Wet Dreams, The Loud Rooster, Squirt, Weight Loss, Cacti And Autism- The Stories Of Milton Erickson

Milton Erickson revolutionized the practice of hypnosis and combined his skills with knowledge of medicine, psychotherapy and Psychiatry.

He believed that the patient should be an active collaborator in the process of introspective healing. His theories and approaches came into the limelight with the publication of Uncommon Therapy by Jay Haley in 1973.

Erickson also believed in the power of the unconscious mind, and the trance state that can have a strong hypnotic influence on mind and body.

According to Erickson, every person has a healthy, powerful core, and hypnosis is a power tool in allowing this self to guide us again.

He believed that most of our limitations are self-imposed, the barriers put up by the conscious mind, the job of the therapist being to help the subject re-establish his connection with his inner resources; and to bring balance between the conscious and the unconscious mind.

Milton created the Utilization Approach towards hypnosis that basically uses the behaviour exhibited by the client to induce and deepen a trance.

When working with patients, rather than trying to find a lot of background history, Erickson’s priority was to establish rapport.

During his conversation with the patient, Erickson would focus on patient’s body language, his facial expressions, and his responses to the therapist’s remarks.

Another well-known theory of Erickson is the handshake induction. The induction is done by the hypnotist while shaking hands with the patient, and then interrupting the flow of the handshake in some way. This interruption can create a non-verbal trance in the subject, which may be utilized by the hypnotist. Maybe Donald Trump is trying that with his recent weird handshake behaviour with those weird tiny hands of his.

Well, back to Erickson. He tailored every induction to the client’s individual needs and their perceptual bias.

As well as influencing hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, Erickson met and inspired Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the founders of neurolinguistic programming (NLP).

His stories may slyly embed commands and post-hypnotic suggestions, sometimes in the form of phrases characters say, but these may be spoken with a slightly different inflection to indicate to the unconscious mind that they should be taken as separate commands, the overall effect will be to prevent the conscious mind from resisting them.

There are many of his hypnotic tales spread across three books I reference at the end, here are a small selection I find interesting, with some accompanying interpretations:-

Autism

Here’s a story close to my heart, as I have a sweet autistic daughter who rarely communicates, by words at least.

“You MEET people at their own level, just as you don’t discuss philosophy with a baby learning to talk . . . you make NOISES at the baby. Now there was an autistic child at Arizona State Hospital. $50,000 had been raised and the child had been sent to Chicago for very special care. And a lot of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts worked with the child until the $50,000 was gone and they sent her back completely unchanged. One of my patients was rather lonesome and she liked to be a do-gooder and she visited the Arizona State Hospital, saw that ten year old girl, and finally persuaded the authorities to let the girl go for a walk with her. And that girl went with her, grimacing, and mouthing sounds, and grunting, and twisting and acting very peculiar. And this patient decided to bring her to see me. She brought her in. She had told me first about the girl and I told her, Yes, I’d see the girl. I assured her I couldn’t take the girl as a patient but I’d see the girl once. And she brought the girl in, and introduced the girl to me and me to the girl. And the girl made a number of weird sounds and so I REPLIED with weird sounds, and we grunted and groaned and squeaked and squawked for about half an hour. And then the girl answered a few simple questions and very promptly returned to her autistic behavior. And we really had a good time squeaking and squawking and grunting and groaning at each other. And then she took the patient back to the hospital. In the night time she took the patient for a walk. She told me later, “that girl almost pulled my arm off, yanking me down the street, she wanted to see you. . . the one man who could really talk her language.”

In this example the macro-behaviour is the girl’s squeaking and squawking. Rather than conversing normally with her and attempting to get her to do likewise, Erickson adjusts his behaviour, matching her squeak for squawk. For perhaps the first time, she had the opportunity to communicate with someone who spoke HER language, someone who made sense to her. It is important to also note that Erickson had a “really good time” squeaking and squawking with this girl as it is indicative of the congruency of Erickson’s behavior. Any indication in Erickson’s behavior that his mirroring of her squawking was exploitative, insincere, or derisive would certainly have been destructive of rapport. It was Erickson’s willingness and ability to congruently alter his OWN behaviour that made it possible for him to have the impact that he had on this girl. And we should try to communicate with everyone on their own terms, not ours. It is obvious, really.

