Posts Tagged ‘Ericksonian’

By Dan Short Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 1 second.

There are times a distressed individual is desperate to communicate to others yet cannot. Such was the case of 14-year old Michael.

Michael’s therapist, Anita, addressed his failing grades, defiant behavior, drug use, and emotional outbursts. She reflected his concern that homosexuals are treated unfairly. He’d been prescribed Concerta and Paxil. Nothing was helping. Anita wanted me to test him for learning disabilities.

On first meeting the family, I felt their care and concern for one another, and Michael’s sad, gentle demeanor. There was no evident antagonism or criticism. But, they said, Michael had developed a violent temper. He smashed his chair after mother touched his shoulder and asked him if she could help him with his homework. He shouted profanity, seeming hateful.

Mother pleaded with her son, “Your father and I love you! We don’t know why you’re acting this way.” Michael couldn’t explain his behavior or why he was so furious inside. He sank into the couch, his face full of shame and remorse. The parents had tears in their eyes: “We always have been close to him. But now, it feels like we have lost our son.”

I interviewed Michael alone. He said all of this trouble began one year ago, and his parents concurred. I asked about significant events preceding these symptoms. Had anything scary or threatening happened to Michael? They all insisted that during his time at home and at school, there had been nothing out of the ordinary.

From testing I learned Michael had average I.Q. and educational achievement. His emotional turmoil wasn’t from struggles with learning. His drug use followed other severe symptoms. Drugs alone didn’t cause his problems.

I asked the parents to think hard about any event of a year ago that seemed unusual. Mother recalled, “There was that strange dehydration he had after the church ski trip.” While returning home on the bus, their son suddenly hyperventilated. His hands and arms retracted and froze in place. He indicated frantically that his heart was hammering. He was rushed to hospital. The doctors couldn’t explain it. I asked Michael about this, but he seemed indifferent, denying any prior anxiety. I asked the parents if I could meet privately with Michael using hypnosis to investigate. Desperate, they agreed to do whatever it took.

I explained why hypnosis might help, and obtained Michael’s consent. After a brief induction, his eyes closed, his breathing slowed, and his head tilted forward. I explained that during trance he’d be able to tell me things that he couldn’t say while awake. Michael developed glove anesthesia and arm levitation. When I asked him what he felt inside, he responded, “Peace and happiness.” As he spoke, his left hand, which was on his leg, writhed violently. I noticed slight movements in his throat but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I told him that it’s sometimes easier to write down things we cannot say, and placed a clipboard on his lap and a pen in his hand. Michael responded with automatic writing. I assured him I would take the paper away before he awakened from trance. He would not have to see it. Here is what he wrote:

I studied the page, and then called his home. I asked mother if anyone named “John” had been with Michael when no one else was around. She was silent. Then she insisted that John hadn’t been alone with him. I said I was concerned that someone might have harmed her son. Her reply was agitated and brief: She ended the call.

The next evening father called, saying, “You spoke to my wife last night and asked if anyone named John had been around my son. She and I talked about it. The truth is the youth minister at church is named John. And he was alone with our son during that ski trip. Michael didn’t feel like skiing, so John said he’d stay at the cabin with him while we were on the mountain. Michael acted strange but we thought he was ill. Then he had that reaction on the bus after three days of being alone with John. Do you believe that this man is sexually abusing my son?”

I told father I believed this was a serious possibility. I recommended that he contact law enforcement, and emphasized that John shouldn’t be allowed to have access to his son. Later I produced two reports, one with test scores went to the schools, another, with information from the hypnotic interview, to the parents, treating therapist, and psychiatrist.

While trying to decide whether or not to report to the police, I looked again at the evidence. It was a bunch of scribbling that to my eyes read, “No more sex toy…I can’t get Free!!!…fucking John.” Though not enough for a court of law, I hoped it could restore alliance between the parents and their child.


By, Michael Hoyt, Ph.D. & Michele Ritterman, Ph.D. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

During the December 2011 International Congress, we took a taxi to visit the Erickson home and on our way had a conversation with our driver. At first it was pleasant chitchat, but then we engaged on a deeper level and asked the driver how he came to live in Phoenix. He told us about his unhappy divorce–how several years earlier his wife, who he thought was the love of his life, had abandoned him in order to take a job in another state. When he admitted he felt “puzzled and sucker punched” the atmosphere in the taxi became tense and quiet.

Michele asked the driver if he knew who Lenny Bruce was. He did not. She then told a story in which a waiter in a Chinese restaurant who had served Lenny and his girlfriend for years asked Lenny one night, “Where’s momma?” And the waiter also raved about her. When Lenny replied that she had left him, the waiter said, “Oh, well, you’re better off without her.” Our driver chuckled a bit, but said he was still grieving his loss.

As we were driving, we saw Squaw Peak Mountain in the distance. Michele asked our driver if he had ever climbed the mountain and he said, “No.” Sensing he would never do it on his own initiative, she recommended he climb just for the view–an idea he strongly rejected. (In brief therapy, always offer an initial suggestion that can be rejected.)

