Review by Richard Hill MA, MEd, MBMSc, DPC
It feels a bit strange to write about the last volume in the 16-volume set of The Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson. For six years, I have reviewed these volumes for this newsletter’s regular feature, The Beginner’s Mind. I have not only explored each volume for content, but also revealed how Erickson’s work is still relevant to current ideas and developments. This work of passion has helped me feel closer to Milton Erickson, and closer to the volumes’ wonderful editors, Roxanna Erickson-Klein and Kathryn Rossi and Ernest Rossi, who dedicated so much of their time to bringing these volumes to publication.
Volume 16 of the Collected Works is essentially a reproduction of Creative Choice in Hypnotherapy. Edited by Ernest Rossi and Margaret Ryan and published in 1991, this book is the fourth volume of Erickson’s seminars, workshops, and lectures (other volumes can be found in the Collected Works). However, Volume 16 of the Collected Works, contains an additional chapter – an interview with Ernest Rossi — where Rossi recounts the 10 years he spent with Erickson in the 1970s, and also discusses the work he continued to do over the next decade.
In reading Volume 16, I found myself returning to the first page to uncover gems that continue as themes throughout the book.
Until Erickson legitimized hypnosis, it was primarily seen as manipulative, and even today can be described as such. Erickson’s approach was indirect, and it became increasingly so over the years. He did not manipulate patients, but rather facilitated the client’s creative choice. He states that “…hypnosis is essentially a matter of the communication of ideas…so that you have a meeting of two minds for a single purpose: namely the welfare of the patient. The second thing…is that in hypnosis you are using the phenomena of everyday life.” (p.1) By tuning into and utilizing what is natural to the client and what is part of the client’s nature, there is no need to manipulate. He goes so far as to say, “There is really no such thing as hypnotherapy. There is therapy wherein you use hypnotic modalities, hypnotic understanding; but hypnosis itself is not a therapy. Hypnosis is a means of establishing a more adequate contact with your patient and a more favorable environment in which your patient can seek to understand the total situation.” (p.126)
We are encouraged to learn about those “modalities” and “understanding” because “…learning those techniques…acquaints you with…the ability to recognize the pertinent points that you want to use…at a therapeutic level.” (p.6)
There is so much to learn from this volume. Part I takes us through transcripts and descriptions of sessions with valuable commentaries from Rossi. Part II contains descriptions and discussions of case studies by Rossi and Erickson. Part III is primarily about creating trance and utilizing client behaviors. Part IV explores cases and treatments, utilizing choice, expectation, and the vital importance of the client’s personal sense of meaning.
The individual elements of the therapeutic experience are like a freeze frame of an exploding water balloon, where all the drops of water can be seen individually. The components of the therapeutic experience could be, for example, attention, minimal cues, traumatic amnesias, time distortion, resistance, future orientations, phobias, pain control, and/or weight loss. Or it could be something else. Rather than the manipulative imposition that “…the therapist has the miraculous power of effecting therapeutic changes in the patient…therapy results from an inner resynthesis of the patient’s behavior achieved by the patient himself.” (p.51)
Parts V and VII are devoted to the topic of double binds. We learn how it is possible to be indirect and still facilitate the client’s movement toward a necessary goal. Although the term “double bind” was first introduced by Gregory Bateson, it was in Erickson’s language prior to this. Indirect, however, does not mean that the client is just left to flounder. When Rossi shared a realization to Erickson that his (Erickson’s) approach seemed to be like Carl Rogers, Erickson “…fixed me [Rossi] with a laser beam of a gaze and he responded, ‘Carl Rogers is non-directive. I am indirect, but I am very directive in my indirection!’” (p.257)
Part VI – Expanding Human Potentials in Illness and Injury: What’s Right with Mind and Body – is a short but important section of this volume. It explores the importance of discovering and revealing the deeper capacities within the client, and how these can be utilized to create recovery and health and overcome serious deficits and difficulties. I am reminded of a cartoon where a doctor and his client looking at x-rays. The doctor tells the patient, “There’s nothing wrong with you that what’s right with you can’t fix.” This cartoon perhaps sums up the main principle behind all the volumes in the Collected Works. I believe Erickson would have liked this cartoon because it is the essence of his philosophy of therapy and life.
I am thrilled to have had the opportunity with these 16 volumes to discover and rediscover the genius of Erickson. It has been both an honor and privilege to serve under Rossi’s wing, which I believe puts me just a spirit’s breath away from Erickson himself.
I now leave you with these parting words for the 16 volumes “Dive in. The water is great.”
Volumes of the Collected Works series can be found online at the Erickson Foundation store at catalog.erickson-foundation.org.