“He was frail and drained of energy;
his eyes were dull, his face contorted with pain
— and I was, frankly, worried about his health.
Was this drawn and ailing man slumped in a wheelchair the legendary healer I had read about?
Had I come west on a wild goose chase? ” [The Voice (Kindle Locations 70-71)]
Yes, he was the legendary psychotherapist. Wild goose chase? — maybe, actually in retrospect, no ambiguity here.
“Dr. Erickson asked to be excused, and then, about an hour later, I was astonished to see him wheel himself back into his study, fully alert and revitalized, cheerful, eyes twinkling, ready to get to work.” [The Voice (Kindle Locations 72-73)]
“Dr. Erickson encouraged me to continue my studies and develop my own ideas and techniques, both for my own therapy and for my patients. This respect for my ability to find my own best solutions was fundamental to Dr. Erickson’s philosophy of healing, and was one of the most important lessons he taught me in our time together. In this and in so many ways, his tutelage and sensitivity were nothing less than inspiring.” — Brian Alman [The Voice (Kindle Locations 82-85).]
A Double Binding
He has had a lasting legacy to the worlds of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, pedagogics and communications.
A Counselor Idealist: A Diplomatic Contender
Milton Hyland Erickson, Counselor Idealist, (5 December 1901 – 25 March 1980) was an American psychiatrist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy. He was founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychopathological Association. He is noted for his approach to the unconscious mind as creative and solution-generating. He is also noted for influencing brief therapy, strategic family therapy, family systems therapy, solution focused brief therapy, and neuro-linguistic programming. [Wikipedia, revised]
My father was one who had read about Erickson’s work very early and saw it as one of the main keys to understanding unproductive (defensive) action (madness) and possibly positively influencing human action, as Erickson did in his practice. In the seventies, my father and his students met with Erickson to learn Erickson’s techniques. It was unfortunate that Erickson, never asked about Temperament or my father’s work, and my father never volunteered it. (Although, I don’t think Erickson would have gotten it anyway — most geniuses have their own focus and ideas — and have difficulty thinking outside their own framework — e.g., Mach’s dismissing of Einstein’s ideas: Einstein and Mach)
Besides Leon Festinger’s notion of cognitive dissonance, my father figured that Erickson’s use of the double bind in corrective intervention (prescribing the symptom) was the most important concept in understanding human action of the latter part of the 20th century. The ‘double bind‘ which Erickson used extensively in his corrective intervention is a general technique; however, understanding the Temperaments could make the issues of each individual’s problems more clear to the therapist and what suggestions could be useful in the corrective intervention. A Counselor Idealist, Erickson did not accept all Applicants that sought his help, and I have no doubt, that fact, was related to Temperament.
Counselors have an exceptionally strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others, and find great personal fulfillment interacting with people, nurturing their personal development, guiding them to realize their human potential. Although they are happy working at jobs (such as writing) that require solitude and close attention, Counselors do quite well with individuals or groups of people, provided that the personal interactions are not superficial, and that they find some quiet, private time every now and then to recharge their batteries. Counselors are both kind and positive in their handling of others; they are great listeners and seem naturally interested in helping people with their personal problems. Not usually visible leaders, Counselors prefer to work intensely with those close to them, especially on a one-to-one basis, quietly exerting their influence behind the scenes. [Please Understand Me II]
In 1973, Jay Haley published Uncommon Therapy, which for the first time brought Erickson and his approaches to the attention of those outside the clinical hypnosis community. His fame and reputation spread rapidly, and so many people wished to meet him that he began holding teaching seminars, which continued until his death. [Wikipedia]
Erickson’s insight into human’s use of words and tools started early, half because of necessity. At age 17, Erickson had contracted polio and was so severely paralysed that the doctors believed he would die. In the critical night when he was at his worst, he had a formative “autohypnotic experience”.
Erickson: As I lay in bed that night, I overheard the three doctors tell my parents in the other room that their boy would be dead in the morning. I felt intense anger that anyone should tell a mother her boy would be dead by morning. My mother then came in with as serene a face as can be. I asked her to arrange the dresser, push it up against the side of the bed at an angle. She did not understand why, she thought I was delirious. My speech was difficult. But at that angle by virtue of the mirror on the dresser I could see through the doorway, through the west window of the other room. I was damned if I would die without seeing one more sunset. If I had any skill in drawing, I could still sketch that sunset.
