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By Terry Argast, PhD

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 28 seconds

Rick was a 17- year- old boy who had stuttered since he started to speak. He and his mother came to Arizona from Massachusetts to see Erickson, who said, “I took one look at the mother, and Rick and I recognized the ethnic group.” He got a history. The parents were both from a certain community in Lebanon. They came to the United States and married and became citizens. Erickson explained, “Now, in that culture, man is a lot higher than God, and woman is a low lower than low. Now, a man’s children live with him, and as long as they live with him, he is an absolute dictator. And girls are a nuisance. You try to get them married and off your hands because girls and women are fit for only two things–hard work and breeding. And the first child of the marriage should be a boy. If it isn’t a boy the man says, ‘I divorce you,’ three times, and even if his bride brought a million dollars in dowry, her husband confiscates it…Because the first child should be a boy.”

In this case, Rick was the third child with two older sisters. Erickson continued, “Rick was broad-shouldered and sturdy, about 5’10” and his father was 6′ and slender. So Rick was an insult also, not only because he was the third child, but because he didn’t resemble his father.”

Erickson gave Rick a task of working two hours a day in the shop of a Lebanese woman’s florist shop and nursery. Over the phone in the presence of Rick and his mother, Erickson gives the following instructions, “I want you to give him (Rick) the dirtiest, dirtiest work you can…he is not to be paid anything. You don’t have to say anything, just point to the dirty work.”Erickson explained, “..no self-respecting Lebanese…would ever think of working for a woman–it is beneath his dignity. And as for dirty work, that’s only fit for females.”

After seeing Rick for some time, Erickson told the mother to rent Rick a temporary apartment and give him a checking account, then for her to take the first plane back home. The woman said, “I don’t think his father will approve.” To which Erickson replied, “Woman, I never allow anybody to interfere with my patients. Now go and do as I say,” which she did.

Erickson met with Rick and told him, “Rick, I have listened to you carefully. I don’t believe you stutter.

And tomorrow, I want you to bring in two sheets of paper. On the sheets of paper, you will write the numbers of the alphabet from one to ten, and you will write the alphabet. And then you will write a composition on any subject you wish and bring it in tomorrow. And that will prove that you don’t have a stutter.”

This is part of what Rick wrote:

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

z y x w v u t s r q p o n m l k j i h g f e d c b a

Life Histoyr

I fele that theer is anothre rea- son fro my stuttergin, which ew have ton dicussde. I fele, however thta this reanos is onyl a minro one. Yte, you mya feel thta this reanos

did ton contribute ot my stuttergin at lla.

Erickson explained to Rick that, “He came from Lebanese parentage. That is the first part of the family, and they are all right. And he had two sisters who were born before he was and there should be two reversals in that family. But you can’t reverse them.”

Erickson gave Rick the task of reading a book aloud backward from the last word to the first word. “That will give you practice at saying words without communicating…You need practice at saying words.” Then Erickson gave him the assignment of reading a book from the last chapter to the first.

Then  Erickson told  Rick that while he came from a home that was Lebanese, that he was an American. “You are a first-class citizen of America, and your parents are second class…You can respect the Lebanese culture, but it isn’t your culture. Your culture is American.”Erickson’s parting words were, “Now, Rick your therapy is to respect your parent, to know what American culture is for you, for your sisters; and learn to think freely in all directions.” Rick’s speech improvement was rapid and complete.



Erickson said, “I think any theoretically based psychotherapy is mistaken because each person is different.” Understanding Rick’s personal, family and cultural dilemma provides a springboard for the clinical intervention that has nothing to do with the diagnosis of stuttering. Erickson sees the symptom as symbolic of Rick’s double bind and provides a way out of the bind, which Rick took. Not only did his speech improve, but Rick was able to assert himself with his parents and make his own decision regarding college and a profession. Erickson also gave Rick the assignment of explaining what it meant to be American to his sisters. Erickson said, “I don’t know what the parents think about me, but they have three children to be proud of. You might call it family therapy.”

This case is from A Teaching Seminar with Milton H. Erickson, edited by Jeffrey K. Zeig. (1980) New York: Brunner/Mazel. Pages 121-132.


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 23, Issue No. 1 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter. 

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