Posts Tagged ‘Pyschologist’


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 Carrie Rehak, PhD Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 24 seconds.

I did not know what time it was when I came downstairs to finish our winter display — images and symbols communicating the holiday season, as observed and celebrated by various sacred traditions in anticipation of the coming of light. All I knew was that it was cold and dark outside, and I was ready to head home.

Just as I was hanging one of the last ornaments, I caught a glimpse of her in the corner of my eye — a student of mine, who I knew had an extremely long commute. And, I also knew she had cancer, as she asked our community to remember her in our prayers at a service she could not attend last year.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, referring to our twinkling display.

“It really is,” I agreed. “A student worker put it up. I just came down to hang these last few pieces.”

I asked how she was doing.

She pointed to an area under her left arm, saying, “I am in a lot of pain — scar tissue. It’s unbearable.” She said the pain was so distracting she was uncertain if she would be able to finish her program.

I asked what time she had to be at class. She had an hour. I asked if she would like to take 15 minutes for a meditation that might help with the pain. She agreed, even though she just finished a nearly two-hour drive.

We found an empty classroom. I adjusted the lighting so that it was neither too dark nor too bright.

I invited her to get comfortable in her chair, and then listened as she described her pain.

“Does it have a color?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “it’s red, fiery red. Like flames.”

I asked if she had a place of health or strength — physical, mental, or emotional.

She said she was emotionally strong.

I asked what that place of strength looked like. She said it was blue.

“Light blue or dark blue?” “It is sapphire, she replied.

“Sapphire blue….Does it have a shape?” “No,” she said, “it’s like water.” I asked if she could bring it to her place of pain.

Then I queried, “Is the water cool?”

“It’s getting warm,” she answered. “It’s putting the pain out.” “How is it feeling now?” I asked, after a long pause.

“The pain is gone. It feels tender.” “Does it want anything?” I inquired. “It wants ointment,” she said.

“OK. Can we apply some ointment, so it’s just right?” “Yes,” she said, “I am applying it now and it feels good.”

“Take as much time as you need,” I said. “I am covering it with gauze now,” she said.

“That’s right,” I said. “It will protect it, while allowing it to breathe and the tissue can stretch.”

“It feels good,” she said, dreamily, after another long pause. Then, opening her eyes widely, she said, “It’s cool!”

“It’s cool?”

“Yes!” she said, “the area — it’s cool! And what we just did — it’s cool!” “Yeah, it is cool,” I agreed.

When I got home, I called my mom who is in severe pain after a terrible fall that resulted in a broken hand and fractured knee. By the time we got off the phone, she said she could no longer feel the pain — pain that had made it nearly impossible for her to sleep.

But, that’s a story for another time.

Commentary By Eric Greenleaf, PhD

Student work is often more impactful and immediate than other work. It carries authority because it is relational, not technical. And it is also fresh, taking the essence of teaching to heart. Carrie Rehak, a student of mine who is studying Ericksonian approaches, has years of experience in spiritual direction and pastoral care. This example of her work with imagery was spontaneous and effective, and utilized the spirit of a class exercise we had done, called “A Pain Map.” This consists of drawing one’s physical and emotional pains on the outline of a body; drawing one’s strengths and resources on a second map; and, in trance, placing a particular strength on a pain and then taking note of what happens. In, Carrie’s example, the exercise is focused, empathic, and succinct.

By Eric Greenleaf PhD & Angela Wu MFT

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 22 seconds.

Chapter One

Dear Dr. Greenleaf,

This is Angela from your class at MRI. I have a situation at home and I wanted to write to you because I sense you may be able to help me deal with it by using a story for the solution.

This morning my 3 ½-year-old son walked quietly into my room with his favorite stuffed pink pig and comforting purple blanket. Instead of his normal singing, shouting, and jumping in my bed, he looked tired and sad and crawled under my blanket to cuddle with me. I asked him, “Did you have a good night’s sleep?” He was solemn and I saw the thousand-mile distant stare in his big brown eyes. He had that stare when he was in a trance.

After a while, he turned to me, and I saw tears running down his cheeks. I kissed him and dried his tears.

He looked at me and said, “Mommy, I want (you) to read books (to me) about death. I do not under- stand death.”

