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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.

References:

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: mike.moss@outlook.com

Ed. Note: At the 1985 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Carl Rogers compared himself with Erickson and Kohut. The audio is available for streaming at: catalog.erickson-foundation.org/speaker/carl-rogers

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.

Christine Padesky is a clinical psychologist and cofounder of the Center for Cognitive Therapy in Huntington Beach, California. Along with Kathleen Mooney, she is now developing “strength-based cognitive therapy.” Padesky is the coauthor of five books, including the bestseller, Mind Over Mood. She is recipient of the Aaron T. Beck Award from the Academy of Cognitive Therapy for significant and enduring contributions to the field of cognitive therapy and she also received the Distinguished Contribution to Psychology Award from the California Psychological Association.

The following is an edited version of a 50-minute interview. To watch the full interview visit: https://www.erickson-foundation.org/yapko-padesky-interview-january-2018/.

Michael Yapko: Let me start by asking you about some of the work that you do that is more experiential. You bring another element to cognitive therapy that a lot of people don’t. Could you please talk about the role experiential learning has played in the therapy that you do.

Christine Padesky: I’m glad you asked about that. Therapy is a learning process. I think of myself as an educator when I’m doing therapy and I want to help people learn in the best ways possible. I’m not an educator in the sense of didactically telling people things, but in the sense of trying to use our relationship and the experiences that we share to maximize client learning and discovery. We know from research that one of the best ways we learn is through experience.

Talk alone can often lead to insight…but that insight can be short-lived if it’s not backed up with experience. In therapy, I try to use methods that are experiential including interactive writing and behavioral experiments. I also use a lot of imagery and sometimes role-playing and psychodrama. I put a high value on experiences because it’s through those interactive experiences that you get activation of thoughts, emotions, and behavior in ways that are going to be memorable, and that the client will likely put into practice in their life.

MY: That parallels with Erickson’s work. He was a big fan of experiential learning. I think you’re doing what a good therapist does, which is getting people moving.

CP: We might have somewhat different theoretical frames and ways of understanding what we’re doing, but I have observed throughout my career that therapists from different modalities do many of the same things in the therapy hour.

MY: Can you give some insight into how you decide what kinds of action-oriented approaches you’re going to use?

CP: Some of it depends on the current therapy alliance and relationship. For example, I’m much more likely early on in a therapy relationship to do interactive writing or some behavioral experiments that are short and in-the-moment. I think to do psychodrama or a two-chair technique, I need to have a much better therapy relationship; a lot more trust. So that would be one thing, the level of the relationship. The second thing would be the client’s issues. People might have beliefs like, “If I don’t feel motivated, I can’t do something.” or “If I don’t have much energy, then it’s not possible for me to do something.”

You could talk to death about those beliefs, but usually you can break through them within a matter of minutes just by doing an experiment. So, if someone has a belief that is testable in that moment, rather than talk about it, I would just test it out right then and there. For example, with someone who is depressed who says, “I don’t have energy. I can’t do things.” I might ask them, “What’s your energy level right now?” And, if they say, “It’s quite low,” I’ll be quite happy, because then I’ll say, “Well, let’s stand up for a moment and walk over here and look at this picture and talk about it for a minute.” Then I will do some kind of interaction with them for a few minutes and say, “I’m curious, what’s your energy level now?” And from that kind of experiment, it’s not just the doing of the action, but it’s the debriefing of it. I’ve tried to hone over the years a skill of using dialogue about experience to guide client discovery. If they say their energy is higher, I’ll say, “Well, that’s interesting…we started out with you telling me if you didn’t have much energy, that you couldn’t do things. You didn’t have a lot of energy and yet you were able to do this. What do you think explains that?” I’ll ask them a series of questions and we write down a summary of what they learned and their observations. Then, I’ll ask them to reflect on that and I’ll say, “I wonder, is there a way you could use these ideas to help yourself this week?” If there’s anxiety, or if I’m wanting people to envision something positive that doesn’t yet exist in their life, then I’m more likely to use imagery because imagery is powerful in terms of helping people imagine new things they aren’t quite confident can exist. I might also use imagery if I want people to go out in the world and practice something. We know from research that imagery practice increases the likelihood that people will go out and follow through and do something. It turns out that people think in imagery almost all of the time. I think in the decades ahead, an important part of examining cognition will be looking at imagery. Now, if we’re looking at imagery in terms of crafting some kind of change, for example, a new behavior, then I’m going to ask the person, “How would you like to be? What would you like to do? Let’s take a few minutes and have you imagine what that might look like.” Then I’ll have them imagine what they might be doing, and I’ll try to direct their awareness to different parts of that experience. “What does that feel like in your body? What emotions are you feeling?” I get people to make more careful observations, and to draw into their attention, multiple aspects of their experience.

Sometimes if I’m working with personality disorders and more chronic conditions, I’ll have people develop an image of what they wish their life was like, or what they wish they were like. And then I’ll have them do similar things, where they can imagine scenarios. I ask them, “How does that feel physically?” Where do you feel that in your body? What emotions are you experiencing? What metaphors and additional images come to mind as you begin to enact this?” I think imagery is so wonderful and rich because it includes every aspect of experience within it.

