The History of the Milton H. Erickson Foundation:
A Story of Cooperative Effort
This historical account is composed of contributions from Linda Carr-McThrall, Roxanna Erickson Klein, Marnie McGann, Dan Short, and Jeff Zeig.
“A goal without a date is just a dream.” Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
Perhaps it was foreshadowing that Dr. Erickson once made that pronouncement. The Milton H. Erickson Foundation came to life based on the dream of Jeffrey Zeig, PhD. And, more than four decades after its inception, bolstered by a small hardworking staff, the generosity of donors, and extensive dedication of volunteers, the Foundation has reached beyond humble beginnings to become one of the most globally recognized and influential organizations in the field of psychotherapy.
Early in his career as a clinical psychologist, Zeig aspired to repay the generosity that Milton Erickson had bestowed upon him. Remembering his own days as a medical student without monetary resources, Dr. Erickson mentored promising students, including Zeig, without charging them a fee. Zeig’s studies under Dr. Erickson were more intense than many of Dr. Erickson’s other protégés. Over a six-year interval (1973-1979), Zeig was invited many times to stay as a guest at the Erickson home. As friendship and mutual appreciation grew, Dr. Erickson had a deep impact on Zeig’s view of psychotherapy…and his view of the world.
Milton H. Erickson, MD, was already recognized by many as the world’s foremost authority on hypnosis and brief strategic psychotherapy. His approaches had attracted worldwide attention and serious studies from research hubs. Many notables in the field, including Jay Haley and Ernest Rossi, recognized the pivotal importance of Dr. Erickson’s contributions and called attention to the paradigm shifts that brought new understandings to psychotherapy.
In his own modest way, Zeig wanted to thank Dr. Erickson by orchestrating an event in which he could express his gratitude. He also wanted to offer Dr. Erickson an opportunity to witness the tremendous impact his ideas had made on individuals and the field. Zeig dreamed of holding a congress focused on Dr. Erickson’s approaches to hypnosis and psychotherapy, which would feature speakers who could attest to the impact and paramount influence Dr. Erickson had on their work. Zeig envisioned it as an international event, held at the convention center in Phoenix, Arizona, which would coincide with Dr. Erickson’s 79th birthday — December 5, 1980.
Several months passed before Dr. Erickson gave consent to the event; he was possibly evaluating Zeig’s resolve. Once agreed upon, Zeig rallied the support of other students who had benefited from Dr. Erickson’s generosity. Working out of Zeig’s home, volunteers sent out 70,000 brochures. Faculty invitations were individually composed by Sherron Peters, then Zeig’s fiancé, on a typewriter loaned by the Arizona State Hospital where Zeig worked. The response to the congress was phenomenal. As registrations poured in, the need to establish a more formal non-profit educational foundation was recognized.
To obtain funds for the first congress, Zeig decided to use a transcription of an exceptional Erickson seminar as the basis for a book. A Teaching Seminar with Milton H. Erickson was published by Brunner/Mazel (1980). The publisher also contracted for the proceedings of the congress and gave an advance that allowed for the legal filing of corporate papers. Zeig founded The Milton H. Erickson Foundation, which was officially incorporated in 1979. Even then, the Foundation was envisioned as a vehicle to put together future training events because the congress already had tremendous promise and momentum. Dr. Erickson and his wife Elizabeth, along with Zeig and Sherron Peters, served as the first board of directors, and Peters held the first paid position as executive director. An educational mission was written, and a non-profit commitment was made. Zeig declined to take a salary for the first seven years, approximate to the time Erickson trained him. For the years that Zeig has served as director of the Foundation, he has received only a token salary for his considerable work.
In accordance with Dr. Erickson’s wishes, emphasis was on integrating Ericksonian methods into the mainstream of psychotherapy, not on establishing a separate school. It was agreed that the presentations and training be restricted to professionals rather than include a broader audience. The board members also decided that the Foundation would not be a membership organization.
Dr. Erickson’s Death:
In March of 1980, seven months prior to the congress, Dr. Erickson had a brief illness, and then suddenly passed away. The family decided to hold a small private memorial service and scatter his cremated ashes on a landmark overlooking the family home. Sorrow from the loss rippled throughout the professional community and echoed the magnitude of Dr. Erickson’s contribution. Dr. Erickson, however, was able to recognize and appreciate part of Zeig’s gift. When he was alive, 750 professionals had already registered for the congress — a number greater than had ever previously assembled for a conference focused solely on the topic of hypnosis.