The Loud Rooster


A young man could not cross certain streets or enter certain buildings without falling down in a faint. There was one restaurant in particular – we will call it The Loud Rooster – he was unable to enter. He also had a variety of other forms of avoidance, including an avoidance of women.
As Dr. Erickson reports:
I decided that I could get this young man over his problem of entering this particular restaurant, and in that way I could help him over other fears, particularly his fears of women. I asked him how he felt about going to dinner at the Loud Rooster, and he said he would inevitably faint. Then I described various types of women to him; there is the young naïve woman, the divorcée, the widow, and the old lady. They could be attractive or unattractive. I asked him which was the most undesirable of those four. He said there was no question about it – he was quite afraid of girls, and the idea of associating with an attractive divorcée was the most undesirable thing he could think of.
I told him that he was going to take my wife and me out to dinner at The Loud Rooster and there would be someone else going along with us. It might be a young girl, a divorcée, a widow, or an old lady. He should arrive at seven o’clock on Tuesday. I said I would drive because I didn’t wish to be in the car when he was likely to faint. He arrived at seven, and I had him wait nervously in the living room until the other person who would accompany us arrived. Of course I had arranged with an extremely attractive divorcée to arrive at seven- twenty. She was one of those charming, easily met people, and when she walked in I asked him to introduce himself, he managed to, and then I told the divorcée our plans. The young man was taking us all out to dinner at The Loud Rooster.
We went to my car, and I drove up to the restaurant and parked the car in the parking lot. As we got out, I said to the young man, This is a graveled parking lot, that’s a nice level spot there where you can fall down and faint. Do you want that place, or is there a better one that you can find?” He said, “I’m afraid it will happen when I get to the door.” So we walked over to the door, and I said, That’s a nice-looking sidewalk. You’ll probably bang your head hard if you crash. Or how about over here?” By keeping him busy rejecting my places to faint, I kept him from finding a place of his own choosing. He didn’t faint. He said, “Can we get a table just inside by the door?” I said, “We’ll take the table I picked out.” We went clear across to an elevated section in the far corner of the restaurant. The divorcée sat beside me, and while we were waiting to give our order, the divorcée and my wife and I talked about matters that were over the young man’s head. We told abstruse and private jokes and laughed heartily at them. The divorcée had a master’s degree, and we talked about subjects he didn’t know anything about and told mythological riddles.
The three of us had a good time and he was out of the swim and feeling increasingly miserable. Then the waitress came to the table. I picked a fight with her. It was a disagreeable, noisy fight, and I demanded to see the manager and then had a fight with him. While the young man sat there intensely embarrassed, the fight culminated with my demand to see the kitchen. When we got there, I told the manager and the waitress that I was ribbing my friend, and they fell in line with it. The waitress began to slam dishes angrily down on the table. As the young man ate his dinner, I kept urging him to clean up his plate. So did the divorcée, adding such helpful comments as “The fat’s good for you”
He lived through it and took us home. I had tipped off the divorcée, and she said, “You know, I feel in the mood to go dancing tonight.” He could only dance a little bit, having hardly learned it in high school. She took him dancing.
The next night the young man picked up a friend of his and said, “Let’s go out to dinner.” He took his friend to the Loud Rooster. After what he had been through there, nothing else was to be feared; the worst had happened, and anything else would be a welcome relief. He could also enter other buildings from then on, and this laid the groundwork for getting him over his fear of certain streets.

This case illustrates Erickson’s way of arranging that a fearful person enter the place he fears while blocking off the kind of behaviour usually associated with the fear, in this instance Erickson was personally involved and managed the situation, taking his therapy out of the office into the area where the fear occurred. He forced the young man to survive a situation he thought he could not.

