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Utilization — the Virtues of Faults Excerpts from the Erickson Foundation Archives

By Jeffrey K. Zeig, Ph.D.

Case One: The Right “Spell”

My son, Robert, asked me when he was attending grade school, “My two best friends can’t spell; [their papers are] marked 10, 15, or 20, and my spelling [lessons are] marked, 85, 90, or 95. Now, will you teach them how to spell?” I said, “I can’t really do that Robert without consulting their parents…I’ll tell you what to do. You make sure you have your spelling lesson with you and your friends have their spelling lessons with them — a marked copy corrected by the teacher. I’ll come over and pick you up and drive you home, and I’ll [also] offer to drive the boys home. And, as we’re riding along, you tell me what mark you got on your spelling lesson. I’ll pull up to the curb and go over your spelling lesson. [When Erickson did this, he said to Robert,] “You got this word right, and this word right, and this, this, and this.” And I graded [his lesson] and it was 98. I turned to one of the boys and said, “Have you got your spelling lesson with you? I’d like to see it.” He didn’t want to show it to me, but I insisted. I looked at it and said, “My goodness…a ‘ck’ in ‘chicken’ is the hardest part of the word to spell — and you got that right.” I looked at the next word and there were three letters correct and [I] said, “[That’s] the hardest part of that word to spell…” Now the second boy handed me his spelling lesson [and] I pointed out the letters he got [right, too.]

A short time later, I asked Robert, “What happened to those little boys after that day?” He said, “They are spelling correctly.”

I merely showed them how to look at their spelling lesson and see the right part of their spelling. [But,] adults will look at the failures, without realizing that failures are always an opportunity to learn.

Case Two: Appreciable Curves

Hans (a student asking for help with a case): I had a woman client who came in with her husband. She has scoliosis, which means she has a very rounded back and is much smaller than she would be if she didn’t have it. Other than that, she’s a beautiful woman, but the couple has the same difficulty I told you about before: the man is no longer turned on by his [wife]. He says it does not have to do with her back, but I still think it has something to do with it. He simply tries not to think about it, and the woman gets depressed a lot because she thinks her rounded back is the reason why her husband doesn’t like her anymore — that he no longer accepts her as a woman.

Erickson: Now my [question] to the woman would have been, “Madam, aren’t you aware that all men [think] curves are wonderful?” If the woman has an extra curve, I’d [ask] the man, “What do you want — a flattened board? As a man you are supposed to enjoy [all kinds of] curves.” [This puts] him on the defensive, and when he admits liking some curves, [he’ll] admit to a predilection for [all] curves, [there- fore viewing] his wife’s scoliosis through different eyes.

Cases Three and Four: The Body of Knowledge

Erickson speaking to students at a teaching seminar:

I’ll give you two other cases from my [experience working with the WWII] induction board. A handsome young man came through [in] good physical condition, and he had Jayne Mansfield [a buxom actress of the era] beat with his [enormous] breasts. My medical students looked at him in horror, [but were even] more horrified when I wrote a red “A” on the chart, which meant [he was] accepted. I let the medical students wonder for a while, [and] then I said, “The medical students are concerned because I’ve accepted you for the Army. They think that with those great big breasts of yours you’re unfit for the Army. Now, I’ll ask you a question and your answer will reassure [them]: “When you take a shower with the boys and they see your great big breasts, and they start to rib you [and] tease you, what are you going to tell them?” He said, “I’ll tell anybody who stares at my breasts that I brought them along for the homesick boys.” There was no question why [this man would] be accepted. And his composure was excellent.

The next selectee squirmed while I did the psychiatric examination, [but] I didn’t find anything wrong with him. I accepted him and [asked], “Now, why were you so afraid I wouldn’t accept you for the Army?” He said, “Well, I’ve got a problem: I can urinate only when sitting down.” The medical students looked concerned, so I said, “All right. When you’re marching and the sergeant says, ‘At ease, relieve your- selves,’ and you squat down to urinate, what are you going to say to your fellow soldiers?” He said, “If they fault me [for] squatting down, I’ll tell them, ‘Anything good enough for my mother is good enough for me.’”




Building Bridges: Between Rogers and Erickson

By Mike Moss, MBACP

I recently presented a workshop called “Building Bridges,” held at a conference organized by the UK Association for Solution Focused Practice. As a counselor and psychotherapist trained in solution-focused brief therapy and person-centered therapy, I felt compelled to offer a workshop that would explore an imagined bridge with Milton Erickson on one side and Carl Rogers on the other. Although there are differences between these two master therapists, I wanted to focus on their similarities, to try and understand how they inform my practice. In this article I hope to offer a taste of some of the concepts I explored.

