Posts Tagged ‘LAC’


Feb 12

Orca Strait

By Michael F. Hoyt, PhD Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 48 seconds

My wife, Jennifer, is not a big traveler, but she has always wanted to go to Alaska to see the wildlife. So in the summer of 2015, we signed up with National Geographic/Lindblad and went for two wonderful weeks. Jennifer is a hospice nurse, and what makes the story interesting is that for many years if you asked her how someday, she would like to die, her answer was that she would like to be eaten by orcas—those magnificent creatures sometimes called “killer whales,” even though they are actually oceanic dolphins. She had recurring but not frightening dreams of a big orca devouring her—she had talked about it several times. And here I was, signing up to be in a two-person kayak in Alaskan waters teeming with orcas with someone who wants to be eaten alive!

To prepare, we took a one-day kayaking class. For the first week of the trip on the Inside Passage cruise/expedition, our cabin was on a lower level without an outside deck, so we could lie in bed and look out the window and watch pods of orcas swimming alongside the ship. We also frequently went topside to see them. One day, a native guide came aboard. He was a young man who grew up in a village and on the ice, but also went to college for a while in Colorado. He came dressed in his native regalia— beads, bear claw, emblems, etc. He told stories and answered questions. When the orcas and other creatures appeared during the day, we stood on the deck in the brisk air as he sang prayers to them. I introduced myself and my wife, and asked him for any reflections from his tradition, about the meaning of being devoured by an orca. (I also mentioned the Bible story of Jonah and the Whale.) He thought about it, then said the orcas were guardians and protectors (hence, the prayers of thanks and supplication when they appeared), and that if my wife’s dreams were not violent or frightening, he would understand them as positive — to mean being welcomed and protected.

Every day during the week, we got into zodiac boats and kayaks and sometimes hiked on remote islands. We saw moose and bears, caribou and sea lions, salmon and eagles, humpback whales and wolves, but didn’t have any dangerous “close encounters” with orcas.

At the end of the week, we got off the ship and went to Denali National Park for a second week of adventure. The first evening at the lodge deep inside the park, the couple who run the lodge asked each of us in our little group to briefly say something about ourselves by way of introduction. When my turn came, I said, “Hi! I’m Michael. I’m here with my wife, Jennifer. We live in Northern California, near San Francisco. I’m a clinical psychologist, and I retired about two years ago. I’m here to see the wildlife, but I’m really here to watch my wife enjoy herself.”

The next morning in the breakfast room, the woman who runs the lodge came up to our table and asked if she might join us. We welcomed her. When she sat down she said, “Michael, last night you said that you’re a psychologist, right?” I replied, “Well, yes, but I retired two years ago.” And then she said: “Well, I’m hoping that maybe you can help me. I keep having dreams about being eaten by orcas.”

My wife and I looked at each other, dumbfounded. (Hey, you can’t make up stuff like this!!!) Welcome to “The Twilight Zone!” After stammering a bit, we told the woman about Jennifer’s orca dreams. She was astounded. We also told her about our understanding gained from the guide on the boat— she found it reassuring and helpful.

Amazing? I think so. The world sometimes works in mysterious ways.



By Eric Greenleaf, PhD

Dr. Erickson would have enjoyed and appreciated the serendipitous intersection of old cultures and modern anxieties. The utilization of dream material in this story is contained in loving, helpful, and curiosity-driven human relationships. Erickson-influenced therapy has an eye toward the future – to see what happens next – and a desire that, as Dr. Erickson said, “When you look back, you’d like to see you’ve left a trail of happiness behind you.” The lesson for therapists in this lovely adventure is to guide the ship by connection with others — the waves and stars of our lives – and not by the charts of interpretation.


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 36, Issue No. 1 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter. 

By Joel Samuels, MD Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 26 seconds 

Stone carving transformed my life of chronic pain, depression, and drug dependency into a life of renewed vitality with the ability to work, dance, and feel whole again.

After 25 years of working as an emergency room physician, I underwent several back surgeries, which resulted in many hours of physical therapy and treatments with never-ending pain and limited mobility; my life was reduced to bed rest and hot baths. So, I pursued several treatment options, including tapping into my creativity as a way of healing chronic pain.

I began by carving small hand size pieces of alabaster and marble while lying in a zero-gravity chair, and I instantly fell in love with sculpting stone. Later, I was able to carve while standing, which provided the opportunity to work on larger pieces. To my amazement, time seemed to melt away while I was engrossed in this process; my physical and mental attention deepening and widening. It was as if I had entered a spacious room, leaving the back pain outside. Something magically healing occurred in me when I entered the world of the stone carving, while at the same time, I remained in the present, discovering the shapes and lines embedded in the rock. Focused attention on carving became a meditation, complete with mindfulness of the body in motion. Previously, I discovered that distracting myself was minimally effective in relieving pain. In contrast, stone carving was highly effective. The repetitive movements of chiseling, filing, and sanding the stone were a perfect setting for mantra recitation and training the mind. I was learning to stay in the present while remaining open in this vast new room of creativity. Stone carving transformed time. Hours felt like minutes, while my body pain was in the distance, as if on the back burner. When the stone would crack and pieces would fall away, it opened me to another opportunity to use creativity and literally go with the flow. As my dear friend and source of sculpting inspiration, Shiffi Menaker-Schreiberr used to say, “The stone is the guru [teacher].” I also found that the process of carving trumped the outcome. This idea became paramount in healing. Stone carving became my medicine.