Squirt


A twenty-one-year-old girl came to Erickson and said she wanted help. She would like to get a husband and have a home and children, but she had never had a boyfriend and felt she was hopeless and destined to be an old maid. She said, “I think I’m too inferior to live. I’ve got no friends, I stay by myself, and I’m too homely to get married. I thought I’d see a psychiatrist before I committed suicide. I’m going to try you for three months’ time, and then if things aren’t straightened out that’s the end.”
The young lady worked as a secretary in a construction firm and had no social life. She had never dated. A young man at her office showed up at the drinking fountain each time she did, but even though she found him attractive and he made overtures, she ignored him and never spoke to him. She lived alone and her parents were dead.
The girl was pretty, but she managed to make herself unattractive because her hair was straggly and uneven, her blouse and skirt didn’t match, there was a rip in her skirt, and her shoes were scuffed and unpolished. Her main physical defect, according to her, was a gap between her front teeth, which she covered with her hand as she talked. The gap was actually about one eighth of an inch wide and not unsightly. Generally, this was a girl going downhill, heading for suicide, feeling helpless about herself, and resisting any acts that would help her achieve her goal of getting married and having children.
Erickson approached this problem with two major interventions. He proposed to the girl that since she was going downhill anyhow, she might as well have one last fling. This last fling would include taking the money she had in the bank and spending it on herself. She was to go to a particular store where a woman would help her select a tasteful outfit, and to a particular beauty shop where she would have her hair properly done. The girl was willing to accept the idea, since it was not a way of improving herself but part of going downhill and merely having a last fling.
Then Erickson gave her a task. She was to go home and in the privacy of her bathroom practice squirting water through the gap between her front teeth until she could achieve a distance of six feet with accuracy. She thought this was silly, but it was partly the absurdity of it that made her go home and practice squirting water conscientiously.
When the girl was dressed properly, looking attractive, and skilful at squirting water through the gap in her teeth, Erickson made a suggestion to her. He proposed that when she went to work the following Monday she play a practical joke. When that young man appeared at the water fountain at the same time she did, she was to take a mouthful of water and squirt it at him. Then she was to turn and run, but not merely run; she was to start to run toward the young man and then turn and run like hell down the corridor.
The girl rejected this idea as impossible. Then she thought of it as a somewhat amusing but crude fantasy. Finally she decided to do it. She was in a mood for a last fling anyhow.
On Monday she went to work dressed in her new outfit and with her hair done. She went to the water fountain, and when the young man approached, she filled her mouth with water and squirted it on him. The young man said something like “You damn little bitch.” This made her laugh as she ran, and me young man took after her and caught her. To her consternation, he grabbed her and kissed her.
The next day the young lady approached the water fountain with some trepidation, and the young man sprang out from behind a telephone booth and sprayed her with a water pistol. The next day they went out to dinner together.
She returned to Erickson and reported what had happened. She said she was revising her opinion about herself and wanted him to do a critical review of her. He did, pointing out, among other things, that she had cooperated well with him, that she had dressed badly before but now dressed well, and that she had previously thought she had a dental defect instead of an asset. Within a few months she sent Erickson a newspaper clipping reporting her marriage to the young man, and a year later a picture of her new baby.

This case demonstrates an approach that appears to be outside the stream of traditional therapy. It is not typical of any therapeutic school, including hypnotherapy. Yet it is typical of Erickson’s work, and I think it developed out of his hypnotic orientation. Just as a hypnotist typically accepts the resistance of a subject and even encourages it, Erickson accepted the way this girl dealt with him and encouraged it – but in such a way that change could take place. This girl defined herself as going downhill and heading for the end of the road. Erickson accepted this and encouraged it, only adding that she should have one last fling. The girl was also hostile to men and would not make an effort to be nice to them. Erickson accepted this behavior, and essentially arranged that she spit on a man. Yet the consequence was, to her, quite unexpected. His way of motivating her to do what he asked, and his way of handling her resistance, was an approach characteristic of hypnosis. However, be brought the social setting into play. Instead of having her follow directions deliberately and then have a spontaneous happening by herself, be had her follow directions and then have a spontaneous happening because of the response of someone else.
There are, of course, other aspects of this case uniquely Ericksonian. His way of turning a symptom into an asset is typical, and so is his willingness to intervene, bring about a change, and disengage himself so the patient can develop independent of him, while he checks to be sure the improvement continues. There is also his use of whatever is available in the social context of the person. Not only did he have a fashion consultant and a hairdresser he could make use of, but the one man on this girl’s horizon was immediately included in her future.

Cacti


Usually I send alcoholic patients to AA because AA can do a better job than I can do. An alcoholic came to me and he said, “My grandparents on both sides were alcoholics; my parents were alcoholics; my wife’s parents were alcoholics; my wife is an alcoholic and I have had delirium tremens eleven times. I am sick of being an alcoholic. My brother is an alcoholic too. Now, that is a hell of a job for you. What do you think you can do about it?”
I asked him what his occupation was. “When I am sober I work on a newspaper. And alcohol is an occupational hazard there.”
I said, “All right, you want me to do something about it—with that history. Now, the thing I am going to suggest to you won’t seem the right thing. You go out to the Botanical Gardens. You look at all the cacti there and marvel at cacti that can survive three years without water, without rain. And do a lot of thinking.”
Many years later a young woman came in and said, “Dr. Erickson, you knew me when I was three years old, I moved to California when I was three years old. Now I am in Phoenix and I came to see what kind of a man you were—what you looked like.”
I said, “Take a good look, and I’m curious to know why you want to look at me.”
She said, “Any man who would send an alcoholic out to the Botanical Gardens to look around, to learn how to get around without alcohol, and have it work, is the kind of man I want to see! My mother and father have been sober ever since you sent my father out there.”
“What is your father doing now?”
“He’s working for a magazine. He got out of the newspaper business. He says the newspaper business has an occupational hazard of alcoholism.”

