By Norma Barretta, Ph.D. & Philip Barretta, M.A
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 1 second
The very first time we met with Milton Erickson there were just five people present: Three physicians and the two of us sitting with the awesome Dr. Erickson. A woman walked into the room with her husband. She wanted to be hypnotized so that she could comfortably pass a licensure examination free from the anxiety often generated by such a test.
Erickson asked her husband if he was a qualified professional with a degree. The husband nodded his head affirmatively and said, “I have a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering.”
Dr. Erickson’s response surprised all of us: “You’ll have to leave. Come back in an hour.”
The woman said, “But he’s my husband.”
Erickson responded, “And he’s not a qualified professional in our profession…” and as we all watched she was already in a trance.
Erickson merely chatted about interesting challenges that we encountered every day and he described several dozen in detail. The hour flew by and she left.
Some years later, she took a workshop with us and we all remembered having met in Phoenix. She had absolutely no memory of what Erickson had said to her. She took and passed the exam with no fanfare. “It was just a routine challenge that day,” she said. “Not much different than any other day.”
Perhaps that was our introduction to what Ernest Rossi calls “the every day ordinary trance” which occurs with regularity.
It was also a brilliant demonstration of utilization. What we encounter on a daily basis can be reframed to become the catalyst for change.
Erickson’s office and his home were a veritable treasure box of iconic metaphors. There were artifacts of every ilk. One such artifact was a piece of ironwood that sat on the coffee table in the living room.
Erickson asked Phil to bring it to him. Phil reached over to lift it with one hand and could not pick it up. He had to get up and use both hands. As he carried the ironwood over Dr. Erickson looked directly into Phil’s eyes and said, “Remember Phil, things are not always as they seem.”
What an alteration of perception that produced in our lives. We’ve both learned to suspend judgment until we’ve gathered enough information to respond with some degree of judicious wisdom.
No doubt Milton Erickson influenced many others just as he influenced us. We often discussed cases in our own practice asking for his input. Some of his suggestions sounded ludicrous. Yet, when we applied them there were profound changes in the progress of those patients. In a sense that was his influence on us influencing others. That sphere of influence from this remarkable man continues to widen. His wisdom is ageless and limitless.
From 1977 until 1980 our times with Erickson provided some life-altering experiences. From our very first days together he seemed to know us as well as, or even better than, we knew ourselves. One metaphor after another that mirrored our lives (with an occasional “alteration” included) helped us to define our own roles and our relationship, which was a mere 30 years old at that time. This year marks the 58th year of our marriage. We both think those moments with Erickson helped us to close the “gaps” (p. 12 – The life of Milton H. Erickson, Zeig & Munion). We most certainly have “progressed” in our “development” (Op. cit.) and we’ve “evolved” instead of merely “resolving life issues definitively.” (Op. cit.)
Zeig and Munion,(1999). Milton H. Erickson (Key Figures in Counselling and Psychotherapy) Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.
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