Home PageBlogBook Review: Psychoaerobics: An Experiential Method to Empower Therapist Excellence

By Jeffrey K. Zeig, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Rubin Battino, M.S.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 11 seconds

What are Psychoaerobic Exercises, and why are they useful in training therapists and empowering excellence? In his most recent book, Psychoaerobics: An Experiential Method to Empower Therapist Excellence, Jeffrey Zeig emphasizes conceptual rather than factual learning. That is, one “knows” a fact, but one has a “felt sense” of a concept. Thus, his Psychoaerobic Exercises are all designed to be experiential rather than cognitive. People learn most deeply by feeling, sensing, and doing. Zeig states categorically: “The consultation room is the theater of the conceptual.” It is not a lecture hall where facts are stated. “It is the job of the therapist to strengthen positive concepts and modify ineffective, negative concepts.” The exercises can then be described as mini-psychodramas done in a group setting where all the participants are engaged experientially. You do not learn how to play tennis or a musical instrument by observing, but by repetitive practice under the guidance of a professional.

There are 60 experiential exercises, focused on specific domains of therapist development, and their purpose is to improve interpersonal communication whenever the goal is conceptual or emotional. Zeig maintains that an effective therapist functions more like an artist rather than a technician. In that sense, the exercises are designed to empower therapists by experiencing the artistry of therapy. Zeig credits his former teacher and mentor, Milton Erickson, as being the paradigm of therapist as artist, and includes many examples of his work. Erickson was basically self-taught; however, Zeig serves as a guide to walk you through your own development. He states: “Therapy should be a symbolic, experiential drama of change, the implicit imperative of which is, ‘By living this evocative experience, empowerment will result.’”

The format for the exercises is: (1) Clinician Posture to Develop; (2) Format; (3) Roles; (4) Method; (5) Variations; (6) Purpose; and occasionally a discussion. Pitchers and Receivers are most often the roles.

Perhaps the following exercise can give you a sense of the exercises, although each often has many variations.

Psychoaerobic Exercise 27

Clinical Posture to Develop: Communicate for strategic effect. Multiple-level communication.

Format: Dyads.

Roles: One Pitcher; one Receiver.

Method: The Receiver closes his eyes. The Pitcher provides an induction of hypnosis. The Receiver is not informed of the method to be used. The handout can be given to the Receiver after the exercise, or the Receiver leaves the room and the exercise is explained to the Pitcher.

The sole method to be used is sets of recursive triplicates. A recursion is a theme presented with a modification; it is not a repetition. For example, “You are learning important things…things that really can stay with you…things that provide new meaning.”

Use recursions for the four hypnotic goals: alter attention, modify intensity, dissociate, and build implicit responsiveness.

Discuss the state of being strategic.

Variation: Use the recursive processes to suggest a clinical goal, e.g., roleplay a problem such as the inability to stop smoking or fear of flying. Use recursions for important interventions.

Purpose: Strengthen the message. Recursions provide an opportunity for the listener to better absorb conceptual messages.

Zeig emphasizes that this kind of experiential learning involves lots of practice and repetition. So how does one manage to fit 60 exercises into their life? Perhaps you can work with a group of friends and do one exercise per week. In my own experience, Psychoaerobics is reminiscent of early experiences with encounter groups and psychodrama, where the learning was experiential rather than didactic. Zeig states: “Teachers can freely copy exercises for students, as long as they are copied exactly as printed here.” (p. 60)

This is a practical way to be empowered as a therapist. Enjoy!

Psychoaerobics: An Experiential Method to Empower Therapist Excellence is part of The Empowering Experiential Therapy Series, which can be found here.


This book review has been extracted from Volume 35, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.

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