Despite their loss, the Erickson family encouraged Zeig to move forward with his plans for the congress. They felt it would serve to bring together those who wished to honor Dr. Erickson and serve to unite professionals who shared similar beliefs in approaches to treatment. A few months after Dr. Erickson died, there was another unexpected turn of events. Gregory Bateson, who was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at congress, also died. “Nearly every available authority on Ericksonian hypnosis and psychotherapy was already on the faculty,” Zeig explained, “so a decision was made to go outside the field and invite Carl Whitaker, MD, to be a keynote speaker.” He accepted, and the first congress took place in December 1980, attracting more than 2,000 attendees, making it the largest conference ever held on the topic of hypnosis for decades to come.
Board of Directors:
The Foundation’s board members are dedicated volunteers who are instrumental in reviewing the mission statement and overseeing the performance of the Foundation. These unpaid appointed positions do not have a term of office.
After Dr. Erickson died, Kristina Erickson, MD, an emergency room physician, stepped in to fill her father’s position on the board. In 1988, Peters resigned her position and was replaced by J. Charles Theisen, JD, who had a law degree from Stanford, a master’s degree in psychology, expertise in business, and a strong dedication to the Foundation’s mission. In 1994, Kristina Erickson retired from her role and was replaced by another family member, Roxanna Erickson Klein, RN, PhD. In 1998, the board reached out to the international audience by electing Camillo Loriedo, MD, as one of its members. Loriedo had successfully established the Erickson Institute in Rome and served as president for both the Italian Society of Hypnosis and the Italian Family Therapy organization. A year later, Bernhard Trenkle, Dipl. Psych., director of the Erickson Institute in Rottweil and then president of the German Erickson Society, also joined the board. Renowned international figures and two of Europe’s most imminent therapists, Loriedo and Trenkle, have served as faculty at many Foundation conferences. In 2008, Elizabeth Erickson, one of the original board members, passed away.
In 2016, Helen Erickson, PhD, MSN, BSN, an accomplished nurse/educator and Erickson’s daughter-in-law, joined the board. In 1957, Helen married Lance Erickson in Clare, Michigan. Her primary publications include: Modeling and Role-Modeling: A Theory and Paradigm for Nursing (1982-2017); Modeling and Role-Modeling: A View from the Client’s World, and Exploring the Interface Between the Philosophy and Discipline of Nursing. She has also authored several chapters and articles derived from her experience as an educator, clinician and researcher. Inspired and mentored by Milton Erickson, her work describes relationship among soul, spirit, and human form; inherent lifetime processes; and the necessity of practice within the context of the individual’s worldview.
Helen co-founded and served as the first president of the Society for the Advancement of Modeling and Role-Modeling (SAMRM). She also served as co-founder for the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (1997) and as board chair for the organization. She continues to work with both organizations as a presenter and provides leadership in planning, organizing, consulting, and presenting at national and international events.
Helen holds the title of Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas, Austin. She has been the recipient of multiple awards including Holistic Nurse of the Year, 2012 and Lifetime Achievement Award, 2016, The American Holistic Nurses Association.
Roxanna Erickson Klein, RN, PhD, balances her times between clinical work, writing, and teaching. Erickson Klein is coauthor (with Dan Short and Betty Alice Erickson) of Hope & Resiliency: Understanding the Psychotherapeutic Strategies of Milton H. Erickson, and co-editor (with Ernest and Kathryn Rossi) of The Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson, a 16-volume set. She has compiled an international glossary to bring more consistency to translations of professional Ericksonian literature. She also coauthored a book (with Kay Colbert) entitled: Engage the Group; Engage the Brain, that offers group exercises for treatment of substance abuse.
Camillo Loriedo, MD, PhD, is an emeritus professor of psychiatry and psychotherapy at the University of Rome, School of Medicine, and School of Specialization. He has been president of the Italian Society of Psychotherapy and has served as president of the International Society of Hypnosis. Loriedo has authored more than 350 scientific papers and 26 books.
J. Charles Theisen, MA, MBA, JD, PhD, is, or has been, an active member of CEO (Chief Executive Organization) and YPO/WPO, (Young Presidents Organization and World Presidents Organization). Theisen has served and currently serves on the boards of many service organizations.
