By Betty Alice Erickson, MA, LPC
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 25 seconds
Note: Joe was not a “usual” client. Highly motivated, in therapy at exactly the right time, he believed life was good, and the therapy fit his paradigm perfectly. Even though it is not common that everything works so well, the concepts and ideas used in this case can be useful in many situations.
Joe walked into the office with a diffident yet paradoxically firm attitude. A handsome 32-year-old, he had never had a long-term relationship. He used to start out just fine, he said, but after having sex a few times, he would lose his erection half-way through. As time went on, he would lose his erection more quickly. Now he couldn’t even get one at the beginning of an encounter. Worse, he was starting to choose people who were not his type, who drank too much or had no ambition. He was sure the two problems were related.
His first sexual encounter was at 16. A church youth counselor crawled into his sleeping bag at a campout and molested him. The man said Joe had enjoyed it because he physically responded. Joe had never told anyone about this. However, he didn’t think it had anything to do with his current problem. He had “almost forgotten all about it.”
Joe’s physician had recommended hypnosis, so I taught him self-hypnosis. I used a favorite injunction, “for your own good purposes,” and he practiced faithfully. At our fourth session, he told me proudly that while in a trance, he had revisited the night he had been molested. He remembered he had said, “Stop!” He had said it several times, but he had been too embarrassed to “make a commotion.” We then talked about how children live in literally different worlds. We each brought up foolish things we had done as kids and laughed at how much we had changed, how we had outgrown many old ideas.
At the next session, almost as conversation, I talked about how Erickson’s work embodied five universal moral values: truth, compassion, justice, respect, and accountability. The next week, Joe said he had thought a lot and couldn’t think of a single good situation that did not have those values. His molestation violated every single value, he added angrily.
We used formal trance that day. I asked him to visualize himself as a 16-year old. I told him he had gained wisdom in his 32 years of life, so I wanted him to use that wisdom to give that youngster truth, compassion, respect, and to teach him the accountability of his molestation. At the end, we did not discuss the half-hour he had spent in a silent trance. He remarked that he wanted to continue that trance at home.
During the next couple of sessions, he discussed his molestation from a totally different perspective. He looked on the Internet and was delighted to see his perpetrator was a Registered Sex Offender. “Somebody told,” Joe said happily. “He got caught!” During this time, he looked for a better job and was also introduced to someone who seemed right for him. He decided to start dating again. He wasn’t going to worry about losing his erection, he said. “Worrying would guarantee it,” he remarked.
At our last session, he reported he didn’t think he had a problem anymore. But he wanted to come back in a month or so just to make sure “everything kept working right.”
Joe’s difficulties were built on an unsolvable dilemma. He blamed himself for his molestation and for “enjoying” what was actually repugnant to him. Failing at sex insured he would not enjoy it anymore, which was a perfect “punishment.” This pattern then escalated into dates with people he knew were unsuitable—yet another reason to fail at sex. His circular thinking that he was to blame and not worthy was reinforced.
Joe was highly defended in his belief that the abuse was not affecting him. I learned from Erickson that functional people will not use self-hypnosis in ways they are not ready to handle. Joe was ready to heal himself. Remembering his protests began his healing. Joe’s structuring of his own therapy, with only a little guidance, embodies Erickson’s idea of nurturing independence.
Moral values are clearly an integral part of Erickson’s work. I had discussed them with Joe in an interesting conversation. He discovered “on his own” that he had been violated on moral levels. Separating those moral violations from his physical responses allowed him to eliminate self-blame.
Joe used his adult wisdom to give his unconscious a more adult understanding of the abuse. Erickson repeatedly said the unconscious is childlike and knows reality from concrete experiences. It also generates emotions that are not rational. We all know that children routinely outgrew childish beliefs.
Laughing about outgrowing childhood beliefs normalized Joe’s blaming himself in an understandable way. That action allowed him to accept that he wasn’t to blame. Without blame, he had no reason to feel guilty about something done to him.
An adult understanding of moral values allowed him to heal. To discover his perpetrator was a registered Sex Offender was serendipity at its best–there was even justice. Joe could continue his life as he really wanted, being more of who he really was.
This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 27, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.
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