Rossi: Your anger and wanting to see another sunset was a way you kept yourself alive through that critical day in spite of the doctors’ predictions. But why do you call that an autohypnotic experience?
Erickson: I saw that vast sunset covering the whole sky. But I know there was also a tree there outside the window, but I blocked it out.
Rossi: You blocked it out? It was that selective perception that enables you to say you were in an altered state?
Erickson: Yes, I did not do it consciously. I saw all the sunset, but I didn’t see the fence and large boulder that were there. I blocked out everything except the sunset. After I saw the sunset, I lost consciousness for three days. When I finally awakened, I asked my father why they had taken out that fence, tree, and boulder. I did not realize I had blotted them out when I fixed my attention so intensely on the sunset. Then, as I recovered and became aware of my lack of abilities, I wondered how I was going to earn a living. I had already published a paper in a national agricultural journal. “Why Young Folks Leave the Farm.” I no longer had the strength to be a farmer, but maybe I could make it as a doctor. [italics added]
Recovering, still almost entirely lame in bed, and unable to speak, Erickson became strongly aware of the significance of non-verbal communication – body language, tone of voice and the way that these non-verbal expressions often directly contradicted the verbal ones.
I had polio, and I was totally paralyzed, and the inflammation was so great that I had a sensory paralysis too. I could move my eyes and my hearing was undisturbed. I got very lonesome lying in bed, unable to move anything except my eyeballs. I was quarantined on the farm with seven sisters, one brother, two parents, and a practical nurse. And how could I entertain myself? I started watching people and my environment. I soon learned that my siblings could say “no” when they meant “yes.” And they could say “yes” and mean “no” at the same time. They could offer another sibling an apple and hold it back. And I began studying nonverbal language and body language. [emphasis added]
The ‘double bind‘ is a way of overloading the subject with two options, the acceptance of either of which represents acceptance of a therapeutic suggestion.
“My first well-remembered intentional use of the double bind occurred in early boyhood. One winter day, with the weather below zero, my father led a calf out of the barn to the water trough. After the calf had satisfied its thirst, they turned back to the barn, but at the doorway the calf stubbornly braced its feet, and despite my father’s desperate pulling on the halter, he could not budge the animal. I was outside playing in the snow and, observing the impasse, began laughing heartily. My father challenged me to pull the calf into the barn. Recognizing the situation as one of unreasoning stubborn resistance on the part of the calf, I decided to let the calf have full opportunity to resist, since that was what it apparently wished to do. Accordingly I presented the calf with a double bind by seizing it by the tail and pulling it away from the barn, while my father continued to pull it inward. The calf promptly chose to resist the weaker of the two forces and dragged me into the barn.”
The Counselor works with his Applicant by Diplomatic Contending.
Contending entails competition. Thus to contend with another’s work one must hold one’s ground, hang onto one’s position, stick to one’s intention, tend to one’s business, stay the course, in a word, be tenacious. It is not so much that one is bent on overtaking or outdoing others, as it is having one’s way. Contenders will have their way if at all possible.” [Personology, page 77]
‘“The patient’s primary task is to develop their unconscious potential,” and that healing is “something people receive from themselves.” These statements have profound implications. They suggest that the power to heal resides not only in doctors and therapists, but also in patients themselves. They suggest, in other words, that we have what legendary healer Albert Schweitzer called an “inner doctor” in our unconscious mind who can help us find our own best pathways to health and happiness.’ [The Voice (Kindle Locations 88-91)]
The Counselor is contending with his/her Applicant, to solve the problem that the Applicant is having.
Erickson implicit method was using the “double bind:” prescribing the symptom. The patient is forced to give up his unproductive (defensive) habit because his behavior is no longer serving its purpose (to defend against feeling shame), but rather the Counselor is controlling it’s purpose. The habit having lost it’s purpose, dissipates.
A Paradox — unless you understand.
Blog to be continued.. For it’s more complicated: there was Jay Haley