Bernard Trenkle, Dipl. Psych., is director of the Milton Erickson Institute, Rottweil, Germany, and served as president of the International Society of Hypnosis. He also served as past president of the Milton Erickson Society of Clinical Hypnosis in Germany. Along with co-organizing the European Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in 1994 in Hamburg, Trenkle has organized international child hypnosis conferences in Germany and the International Society of Hypnosis meeting in Bremen in 2012, which eclipsed the first Erickson Congress, with more than 2,300 attendees.
Jeffrey K. Zeig, PhD, is the founder and director of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation. Zeig also is the architect of the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Brief Therapy Conference, Couples Conference, and the International Congresses on Ericksonian Approaches to Psychotherapy. He is on the editorial board of numerous journals; Fellow of the American Psychological Association; and Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. A clinical psychologist, Zeig has a private practice and conducts workshops internationally in 40 countries. He has been an invited speaker at major universities and teaching hospitals, and has edited, co-edited, authored, or coauthored more than 20 books on psychotherapy that appear in 14 foreign languages.
The spirit of volunteering has been central to the Foundation since its inception. Since 1979, when volunteers sorted mailings for the first congress on the floor of Zeig’s living room, through the present as volunteers make substantial gifts of their time and talents, the spirit of selfless giving is key to both the success of the Foundation and to the underlying philosophy of the Ericksonian approach. And although not all the needs are met, and not all dreams fulfilled, the contributions made by volunteers have substantially enhanced what the small paid staff has been able to accomplish. A debt of gratitude to the broad base of volunteers is felt every day.
Shortly after the first congress, Bill O’Hanlon, MS, volunteered to spearhead The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter as a way of networking with faculty, participants, and the wider audience of professionals interested in the work and directions of Milton Erickson. The first issue of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter was published June 21, 1987. It facilitated the ongoing dialogue of Ericksonian approaches and developed a forum for discussion and evaluation of effective therapeutic approaches. Following a six-year term as editor, O’Hanlon was succeeded by Michael Yapko, PhD, who served for the next six years. Subsequently, the position has been filled by long-term volunteers, including Roxanna Erickson Klein, Betty Alice Erickson, MS, Dan Short, PhD, and Sharon Mclaughlin.
Since 2002, Richard Landis, PhD, has served as executive editor, Karen Haviley is production manager, and John Lentz, D. Min., oversees the book reviews. The newsletter is published in newspaper format three times a year, and continues to increase in content, offering engaging interviews with professionals in the field, articles of interest, and book and media reviews. The newsletter is mailed free-of-charge to 8,000 U.S. professionals per year. Worldwide, approximately 4,000 readers more download it.
Those who followed Erickson’s work were excited when Zeig published a brochure for the first congress in 1980 announcing that a foundation had been established to advance Ericksonian therapy. This was the first time that Erickson’s work was being offered as a way of practice that could be learned and studied by others. As communication was enhanced among clinicians and educators, the term “Ericksonian approaches” began to gain attention and become more widely used. Ericksonian broadly refers to techniques of hypnosis and psychotherapy that were developed by Milton Erickson. It also includes his view on human nature and the relationship between the therapist and the client, and his focus on an individual’s strengths rather his or her limitations. However, it is important to recognize the distinction between Dr. Erickson’s work, and Ericksonian work, which is generated by his followers.
Zeig constructed a concise diagram that displays the genealogy of Dr. Erickson’s influence.
Available at www.erickson-foundation.org/genealogy.
While Dr. Erickson’s ideas were initially considered revolutionary, they have become more accepted and are the foundation for other schools of psychotherapy that are already considered mainstream. Erickson’s ideas not only spun off multiple schools of psychotherapy, but his philosophy about human nature and the use of naturalistic approaches have infiltrated many other healthcare disciplines.
Dr. Erickson eschewed the concept that any single approach can constitute a theory of psychotherapy. Rather, he believed the professional task is to adapt to changing needs and circumstances that evolve over time. Despite his position, efforts have been made by many of his followers to more clearly define Dr. Erickson’s work, and the underlying constructs that identify the Ericksonian perspective.
Lifetime Achievement Award:
At the 1980 congress, Jay Haley was honored as the first recipient of the Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is in recognition of professional contribution, not only to Ericksonian psychotherapy, but to the all-encompassing field of psychotherapy and the well-being of society. Subsequent winners have been Ernest Rossi (1986), Paul Watzlawick (1988), Elizabeth Erickson (1989), Kay Thompson (1992), Stephen Lankton (1994), Burkhard Peter (1999), Bernhard Trenkle (1999), Camillo Loriedo (2001), Stephen Gilligan (2004), Michael Yapko (2007), Teresa Robles (2011), Brent Geary (2015), and Rick Landis (2019).