As we were getting closer to the freeway exit Michelle took advantage of the moment and asked, “Have you heard the one about the taxi driver?”

“No,” our driver predictably answered.

“Well,” she continued, “he was driving along when a cop pulled him over. The taxi driver begged the cop, ‘Please don’t give me a ticket,’ and the cop said, ‘I’ll tell you what, if you can tell me a good story, I’ll let you go.’”

“The taxi driver replied, ‘My wife ran off with a cop. When I saw you, I got scared you were him and you were bringing her back!’”

Now our driver laughed wholeheartedly. The rejection he had felt from his wife switched to his relief. Despite the pain over losing her, he realized that he might not even want her back.

When we got to the Erickson home and Michael was paying the fare, the driver said, “I’m going to remember that story,” and laughed again. Michael smiled and gave him a $10 tip to remember us and the joke.

As Dr. Erickson so wisely taught us, context and sequence are important for a brief intervention to have a maximal chance to take hold.

After a session of brief therapy in a taxi, we visited the Erickson home, and it was lovely.

By Carme Timoneda-Gallart, PhD Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 47 seconds. 

Tommy, eight years old, performed poorly at school, though a psychologist deemed him gifted. Using metaphor, the educator helps Tommy find his own resources to control impulsive behavior:

“Well, Tommy, now I’m going to ask to you some questions, Ok?”. Tommy nodded, moving a little on his chair. “Tommy, which number is double 15?” Tommy said automatically, without thinking, “20”. I said: “Tommy, sometimes, our brain receives a lot of lightning and it is so overwhelmed that it has to warn us. But how? Because it is our body’s boss, sometimes it can cause headaches, make us answer a question without thinking.” Tommy said: “Yes, my teacher is always complaining! ‘Tommy you always answer without thinking. You must think and then answer’” He looked nervous.

Then, I said: “I’d like to tell you a story about two horses. Once upon a time there were two nice black horses. One, called ‘Hasty’, was always jumping and shouting. He seemed a very nervous horse and he would run and run without knowing where he went.

When his trainer ordered him to be still, or walk gracefully, he didn’t obey, just jumped and ran.

The other horse was called “Elegant”. He was very peaceful and quiet. He also liked to run, and sometimes he jumped the fence, but when his trainer ordered him to walk calmly and grace- fully, he always did it.

Tommy, now we are going “to be Hasty” and to do things like him.” Tommy and I stood up and jumped around the room. Tommy even crashed against the table and the door.

Then I said: “Tommy, look, now we are going to be Elegant”. Suddenly, Tommy started walking calmly and gracefully. I congratulated him, saying he acted very much like Elegant. Tommy smiled.

“Tommy, now we’re going to sit down and I’m going to ask you a question. But before answering the question, you will put your hand up. Then, I will ask you if you want to answer like Elegant or like Hasty. After choosing which one, you may answer the question. OK?” Tommy nodded, liking the new game. I asked: “Tommy, which number is double 15?” Tommy raised his arm, closed his lips firmly, and looked up. A few seconds later, he said that he’d like to answer like Hasty. I nodded. He said: “Double 15… double 15… is 30!” I said: “Great job!” He smiled saying that he usually acted like Hasty but prefers Elegant.”

One of our first steps was constructed around the metaphor that the brain receives a lot of ‘lightning’ and is severely overwhelmed. We then use another metaphor as a control mechanism for the impulsive behavior (answering without thinking, a very common behavior in children with learning problems). This metaphor concludes with a seeming alternative: we ask the child to first choose which horse he would like to be and, only afterwards, answer the question. Having to make a choice in this fashion makes it impossible for him to continue to answer before thinking.

If child therapy is a work of art, then the educator’s work has some secrets. The first is to establish an emotional connection between the child and the therapist. Although necessary, this rapport is often absent A child may be short and naïve, but he is a person, and as such has an impressive array of resources. If the educator sees a  child as short of material, the artist will lose the opportunity to effect a necessary change in the child’s life.

The second secret is that children understand perfectly what they do but not why and how to cope with their behavior. The artist, knowing the quality of the child’s material, demonstrates to him the uses of different parts of the work of art that he is; then, s/he lets the child’s imagination construct, patiently and naturally, a better emotional tool or a new mental procedure.

How many times do adults waste their energy telling the child why a behavior is inappropriate, then trying to convince him to behave in a more suitable manner? When they don’t show the child a way to change, a wall of resistance is being erected.

Nowadays, Tommy can always play with Elegant or Hasty, riding them firmly and commandingly. He normally behaves like Elegant even when he professes to be riding Hasty.

Children have more imagination than there are stars in the sky. Metaphor allows them to discover a new world of emotions in which they feel secure and behave in new, exciting ways. Finally, the shape of the work of art that they are will be balanced, and precious.