I hope my story and art will be beneficial to others. A thank you to all my doctors, healers, teachers, and friends (too numerous to name) and to my partner Ellen Vogel whose support and love made this possible. Also, special thanks to Anam Thubten Rinpoche, Darlene Cohen, and Shiffi (mentioned earlier), who were invaluable inspirations and helped guide me along the path.


By Eric Greenleaf, PhD

“When you have a difficult problem, make an interesting design out of it.” – Milton H. Erickson, MD

Dr. Erickson employed all manner of creative devices to respond to his own physical pain, and to a patient’s emotional pain in life. He tried countervailing his own pain with distraction, like when he would press his chin into the top of a chair, and when he hallucinated that the colorful hooked rug in his office was spiraling into the air. He would also have detailed discussions with Mrs. Erickson in the middle of the night about the pain sensation in his feet. He used the conversation and detailing of the pain as a distraction until his wife would gently remind him that she and the rest of the family needed their sleep.

To reduce the emotional pain of a woodcarver’s low self-esteem, Dr. Erickson borrowed one of the patient’s ironwood carvings overnight and returned it the next day with bruised fingers and a replica of the carving that he had made. He did this to experientially show the patient the value of his (the patient’s) work.

Dr. Samuels, an experienced physician, and healer discovered a way to respond to his own crippling pain in a way his patients would recognize. He did this by putting his thoughtful, calm demeanor to work through his eyes and his hands, as he slowly changed stone to art. As was once said, “Architecture is frozen music.”

Note: Those interested in viewing Dr. Samuel’s stunning sculptural work, please see:

For imaginative approaches to healing, using visual arts, movement, and trance, see


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 39, Issue No. 3 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter. 

mother and son

Jan 29


By Jhassel Arellanes, LPC Estimated reading time: 9 minutes, 17 seconds

Every boy has heroes. Growing up, I found mine on TV and in comic books, but what I didn’t realize then was that my biggest hero was an arm’s length away.

I was born on an October afternoon, and my mother says that I was much anticipated. She suffered no pain during labor, and after giving birth, the doctor released her two hours later.

I grew up in Mexico, in a place where it is often above 100 degrees, with high humidity.

The first two months of my life were normal. I have no recollection of the following events because I was only a few months old, but my mother shared this tale with my brother and me.

One hot afternoon, while Momma was doing hand laundry with one of her friends in our back yard and I was in a playpen with the friend’s 4-year- old child, Samantha, a dog quietly snuck under the backyard fence and began biting Samantha and pulling at her clothes. My mother and her friend ran over and hit the dog with a stick, but it kept on biting Samantha and then it turned on me. It was only after the dog ran away that they noticed Samantha was unusually quiet.

When we were brought to the hospital, the doctors said Samantha had lost too much blood, and that we didn’t get there quickly enough. Sadly, Samantha died from the dog attack; I survived but was in serious condition. My Momma, whose first child had undergone 17 surgeries for cysts in his brain, was devastated that I was hospitalized with internal bleeding and multiple lacerations. Nevertheless, she endured.

The doctors told her, “Your child won’t last more than a month.” But she had faith and prayed to God for a miracle. After a month, the doctors said that I would live only two more months. My mother laughed at them and said that they were already proven wrong because I had survived past the first month. But, she did seek a second opinion at a different hospital.

After surgery at the new hospital, the doctors gave this prognosis: I would live only three more months. Doctors’ orders were to take me home for a better quality of life. Momma occasionally brought me back to the hospital to check my brain because I had developed encephalitis and other illnesses that affected my spine.

After a year, my mother refused to listen to doctors anymore and did not treat me with palliative care.

By my second birthday, I started to show signs that I could crawl, and then stand. Maybe I was thanking my mother for her faith in me. And although it did bring a smile to her face, she immediately took me back to the hospital to ask the doctors how that was even possible. She was told that my spine had returned to its normal state and that I could recover about 20 percent of the strength in my legs, provided I received corrective therapy, which I did get.

By age 3, I was able to stand with both my feet, holding on to the nearest wall. I had a wheelchair, which was soon replaced by crutches, and then orthopedic shoes.

The shoes were odd: gigantic and black, with clips on the sides, and straps that led to a thick, gritty belt. There was a trick to putting them on, twisting each shoe inward. In theory, my legs would go from looking like bent straws to holding me up. Of course, I would still have to use crutches to keep steady.

Those shoes came with a warning: I should never walk or stand by myself. So, I became dependent on them, and believe me, I got a lot of looks and poor treatment from people on the streets.