Sidney Rosen’s book, My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Mil- ton H. Erickson, offers a good analogy. (Rosen, 1982) I imagine Erickson on one side of a bridge calling out to his patients, “My voice will go with you.” And on the other side of the bridge, Rogers calling out to his clients, “Your voice will go with you!”

Both men grew up on farms in the Midwestern United States and seem to have had a similar view of the natural order of things. (Gunnison, 2003) As a child, Rogers once observed potatoes stored in a shed, and with no apparent source of light, the potatoes were still able to grow spindly shoots. This impressed him, and he knew it was an example of the potential of life. He began to believe in an inherent growth-promoting force, which he later described as the “actualizing tendency.” (Rogers, 1961) Erickson also had rural experiences. When he was a boy he came across a horse that suddenly appeared outside his family farm. Erickson was able to easily lead the horse back to its owner because he trusted that it would know the way, which it did. He utilized the obvious, observing and embracing the situation in a creative and unique way. He trusted the instincts of the horse, which later helped him to understand and trust his patients. When a patient seemed lost, he trusted that he or she would also eventually find the way home.

Both Rogers and Erickson discovered something in life that they could trust and which made sense to them, and they brought these simple ideas to their work as psychotherapists. And even though their approaches were different — Rogers could be described as non-directive and Erickson as directive — both men were linked by a fundamental desire to help clients find their own resources to promote change.

“Both [Erickson and Rogers] emphasized and sensed the uniqueness of each living thing and prized above all those differences.” (Gunnison, 2003)

Rogers likened Erickson’s understanding of the unconscious to the “actualizing tendency,” and noticed that although there were differences in their work, both relied on a directional tendency of the patient toward change, and both believed that the patient would have the wisdom to make beneficial choices. (Gunnison, 2003)

Rogers believed there was a tendency that exists in every individual which can be buried under layers of psychological defenses that “awaits only the proper conditions to be released.” (Rogers, 1961) And Erickson’s view of the unconscious has also been described as “…the core or center of the person” where there is “…a repository of all past experiences and learning” where the source of growth lies mostly beneath the unconscious level. (Rosen, 1982)

I sometimes use visualization in my work, and more recently I also close my eyes with some clients. I ask permission to be alongside them in their imagined world and offer Rogers’ core conditions in a profound way. My experience in doing this can be described as entering an imagined world where I feel a powerful, deep empathic resonance. It’s as if there is a new realm where both the client and I are active agents in the territory of the imagination. The depth of this kind of therapeutic relationship can provide access to a bridge from the unconscious to aware- ness where we can both meet and there is potential for healing and growth. This connection during hypnotic trance feels like a person-centered approach in action.

Looking at Rogers and Erickson on the same bridge reveals that there could have been a kind of creative guidance, with both doing what they intuitively felt was right. They both experienced a directional flow of potential or actualization in their therapy to promote healing in others. And perhaps by just holding an aware- ness of the possibility that there is a directional flow or presence which helps us to connect with change and growth from our own potential to facilitate healing may reveal there is a greater wisdom guiding us.

In his book, A Way of Being, Rogers maintains that the human organism’s potential for change is connected to what he calls an “evolutionary flow,” which he recognized as “…part of a formative tendency in our universe.” (Rogers, 1980) And, that there may be an energetic current of potential in the universe flowing to- ward growth, which can somehow be accessed within the self. This could be sim- ilar to Erickson’s use of utilization, whereby he makes use of what is present in the therapeutic encounter, both in him and in the client and beyond, and within the power of the imagination, that can be accessed and used as a creative force for change. (Leva, 1987). And, this energy stored up in all of us is waiting to be re- leased.

The “actualizing tendency” from both Rogers’ and Erickson’s perspective may be described as the process of become whole. The client is continually in this process, guided by an innate wisdom and utilization, moving in a creative direction inspired by both therapist and client, which seems to fit and connect to the client’s unique way of becoming the person he or she desires. I believe this “greater wisdom” may be experienced as a presence for both therapist and client — of there being something more in the therapeutic relationship. I have written about this sense of there being something more and have called it “directional presence.”

By the very nature of our intention to help, I believe something may emerge, assisted by being in an in-depth relationship, where more than we know may be helping the process in which all is being attended.

The power of the imagination is well understood in both cognitive and humanistic therapies, however, I would suggest there is perhaps the potential of an untapped resource, whereby direct contact by client and therapist can be made in the realm of the imagination. And I wonder, like Rogers and Erickson meeting on a bridge, if there is an opportunity for therapists of both approaches to begin a dialogue where we can discover new elements in working closely with clients, utilizing the unconscious using the core conditions, and accessing the imagination through person-centered visualization. Perhaps we are all on the same bridge, with some of us in the middle or closer to one side, and that’s okay because we are all traveling from one side to another and we all know the way.