At the final congress in December 2019, Jeff Zeig was also awarded for his lifetime contribution to the international advancement of Ericksonian approaches and evolution of psychotherapy.
The Foundation’s board of directors has identified the development of the Erickson archives as a primary role of the Foundation. This includes making Dr. Erickson’s work more accessible and familiar to the healthcare community.
Lori Weiers, an early staff member, was the first to oversee and organize the Foundation’s archives. She transcribed many workshops and interviews conducted by Zeig, and as myriad historical materials piled up — letters, interviews, audiotapes, videotapes, books — a professional archivist from Arizona State University was consulted to train Weiers. “The archives were a big step forward,” Weiers reflected in an interview.
Today, the archives serve as a repository for three distinct, but overlapping collections: The Milton H. Erickson works; the work of Erickson’s contemporaries and successors; and the expansive collection of materials pertaining to the conferences organized by the Foundation. The collection of articles and stories relating to Dr. Erickson’s influence continues to grow. The archives also contain audios and videos from the Foundation’s conferences, including Brief Therapy, Couples, Evolution, and the Erickson congresses. Within three decades, the Foundation archives have grown to become among the most extensive in the world. Since 2015, Leigh McCormick has served as the Foundation’s full-time archivist. She has taken the organization of the archives to a new level. Currently, the Foundation is digitizing the archives in several file formats.
The vision of making the archives a destination for serious students was limited in its success due to space and staff constraints. However, the Foundation’s move to new headquarters in 2012 helped resolve the competition for space that stifled much of the archive’s accessibility. Today the archives more accessible and the Foundation encourages students to visit and use the materials firsthand to fortify their education and enhance their skills.
With the success of the 1980 congress, the board began to envision future training events and educational opportunities. A modest white stucco cottage at 3606 North 24th Street in Phoenix was purchased for the Foundation’s operations, and a small staff was hired. With each training event, interest in Ericksonian approaches continued to grow, and the Foundation itself grew. Eventually, three more adjacent cottages were purchased and eventually the four cottages became the Foundation’s headquarters for more than 30 years.
In 2009, the Foundation purchased a building at 2632 East Thomas Road in Phoenix, and in 2011, construction began to remodel the upper level for new headquarters. In September 2012, the Foundation moved to the building. When a former long-term employee, Alice McAvoy, was asked to identify the most significant change in the Foundation over the years, she replied, “The new building — it’s glorious!”
In the early days, Foundation employees wore many hats, and happily so. Lori Weiers, a retired schoolteacher, was no exception. In 1981, she accepted what she thought would be merely a part-time, temporary position and wound up staying at the Foundation for nearly two decades. She began by typing all conference registration names on index cards. “This was before we had computers,” she recalls, “and it was quite a test.” Weiers soon became volunteer coordinator before working in the archives.
In 1986, Linda McThrall, an Arizona State University journalism graduate, joined the Foundation, becoming executive director a year later. “It was not easy for me,” she recalls, “because I don’t like being on the frontlines. I’m more comfortable in the background.” McThrall’s responsibilities included organizing the conferences, congresses, seminars, and workshops. “Our staff accomplished some major things, often on a shoestring budget. There was always something interesting or challenging. You had the opportunity to be creative. At that time, the staff was almost all women. It was a place where you could be yourself.”
The flexibility of the Foundation’s work environment allowed staff members to spearhead specific projects, some of which have continued to grow. Mary Helen Kelly brought years of experience in working with non-profits and helped to establish a systematic way of coordinating the Erickson institutes and compiled the first institute directory.
Unlike many of the staff whose introduction to Dr. Erickson’s work was in the context of employment, Alice McAvoy came to work at the Foundation because of Milton Erickson. She has visited him wanting to know more about hypnosis and how to deal with pain issues that plagued her throughout her life. “It was interesting meeting him,” she recalls. “He was in a wheelchair at that time, and he always wore purple ‘pajamas.’ He was very helpful, and although I did not get hypnosis from him, he gave me lots of tips on how to achieve self-hypnosis. One of the most exciting things about working at the Foundation was the big conferences and the opportunity to meet and interact with professionals from all over the world. We felt that we were doing something important by promoting and legitimizing the use the hypnosis.” At the time, McAvoy’s husband worked as a counselor, so she volunteered her services at the Foundation. “I did whatever was needed,” she says. Eventually, she was offered a paid position and stayed at the Foundation for approximately eight years. One of her achievements was to organize videos of Dr. Erickson.