One summer day, the temperature was so high it was like Armageddon outside, but it was nicer than being inside because we did not have air conditioning. My mother had gone out and left my 11-year-old brother to look after me. Shortly after she walked out the door, my brother said, “Don’t go out. Don’t open the door for anyone. There’s cold water in the fridge. You’re going to be okay,” and then he went out to play street soccer with friends – what kids in Mexico do well in any weather! My brother was popular in our neighborhood and skillful with the ball and his feet. He was the one I loved to follow.

The heat in my house was absurd. My lips were chapped, and the weight and metal of my shoes had steamed my toes better than any slow cooker. It felt as if my feet were melting, and eventually, the rest of me would follow. So I decided to do what I had never done as a child: I went outside alone.

By the time I got to the middle of the street, I was almost on the ground because in order to walk I had to force my body to lean forward. Still, I loved the sun on my face and the ground under my feet, and I thanked God I wasn’t in that steamy kitchen anymore.

My brother saw me and said “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you play. Momma will kill me, and when she’s done with me, she’ll kill you.” After a few minutes of begging (and agreeing to trade one of my favorite action figures), he caved. His condition was that I stay near the goal, but do nothing to stop the ball or the kid with the ball. I was to be like a statue — with a hat and big shoes…and straps.

But being out in the street with my brother and the other kids was much better than watching them play from the kitchen window. As time passed, the temperature rose, and so did my love for the game. Then, a kid came along and kicked the ball hard and it hit my stomach. My brother pushed him and yelled, “Go easy on him, he’s sick and can’t move well.” The boy replied, “If he’s going to be here and play with us, he’s going to be treated the same.”

So, my brother dragged me for a few feet down the street and said I had to go back home, but I begged him, “Let me play!” He looked down at me as if I were a puppy, said nothing, then released my arm, and the game played on. Over the next few days, every time my brother went out to play, I followed, and he said nothing. It was our secret as brothers to keep from mother.

A few weeks later I went out, but that time was different. There were many more kids and some were left out when the teams were picked. I stayed on my brother’s team because being the goalie wasn’t the most popular position anyway. Three minutes into the game, our team was dying. The kid who kept teasing me and shooting the ball toward my stomach was a good player. Every time he scored he’d mock the way I walked. My brother pushed him harder than normal as they ran toward the ball, but the kid was bigger than my brother. The other team continued to thrash us, and I became furious. About seven balls got passed me that day, and that big kid was rushing past the defense and shooting right to my stomach. He didn’t care if he scored or not; he just shot as hard as he could.

At one point, the kid pushed my brother to the ground, pretending that he’d shoot hard from close range. That’s when I reached my boiling point! I took a step forward and kicked the ball as hard as I possibly could. My celebration was immediate. I knew what it felt like to defend! But then, I looked down and my hopes crashed.

I forgot about my orthopedic shoes, and the metallic clip on the side had cut right into the side of the big kid’s foot; there was lots of blood. Now kids in my country often played soccer barefooted, so the boy’s foot was pretty torn up. My brother rushed me back in the house to clean off the blood. He did the best he could, but it wasn’t enough to escape my mother’s eye. She immediately took me to the clinic, hoping that the blood would not rust the metal of my shoe.

The doctor tried to keep my mother calm as she ratted me out about playing soccer. The doctor then lifted me up on a table, stripped me of my metal armor, and then stared at me. He was frighteningly quiet. I started to pray, and then my mother interrupted and asked if the shoes were reparable. He ignored her question and brought me down from the table only to make a strange request. He said, “I want you to stand on one foot.” I’m not sure what was funnier: his request or the look on my face. Then he said, “Now, stand with your other foot. Go on.” The moment I realized the floor was cold, it hit me – I was standing without those shoes. I was so stunned that I couldn’t talk. The doctor said to my mother: “Your kid is fine now, Maria. He can stand on his own. You can throw those shoes away.”

The doctor explained that since I was no longer standing and holding onto something, my shoes worked on my muscles, which got stronger when I was in the goalie position. My mother cried and I was relieved that she wasn’t upset. After we got home, she sat me down and said, “They told me you’d only last for a few months. Then, they told me you would never be able to stand; walking was out of the question.

“Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do Jhassel.” My mother’s words burned into my mind, and since then they have kept me going.

My love for soccer and playing alongside my brother were, in fact, key to my unexpected recovery. To this day, it’s something I remember every time I kick a ball.

In my lifetime, I’ve only met a handful of people who I consider heroes; my mother is one of them. Her strength, will, and resilient spirit continues to inspire me every today. She was the reason I left a hospital bed, a wheelchair, crutches, and special shoes behind and walked into life. Everyone has a hero. This is the story of mine.


By Eric Greenleaf, PhD

I met Jhassel in Puebla, Mexico, when I was presenting a workshop that he helped translate. He is tall, lean, and strong, and we hiked up a steep ancient pyramid to a church where we could see the surrounding city, mountains, and volcanoes. We swapped life stories up and down that trail.

Jhassel’s life proves, just as Erickson’s did, that resilience and inventiveness feeds discovery. And, just like Erickson’s, Jhassel’s strong, supportive family aided in his recovery.

Erickson once said of himself, when asked how he helped top athletes perform under pressure, “I win gold medals every day.” I think Jhassel Arellanes deserves a gold medal!


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 37, No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.