Milton Erickson was unencumbered by the prevailing orthodoxy of his time. His creativity continues to reverberate profoundly in often unacknowledged ways. Perhaps the most important of Erickson’s principles is utilization. Consider the following vignettes.
Erickson saw Kim, a teacher troubled by nude young men hovering just above her head. She told Erickson not to take her young men away, but rather stop their interference with her everyday life. He suggested that Kim leave the nude young men in a closet in his office where they would be secure and not interfere with her teaching. She checked on the young men at first but gradually stopped. Much later, Kim moved to another city and worried about her “psychotic episodes.” Erickson suggested that she put her psychotic episodes in a manila envelope and mail it to him. Occasionally, she would send Erickson a psychotic episode and meanwhile continued a productive life (Erickson, 1980). → Read more
Judith was a 46-year-old woman who, for the first time in thirty years, was without a job. In the past, when she left a job, it was because someone contacted her with a better offer. Now, for the first time, she had to find a job for herself. She had been sending out resumes by the bushel but received no replies. Judith had been referred to me by someone who said I was practical and knew the ins-and-outs of the business world. The referral source told me that Judith did not want therapy. He identified her as feeling worthless unless she had a job, and that no one would care about her until she was in a position to help others. To match her expectations, I presented myself to Judith more as a coach than as a therapist. However, it was readily apparent that Judith was painfully shy and felt that she had no personal worth. → Read more
A common theme that I remember Erickson discussing during our time together was his fascination with how the unconscious was able to use current events and experiences to conjure past learnings.
I experienced this first hand during my second session with Matt, a ten-year-old boy, and his parents. Matt, an only child was going to have to redo the fourth grade because of poor grades. Matt had felt like an outsider in the fourth grade and had no motivation to do school work. The thought of repeating the fourth grade again after “flunking” made him feel even less motivated. His parents tried “everything.” Unfortunately, each parent felt that his or her strategy-of-choice had been good enough to motivate each of him or her as a child, so it should motivate Matt. Their unyielding assumption was that if their strategy did not work, the problem was in Matt, not the appropriateness of the strategy. → Read more
Ben was referred to me by a local hospital for the treatment of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) behavioral disorder. Due to aging, a part of his brain had degenerated, resulting in loss of muscular control during REM sleep. Both Ben and his wife were fearful that because he had wild body movements while sleeping, he would inadvertently kick or hit her, or that he would injure himself. After nearly 50 years of marriage and sharing a bed, Ben’s wife had resorted to sleeping in the guest room.
Ben was a lively and interesting 70-year old, who had recently retired from his job in a factory where he worked as a master toolmaker. He was looking forward to enjoying his retirement. Ben had a keen sense of history and a strong interest in Native American culture, and he read many books on the subject. We enjoyed talking about this because I share the interest. Ben longed to visit ancient Native American sites and national parks and he purchased a Winnebago for this purpose. He said he was ready to go, but the extremely narrow single bed he would have to bring along, and his symptoms of the REM disorder, made him hesitant about traveling. → Read more
Milton H. Erickson was no doubt a master of masters in inducing hypnotic responses for clinical purposes. Dr. Erickson was instrumental in developing a number of indirect hypnotic techniques and strategies, including interpersonal and nonverbal or pantomime tactics (Erickson, 1958, 1964, 1966; Haley, 1967). One fascinating technique that stands out was the “handshake hypnotic induction technique.” The purpose of this article is to outline the key elements and a procedure of the therapeutic hypnotic handshake induction technique. → Read more
Harold called me because he was concerned about his ten-year-old son, Bob, who was phobic about gravel roads. Bob’s phobia had generalized to the extent that he had become reticent about leaving his home. I told Harold that I would be willing to provide a one-hour consultation, if he would bring his wife, June, and his son.
Bob was the most hyperactive child I have ever seen in my private practice. Based on the phone call, I had no idea that ADHD was part of the constellation. Bob couldn’t stop fidgeting. As he entered my office, he poignantly announced, “I’m the crazy person.” My heart went out to him. → Read more
Sean was in front of me, looking down at the carpet. “I am afraid that I cannot use my computer anymore. Last night I spent almost four hours downloading all kinds of antivirus software, and when I got up in the morning, I was worried the software could bring more viruses to my computer. I reformatted my computer and worried that I erased my data, which I did not back up.” As an engineer, Sean knew his data was safe, but could not help worrying about it.
As he talked about his worries and fears, I had him describe a typical day, so that I could have a sequence of common events. I also obtained information on his background. He has a loving and academically-oriented Chinese family and he had not experienced major trauma in childhood. Yet, I agreed with him that our world is not a safe one. There are hackers and viruses everywhere. I told him that he was being extremely careful and that his goal would be to regulate his worry by spending 30 minutes a day worrying about random things. → Read more