My Voice Will Go With You
My Voice Will Go With You
by Sidney Rosen
These stories were thoroughly enjoyable, told in the same elegantly concise style as Ericksonâ€™s methods. They constitute Ericksonâ€™s â€œteaching talesâ€ that he used with patients and also to train therapists who came to him in the 1970â€™s.
And they made good bedtime stories as well! I remember reading them to a family member who was in pain, and the stories that I would read in a hypnotic tone of voice would either lull her to sleep or give us both some good laughs! I think that the stories served as indirect suggestions that she made use of in ways that helped her feel better.
Even though they were not tailored to her particular situation, the rich metaphors Iâ€™m sure were taken up like good food for a hungry unconscious mind, to digest and process in the way that it knows best.
Erickson was a master of pacing and leading, in often the most unusual and sometimes delightfully draconian ways! Some of the more severe methods such as having a child stand for four hours, lets you appreciate that specific context and rapport are everything. Certainly not many adults could administer that kind of remedy with such trust and congruence as Erickson could, and have it be a real healing remedy.
And certainly one wouldn’t generalize to say that kids learn by standing for four hours. But context and rapport are everything.
The stories illustrate so many different ways that he applied some simple, basic principles. One is the indirect approach, as with the girl who needed to strengthen her arm muscles, but wouldnâ€™t have complied with a direct suggestion to simply exercise her arms. Erickson had her focus on other muscles that he knew anatomically were connected to the arm muscles. So in directing her attention to something seemingly different, she was able to affect the very thing she needed.
That’s a good example of the indirect method applied to something very concrete, the body, which helped the client to overcome a limitation. In the same way, the indirect method is used to focus attention away from the “problem” regardless of the form the problem takes.
So in the case of the girl with claustrophobia, Erickson had her focus her attention on the very small increments of distance that the closet door would be closed. Closing it one millimeter felt safe, and then the attention could be focused on just one more millimeter, and so on.
This is also chunking down the amount of information, so that being in a small room with the door closed is reframed as being in a small room with the door open except for 10 millimeters (or whatever degree the door is closed).
Here Erickson is rearranging the way that the girl is structuring her experience of being in the room. This allows her to discover that it’s not the actual room and closed door that triggers her phobia, because by changing her own internal representation of it., her fear is gone. Without even conscious awareness of the mechanics of this shift, his suggestions allow her to shift her own internal representation of the space, even when she has no control of her actual surroundings.
It’s the essence of the glass half full/glass half empty metaphor. The glass and amount of water are constant, and the only variable is your own internal representation of it, and the unconscious mind is open to suggestions to reframe it.
(Meantime I’ve found that drinking a little beer helps me to write; now that I’ve switched to non-alcoholic beer, it still helps me write! The mind is powerful.)
Another great example of the indirect method is the way Erickson treated a woman who wanted to lose weight. He had her deliberately gain weight first. By focusing her attention on something she already knew how to do (pacing), she could then use that same control in the service of losing weight.
So the same theme is demonstrated in all of these examples. The client comes with a so-called problem, and yet within the problem, Erickson recognizes that there exists the very key to the resolution of the problem. His therapeutic approach, then, is to simply guide the clientâ€™s attention to that very thing that they already are doing well, in such a way that they automatically transfer that skill to the context of whatever the desired result is.
So he is always using the most elegant method, which is completely ecological in that it utilizes all of the energy that is already present and simply allows it to transfer to another context.
So in the case of the woman with the weight problem, Erickson recognizes that she already has the ability to change her weight. That she has already demonstrated. By recognizing this, Erickson is not hypnotized by the client’s insistence that she can’t lose weight. And similarly, he is not hypnotized by any other client’s insistence that they can not solve their problem.
This is the first key that allows him to open the door to the limitless human potential that the clients are blind to in their negative hallucinations. This recognition on his part, his ability to see this potential in the client from the start, is the catalyst for the rest of the therapeutic process.
Knowing that the client has already demonstrated their ability to solve the problem, Erickson simply uses the best leverage to allow the rest of the process to unfold.
And the best leverage uses the energy already in motion. So the woman who can’t lose weight is asked to gain more weight. This she already knows how to do, so she does it some more, but this time deliberately and according to a specific protocol (She is told to gain 20 pounds).
The specifics of the protocol might be an element of the trance that keeps her attention focused in a certain way. Certainly it’s not really important that she gain a certain number of pounds, but Erickson creates a hypnotic device out if it, by giving it importance.
Then once she demonstrates to herself clearly that she has this exquisite control to gain this specific number of pounds, she will also recognize that she has the same control to lose pounds.
If she were asked straight away to lose weight, she would have approached it as a struggle, and probably would fail as usual. But this way, she is distracted from all success and failure, and simply concentrates on performing the task at hand. Then when the second phase of the task is introduced (losing weight), it is interpreted by her mind as simply a second phase of the same task that she had already being accomplishing quite easily.
Second phase of the same easy task, as opposed to an impossible struggle; quite a difference, and quite a different outcome!