The child who was to become the famous psychiatrist Dr. Milton Erickson was color blind, tone deaf, dyslexic, and contracted polio at the age of 17. For a while Erickson could barely move and was relegated to a wheelchair. Thus confined, he chose to become an astute student of human behavior. Observing his numerous siblings, he “noticed that sometimes when they said one thing they meant another and that communication involved a lot more than merely speech.”
Erickson was famous for his use of hypnosis, his use of stories, tales, and anecdotes, plus his unconventional techniques. Once confronted with two men in the same institution who claimed to be Jesus, he sat them down together to converse. As each attempted to convince the other of the absurdity of his claim, they began to understand the idiocy of their own.
Erickson was a master of establishing rapport, mirroring, and the use of indirect logic. Instead of telling a person with a control or addiction issue to stop what she was doing, Erickson would order her to do more of it——to gain weight or to double or triple her usual number of cigarettes. The process of being compelled to act out their addictions, to over-do it to an obnoxious degree, lead many of his patients to rebel against their addictions, and in that rebellion lay the seeds of their cure.
Erickson believed that inside each of us is “something that knows,” that we each have a healthy, powerful core. His task was not to cure patients but to guide them, help them to get in touch with their true strengths and allow them to cure themselves.
Central to Erickson’s philosophy is the belief that people only change when they feel they “own” the change, that it comes from within them.
I first read of Erickson many years ago in a book called “Uncommon Therapy.” I find his approach to change to be insightful and powerful.
*Edited by Sidney Rosen