Over the years there have been many outstanding Foundation employees. The Foundation seems to draw those who work best in a smaller organization and thrive in a world in which passion and purpose are the driving forces. Jeannine Elder is another employee who found a true sense of belonging at the Foundation. Her role as onsite faculty coordinator and liaison with the institutes earned her the respect and allegiance of institute leaders and faculty members from around the world. It was always interesting to see the bond of rapport she was able to establish in her long-distance communications. She remained with the Foundation until her death in 2010.
Another valued employee was Susan Velasco, who served the Foundation for 16 years (1995-2011) as administrative assistant and business manager. Susan was an exemplary meeting organizer and hands on with all significant Foundation functions and decisions. She helped refine the Foundation’s mission and managed her staff with efficiency and cheerfulness. And, despite learning she had cancer with a grim prognosis, Velasco persevered, and dedicated herself to work at the Foundation up until her death in April, 2011.
Current Foundation staff members include: Rachel Callahan, digital marketing specialist; Caulene Flores, marketing specialist; Chase Harper, multimedia specialist; Leigh McCormick, archivist; Marnie McGann, project specialist; Stacey Moore, business and finance manager; Jess Repanshek, IT specialist/operations supervisor; Diana Spies, administrative assistant; and Jeff Zeig, director.
Board member Roxanna Erickson Klein notes that the staff at the Foundation has been impressively adaptive over time. “Employees are given the opportunity to grow into positions, and positions are flexible enough to capitalize on the talents individuals bring to the organization. It is pleasing to see how many staff members have made lasting friendships, and how much has been accomplished with a small staff.” Over the decades, there have had many remarkable employees at the Foundation, who are able to adapt to the fluctuating demands the environment creates.
At the time the Erickson Foundation was formed, several smaller local institutes had already approached Dr. Erickson for permission to use his name in the title of their professional businesses. The Foundation offers a vehicle for formalizing the process of using Dr. Erickson’s name and of establishing a network of affiliation. There are guidelines of quality, and institute applicants go through a rigorous process of evaluation. The network of independently established institutes loosely affiliated with the Foundation, provides a referral network to which the Foundation can direct inquires. Each institute represents an approach to running the practice or business that suits individual missions. The common element is the affiliation in the network, and the commitment to use Dr. Erickson’s name for the ethical delivery of services that promote societal health. The institutes are identified on the Foundation’s website, and today there are approximately 125 worldwide. The underlying philosophy of Ericksonian approaches has proved to be a good fit in a variety of cultures, and the ongoing recognition and growth of interest around the world has been rewarding to the Foundation and its supporters.
The 1980 Congress on Ericksonian Approaches to Hypnosis and Psychotherapy turned out to be a success that exceeded expectations. So much so that the Foundation was able to purchase property for its operations, fund a small staff, publish a book on the proceeds, and most importantly, generate momentum in the interest of learning more about Dr. Erickson. In those years, it could not have been anticipated that interest in Dr. Erickson’s work would continue to gain the momentum it has, which developed over the decades. Zeig and the board remained committed to identifying and documenting the role of Dr. Erickson’s influence in the field, and continued to organize Ericksonian congresses, held every four to five years. In 2019, the Foundation held its final congress. The decision to end the congress was made in part because the Foundation is growing in other areas, including online education.
After the first congress, Zeig broadened his vision and developed the Brief Therapy Conference. The first Brief Therapy Conference held in 1988 in San Francisco was combined with the Erickson Congress. After that meeting, Zeig chose to create a cyclic pattern of having Brief Therapy Conferences rotate every 4-5 years with future congresses. The Brief Therapy Conference has been held in Orlando, New York City, and numerous times in northern and southern California. It features experts in the field who teach effective brief therapy methods to professionals in medicine, dentistry, psychiatry, psychology, social work, and counseling.