This story is a beautiful example of indirect suggestion, applied symbolically.

Wet Dreams

A woman had secured a divorce because she went all numb sexually and this had troubled her husband very much. He couldn’t husband very much. He couldn’t stand living with an unresponsive woman.
Then she had a number of boyfriends. She was now living with a man who was separated from his wife—a terribly sordid life. He wanted to have her as his mistress. He placed his children first, his wife second, his mistress third. And she didn’t have any response at all. The man was a wealthy man. He gave the woman a lot of things she liked. And she said, “I’m just plain cold. I have no feelings. It’s a mechanical thing For me.”
In a trance, I explained to her about how boys learn to recognize different feelings in their penis—when it’s limp, a quarter erect, halfway erect, fully erect. How it feels when detumescence occurs. How it feels when the ejaculation occurs. And I explained to her all about wet dreams in boys.
I said, “In every boy half of his ancestors are feminine. And what any boy can do, any girl can do. And so you can have a wet dream at night. In fact, you can have a wet dream any time you wish. In the daytime you may see a handsome man. Why not have one then? He doesn’t need to know about it. But you can know about it.”
She said, “That’s an intriguing thought.”
I noticed that she became abnormally still. Her face flushed.
She said, “Dr. Erickson, you’ve just given me my first orgasm. Thank you very much.”
I’ve received several letters from her. She’s gotten rid of the boyfriend who separated from his wife. She’s with a young man her age who’s interested in marriage. And sex with him is absolutely wonderful. She has an orgasm or two or three every time.
Regarding that buildup about all boys having wet dreams, the reason for it is that a person learns to masturbate using his hands. In order to mature he must function sexually without the use of his hands. So his unconscious mind furnishes him, in his dreams, with a sex object.
Why did I describe boys’ masturbation and not girls’? Because I could describe a boy and not be talking about her, and she could understand. And then, when she understood, I said, “A girl can have wet dreams too. And half of even’ boy’s ancestors are female.”

Erickson points out, apparently irrelevantly, “In every boy, half of his ancestors are feminine.” He is simply telling this patient that she can learn from the experience that he has described for a boy. We note not only that the patient’s sexual unresponsiveness has been cured, but also that there was a carryover effect into her life, as manifested by her choosing a more appropriate partner. So much for the minimizing of hypnosis as “just symptom cure!” This story is another good example of the use of indirect suggestion to bring about symptom cure.

Weight Loss

A woman came to see me and she said, “I weigh 180 pounds. I’ve dieted successfully under doctors’ orders hundreds of times. And I want to weigh 130 pounds. Every time I get to 130 pounds I rush into the kitchen to celebrate my success. I put it back on, right away! Now I weigh 180. Can you use hypnosis to help me reduce to 130 pounds? I’m back to 180 for the hundredth time.”
I told her, yes, I could help her reduce by hypnosis, but she wouldn’t like what I did. She said she wanted to weigh 130 pounds and she didn’t care what I did, I told her she’d find it rather painful.
She said, “I’ll do anything you say.”
I said, “All right, I want an absolute promise from you that you will follow my advice exactly.”
She gave me the promise very readily and I put her into a trance.
I explained to her again that she wouldn’t like my method of reducing her weight and would she promise me, absolutely, that she would follow my advice?
She gave me that promise.
Then I told her, “Let both your unconscious mind and your conscious mind listen. Here’s the way you go about it. Your present weight is now 180 pounds. I want you to gain twenty pounds and when you weigh 200 pounds, on my scale, you may start reducing.”
She literally begged me, on her knees, to be released from her promise. And every ounce she gained she became more and more insistent on being allowed to start reducing. She was markedly distressed when she weighed 190 pounds. When she was 190 she begged and implored to be released from her own promise. At 199 she said that was close enough to 200 pounds and I insisted on 200 pounds. When she reached 200 pounds she was very happy that she could begin to reduce. And when she got to 130 she said, “I’m never going to gain again.”
Her pattern had been to reduce and gain. I reversed the pattern and made her gain and reduce. And she was very happy with the final results and maintained that weight. She didn’t want to, ever again, go through that horrible agony of gaining twenty pounds. For this patient, the gaining of weight is no longer either rebellion or an expression of something she wants to do. It has become something she has been coerced into doing. Therefore, just as she had previously resented having to lose weight, she now resents having to gain weight.

For more of Milton Erickson’s unique techniques you may wish to read:-

“Phoenix: Therapeutic Patterns of Milton H.Erickson” David Gordon

“Uncommon Therapy” Jay Haley

“My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H.Erickson” Sidney Rosen

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s