By Jeffrey K. Zeig
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 59 seconds
The following is an excerpt from the biography on Milton Erickson and was taken from an interview with Paul Lounsbury and Nancy Winston in May 1993.
Paul C. Lounsbury and Nancy Winston were married from 1987 to 2003. They live in New York. Lounsbury is a marriage and family therapist and Winston is a clinical social worker and therapist.
In the 1970s, Paul Lounsbury and Nancy Winston met at a transactional analysis conference and they began studying together. Both had read Uncommon Therapy (Haley, 1973) and both were intrigued with Milton Erickson. Lounsbury visited Erickson first, then the two went together. For the next few years, they visited separately or together. Lounsbury recalled his first visit: “My first impression of Erickson was how small he looked in the wheelchair. He was a small man, but by the end of the week, there was this giant sitting there. I think I was in a stuporous trance most of the time. We [the group] were all staying in the same hotel. I remember everyone was getting ready to go out and have a good time, but Erickson was insistent. He said, ‘You all have a lot of work to do. And God help you if you don’t do it now!’ It almost scared the stew out of everyone, and then he wheeled his chair out of the office like he was annoyed. We all went to the hotel, dropped our plans for a party, and started practicing trance work.”
Winston’s first impression of Erickson: “I was going to be better than this guy. I was just going to watch and see what he was going to do. And so, that first day, I didn’t take my eyes off him. At some point, he asked, ‘Well, does anybody know that they have been in a trance, or do they know that they have not been in a trance?’ And he just looked at me. And naively I said, ‘Yes.’ …and I laughed and he laughed too…and the feeling that I got was that I could challenge him, and he was right there and could play…he was uncannily perceptive.”
Lounsbury also recalled Erickson’s perceptiveness: “What was striking to me was how he would orient in an instant to the tiniest movement in the room. And it was almost shocking to see how quickly he would reorient someone because of it.”
Winston: “There was once a woman with an all-day sucker, and he didn’t say anything about it. By the end of the week, she was still sucking it – but slower and slower. I also remember a time when there were three big men on the couch and one in the chair and there was me. Erickson said, ‘Can you get this guy on the chair to sit on the couch’…and so I did…and all the men looked crunched on the
couch, and I got to sit in the chair. It [Erickson’s directive] gave me permission and empowerment.”
Winston stated that how Lounsbury and she got married “is an Erickson story.” “Our relationship with him evolved through letters we would write when we came…” Lounsbury added, “And the video camera.”
Lounsbury and Winston would also write questions for Erickson, but the first time they saw him, it was difficult to get Erickson to answer them. He would stick with his program. But they did not give up and continued writing questions that developed into them videotaping Erickson.
“The first time I brought the video camera,” Lounsbury recalled, “I was fumbling around with it. I was pretty much in awe of him, and I had this sense that he was watching me, and it made me very uncomfortable…and he was playing with Blinky – and it was very powerful because he had me pull the plug out, and of course Blinky remained on. And then he said, ‘Now, put it back in.’ And I went to plug it in, he said, ‘adequately!’…one of the things that stayed with me most about him was that no one had ever looked at me like that before; he saw me in so many different ways. He sat there in the chair and looked at everybody. He was so centered with where he was.” [Blinky was an electronic device fashioned by Erickson’s son, Allan. It had a capacitor and would continue to blink, even after the plug was removed.]
Erickson began using Lounsbury’s video as feedback to the group. “A number of times,” Lounsbury recalled, “Nancy and I would both be awake, but everyone else would be in trance – and we wondered why. And I would find myself moving the camera toward someone. And I looked over at Erickson’s finger and noticed it was pointed. He had been directing me to point the camera over there, so he would
be using what was going on in the room to answer questions. It was rather fascinating — this was sort of an unconscious dialogue…the relationship that we found was through the video camera…”
“One of the questions that we asked was: How did he utilize the dominant and non-dominant hemispheres? How did he utilize those distinctions? He went into a discussion about dominant relationships and he began talking about his daughter [Roxanna] marrying. We had this indirect sense…because when we got back, we moved in together. Then he [Erickson] told us to get married…It was interesting
how this thing [Lounsbury and Winston’s relationship] hopscotched its way forward…we kept moving closer together.”
“Another experience that was very powerful for me,” Lounsbury continued, “was we were having this argument one day about differences and similarities. He [Erickson] was saying, ‘Well, everyone is different.’ And I started arguing with him, and said, ‘Well, everyone is similar too.’ Then he looked at me and said something that stunned me. He said, ‘All right…I have a heart and you have a heart. Now, tell me, what side of your body is your heart on?’ I could not talk. All I could do was point down to where it was. And he shifted and got very warm and nurturing and said, ‘Yes, mine is on the left side too, but it is different for some people… It was a very accepting message: ‘We are here together.’ He went down to the deep reservoirs…into the emotional domain, and met people there…”
From 1977-’80, Lounsbury and Winston continued seeing Erickson. They both remember leaving sessions with Erickson and feeling tired and hungry. They chalked it up to working hard in session and concentrating. “ [It was]…like moving furniture …” Lounsbury stated.
Near the end of Erickson’s life, Lounsbury recalled Erickson metaphorically talking about or telling stories about death more frequently. He recalled Erickson saying, ‘You have that big tree, Palo Verde, in the backyard [Erickson had a Palo Verde tree in his back yard], and it’s wonderful. But soon, it is not going to be there.’”
The Lounsbury Winston collection of videos is housed in the Erickson Foundation archives. Some annotated videos from the collection can be streamed. (See erickson-foundation.org)
Haley, J. (1973). Uncommon therapy: the psychiatric techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D., W. W. Norton & Company.
This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 40, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.
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