Rosen. S. (1982) My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson. W.W. Norton & Co

Gunnison. H. (2003) Hypnocounseling: An Eclectic Bridge Between Milton Erickson and Carl Rogers. PCCS Books

Rogers. C.R. (1961) On Becoming a Person. London Constable. . Rogers. C.R. (1980) A Way of Being Houghton & Miflin Co. Psychotherapy: The Listening Voice. Rogers & Erickson

Moss. M (2017) “On Becoming More, in the Therapeutic Relationship: An exploration of directional presence” COSCA Counseling in Scotland, Journal (Spring Ed.)

Mike Moss is a full-time counselor for Children and Young People, West Lothian Council. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland and has a small private practice offering supervision and training. Moss can be contacted at:

Ed. Note: At the 1985 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Carl Rogers compared himself with Erickson and Kohut. The audio is available for streaming at:

Paul Ekman and his Daughter, Eve Ekman

By Dan Short, PhD

At the December 2017 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, I had the pleasure of hearing several talks delivered by the renowned researcher, Paul Ekman, PhD, and his daughter, Eve Ekman, PhD, MSW, who is also a researcher of emotion. Their back-and-forth discussion during the lectures helped illuminate multiple perspectives from which each concept could be considered. The energy that they shared seemed extra special — the kind you only see with people who have a deep and secure connection. Even as they stood on stage in front of a large audience, it did not matter if one disagreed with the other. Each remained flexible and interested in the other’s thinking. For these reasons, I was all the more delighted when the Ekmans graciously agreed to sit down with me for an interview at breakfast.

As the father of a 15 year-old daughter, my first question was an earnest request for information. I wanted to know what Paul Ekman thought was important in giving children opportunity, but not overshadowing or pressuring them. His response was that he always sought to understand his daughter, Eve. He also made a conscious effort to empower her with self-confidence. As Paul put it, “You can’t be a shrinking violet. You take the world and you shake it a bit. That’s how I lived my life.” Eve agreed that he had taught her a great deal about self-confidence and about finding her own way in the world of science. As Eve explained, “For so many years, I have learned so much from my dad about life, about ideas, and about research. When I became old enough to conduct research, when I finally got to that point, to have my dad as my senior research advisor and have him tell me absolutely the opposite of what everyone else was telling me, was phenomenal.” Illustrating what he meant by not being a shrinking violet, Eve explained, “He would tell me that if people don’t like it, you are on the right track. Don’t listen to them. You don’t need all the fancy equipment, just observe, watch, notice, and be a good observer. That was invaluable advice.”

Watching Eve speak, I could see that she had tremendous respect for her father and that she valued his influence. As Eve put it, “In some ways my dad is really such a hard-nosed empiricist. I don’t think that is my natural proclivity. But representing his legacy and being able to describe emotion in a way that fits with the work he did, has influenced me. In some ways I see this legacy working through me and I’m trying to push that forward. And, it is kind of arresting to me sometimes to feel that continuity going on, watching the process of aging, and how challenging that is. It is its own lesson for me.” Having grown up with a father who has always been a strong leader, Eve made another interesting observation.

Looking at her father, she commented, “I think our roles are shifting a bit.” She then went on to explain how she is becoming protective of her father and how she spends more time thinking about him and his care. With a look of love and admiration she continued, “That role is definitely sweet and it’s really hard.” This role that she was seeking to describe was different from the relationship shared between a husband and wife who both grow old together. It was something that is exclusive to an aging father and a devoted child. Eve went on to explain, “It’s a role that I value. It means a lot to me. I feel a lot of empathy for my dad, for him losing the ability to feel okay in his body. He has so many physical pains and so much physical degradation. There is a sweetness in getting to see and know all these phases in his life. And, there is a lot of sorrow. Not overwhelming, but definitely present.”

Turning to his daughter, Paul related, “I was 46 when you were born. So I was definitely an older parent. Now I’m about to turn 84. That is a big gap, a bigger gap than you usually find.” Paul was proud of the fact that he and his wife are celebrating 38 years of marriage. Then he explained that this is his fourth marriage. So, when he entered into this marriage, he felt determined and eager to have a child. Turning again to his daughter, Paul confessed, “I thought that time was running out. I really wanted to have a child. I don’t think that it was only so that I could prove I could be the parent that my father could not be, but that was certainly part of it.”

Having started our conversation with the question of how to be a good parent, Paul lamented, “I had the two worst parents I could imagine. My mother committed suicide when I was 14, after asking me to save her. This was in 1948. She was bipolar. How was I able to save her? There wasn’t even medication for bipolar disorder.” He then explained how this tragic event determined his vocation. Paul told me, “After her suicide, I decided I would spend my career trying to learn things that would help people like her.”

