebrating 40 years since it was established in 1979, while Erickson was still actively practicing as a clinician and teacher. The first Erickson congress took place in Phoenix, December 1980, and was just completed the 13th Erickson Congress this past December. Throughout these past four decades, the Erickson Foundation – whose two of its Board of Directors are the Europeans Camillo Loriedo and Bernhard Trenkle – has advanced the development and expansion of the fields of hypnosis and psychotherapy. The Foundation has also promoted many international gatherings, including the Evolution of Psychotherapy conferences, to further not only Milton Erickson’s therapeutic methodologies but also to honor the relevant pioneers and proponents of diverse theoretical and clinical practices. Jeff Zeig ponders and expands on those pioneers throughout the interview with Dan Short.

Both Jeff and Dan are well known to European professionals through their lectures, workshops, and publications. The most recent by Zeig is a group of four books, part of his Empowering Experiential Therapy Series published by The Erickson Foundation Press (2019).

Dan Short: The Erickson Foundation, which you founded, has acted as a vehicle for education, as well for the spread of Ericksonian institutes around the world. Could you tell us something about your original plans for the Foundation, 40 years ago?

Jeffrey Zeig: To tell you the truth, I did not know it would become so robust. I couldn’t have predicted that it would become integral to the incredible interest around the world in learning about Erickson’s contributions. But the Erickson Foundation is not solely dedicated to the work of Milton Erickson. The Foundation is a psychotherapy organization that began in 1980 to help organize Ericksonian congresses. But then, in 1985, I organized the first Evolution of Psychotherapy conference, which brought together 26 distinguished leaders of different schools of psychotherapy.

The first Evolution of Psychotherapy conference was a seminal event, timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of psychotherapy’s conception. Some of the leaders of various schools of psychotherapy met for the first time at that conference. For example, I saw 78-year-old Joseph Wolpe walk over to 83-year-old Carl Rogers to say hello. The titular founder of behavior therapy and the titular founder of humanistic therapy recognized that they had never met before.

The first  Evolution Conference was designed around the schools of psychotherapy. It provided a forum in which leaders could talk about their developments and be honored for what they had offered to the field. Since then, the underlying theme of Evolution conferences is consilience: Finding the commonalities that make psychotherapy work. It is my belief, my hope, and my continued goal that the Evolution conferences continue to serve as a vehicle for the integration of psychotherapy.

According to some historians, psychotherapy began in 1885 when Freud became interested in the psychological aspects of medicine. Up until World War II, there was a tight therapeutic community, based on understanding the Freudian, Adlerian, or Jungian perspective.

But after World War II, when Europe was decimated, psychotherapy found a new home in the United States. There was a proliferation of different schools and streams of psychotherapy, including the humanistic school, the behavioral school, the family system school, the cognitive school, and now affective neurobiology. So, after World War II there was a wild proliferation of approaches, by some estimates there are currently more than 800 different schools of psychotherapy. But after so much expansion, I believe that there needs to be some contraction. We need to search for integrative principles that help explain what makes psychotherapy work. I hope that the Foundation has been instrumental in that endeavor.

DS: What do you see happening in the field of hypnosis?

JZ: The United States used to be the most fertile bed for interest in hypnosis. Today, the interest and growth have shifted to other countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, as well as other European countries which are bringing a new vibrancy and life to hypnosis. The European audience in France and Germany is especially strong, and in these countries as well as others, there are more developments and experts. Over the course of its history, there has been a mercurial rise and fall in interest in hypnosis. Because of this, I imagine that people in the U.S. will once again be stimulated into learning about it.

DS: Of all the people that you have met, who has inspired you most?

JZ: When I think of all the master therapists that I have been fortunate enough to know and study with, Erickson has been the one who has spoken most deeply to me. He was instrumental in helping me improve who I am as a person and as a professional. Of course, I will never be his equal in experiential wizardry, but I have trained myself to be less left-hemisphere dominant, operating instead from the right-hemisphere, which enables me to be more evocative.