I asked him, “What do you know about death?”

“Mommy, are you going to be old?”

“Yes, I will be old,” I said. “We all grow up and grow old, and it’s fun to grow up.” “When I grow up, then you will be old and die?” he asked.

“When you grow up, I will still be here to love you,” I replied.

“Mommy, I do not want you to be old, so I won’t grow up and you can always take care of me.”

“Bobby, I will always love you and take care of you whenever you need,” I said. No matter how big we are, we always need people to take care of us at times. We all take care of each other.”

“But Mommy, I don’t want you die, so I won’t grow up.”

“Bobby, it is so much fun to grow up. You can drive cars (he loves cars), and you can go out at night (he likes to play outside at night). And, I am still here to love you,” I told him.

Dr. Greenleaf, I cannot let this conversation with my son continue, as I am afraid I will be trapped with him on the topic of death. I try to distract him with toys and reading books, but what’s next? Is he going to need a story about death so he can feel happy about growing up?

Warmly, Angela

Chapter Two

I called Angela and told her that I didn’t know what she should say to her son, but I do know what I told my grandson when he was about the same age:

“Grandpa, you’re old!” “Yes, I am.”

“And you’re going to die.”

“Yes, I am. But I intend to live a long time. I want to live until I’m 100 years old.”

Chapter Three

Dear Dr. Eric,

Thank you for calling. The story of you and your grandson is very touching and loving, especially when it was told in your soothing voice.

Bobby and I have had more conversations about death and growing up, and he’s decided that if he doesn’t grow up, then I won’t die. He has not wanted to eat or sleep by himself.

“Mommy, feed me, I am a baby.” “Mommy, hold me. Hold me like a baby.”

“Mommy, I just want to be your little boy. I don’t want to be bigger than you.”

“Of course you are always my little boy, and I always love you,” I told him.

Last night at bedtime, I adopted your story of living to the age of 100, and then we started to count to 100.

“How big is 100?” Bobby asked. “Very  big  number…let’s count,” I said.

“One, two, three,” he counted with enthusiasm. He is proud that he can now count to 30.

“There are many more numbers after 30; let’s count to 100,” I said.

So he followed me, counting, and finally he realized that 100 is a very big number. It took him forever to count, and before he could finish, he fell asleep.

This morning, Bobby came to my bed.

“Mommy, I am very happy!” “Why is that?” I asked. “Because you love me,” he said.

Take care, Angela

Chapter Four


What a beautiful outcome for you and your son. I am so grateful that you called and shared your story with me. Waiting while Bobby found his own solution with the help of stories and conversation with you was just right.

Best, Eric

Commentary by John M. Dyckman, Ph.D.

It’s pleasing to offer comments; explanation is harder, and, as anyone who has ever tried to “explain” a joke knows, not so useful. A good story, like a good joke, draws power from creative ambiguity and is a pleasing departure from the ordinary or the expected. It touches the part of us we call “the unconscious”.

The first story the loving mother tells her son to reassure him does not work. In the childʼs view, the logic is:

If I don’t grow up, then mom will not be old; and if mom is not old, she will not die. No appeal to maternal love, or to the competences that come with growing up are successful for the mother in calming her son’s fears. So much for attempts to “correct” emotional logic.

Eric’s story is a parallel musing. He allies with the mother in an adult reaction to a child’s discovery of the connection between aging and death. Eric blurs the line between intention (“I intend to live a long time…until I’m 100 years old”) and reality–that he, or any parent, will live to the age of 100. This very confusion of desire and outcome is one of the typical characteristics of thought of 3 to 5-year-olds (see Fraiberg’s The Magic Years, 1959).

The mother brilliantly uses her son’s pride in his ability to count to get him to count to 100–which is such a high number that he is happily asleep long before he can get there. He awakes secure in his mother’s love, and, if we are to explain, with a new syllogism: One-hundred is old; mom is not 100, so I can grow up. But it would be a mistake to point this out to him, or to do more than enjoy the moment of happiness.

We all tell stories, and it is important to note that some stories have more satisfactory outcomes than others. People enjoy each other’s stories, especially when they feel that their own story has been accepted. Rather than challenging the logic of a story, we can find a way to utilize its elements in some new and hopeful combination.