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"Why I (May) No Longer Teach Ericksonian Hypnotherapy"

The great poet/bard of our age, Bob Dylan, once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Woodie Guthrie was my last idol; and he taught me not to have idols..." For over a decade, Dr. Milton Erickson was my hero. In the field of hypnotherapy, from what I could ascertain, he was light years ahead of just about everyone else. So — using a term made popular by NLP — I "modelled" him. Which was made a bit more challenging by the fact that in 1985, when I first heard of Erickson, he had been dead for five years.

Modelling is no big deal. It is essentially how we learn to walk and talk and respond to the world — by watching and listening to our parents, older siblings, teachers, etc., as we grow up. Mostly it is done on an unconscious level. What Grinder and Bandler did was develop a rather elegant framework for modelling on a conscious level.

Since I was unable to hang around Dr. Erickson, I did whatever I could to learn about him and study his ways. I watched video-tapes of him, I listened to audio tapes by him of lectures and demos, I read all the books I could find both by and about him, and I sought out teachers who had studied with the legendary Dr. E.

In time, I began to teach "Ericksonian Hypnotherapy." It's been several years, and I still do... but I am beginning to think that it really has evolved into something else. In the process of putting together a training manual to teach "Ericksonian Approaches to Hypnotherapy," I was re-reading William Hudson O'Hanlon's excellent book, Taproots, and came across the following:

Erickson was concerned that his approach might be codified and reified. Therapists learning these reified procedures might try to apply them inappropriately. In so doing, he felt, they would not be responsive to the individual variability and needs of their clients; they would merely imitate Erickson mechanically, not expanding or developing their own procedures and approaches. In his own words (1983), "Develop your own technique. Don't try to use somebody else's technique. ...Don't try to imitate my voice or my cadence. Just discover your own. Be your own natural self. It's the individual responding to the individual.... I've experimented with trying to do something the way somebody else would do it. It's a mess!"

* * *

A core concept in our work is to enable our clients to use more of the resources they have. In order for us to congruently teach this idea, it seems important, if not necessary, for us to be doing it ourselves. What does this mean in practical terms? For me, it means realizing that who I am, how I work therapeutically, and what I teach, is a great deal more than "just" Erickson.The words "authentic," "faithful," "reproduction," and "recreation" have been floating through my mind.

My approach, at this point, draws from many influences. Included in that list would be musicians, tennis players, medicine men and women, shamans, painters, healers, energy workers, bio-energetic therapists, poets, martial artists, dancers, storytellers, sufis, and buddhist lamas, along with the requisite hypnotherapists. It is my own personal alchemical stew - or what one of my students laughingly called my "gumbo."

And – we live in a world and a culture that relates to people, places, activities, and objects by name. We love a label! Apocryphal stories abound such as how Richard Bandler was stopped by a traffic cop once who asked Richard what he did... and in a moment of inspiration, Richard allegedly said "Neurolinguistic Programming" – making up the term on the spot. (A reliable source told me that Count Alfred Korzybski originally coined the term... but who knows?)

Herb Lustig, a psychotherapist who trained with Dr. Milton Erickson, presents an insight into Erickson's own wry humor as far as this subject. The excerpt below is from an article "So Whose Therapy Am I Using, Anyhow?" (in Developing Ericksonian Therapy – State of the Art, Ed. Jeffrey K. Zeig & Stephen R. Lankton © 1988 The Milton H. Erickson Foundation, published by Brunner/Mazel, NYC)

L: Milton, you're the best at doing psychotherapy and hypnosis of anyone I have ever met or read about, and one of the most creative. But, now that I know and practice some of your work, Milton, what am I to call myself?

E: Herb Lustig, I hope. There's no need to change your name at this stage in your life.

So... if I had the desire to create an empire, another in the never-ending series of "isms" that we in the field of healing are inundated with, I guess I could say I now teach "Blumian" hypno/healing. There are, however, two good reasons not to do so. First, how many people have heard of "Blumian"? In the grand scheme of things, not enough to count on drawing the same kind of attention as is done by saying it's "Ericksonian" or "NLP". And second, I can't say it without laughing out loud.

The workshop group at a recent Florida training included a physical therapist who specializes in manual lymphatic drainage, a building renovator, a dance and meditation teacher, a massage therapist/light worker, and a physician, along with several hypnotherapists. We had a great time, and covered a wide range of techniques and approaches. I hope they got a glimpse into the mystery of just who was Dr. Milton Erickson. And, I have a strong feeling that each attendee also got a glimpse into the mystery and magic of who they each are. No one else has had the experiences and learnings that you have.

In the way of our "Native American" brothers and sisters, a healer "carries" a particular kind of medicine. It almost always was connected to something in nature – the wind, a rock, a tree, a bird, a four-legged... What kind of medicine do you carry?

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