Estimated reading time: 50 minutes, 58 seconds.
Reprinted with permission from The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, October, 1973, 16,147-164.
At the Colorado State Psychopathic Hospital in July 1929, the author listened to an extensive and very detailed account of six days of seasickness suffered by a resident in psychiatry newly arrived from England. This account was the author’s first direct knowledge of the subjective aspects of seasickness reported upon by someone trained in medicine and competent to answer questions informatively.
The information received led the author into prolonged private thinking about various aspects of seasickness, possible seemingly unrelated significances, and possible methods of experimental investigation.
The following September that resident questioned the author about hypnosis. l Not only did the resident express interest in learning about hypnosis but volunteered to be a hypnotic subject for the reason that the experience itself might enhance didactic learnings. → Read more
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 15 seconds.
Dialogue between Milton H. Erickson and Ernest L. Rossi, 1973.
ERICKSON: The conscious mind already has its own set ideas about the neurosis. It has its fixed, rigid perceptions that constitute a neurotic set. It’s very difficult to get people at the conscious level to accept an alteration of their general thinking about themselves. You use the trance state so that you can get around the self-protection which the neurosis provides on an unrecognized level. The neurotic is self-protective of the neurosis.
ROSSI: How does trance get around that self-protective aspect of neurosis?
ERICKSON: The literalness of the trance state causes the patient to have a new pattern of listening. He listens to the words in the trance state rather than to the ideas. → Read more
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 34 seconds.
Reprinted with permission from The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, January 1965, 7, 207-208.
An eight-year-old girl with a marked visual defect in one eye and a strabismus of that eye was under the care of an ophthalmologist. He had prescribed various eye exercises and the wearing of an eye-patch over the stronger eye to correct the suppression of vision in the weak eye. The girl performed her exercises faithfully, sitting in front of a mirror so that she could see what she was doing. During the course of therapy she became much interested in her pupils and soon discovered the papillary responses to bright and dimmed lights. Since she was an excellent somnambulistic hypnotic subject and had had extensive experience with suggested visual hallucinations, some of which she intentionally remembered subsequent to arousal from the trance state, she became greatly interested in watching her eyes while ”I thought different things.” The wearing of the eye-patch was “thought about,” and she watched the pupils of her eyes as she did this “thinking.” She would “think about” bright lights, semidarkness, and visual hallucinations close m her eyes and far off in the distance. She became markedly aware of the difference in the visual acuity between her eyes, and she would hallucinate an eye-patch over her eye. She learned to dilate and to contract her pupils at will. Then she became interested in unilateral papillary responses. This, she explained, was harder to learn, therefore more interesting. To accomplish this she “imagined” wearing an eye-patch and seeing with only the weaker eye. Then, undoubtedly aided by the learnings affected by the suppression of the vision in the weaker eye, she “imagined” seeing with only the normal eye while she “stopped looking” with the weaker eye. This uniocular effort of hers may also have been aided by a possible central fusion defect, which the ophthalmologist had suggested as distinctly a possibility during his first studies of her vision. In furthering uniocular behavior the girl had called upon her hypnotic experience to hallucinate a patch over one eye and a bright light in front of the other. There were variations of this, such as “imagining looking at something close by with one eye and at something else far away with the other,” an item of behavior highly suggestive of the accomplishment of students who learn to look through a microscope with one eye while using the other in reading or sketching. → Read more
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
As told to the Ernest L. Rossi in 1976.
On one occasion Erickson was lecturing to a group of doctors about hypnosis. He was interrupted when another doctor brought in two women volunteers who were interested in experiencing hypnosis and introduced them to Erickson. In the following he describes the situation as he understood it. → Read more
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 43 seconds.
Unpublished manuscript, circa 1940s, edited by E. L. Rossi
Laskarri had been diagnosed in the psychiatric ward as suffering from schizophrenia of the mixed catatonic-hebephrenic type. He was moderately disturbed in his behavior; several times a day he would shout gibberish apparently at hallucinatory figures and race back and forth and around and about the dormitory beds or scramble frantically under and over them. Or in the dayroom comparable behavior might be manifested in relation to the chairs and tables. Otherwise, he merely mumbled and muttered when questioned, despite the fact that he had a college education. Another item of great interest was his alert, intelligent gaze when not disturbed emotionally. He seemed to be intently studying his fellow patients and the interpersonal relationships between patients and the nursing and medical personnel. Yet when approached directly, his interest seemed to vanish and his gaze became veiled. → Read more
Estimated reading time: 24 minutes, 48 seconds.
