Posts Tagged ‘LAC’
A common theme that I remember Erickson discussing during our time together was his fascination with how the unconscious was able to use current events and experiences to conjure past learnings.
I experienced this first hand during my second session with Matt, a ten-year-old boy, and his parents. Matt, an only child was going to have to redo the fourth grade because of poor grades. Matt had felt like an outsider in the fourth grade and had no motivation to do school work. The thought of repeating the fourth grade again after “flunking” made him feel even less motivated. His parent tried “everything.” Unfortunately, each parent felt that his or her strategy-of-choice had been good enough to motivate each of him or her as a child, so it should motivate Matt. Their unyielding assumption was that if their strategy did not work, the problem was in Matt, not the appropriateness of the strategy.
To adapt a key concept from Ellyn Bader’s work with couples: “A lot of times, [parents] are so invested in the other person changing that they don’t want to look at themselves.” I had to take it easy since both parents had a history of taking their son out of therapy if the therapist demanded that the parents change.
It was during the second session that I remembered how Erickson would talk to us as a group when he wanted to avoid triggering a specific person’s self-protections. In that memory, I heard Erickson tell us his classic story about the parents who could not stop their seven-year-old daughter from sucking her thumb.
In that story Erickson told the daughter that she was about to reach a milestone in her life, her eighth birthday. Erickson instructed the daughter to enjoy sucking her thumb and to memorize it because after her eighth birthday, she will have passed the age of thumb-sucking and move onto more interesting things that are more appropriate for an eight year old. By giving the instructions in the presence of the parents, Erickson was indirectly challenging the parents’ assumptions that they had to change the daughter.
Change was a natural part of life. If you let it, the mind moves forward by itself. And at the same time, the communication to the daughter affirmed that the parents were not the targets of change. (For a verbatim account of this story, see Zeig, J., A Teaching Seminar With Milton H. Erickson, Brunner/Mazel, NY, 1980.)
With echoes of Erickson’s words in my head, I addressed Matt, “I am so very glad that your parents brought you in to see me at this time. If they had waited until your eleventh birthday in six weeks, you would have taken care of the problem yourself and I would not have been able to get any of the credit.”
I told Matt about the significant brain changes that naturally occur as we grow. “One of the most significant changes occurs at the age of eleven when the nerve connections between the right and left sides of your brain become insulated. Nerve signals move quicker and more effectively. At that time, we are better able to see old things with new eyes. And along with this wonderful gift comes a terrible burden. [Long dramatic pause].”
I remembered that Matt had said that he had longed for a younger brother so he could “show him how it was done.” With that in mind, I continued, “Matthew, in returning to the fourth grade, you will be going through this change before others in your class do. This means that your classmates will naturally want to look up to you as a role model. It will be as though you are the older brother that leads the way, showing the younger brothers how to do it right. While you will have the advantage of being familiar with what your teacher is presenting, your mind will be different and you will have to learn it ‘brand new’ as an eleven-year-old who has had the brain-change.”
“Before you turn eleven, I want you to memorize how it feels to not want to do homework and to not be particularly interested in learning. You need to remember how this felt so you can let your classmates know that you understand how some of them might feel. You used to feel that way yourself before you had the brain-change.”
I continued for twenty-five minutes, repeating the same message in many different permutations. Within the first ten minutes, Matt and his parents were in a comfortable trance state, hearing future-pictures described of Matt moving forward on his own.
That was the last session I had with Matt. His father called to cancel the next session because Matt “discovered” that he got his “brain-change” early, and started taking an interest in schoolwork. They no longer needed my services.
I met the parents two years later for some couple counseling. They reported that Matt had been successful academically and socially in both the fourth and now in the fifth grade. The parents said that they wished that they had known about the brain-change earlier so they would not have had to work so hard to get him to do his work.
Ben was referred to me by a local hospital for treatment of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) behavioral disorder. Due to aging, a part of his brain had degenerated, resulting in loss of muscular control during REM sleep. Both Ben and his wife were fearful that because he had wild body movements while sleeping, he would inadvertently kick or hit her, or that he would injure himself. After nearly 50 years of marriage and sharing a bed, Ben’s wife had resorted to sleeping in the guest room.