In the early years, Zeig also envisioned another conference. His intent was to make Ericksonian psychotherapy mainstream in the field and give clinicians around the world the chance to meet and learn from luminaries. The first Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference was held in 1985 and attracted more than 7,000 registrants. It was hailed as a landmark event by the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. TIME magazine tabbed it, “the Woodstock of psychotherapy.” To this day it remains one of the Foundation’s greatest achievements. The conference was powerful and created a cohesiveness never felt before in the field of psychotherapy.
Working with the Foundation staff, Zeig displayed extraordinary talent for bringing together interests, so that like-minded or even disparate thinking psychotherapists could learn from one another. The first Evolution Conference was a remarkable feat, which drew luminaries and professionals worldwide. Zeig encouraged faculty to engage with each other and debate in a constructive way. Students of today are beneficiaries of the extraordinary prowess that Zeig demonstrated in bringing this group together.
The primary purpose of the Evolution Conference is to enhance the therapeutic skills of each attendee by learning principles and techniques of contemporary schools of psychotherapy. The conference also promotes understanding the commonalities that underlie successful clinical work, and appreciation for the historical development and future projections of psychotherapeutic disciplines.
In 2019, the Foundation partnered with HMP (Healthcare Made Practical), a large company that organizes medical conferences. HMP is a multichannel leader in healthcare events and education, with a mission to improve patient care. Due to its resources, range, and experience, the company will bring the Evolution Conference into its next derivation, further expanding the conference and all it has to offer. “We have recognized that being a smaller organization, we have limitations,” explains Zeig, “and we need to direct our focus on other projects that will impact future generations of Ericksonian therapists. By partnering with HMP, we are freed up to explore other educational avenues.”
Another conference Zeig developed is the Couples Conference, held annually, typically in the spring in California. The first Couples Conference was held in 1995. Organizational assistance for this popular conference is provided by Ellyn Bader, PhD, co-director of the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. A core group of trainers work together every year to produce a conference which is generative in energy and spirit. The Couples Conference focuses on two prominent aspects of couples’ lives: intimacy and sexuality.
The Foundation has also jointly sponsored several international conferences, including the 1994 European Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Hamburg, Germany. Organized by Bernhard Trenkle, it was the largest gathering on the topic of psychotherapy ever held in Europe.
One of the early visions of the board of directors was for the Foundation to become a three-prong organization, with an equal balance of teaching, archives, and clinical work. In 1987, the Foundation established The Milton H. Erickson Center for Hypnosis and Psychotherapy. Michael Leibman, MC, was the director and Brent Geary, PhD, served as coordinator of training. The clinic offered a sliding scale fee to patients and gave professionals the opportunity to train in Ericksonian therapy and counseling. A one-way mirror viewing room and the opportunity for participatory classroom training showed promise for valuable learning. Unfortunately, the clinic did not evolve in a way to promote autonomy, and resources were not available to develop it further. Thus, the efforts were abandoned, and the clinic eventually shut down.
Following several of the congresses, the Foundation was able to secure contracts to publish proceeds. Royalties were then reinvested into the Foundation, and the works served to enhance the work of the Foundation in multiple ways.
The Erickson Monographs:
In 1984, Foundation board members decided to establish a scholarly publication to provide in-depth academic discussion of specific aspects of Ericksonian approaches. When The Erickson Monographs first hit the press, Stephen Lankton, MSW, served as volunteer editor. The Monographs had a short run; only 10 issues were released.
In 1997, a second series of annuals were released with volunteer co-editors William Mathews, PhD, and John Edgette, PsyD. Entitled Current Research and Thinking in Brief Therapy, the publication ran for three years.
In 2002, the Foundation developed the Erickson Foundation Press to publish books that promote Ericksonian methods.
The most important published work of the Erickson Foundation Press has been The Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson. Ernest and Kathryn Rossi, along with Roxanna Erickson Klein, volunteered their time and resources to secure the rights to publish many works which had previously been unavailable. Working with the Foundation, they edited the collection of Dr. Erickson’s works, updating with additional commentary pertaining to current knowledge and understanding that was unavailable during Dr. Erickson’s lifetime. As a collection of 16, the volumes are intermittently published and sold through the Foundation. All royalties are turned back to the Foundation.
Erickson Historic Residence/Museum:
Since 2013, Erickson family members and a few Foundation staff members have been developing the Erickson Historic Residence, Dr. Erickson’s Hayward home, which now serves as a small intimate museum.
