The Nature and Origin of Ericksonian Therapy

Milton Erickson grew up following a very active life on the family farm in Phoenix Arizona. In his youth he was struck down with polio. He was often left alone for hours until one of  the perennially busy family was able to attend to his needs.

He observed, one day, how his paralysed body generated some spontaneous motion in the rocking chair in which he was sitting. Although he was incapable of the necessary conscious movement, he discovered he was able to further amplify this motion - by engaging his imagination in a new way.

Experimentation let him discover how to induce movement in fingers and limbs using imaginative strategies. Over a period of months he rehabilitated his whole body.  Basically he was exploring what we now call body-mind - and the brain’s plasticity - its capacity to mobilise alternative pathways to achieve an end result.

He realised that tackling problems in conventional ways the mind may be overwhelmed by their enormity. Solution lies in psychological flexibility - letting limiting mind-states go & more flexible process & unconscious resource play.

His capacity to observe and be curious allowed him to discover what mental process - associated with unconscious activity - caused the chair to rock.

Often we are too fixated in the desperate pursuit of  failed conscious strategies  to notice the clues the unconscious offers us about parallel routes to solution.

All processes are individual and distinctive. We may call a problem a certain name -or give it a particular diagnosis - but each individual  “ does ”  the problem an individual way.  Therapy solutions need to be respectfully tailored in a similar way.

Careful appreciation of  ways of  ‘having’  the problem identifies where things go wrong - which individual resources need to be harnessed, enhanced or  created.

Structured exercises & suggestion can be used to install these.  Clients may be asked to do curious things which seem to have nothing to do with the problem.

These are proposed to access process from a context with greater potential  for solution.  Skilful framing allows useful unconscious resources to be brought to bear without engaging the previously failed - ‘consciously  trying’ - mind set.

With successful results the client can give little or no account of what they do differently;   nonetheless they now succeed where previously they failed.

A perfect solution  is where the client cannot even remember the original problem !

Neither do clients have to experience formal ( ' heads down & eyes shut ' ) hypnosis.    A really skilful practitioner will observe  and access  spontaneous constructive states ' on the fly' in the course of  ‘ ordinary ’ exchanges.

Competent practitioners use every part of the process - from the very first phone call - to help the client. This needs an excellent command of  language and clarity of mind to be systematic in discovering the problem structure. We also need to be very purposive & careful in  the way we frame suggestion.

Powerful though these methods are, the Ericksonian therapist is not exercising control over you or making you do anything you don't want to. One seeks to generate possibility - of  which your unconscious may choose to take advantage.

Any notion of control is irrelevant.

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