Home PageBlogEricksonian Approaches with “Indigo Children”

By Maria Escalante Cortina, M.A., DDS

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 15 seconds 

After reading “The Indigo Children” (Carroll and Tober, 1999) I realized these children would be helped by utilizing Ericksonian Psychotherapy. Utilization is a fundamental premise of this therapy. It is important for anyone, and certainly for children, that attributes and qualities be used instead of productively being labeled “faults.” Additionally, as Haley says in “Jay Haley on Milton H. Erickson,” (pp. 39, 1993. Brunner/Mazel, N.Y.) Erickson often used metaphors to help people of diverse views. In this way, they could more easily discover their own ideas. This concept led me to think about ways for helping the “Indigo Children.”

“Indigo children” typically become frustrated with systems that are ritual-oriented and ones that do not require creative thought. One way of using that “fault” as an attribute is “following” them and tailoring our work to their needs. That way, they discover their own ideas. For example, these children have difficulties with boundaries. One way of understanding what a boundary really is could be a task during a session where a wall is built of modeling clay and wood sticks. As the wall–a metaphor for boundaries–is actually built, lots of unexpected things usually occur. Sticks may fall. When fixing one side, the other side falls apart. It is always necessary to “revise” construction. Changes can be made all the time; the wall can be adjusted by using or adding other materials. When a conversational trance is used during work with the child, phrases such as: “Things can be fixed,” “We are always learning something new,” or more ambiguous phrases such as “Things may fall or not,” or “They may grow too,” and “If anything breaks, it can be fixed as well,” help the child find personal meaning in a non-threatening and creative style, congruent with self and personality.

I recently met a little boy named German, who was eight years old. He was brought to therapy because he was receiving bad grades at school. It seemed he was distracted quite often and did things too slowly. Teachers also reported he was isolated from his schoolmates.

I decided to focus on German’s love for music and singing. We sing during therapy sessions. In the last few sessions, I used a song I invented aimed at making him realize all the good things he has in his body that help him. He has eyes, ears, a mouth, and a nose. Not only do German and I sing together, but we also dance together as well. Our song emphasizes how all our parts contribute to the whole of us. It takes all of us, all of our parts, to be the best we can.

At this point, after eleven weeks of therapy, the teacher has reported German is making friends more easily than before and that his grades are improving as well. One of the last things the teacher reported is that he writes more clearly. Parents say he is more tolerant when they say “no.”

As therapy has continued, German and I share greeting cards through the Internet. I select the cards carefully to address the characteristics I want him to understand from a different and more helpful perspective. For example, if I know that he is sad, I send him a card where there is a TV character showing different faces (different moods) the character may be sad, but it may also be happy, dreaming, tired. This is an “indirect” way to let him know that things change and that we do not feel the same way all the time.

I have treated other children who have the characteristics of “Indigo Children.” Eduardo is very interested in cars. Sometimes he shows me his magazine collections and knows the brand names, prices, and features, among other things. His classmates may be more interested in other issues, such as football. So we may talk about differences, and at the same time, I look for ways to reframe these. Comments such as, “even though some cars are more expensive, they may not be as nice as yours.” Or, “you can find the same model in different colors,” and, “more than one is nice.” Here, the embedded message would be that people can be nice; you can be nice despite differences. Since these children seem to be sensitive as well as appearing more mature than their classmates and they talk and think as if they were older, we can take advantage of this, and enter their world while having these “informal” conversations. This is a tremendous asset in therapy, especially when the therapist accepts the importance of what the child offers.

From La Magia de Neustros Disfraces (The Magic in Our Disguises) (Robles, Alom Editores, Mexico 1999) I learned that many times each of us wears “invisible disguises.” These often contribute to behaviors that sometimes surprise us and sometimes to behaviors that we don’t like but seem unable to stop.

One time I met a little boy nicknamed “Chapulín” which is a Mexican word meaning “cricket.” He was called this because he jumped around a lot and had difficulty remaining seated for a long time. “Indigo children” frequently are given nicknames of their characteristics; sometimes the nicknames are kind and loving but more often they emphasize a characteristic adults dislike.

The thought of invisible disguises intrigued me. Robles emphasizes how it can be useful if it is understood that it is a costume that can be put on and taken off. I have encouraged many clients to actually make their own “disguises” with paper and other materials. As the child makes his costume, we talk about features on his disguise and of “invisible disguises.” After making it, the client takes his costume home and is asked to play with it and to take it off and put it on. For Chapulín, this was an indirect way of saying that he is not and did not have to be, “the noisy, jumping cricket” all the time.

These are only three examples that have helped me to treat these creative and thought-provoking children. Each therapist may find different ways to design and create metaphors that fit each individual case. I find my work with these wonderful “Indigo Children” to be just fascinating!


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 23, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.

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