The traditional psychotherapies, ranging from classical psychoanalysis to current cognitive-behavioral schools, usually conceptualize communication in terms of verbal interactions between the therapist and patient. The brain and body in the early behaviorist school, for example, were labeled a “black box” that need not be taken into account in describing human behavior. In contrast to this traditional approach, Milton H. Erickson (1948/1980) emphasized that it was the experiential “reassociation,” “reorganization,” and “resynthesis” of one’s internal life that led to problem-solving and healing as follows:
The induction and maintenance of a trance serves to provide a special psychological state in which the patient can reassociate and reorganize his inner psychological complexities and utilize his own capacities in a manner in accord with his own experiential life … Therapy results from an inner resynthesis of the patient’s behavior achieved by the patient himself. It’s true that direct suggestion can effect an alteration in the patient’s behavior and result in a symptomatic cure, at least temporarily. However such a “cure” is simply a response to suggestion and does not entail that reassociation and reorganization of ideas, understandings, and memories so essential for actual cure. It is the experience of reassociating and reorganizing his own experiential life that eventuates in a cure, not the manifestation of responsive behavior which can, at best, satisfy only the observer. (p. 38, italics added) → Read more
When I read about the different schools of psychotherapy or hear addresses by leaders in various methods of therapy, I often have difficulty sorting out what is Ericksonian and what is better named strategic or brief or cognitive or behavioral therapy. Sometimes, it all seems to be the same. And most of the time, it doesn’t matter what the method is called as long as the client receives the needed help. I do think, however, that understanding the basics of Ericksonian psychotherapy and seeing their connections to the multiplicity of current therapies gives modern therapists clarity to define their own stances and philosophical frameworks. We all want to give our clients what they need in ways that are most palatable and understandable to them. Picking and choosing conceptualizations, approaches, and interventions from the various schools, becoming truly eclectic, is one way to do that.
Before Milton H. Erickson, M.D., there were just a few somewhat rigid theories, sweeping generalizations, and only a few “right” ways to do therapy. Therapy once began, often became part of a person’s life essentially forever. It was not uncommon for a patient to see a therapist multiple times a week for years and years. → Read more
When children paint the sun, they often draw a circle with rays coming out. You’ve all seen that; you probably did it yourself when you were young. A year or so later, a child might paint the sun partly behind clouds. Several years later, they might paint rays coming out from the clouds, but the sun is not visible — what a friend of mine calls a “God sunset.” Even subtler is to paint only the scattered reflection of sunlight on water. An accomplished artist doesn’t paint the sun at all but suggests where the sun is by painting a tree with a little more light on one side than the other, and a subtle shadow to indicate the sun’s location. I think that’s a good metaphor for implication: indicating something without ever explicitly stating it. One of my favorite quotes is: “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” (Ralph W. Sockman) Knowledge and wonder are stated; the ocean of ignorance is implied.
On the first page of the first volume of Conversations with Milton H. Erickson, (in which the word “implication” appears about every third page) Jay Haley says, “I have a whole week, so I suspect I can learn all about psychotherapy in that time. I wouldn’t expect that anywhere else but here.” Erickson laughs and says, “Well, we can have our dreams.” That’s a polite way of implying, “You are wildly optimistic!” → Read more
“From 0 to 10, with 10 being high, how would you rate your current level of distress?” With his rating, the client is asked to keep the most distressing picture of his presenting event or memory in mind; then, to identify where the feeling lodges in his body; and lastly, to identify his associated negative cognitions that go with the problem–such as “I’m helpless,” or “It’s my fault.” Continuing with his images, feelings, and thoughts, he is kept grounded in the present through the clinician’s interactions with him. The eye movement stimulation (or possibly an alternate form, auditory or tactile, of left-right lateral stimulation) is then introduced. He is intermittently asked for his rating of his distress on a scale of 0-10–the Subjective Unit of Disturbance Scale (SUDS) while he is processing the trauma, until the point when his memories have lost their disturbing power. This recursive procedure is maintained until he has desensitized his difficult memories and until positive self-cognitions have replaced his negative self-cognitions. When his negative images are dissipated, he is asked to rate the believability of his alternative positive cognitions on a scale of 1(completely untrue) to 7(completely true)–the Validity of Cognition Scale (VOC). From having spoken of his negative cognitions initially, he now speaks of what he would rather believe about himself, his positive cognitions. → Read more
A middle-aged man came to see me under pressure from his wife. She had told him she would leave if he didn’t make some life changes. Both husband and wife expressed that their marriage was very important to them, but it was clear to us all that their marriage was near collapse. He told me he did not know what the problem was even though his wife had complained about his commitment to his work for many years. He acknowledged that he was highly committed to his work, but said it was important to them both and that he was very successful. He wasn’t completely aware, nor was he in agreement, that his business interfered on other levels of their lives.
His wife described the man’s work as his mistress and his only interest and hobby. He didn’t even take vacations without sleeping with his telephone by his side. At, and away from, home, where he wasn’t talking business he was reading financial magazines. He was not interested in his wife’s activities and was unwilling to converse about things of interest to her. They had virtually no social life as a couple. → Read more