I also had the good fortune to spend time with Carl Whitaker,  who conducted consultations with me as I met with families. And, I learned a lot from Viktor Frankl. In fact, I use logotherapy regularly in my practice. I’ve had exceptional training in gestalt therapy because I attended a doctoral program that was influenced by Joan Fagan and Norma Shepard who are first-generation students of Fritz Perls.

I have a background in transactional analysis and was a clinical member of that society at one time. I also had a year of training with Bob and Mary Goulding who profoundly influenced me in understanding parts of the human psyche. I developed a great rapport with Salvador Minuchin, whom I adored. I am now the curator of one of Minuchin’s archives.

If you go to psychotherapyvideo.com you can see some of Minuchin’s clinical work. It was his wish to make his archives available to people around the world. But of all these individuals, Erickson has been the most profound influence on me both personally and professionally. His precision, his humanism, his way of orienting toward, his strategic nature, his evocative experiential way of approaching things, his basis in utilization, are all things that have intrigued me. To this day, I continue to learn a lot from Erickson.

DS: What are some of the resources available to people who wish to learn more about Erickson?

JZ: We have an expansive archive at the Erickson Foundation with hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings of Milton Erickson. And we are just at the cusp of being able to launch this resource on the internet for the professional world so that people will have the opportunity to see footage of Dr. Erickson doing teaching seminars in the latter half of the 1970s. We also have videos of me discussing Erickson and offering my perspective on his work.

The best video of Erickson that we have is titled, “The Artistry of Milton Erickson”.

It is available in several languages on our store at https://catalog.erickson-foundation.org/.

For those who visit Phoenix, we offer tours of the Erickson Historic Residence, so that people can see where Erickson lived and worked the last decade of his life. The Erickson children have been especially active in developing the historical residence as a museum, so that visitors get a feel for the modest way in which Erickson lived and practiced.

The Erickson Foundation has also published the Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson, which is a 16-volume set of the written work completed by Erickson across five decades. This resource can be found at the Foundation’s web store. In addition to these resources, I am the author of several books on Ericksonian hypnotherapy. I have written four books that are the corpus of what I teach, including one on hypnotic induction, one of the Ericksonian model of brief psychotherapy, one on therapist development, and one on the evocative nature that I think is essential to skillful psychotherapy.

DS: I know that you are currently working on a biography of Milton Erickson. Could you tell us more about this important project?

JZ: Over the years, I have conducted 200 interviews with colleagues of Milton Erickson. I have also interviewed all eight of his children and three of his siblings. Before Erickson died, I spent a significant amount of time with him, seeking to know and understand him as best I could. Jerry Piaget, who is one of the leaders in promoting psychotherapy education, has provided a grant, which is helping to make it possible for me to write the Erickson biography.

When I first met Erickson in 1973, he seemed that he just took all of this wisdom off the top of his head. He just seemed to be so complete. But as I came to know him, I realized that he was very diligent about crafting what he would say and do and how he would be in therapy.

He worked hard to develop his incredible skills; his remarkable perceptiveness, his ability to communicate with such loving precision, as well as his impressive ability to overcome adversity.

While seeking to utilize all of his limited faculties, he tried to make other people’s lives a little bit better. Erickson suffered from the degenerative effects of post-polio syndrome, but he was still an inspiration. If you had limitations, he certainly had more. If you had pain, he certainly had more. Yet he was laughing all the time. It seemed that he wanted to make the world a better place by virtue of his presence on this planet.

When I first visited Erickson, my thought was that he would train me to be a better psychotherapist, but in a sense, I was wrong. It became apparent to me early on that the time I spent with him was an experience of life and learning to be a better Jeff Zeig. It was not about being trained to be a better therapist.

Without knowing Erickson and experiencing him, I wouldn’t be here today. I actually don’t know how my life would’ve turned out had I not spent those years in the ‘70s traveling to Phoenix to see Erickson. In fact, I’m living in Phoenix because I moved here 40 years ago to be closer to him.

Now my desire is to encapsulate the inspirational spirit of Erickson on the written page so that people around the world can experience him.

DS: Thank you Jeff. I am grateful for your insights and for what you have done through the work of the Erickson Foundation.


Article compliments of European Society of Hypnosis in Psychotherapy and Medicine from their newsletter here:

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