“MILTON H. ERICKSON, M.D., is generally acknowledged to be the world's leading practitioner of medical hypnosis. His writings on hypnosis are the authoritative word on techniques of inducing trance, experimental work exploring the possibilities and limits of the hypnotic experience, and investigations of the nature of the relationship between hypnotist and subject. Perhaps less well known is the fact that Dr Erickson has a unique approach to psychotherapy which represents a major innovation in therapeutic technique. For many years he has been developing effective and practical methods of treatment which may or may not involve the formal induction of trance. Those who think of him largely as a hypnotherapist might be surprised that he lists himself in the telephone directory as psychiatrist and family counselor. The reader who dips here and there in this volume will find that the title of an article does not always indicate what sort of extraordinary therapeutic operation is described. For example, an article called "Hypnotherapy of Two Psychosomatic Dental Problems" contains a case in which a young lady is taught to squirt water at a young man through a gap in her teeth! In "The Identification of a Secure Reality," a mother is required literally to sit for eight hours upon her troublesome son. For Dr. Erickson, these were the essential cores of two successful therapeutic procedures.
Dr. Erickson is both a psychiatrist and a psychologist, having received his medical degree and his master's degree in psychology simultaneously. Consequently he is a Fellow of both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. In addition, he is a Fellow of the American Psychopathological Association, and he is an honorary member of numerous societies of medical hypnosis in Europe, Latin America and Asia. He was the founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis as well as the founder and editor of that society's professional journal. His professional life since 1950 has included both a busy private practice in Phoenix, Arizona, and constant traveling to offer seminars in hypnosis and lectures both in the United States and many foreign countries.
… When training psychiatrists, as well as medical students, Dr Erickson put great emphasis upon learning how to observe a patient, and he believes that training as hypnotist increases that ability. His own extraordinary powers of observation are legendary. Remarking that physical limitations made him more observant, he says, "I had a polio attack when 17 years old and I lay in bed without a sense of body awareness. I couldn't even tell the position of my arms or legs in bed. So I spent hours trying to locate my hand or my foot or my toes by a sense of feeling, and I became, acutely aware of what movements were. Later, when I went into medicine, I learned the nature of muscles. I used that knowledge to develop an adequate use of the muscles polio had left me and to limp with the least possible strain; this took me ten years. I also became extremely aware of physical movements and this has been exceedingly useful. People use those little telltale movements, those, adjustive movements that are so revealing if one can notice them. So much of our communication is in our bodily movements, not in our speech. I've found that I can recognize a good piano player not by the noises he makes, but by the ways his fingers touch the keys. The sure touch, the delicate touch, the forceful touch that is so accurate. Proper playing involves such exquisite physical movement."
Dr Erickson cannot recognize a good piano player by the noise he makes because he is tone deaf. This, too, he defines as an asset in his work. "So much is communicated by the way a person speaks," he says. "My tone deafness has forced me to pay attention to inflections in the voice. This means I'm less distracted by the content of what people say. Many patterns of behavior are reflected in the way a person says something rather than in what he says."
Dr Erickson is also color blind, and this too became an asset when he experimented with producing color blindness with hypnosis. Experimenter bias was avoided. To this writer, one of the more extraordinary scenes in research is reported in "The Hypnotic Induction of Hallucinatory Color Vision Followed by Pseudo Negative After-Images." Experimental subjects in trance were shown white sheets of paper and they hallucinated colors upon them. Then they were immediately shown white sheets of paper and hallucinated the after-image, this being the complementary color. Holding up the white sheets was Dr. Erickson who could not visualize the colors whether awake or in trance. (The one color he can enjoy is purple. Although it might not always be an appropriate color, he manages to surround himself with it whenever he can. He wears purple ties and sport shirts, his pajamas are purple, and the bathroom in his house has purple walls.)
Dr Erickson uses examples from his life with his children when discussing hypnosis and therapy. Readers who might wonder what it is like to have a father who is a master hypnotist could enjoy the article "Pediatric Hypnotherapy" in this volume. Dr Erickson describes handling an incident with his son Robert to illustrated how to deal with children in pain. Robert fell down the back stairs, split his lip, and knocked his upper tooth back into the maxilla. He was bleeding and screaming with pain and fright. His parents rushed to him and saw that it was an emergency. Dr Erickson writes,
"No effort was made to pick him up. Instead, as he paused for breath for fresh screaming, he was told quickly, simply, sympathetically and emphatically, 'That hurts awful, Robert. That hurts terrible.'
"Right then, without any doubt, my son knew that I knew what I was talking about. He could agree with me and he knew I was agreeing with him completely. Therefore he could listen respectfully to me, because I had demonstrated that I understood the situation fully."
Rather than reassure the boy, Dr Erickson proceeded in typical fashion:
'Then I told Robert, 'And it will keep right on hurting.' In this simple statement, I named his own fear, confirmed his own judgment of the situation, demonstrated my good intelligent grasp of the entire matter and my entire agreement with him, since right then he could foresee a lifetime of anguish and pain for himself.
"The next step for him and for me was to declare, as he took another breath, 'And you really wish it would stop hurting.' Again, we were in full agreement and he was ratified and even encouraged in this wish. And it was his wish, deriving entirely from within him and constituting his own urgent need.
'With the situation so defined, I could then offer a suggestion with some certainty of its acceptance. This suggestion was, 'Maybe it will stop hurting in a little while, in just a minute or two.'
"This was a suggestion in full accord with his own needs and wishes and, because it was qualified by 'maybe it will,' it was not in contradiction to his own understandings of the situation. Thus he could accept the idea and initiate his response to it."
Dr Erickson then shifted to another important matter. As he puts it:
"Robert knew that he hurt, that he was a damaged person; he could see his blood upon the pavement, taste it in his mouth and see it on his hands. And yet, like all other human beings, he too could desire narcissistic distinction in his misfortune, along with the desire even more for narcissistic comfort. Nobody wants a picayune headache: since a headache must be endured, let it be so colossal that only the sufferer could endure it. Human pride is so curiously good and comforting! Therefore, Robert's attention was doubly directed to two vital issues of comprehensible importance to him by the simple statements, 'That's an awful lot of blood on the pavement. Is it good, red, strong blood? Look carefully, Mother, and see. I think it is, but I want you to be sure.' "
Examination proved it to be good strong blood, but it was necessary to verify this by examination of it against the white background of the bathroom sink. In this way the boy, who had ceased crying in pain and fright, was cleaned up. When he went to the doctor for stitches the question was whether he would get as many as his sister had once been given. The suturing was done without anesthetic on a boy who was an interested participant in the procedure.