Ben was a lively and interesting 70-year old, who had recently retired from his job in a factory where he worked as a master toolmaker. He was looking forward to enjoying his retirement. Ben had a keen sense of history and a strong interest in Native American culture, and he read many books on the subject. We enjoyed talking about this because I share the interest. Ben longed to visit ancient Native American sites and national parks and he purchased a Winnebago for this purpose. He said he was ready to go, but the extremely narrow single bed he would have to bring along, and his symptoms of the REM disorder, made him hesitant about traveling.
For his entire life, Ben had used his hands and mind to produce tools, so it was understandable that he was looking for a simple, concrete solution to his problem. The fact that he felt his disorder was beyond his control, upset and embarrassed him. His mechanical engineering training and tactile problem-solving skills that served him well in his professional life, gave him the air of someone reluctant to consider hypnosis as a tool for achieving wellness.
Matching, pacing, and leading are the cornerstones of good hypnosis. Because of my conversations with Ben about Native Americans, in which I spoke of “trance healing ceremonies” and their similarity to modern day hypnosis, he gradually became open to using hypnosis to help with his REM symptoms.
As part of my early hypnotic training with Steven Heller, I learned of Erickson’s technique for creating an unconscious generative suggestion for a patient. Erickson demonstrated this therapeutic intervention in a case he called “The February Man.” In trance, he created a positive male character for his female patient who had an emotionally impoverished childhood. This character who appeared in her dreams, valued her by leaving encouraging notes and bringing gifts on her birthday and holidays, which helped her to developmentally progress. (Interestingly, for the past 44 years, Erickson has appeared in my dreams, sometimes offering me helpful advice.)
I decided that with Ben I could create a post-hypnotic suggestion that would happen during his sleep cycle, which would interrupt the REM pattern and disrupt the threatening behavior. There are many references in experimental hypnosis literature that show the success of this type of suggestion. I also had success, as Ben would wake up briefly before flailing, and then fall peacefully back asleep.
There’s a Three Stooges sketch where Curley, Moe, and Larry are in one bed. Larry begins to snore, and Moe hits him and says, “Wake up and go to sleep.” Larry wakes up briefly, and then falls back to sleep. Then Curley begins to snore and a frustrated Moe hits him and says, “Wake up and go to sleep.” Curley is groggy and falls back to sleep, and Moe just smiles. However, like most Stooge antics, it soon turns chaotic. Curley and Larry begin to snore and Moe goes from one to the other slapping and shouting, “Wake up and go to sleep!” In my next session with Ben, I discussed the idea of a generative suggestion and the Three Stooges episode. He remembered it well, and we were both had a good laugh. I suggested to Ben that we put Moe in his unconscious dream world to wake him up right before any sleep behavioral disorders occurred, and he agreed.
The next week Ben and his wife came to his session together and reported that his violent sleep behavior had not happened the prior week, and then asked me if it would be alright if they attempted to sleep together. I said yes.
I continued to see Ben throughout that summer as he and his wife worked together on getting ready for their road trip. I repeated the induction with Ben each week, and his wife called me several times to say that they were sleeping peacefully together. After the couple left on their adventure out West, I had Ben check in with me every week for five weeks. In his words, “We followed the blueprints, installed the boilerplate, and the new circuitry was working well.”Commentary By Eric Greenleaf, PhD
In a letter, Dr. Erickson once wrote, “Concerning my views about dreams, I can state quite simply that they are the substance that paves the way to the goals of achievement. Such goals are reached more rapidly if a dreamboat is available.” (Seminars of MHE #1, 1962) David Norton’s keen understanding of the blueprints of hypnotic suggestion and his workmanlike installation of the boilerplate, allowed the new circuits to hum, and the dreamboat to sail on. The contrast of the Stooges’ hilarious lack of workmanship with Ben’s own careful and effective craftsmanship was speedily effective, but was only hinted at through laughter. Like all expert craftsmanship, David’s work with this patient might look easy, but it was dreamily inspired.