After Dr. Erickson’s death in 1980, his widow, Elizabeth, remained in the home they had shared together the previous decade. Elizabeth delighted in the ongoing flow of visitors, which has continued throughout today. When Elizabeth died, Erickson family members agreed to sell the home to the Foundation and to loan possessions so that the experiential aspect of coming to study under Dr. Erickson could be preserved. The creation of the museum began, with much of the home remaining relatively intact since Dr. Erickson’s death, especially his office. Family members, as well as Zeig, have gifted and loaned precious items and memorabilia to the museum, which are on display for visitors who come from around the world. Many have commented that visiting the home of Erickson provides an experience that reinforces his teachings.
When Milton and Elizabeth Erickson first moved to Arizona in 1948, Dr. Erickson had a position at the Arizona State Hospital. In 1949, he left this position and moved his family from the hospital grounds into a small house at 32 West Cypress Street in Phoenix. He then took up private practice and used one of the bedrooms as a home office. The Cypress Street house is no longer standing, although the Foundation purchased a load of bricks from the construction site when it was demolished in the ‘80s.
By 1970, the youngest of the Erickson children had gone off to college. Dr. Erickson, who had walked with a cane throughout his adult life, was increasingly more dependent on a wheelchair. So, he and Elizabeth sought to relocate in a centrally located house that could accommodate a wheelchair, and one where he could establish a home office.
Among the numerous properties they visited, Milton and Elizabeth fell in love with the giant palo verde tree nestled in the backyard of the house on Hayward Avenue. Various other features made the house desirable, including what came to be known as the “Little House,” a separate guesthouse adjacent to main house where Dr. Erickson could see patients and hold his group seminars. A few changes were necessary to make the house more wheelchair-friendly, such as adding ramps and rails. In 1970, Milton and Elizabeth moved into the house and settled alone as a couple for the first time in their long marriage.
The house is located a few miles west of what was then known as Squaw Peak (now Piestewa Peak) Mountain. The house was constructed in the early ‘60s. It was originally the personal family residence for the building contractor. He purchased two lots and positioned the Hayward house in such a way that it incorporated the palo verde tree into the backyard design. The Erickson’s new home proved to be much more accommodating than the one on Cypress Street. The Little House served as a place where students who came for longer visits could comfortably and privately stay.
Dr. Erickson had a passion for teaching, but in the last few decades of his life, his physical limitations related to post-polio syndrome made travel hard. Dr. Erickson’s reputation of being able to work with the most difficult patients generated a flood of interest in learning his techniques. It was a time when experiential teaching was becoming increasingly popular, and several master therapists were beginning to open their doors to students for their learning — something that had not been previously done. This trend coincided with the publication of Jay Haley’s 1973 book, Uncommon Therapy, in which the author describes his perspective of Dr. Erickson’s work.
Haley, Weakland, Watzlawick, and Fisch, all hailed from the Mental Research Institute in California. They were among the first groups to visit the Erickson home for experiential teaching. The colleagues could observe and record therapeutic techniques used by Dr. Erickson, then hold scholarly discussions on his methodology. Between the teaching sessions held in the home offices on Cypress Street and Hayward Avenue, many students made pilgrimages to study under Dr. Erickson. Erickson’s reputation became so widespread, that individuals came from far and near to see him.
What started out as an occasional group, rapidly evolved into a series of week-long teaching seminars in which self-selected groups would come to study with Dr. Erickson. Eventually, this became his professional focus until the end of his life. He believed that by reaching out to students, he could benefit the therapeutic needs of far more patients than he could see individually; thus, he welcomed the opportunity to extend his reach.
Students were from all levels — some established professionals seeking to enhance their own repertoire; others, undergraduates seeking to be grounded. Some harbored problems they hoped could be addressed by coaxing Dr. Erickson into a private session. Others sought only to hone their expertise. Some students and groups came repeatedly; some recorded sessions; and some wrote about what they learned. Many reported the week-long sessions to be life changing.
The Ericksons continued to manage the sessions as a “mom and pop” operation, with Elizabeth often bringing in a tray of lemonade during an afternoon break. Dr. Erickson’s part-time secretary, Maretta Ramirez, typed his correspondence at the kitchen table and answered the phone when she was in, but otherwise it was Elizabeth or Dr. Erickson himself who took the calls and kept the schedule. The Ericksons agreed not to book the training sessions too far in advance. Due to Dr. Erickson’s physical capacity to work, six months in advance was the maximum.
