Home PageBlogFacets and Reflections (Untitled)

By Jeffrey Zeig

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 22 seconds 

When I visited Dr. Erickson I stayed in the bedroom in his guesthouse. I was putting away my things and I found a box on the floor of the closet containing old reel-to-reel audiotapes of Dr. Erickson’s lectures to medical audiences in the 1950s and 1960s. Remember that he was teaching to medical audiences. The audiences than did not consist primarily of psychotherapists or counselors, because there weren’t so many psychologists or counselors in the 1950s and ’60s.

I asked Dr. Erickson, “Could I listen to these old tapes and, could I put them in a more modern form so they could be preserved for history?” He agreed that I could. I started listening to one of the old lectures and it was like one long induction of hypnosis. It was curious. It was surprising. And so I asked him, “Dr. Erickson, this wasn’t really a lecture; it was like one long induction of hypnosis.” And he said to me, “Oh, Jeff, I never listen to those lectures. I didn’t teach content. I taught to motivate.”

That reply was so eerie to me. I couldn’t grasp it. I couldn’t wrap my hands around the idea of teaching to elicit a state. I had never thought that somebody could teach to elicit a state. All of my educational life I had to learn facts. And only gradually did I begin to understand that hypnosis had become a lens, a way of seeing things differently, to Dr. Erickson. Freud would use psychoanalysis as a lens to examine literature or cultures. Dr. Erickson started to think in terms of eliciting states. A purpose of hypnosis is to use an artistic, sometimes ambiguous form of communication to elicit changes in state. The method need not be limited to formal trance; it could be applied naturalistically in therapy and even in teaching.

If you want to get the information you can read a book, but if you want to experience ways in which you could be different you had to change your “state.” I would put “state” in quotation marks because it is something one defines subjectively, rather than objectively. In my vocabulary, I would think about curiosity as being a “state”. I would think about attentiveness as being a “state.” I would think about the experience of love as being a “state.” We change our state due to what we experience, not what we think. We know when we’re being attentive. We know when we’re being curious. We know when we’re in love. But it is really difficult to define the phenomenological, social, physiological, contextual variables that compose the specific ”state.” It would seem to me that Dr. Erickson would elicit specific psychosocial/contextual variables, and by doing so he would help people change their state.

When patients felt locked into some kind of symptom state, Dr. Erickson would elicit a flexible, effective state that could be useful to them and enable them to help themselves make the transition from being stuck in an ineffective place into a more flexible, effective way of being.

He would ingeniously find a way to utilize whatever was given to him. Utilization serves as a foundation of an Ericksonian approach. If you read any of Erickson’s cases, all of Erickson’s cases, they all pivot around this concept of utilization. And utilization, too, is a “state.” It’s not a technique. The therapist goes into a utilization “state,” response-ready to use constructively whatever exists in the therapy situation to advance the trance or to advance the therapy.

Almost all of my writings during the past 20 years have been explications of Dr. Erickson’s utilization approach. And it has been a kind of Holy Grail that I’ve sought, to try to bring to the forefront the philosophy of utilization. One can maintain that the flexibility of the therapist to enter into effectiveness states, such as utilization, is a vehicle that helps patients to flexibly change their symptomatic “states”.


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 29, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,