MY: You and Kathleen Mooney have recently focused on strength-based CBT. What sparked this interest?

CP: Kathleen and I have always been interested in strengths. She did some strengths-based work in her first career, which she carried into her second career as a psychologist. When I started graduate school back in 1974, I was interested in strengths, but the zeitgeist at the time didn’t support it. I couldn’t find a single faculty member who would work with me on questions. In the late 1990s and the early part of this century, we started talking more in our trainings about strengths. What cemented this and got us intensively working in that area was the 9/11 attack. When that occurred, the next morning we had a meeting set up to plan the next year’s training program and we said, “Wow, this changes a lot of things in our country. So, what are people going to want to learn about in six months?” We decided they might be interested in resilience. When tough things happen, resilience is usually the story that follows. So we put our minds together and devised a four-step model to build resilience for people who struggled with resilience. We recognized that all of us are resilient in some areas of our lives and we all lose resilience at other points in our lives. We began to articulate a model of CBT that is strengths-based. When you work with people on depression, anxiety or relationship difficulties, it’s worthwhile early in the first session to learn about their strengths. This is good for the therapy alliance, but it’s also good because when you hit roadblocks in therapy. I find if you lean on the client’s strengths, you can go through those roadblocks quickly.

The second thing would be using CBT to build strengths, and this is what we did with our four-step model to build resilience. We came up with a simple way of helping people identify the strengths they already had, and then helped them figure out within just a couple of sessions how they could put these together to become more resilient. The third thing we developed involved developing what we call the new paradigm,” which we started out applying with personality disorders. This was meant to help people build a completely new sense of themselves and how they operate in the world, which is more strengths-based and more resilience-based and a much more transformative kind of application of strengths-based CBT. We were quite heartened that when we met with Aaron Beck, he told us that he’s taken the strengths-based idea and is now applying it to recovery-oriented work for psychosis. It’s exciting! I hope this is the future of CBT.

MY: Let’s talk about the book you co-wrote with Dennis Greenberger, Mind Over Mood, now in its second edition. That book sold unbelievably well. I read it, and it’s wonderfully practical and supportive. How were you able to put all this together, and what has the reaction been?

CP: Well, there’s always a certain amount of luck in why a book becomes successful. But, I think there are a couple things Dennis and I did that hadn’t been done at the time we wrote the first edition and because of that, we substantially improved upon those things in the second edition. Therapists have been embracing this book and using it with a lot of clients. I think the appeal is that many therapists want to use methods with clients that have an evidence-based proof of working. One of the things we’ve done in the second edition is we’ve made reading guidelines clear, so that if you’re working with a client’s depression, then read the chapters in this order. If you’re working with them on anxiety, then read the chapters in this order. We made it a bit easier for therapists to do an evidence-based CBT practice. We tried to write a book that people will want to read that’s interesting, and at the same time, skills-based. We know from current research that lots of different therapies can be helpful for depression, but what seems to predict relapse, or the likelihood of relapse is whether or not people acquire skills that they can apply on a daily basis in their lives. We focused our book around teaching core skills that have been shown in research to make a difference in people’s happiness and reduce their depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, etc. The second edition has 60 worksheets, 25 more than in the first. These worksheets are quite motivating for readers. The other thing we did right is include measures of each of the moods, for example, a measure for happiness, so that people can measure their mood and see if their efforts are paying off or not. That kind of feedback is important to keep people going with the program. The book’s success has been very moving for us. It’s already in eight or nine different languages, and I think by the end of this year, there will be 15 or 20 different translations available. The cross-cultural appeal of this book surprises me. I think Mind Over Mood fulfills a need for people to have a self-help book that’s interesting to read, but at the same time, teaches skills that make a difference.

MY: So, what’s next for you?

CP: Right now I’m finishing up a book on how to foster guided discovery in therapy and what types of therapist-client interactions foster client discovery. I’m also currently writing the Clinicians Guide to the second edition of Mind over Mood, which will be out in 2019. When those books are done, I am going to give myself a little creative time to think about what I want to teach therapists. I love teaching and training and consulting. I do a lot of consulting with therapists, and I’m interested in things we can do to engage clients, foster transformation, and be more creative in our therapy methods.

MY: Can people who are interested in your workshops go to your website to see your teaching schedule?

CP: Yes. It’s padesky.com. On our website there are lots free downloads of papers that we’ve written over the years. We also have a store with training audio CDs and DVDs.

MY: Thank you so much for being so generous with your ideas and perspectives.

CP: Thank you Michael, it’s a pleasure to talk to you.

Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist residing in Southern California.  He is internationally recognized for his work in clinical hypnosis, brief psychotherapy, and the strategic treatment of depression, routinely teaching to professional audiences all over the world.  He is the author of 15 books, including his most recent book, Taking Hypnosis to the Next Level. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He is the recipient of numerous major awards, including the Milton H. Erickson Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to the field of Psychotherapy. Learn more about Dr. Yapko at www.yapko.com.