Most of the groups visiting had eight participants. Occasionally, a single participant would want to attend, so they were booked in with a smaller group. The sessions were generally held Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The one free weekday and weekend proved flexible enough so that Dr. Erickson could dedicate time to individuals who had special needs or abilities. The seminars became a self-sustaining flow of energy — a grapevine reaching out to those who sought professional growth.
Milton and Elizabeth Erickson valued their long-term professional alliances, and they also maintained their friendships for decades. As the teaching seminars grew in popularity, they “adopted” various professionals as special friends, opening their hearts and their home. Jeff Zeig, Ernest Rossi, John Beahrs, Marion Moore, and a plethora of others became regular visitors, staying in the Little House for days, or even weeks. After Roxanna, the seventh child, moved back home while she attended nursing school at Arizona State University, she would free up the Little House where she stayed and move into the main house when there were guests. On a rare occasion, a visitor would be invited to stay in the second bedroom of the main house. Around this time, the youngest Erickson son, Robert, and his wife, Kathy, purchased a home just a few blocks away. Dr. Erickson loved hosting large family dinners that would include both family members and favorite students.
The Ericksons valued relationships, communication, exploration, and adaptation. They found beauty in everyday life, and in bringing the power of healing from within to those around them. Their modest quarters and family lifestyle conveyed a message of values that still speaks to visitors who come from around the world to explore. It never ceases to amaze visitors that such a great teacher enjoyed such a simple lifestyle. Dr. Erickson never apologized for his sparse or modest furnishings; rather he emphasized the experience of living life as it is. When he first opened his practice on Cypress Street with no desk and only couple of chairs and a folding table, he expressed: “I’m here, and so is the patient.”
Today the home is under the care of the Milton Erickson Foundation. For more than 10 years, the Erickson Historic Residence was overseen by longtime family friend, Ceil Gratz, who had become close with Mrs. Erickson in her later years. Ceil offered tours and served as concierge for the residence. Currently, the Erickson Historic Residence is overseen by Erickson staff member, Marnie McGann, who manages the properties owned by the Foundation. Robert Erickson primarily serves as a tour guide for the home and has volunteered many hours. Robert also acts as liaison between the historic property and the Foundation. Other Erickson family members contribute their valuable time and knowledge to the development of the museum.
Visitors delight in touring the home where Dr. Erickson worked and lived for the last decade of his life. They are especially interested in viewing Dr. Erickson’s office, but a quaint gift shop, which was established on the grounds, is also popular. Visitors are welcome to take T-shirts, small ironwood carvings, books, and other memorabilia stocked in the historic home in exchange for a suggested donation.
Wizard of the Desert:
In 2011, the Foundation became involved with a creative endeavor — producing “Wizard of the Desert,” an important film about the life and work of Dr. Erickson, made by renowned filmmaker Alex Vesley of Noetic Films. Vienna-born Vesley, a licensed psychotherapist, also the grandson of Viktor Frankl, won the California Films Award Diamond Award for his film, “Viktor and I.” “Wizard of the Desert” was released at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, December 2013. This documentary illustrates the powerful impact that Erickson had on the students who studied with him and shows how profound an influence he had on the field of psychotherapy.
Brent Geary, PhD, developed the Foundation’s Intensive Training Program. The program, held three times a year in Phoenix, offers a dynamic learning experience that is focused, tailored, and goal directed. Attendees learn principles, applications, and techniques of Ericksonian hypnosis and therapy. Smaller class sizes with limited enrollment afford students more individualized instruction. Workshops are organized into fundamental, intermediate, and advanced levels of training, held in several consecutive weeks, which is convenient for the 30 percent of attendees who live outside the U.S.
Zeig developed an annual series of Master Classes, also with beginning through advanced levels. In the Master Classes, therapists can actively participate in their own professional development. Held at Dr. Erickson’s Hayward home in Phoenix, now the Erickson Historic Residence, and only open to licensed, experienced mental health professionals, this experiential four-day workshop limited to 12 participants, is designed to greatly enhance skills.
The Foundation staff looks forward to offering more outstanding educational opportunities to health and mental health professionals — through online education, conferences, workshops, seminars, training programs, and the Foundation’s archives and press.
“When I started the Foundation,” Zeig recalls, “I thought it would have impact for 10 years and then fade into obscurity. But today, I now see that my thinking was limited because the Foundation has turned out to be even more vibrant in the 21st century. And I’m sure will continue to have impact into the indeterminate future.”