The very first time we met with Milton Erickson there were just five people present: Three physicians and the two of us sitting with the awesome Dr. Erickson. A woman walked into the room with her husband. She wanted to be hypnotized so that she could comfortably pass a licensure examination free from the anxiety often generated by such a test.
Erickson asked her husband if he was a qualified professional with a degree. The husband nodded his head affirmatively and said, “I have a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering.”
Dr. Erickson’s response surprised all of us: “You’ll have to leave. Come back in an hour.” → Read more
When I visited Dr. Erickson I stayed in the bedroom in his guesthouse. I was putting away my things and I found a box on the floor of the closet containing old reel-to-reel audiotapes of Dr. Erickson’s lectures to medical audiences in the 1950s and 1960s. Remember that he was teaching to medical audiences. The audiences than did not consist primarily of psychotherapists or counselors, because there weren’t so many psychologists or counselors in the 1950s and ’60s.
I asked Dr. Erickson, “Could I listen to these old tapes and, could I put them in a more modern form so they could be preserved for history?” He agreed that I could. I started listening to one of the old lectures and it was like one long induction of hypnosis. It was curious. It was surprising. And so I asked him, “Dr. Erickson, this wasn’t really a lecture; it was like one long induction of hypnosis.” And he said to me, “Oh, Jeff, I never listen to those lectures. I didn’t teach content. I taught to motivate.” → Read more
Edited by Richard Landis, Ph.D.
Discussion by Betty Alice Erickson, M.S.; Carol Lankton, M.S.W.; Eric Greenleaf, Ph.D.; Goran Carlsson, Psych.; and Steve Lankton, M.S.W.
Editor’s Note: Steve and Carol Lankton, Eric Greenleaf, Goran Carlsson, and Betty Alice Erickson were asked to discuss one of Erickson’s classic cases, “Case of Airplane Phobia.” The following is an excerpt from that discussion.
Steve Lankton (SL): The “Case of Airplane Phobia” or “Two Phobias” is explained at varying lengths in the different literature references (Experiencing Erickson, pp. 122-125; Hypnotherapy Casebook, pp. 314-347; Teaching Seminar, pp. 64-70). This is a case of a woman having anxiety that is related to an earlier mild air travel trauma that was beginning to generalize to situations where she is destined to experience disruptive air turbulence. The first intervention is preceded with a demand that she agrees to a “total commitment” of anything Erickson might ask. → Read more
The following was a Christmas gift from Mrs. Erickson to Jeff Zeig in 1986. Mrs. Erickson wrote this to Zeig, penned by hand.
It is her account of Milton Erickson’s extraordinary talent in being able to diagnosis a psychiatric patient by looking at the art he or she produced:
“Milton was always deeply interested in the manner in which neurotic and psychotic symptomatology, and ways of experiencing and interpreting the world, were manifested in the artistic productions of the artist. → Read more
Since I was a doctoral student at the University of Arizona in Tucson, I have been interested in clinical hypnosis and the power of the mind. I studied hypnosis independently with a professor who recommended that I attend the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis seminar held in Phoenix. At the seminar, I met Kay Thompson, Bob Pearson, Marion Moore, and Joe Barber. At lunch, Thompson and Pearson were discussing their demonstration of deep trance phenomena and demonstration hypnoanesthesia which they were teaching that afternoon. I asked whether or not I could volunteer for the demonstration, but Kay Thompson firmly replied ¨No!” explaining that “Dr. Erickson will be there and we want to make sure that all will go well, so we will have a member of the faculty help us.” → Read more
Recently, I was in Gent, Belgium talking about my father’s early career work. I was shocked by the myths and misconceptions that seem to have been perpetuated about my father. I was stunned to discover that my father is often viewed as physically feeble by a large percentage of his followers. From the perceptions expressed, it seems that most of the people who are writing books and giving talks about my father met him in the 1970s when he was confined to a wheelchair and had changed his practice to align with his physical limitations. This perspective has clouded the true picture of how my father was when he was younger. I remember my father quite differently; he was a vigorous man. The following story sheds light on my view. → Read more
Cathy was a 55–year-old single client of a colleague. Her initial complaint was that, although she was very competent in her work, she repeatedly raged at her boss and at coworkers. It soon emerged that she had a history of sexual abuse from her father, and had a very difficult time separating her own experience from others. Hence, it was hard for her to know her own needs, and defend herself from the expectations and intrusions from others. She showed what is often called “codependence,” or “enmeshment.” My colleague had done a lot of work with her intermittently over a period of several years, and she had made a lot of progress, but they had reached a plateau.
Cathy’s sense of herself was still wobbly and unclear, and she often felt numb, as if she were “just going through the motions,” and she wanted to feel “solid in my skin.” My colleague knew that one of my specialties was working with self-concept, so she asked me to do a session with Cathy while she observed. → Read more
Sue was a 27-year-old, single woman who was intelligent and valued self-awareness. She came to therapy after her roommate told her that she needed therapy because she was “far too rational to be real.” She was able to see everyone’s perspective and rarely got angry. Sue had recently broken up with Clay, a boyfriend of three years after she had walked in on him having intimate relations with his secretary in his office. Sue admitted being hurt and feeling betrayed. However, she quickly was able to rationalize his infidelity by citing his difficult childhood and that the secretary was pretty. She genuinely felt sad for him because she thought he would never be able to have a monogamous relationship. I was beginning to understand why her roommate was concerned.
Physically, Sue was suffering from several different but related gastrointestinal disorders and severe tension headaches that seemed to “come out of nowhere.” When I asked if she were happy, Sue replied, “I am satisfied, but I couldn’t actually say ‘happy’.” → Read more
Pictured: From L to R Carl Whitaker, John Weakland, Jay Haley and Carlos Sluzki
The following was presented by Jay Haley in December 1980 at the First International Congress on Ericksonian Approaches to Hypnosis and Psychotherapy:
I have published my views of Erickson’s therapy extensively, but to me he remains a mysterious person. In hundreds of hours talking together, I explored his life and work; yet I know him less well than other men I have associated with more briefly. Having learned many of his therapy techniques, I applied them in my practice and teaching. Not a day passes that I do not use something that I learned from Erickson in my work.
Erickson was by no means secretive about his work…For many years he gave seminars and workshops to large audiences in this country and abroad. He wrote over one hundred publications. Thousands of visitors came to talk with him, individually and in groups. His lectures, demonstrations, and conversations have been recorded more than those of any other clinician. He gave generously of himself and his knowledge to anyone who was interested. Although Erickson liked to show you that you still had much to learn, he did not attempt to be mysterious or obscure. Often, he was frustrated when his ideas were only partially understood…I don’t know how many times over the years I asked him why he did something in therapy, and he answered, “That’s obvious.” I would say, “Milton, it’s not obvious,” and I pursued him only to find a new and unexpected complexity in his thinking.
Mildred, a fifty-five-year-old woman, was referred for therapy after the death of her husband of 29 years. She finds herself immobilized, unable to make decisions about the slightest facet of her life. Mildred describes herself as depressed about her inability to solve problems. She is unable to leave a job she didn’t feel was challenging; undecided whether to sell her home or keep it, frustrated because she wants to change banks and doesn’t have the energy; bewildered about what to do with her old, but wonderful dog; and concerned because her children want to borrow money for a down-payment on a new home. In as much as she has always been self-sufficient, she finds the inability to make a decision or take any action debilitating to her self-confidence and lifestyle.
Mildred appears confused, lethargic, mildly depressed, and in need of some motivation to move her forward with her life. She describes herself as “helpless” because of her inability to make decisions. → Read more