Milton H. Erickson, MD : An American Healer
Bradford Keeney and Betty Alice Erickson (Editors)
A new 'movement', whether religious, psychological or scientific, seems to go through certain predictable stages. First, you have the creative impulse emanating from an often lone genius. These figures are brave and farsighted enough to think and act 'outside the box'. They have to fight against the narrow dogma, fixed ideas and formulaic practices of their time.
Next, their ideas are 'discovered'. People enthusiastically wish to learn from them and to emulate their talents. But after a time, perhaps when the original genius has passed on, the ideas themselves begin to slide into dogmatic, fixed and concrete formulas. People turn their approaches into fixed 'systems'. Creativity and uniquely tailored approaches (based on universal principles) are replaced by 'one size fits all' techniques. At this point, things have come full circle. Now it may take another creative genius to bring fresh and new insight into a field that may, through the chains of habit, have lost its way.
Milton Erickson was undoubtedly different. He was a creative genius and blew some desperately needed oxygen into the lungs of moribund psychotherapy just when it needed it most. He railed against narrow approaches to psychological healing. Yet if we are not careful, we may lose his creative perspective and just adopt repetitious and unthinking 'Ericksonian' techniques.
In 'Milton H. Erickson, MD: An American Healer' we have a chance to revisit the source of so much that is good and positive in psychotherapeutic practice today. This book is best read not from the perspective of blind hero worship but rather as instruction in positive living and creative use of that living to help others.
The book is full of personal anecdotes, family photos and tales of the man who straddled the divide between 'modern shaman' and 'scientific pioneer'. He restored the place of hypnosis in psychotherapy and developed a clear understanding of how the mind works. Erickson was a positive, inspired and energetic practitioner of what he preached. He is now considered the founder of modern clinical hypnosis. He won recognition of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool by the medical and psychiatric establishment. His clinical studies and writings moved hypnosis from stage show to recognized treatment – not as something 'alternative', but as a central factor in human experience. Erickson, the 'father' of medical hypnosis, comes across as a warmly affectionate family man. In this tribute by family and friends, he stands out as a man who used his own life experience as the inspiration for many of his therapeutic interventions. At the age of seventeen Erickson was struck down by polio and fully expected to die. Disagreeing with this prognosis, he lived on for a further sixty one years. To effect his own cure from paralysis, he would spend hours hypnotically imagining movement in his legs and arms. He would drag his legs over the ground to stimulate them and a short while after being medically condemned to early death he undertook a two-month long recuperative canoe trip.
His journal of this time reveals a person who believed that healing comes from within, that we should all take personal responsibility for our lives and that the strength to make these changes can be prompted by wise and strategic psychotherapy.
A great read for anyone.
Review by Mark Tyrrell