As if this was not enough to contend with, Paul shared the fact that his father was physically and emotionally abusive. Speaking of his father, Paul added, “He was an impulsive philanderer. And the night before my mother killed herself, she said, ‘Promise me that you will never be unfaithful the way your father was to me on our honeymoon.’” Rather than expressing goodwill for his son’s future, Paul felt cursed by his father. It was not only the destruction of his mother’s sense of self that he had to witness, but also a direct assault on his own future. In a moment of disgust, his father told him, “I hope when you grow up you will have a child who will make you as miserable as you’ve made me.”

This difficult past helped explain the extraordinary character of the connection I was witnessing between these two adults. Only a handful of people will come as close to influencing the world as Paul Ekman has done. However, his proudest accomplishment in life was sitting right next to him. Still speaking of his father, and still clearly determined to defy this curse, Paul added, “He did not live long enough to see that that was not what happened. I was a very different person than him.” Paul made it clear that he had always been faithful in marriage and a deeply devoted parent. I stated the obvious: “You did not let him affect your parenting of your daughter.” To which Paul replied, “Not a bit!”

Again, taking up her role as someone seeking to add value to her father’s experiences, Eve made the comment that, “Last year on Father’s Day, my dad told me that my grandfather was the only pediatrician who would serve patients of color in New Jersey. His patients really loved him. He had a strong dedication to this cause. And that’s the thing I see in me—this strong dedication to truly helping people, especially those who are vulnerable.” As if being brought back from a darker place, Paul followed his daughter’s comments with a more sympathetic appraisal of his father, “He was a first-generation American. His parents were immigrants. I never liked him, but I admired his intelligence and dedication to service. And, I am grateful for inheriting those things from him.”

More than just a researcher, I could see that Paul Ekman had found a way to apply his extensive knowledge of emotions and act as a sort of human shield. He was buffering his daughter from the fiery abuse and mental anguish to which he and his parents had likely been exposed. If there ever was a time that he had been angry or harsh with her, it did not show in his daughter’s face, or in her gentle self-confidence. Having witnessed so many psychologists who failed to apply the lessons of their craft to their own family or personal development, I felt doubly impressed by Paul Ekman’s psychological achievements.

Switching to a lighter topic, I asked Paul about the TV series, Lie to Me, which was inspired by Paul Ekman’s research and its practical application in forensics and government security. In this show, the lead character is the world’s foremost authority on reading facial expressions and detecting lies. Another similarity is that the lead character has a mother who committed suicide, he has a history of trouble in marriage, and he is an older father with a young daughter. I already knew that Paul had worked closely with the script writer during season one as a scientific advisor. So I was curious to find out which part of this TV drama paralleled real-life interactions between he and his daughter.

Asking about this fictional psychologist, I quoted him as stating that he would never use his lie detecting skills on his daughter, because he felt this would be an unfair violation of her privacy. I asked Paul, “Did you have this rule for yourself?” To which he replied, “That was my line. I told them that.” Focusing again on his desire to be a good parent, Paul added, “I certainly think I did abide by that. I tried to never put Eve in a position where she would be tempted to lie to me. That was the key.”

Smiling as he looked at his daughter, Paul added, “But if I thought she was concealing something, I never called her on it. You know that’s a different role. That is the parent as policeman. Back in the days when I used to lecture her, when she was still a child, I used to say, ‘I don’t want to be the policeman. And I don’t want to be your friend.’ Neither of these are the role of a parent. The parent’s role is closer to the role of a teacher than it is a policeman or friend.” Pausing for reflection, Paul added, “But it’s not the role of teacher either. The teacher does not have the same emotional investment and does not make any big sacrifices.” After hearing himself say that it was his role to make big sacrifices for his daughter, Paul looked over at Eve and confessed that he did not feel like he had ever had to make any sacrifices for her. The two of them laughed as he asked her when she was going to ask for a sacrifice. Eve jokingly warned, “It’s coming!”

Our discussion continued with Paul commenting on historical figures in psychology, illuminating social research, and recent political events. I tried to get Paul to tell me what he read in President’s Trump’s face but he stuck to his policy of not remarking on sitting government leaders. He and Eve did get into a disagreement over whether or not contempt can be seen on a certain celebrity’s face. Paul challenged his daughter to show him the physical evidence, and Eve gladly accepted, “As soon as we get home!” Watching these two smile and laugh, even as they came into conflict, I experienced a sudden realization. When your central cause is to understand someone at deep emotional levels, then the best aspects of humanity emerge in every form of interaction—even conflict and disagreement. It seems to me that the mistreatment of others represents a low emotional I.Q. And thus, the scientific accomplishments of Paul and Eve Ekman are something we could all benefit from knowing.