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Resources, Solutions and Possibilities: a Tribute to Milton H. Erickson

Updated: Feb 17

"All the resources to solve our problems lie within us". Milton H. Erickson


A life well lived depends on how we observe and perceive resources, solutions and possibilities. We were brought up to perceive, feel and talk about problems, difficulties and limitations. This pessimistic and reductionist view ends up limiting us in a world of infinite possibilities, as the American psychiatrist, psychologist and educator Milton H. Erickson used to say and gave his life example.

Erickson was considered by many to be a genius for creating seemingly absurd psychotherapeutic resources for American psychiatry and psychology in the 40s to 70s.

Some people thought he was an imposter because he didn't like academic theories, but he achieved results that were simply amazing and that many of his students and researchers still can't explain. Erickson stated that it was not appropriate to place the patient inside a theory as if it were the "bed of Procruste". He said that therapy had to be tailor-made and the measure was the unique patient who was there in your presence, who came to you seeking help and expecting welcome, respect and understanding.

What we do know is that Erickson used observation and perception very effectively, the power of communication and "intuition" brilliantly. We also know that we are generally deficient in communication and even more so in intuition, especially because of our prejudices, so what he did could only be absurd.

I've had the opportunity to take courses with some of his former students and they're very good, especially when it comes to caring for the human being, to being loving, which is what is lacking in the so-called traditional academic approaches, where they're more concerned with technique, theory and the names of illnesses and forget about the human being. Erickson's technique was very focused on stories, anecdotes and metaphors. It was an indirect way of reaching the unconscious. He said that the conscious is intelligent and the unconscious is wise, so it requires a different kind of communication to access it, understand it and interpret it.

Erickson once told his former student Dr. Sidney Rosen "that what you don't realize, Sid, is that most of your life is determined unconsciously". And Rosen later realized that what Erickson meant was that each and every one of our current experiences affects both our conscious and unconscious minds.

Rosen continues (2003) that if I read a text that inspires me, my unconscious mind will have changed; the same happens if I meet a person who is important or special to me.

Na verdade, a eficácia de qualquer terapia, de qualquer educação ou relação fundamenta-se na capacidade da pessoa para se transformar, em grande parte em consequência de um encontro com a outra ou com outras pessoas como também aborda a fenomenologia de Martin Buber e a Gestalt-Terapia de Pearls.

Erickson also didn't work with resistance in the traditional way, as a difficulty, a problem. He incorporated resistance as useful material and integrated it into the patient's complaint, thereby reducing the therapist's anxiety about dealing with resistance. He said that you have to work with everything the patient brings to the office, everything has its importance, you have to observe, perceive, read and interpret the meanings.

Life is about relationships, contact, encounters, motivation and change. Everything ends up being a way of intervening with yourself or the other. The central question is the quality of the intervention. Rosen (2003) mentions that Erickson's interventions, on the contrary, provoked changes that were self-perpetuating and generated other changes. Perhaps this was because they pointed in the direction of personal growth and "openness". Erickson's philosophy was that each individual is important and can improve, and each has their own possibilities for growth.

Erickson's philosophy is nothing new, but why did it work for him and not for other therapists and educators? Perhaps it was because Erickson lived what he did. It wasn't an abstract theory as he always said, it was a tailor-made intervention. It was a meeting of two specialists, one in human beings and the other in therapy. When patients go to the clinic, they're looking for help to alleviate their suffering, not to receive a theoretical lecture on the possible causes of the symptom. But most professionals have been trained to lecture patients, using far-fetched terminology that is incomprehensible to the layperson. The most important thing, communication, doesn't happen. The result doesn't appear, but often the symptom is relieved. Erickson didn't worry about the causes either, because he thought that digging into the past in search of causes was almost always an inglorious struggle, because memories change and the process is very complex.

Erickson, who was also a very good educator, left observations such as when you tell a story, the students pay attention, stay focused, concentrated (they are in a hypnotic trance and you can enter a trance with them too) when this alternative state of consciousness occurs, there is an expansion of consciousness and learning is much greater, interesting, pleasurable, motivating.

When the teacher gives a traditional lesson, the students get restless, talk a lot, get nervous, fight, sleep, etc. Why? We're simply not talking to them on the right channel. The good communicator is the one who knows the different communication channels (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) and uses them efficiently, he realizes the moments when he must change the channel to awaken the listeners, students, audience, patients, parents, etc.

When we use a story, a metaphor with students and patients in a way that is appropriate to the context, therapy happens. As Erickson used to say when he induced his patients into a natural trance...my voice will go with you. This was all a bit of Erickson's legacy.


Author: Marcos Bueno

Resume: Psychologist with a Gestalt and Ericksonian orientation, founder of the NUP-GT in Uberlândia/MG, university professor, Master's Degree in Technological and Environmental Innovation Management from PPGEP/UFSC, Specialist in Administration from FGV and UFU/Université du Quebèc a Trois Rivières and a degree in Psychology from UnG, former HR and Quality manager, undergoing training in psychotherapy and Ericksonian hypnosis at the Milton Erickson Institute in Belo Horizonte, an organization affiliated with The Milton H. Erickson Foundation, Inc. Erickson Foundation, Inc, of Phoenix, AZ, USA, a member of the Milton H. Erickson Institute of the Triângulo Mineiro and a member of the Catalan Academy of Letters.

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