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On Ericksonian Approaches to Therapy
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The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between David Gordon and Doug O'Brien that took place in December, 2005. This was a telephone conference call with several listeners and was recorded for the purposes of this transcription. No significant content was edited from the dialog. It was edited simply to facilitate cohesion.

Doug O'Brien:        We are honored to have David Gordon with us again. David is the author of several books, "Phoenix" on Ericksonian Hypnosis, "Therapeutic Metaphors" on Ericksonian Hypnosis, and his latest book on modeling. What's that called again, David?

David Gordon:        "Expanding Your World, Exploring the Structure of Experience."

Doug:         Right, and we talked about that a bit last time and because of some technical difficulties, we have you with us again. And just as much as last time, we're honored to have you here.

David:         Well, I'm very glad to be here.

Doug:         So, last time, before we were so rudely interrupted by technical difficulties, we were just about to begin talking less about NLP and more about Erickson and his work which has, I think since his death, come to be known as Ericksonian hypnosis. By the way, was it known as Ericksonian hypnosis prior to that?

David:         I never heard anybody referring to his work like that before he died. Well, let me think about this for a second. Ericksonian hypnosis, no, actually I never remember hearing that phrase before he died. The first time I remember hearing that was at the very first Erickson conference, which of course was after he died.

Doug:         So how did you come to work with Erickson?

David:         Okay, so here's where I'm getting on my soapbox. Because often, when people talk about working with Erickson, there is at least a suggestion in that of somehow collaborating with or having some kind of apprentice relationship with Erickson and so on which, boy, I wish I could say was true for me. But I want to be clear that I didn't work with him in the sense that somebody collaborates or is even in an apprenticeship relationship.

I did get to spend two weeks with Erickson a couple of times, but in the same manner of relationship that most people did which was this: I was there with a small group of people sitting with him in a room as he told us stories. The first time with a mixed group, the second time was just a group of us from the NLP gang of Santa Cruz. But in each case it was the same, we talked with him about his work in therapy, and he would work with us individually and do hypnosis and so on. It was absolutely wonderful and an experience of a lifetime, but I think it's a mischaracterization to say 'worked with him.' I just want to be clear about that.

Doug:         I appreciate that. And when did you come to first sit in that room and listen to him.

David:         Yeah, we'll have to come up with a different euphemism. Well, that must have been... the first time was in '76, I would say, '75 or '76. The next time would be about a year later, maybe early '78. I'm trying to think about when Therapeutic Metaphors was published. That was published before he died and that was '78, as I recall.

Doug:         Okay. The first time, however, was not with the NLP gang?

David:         No.

Doug:         So how did you come to be there?

David:         Well, my entree there was through Richard and John.

Doug:         Okay.

David:         Richard and John sent me there saying, "Okay, you need to go see this guy." Of course, I already knew a lot about him. In fact, as a funny coincidence, I actually knew about Milton Erickson before Richard and John did. When I was in college - as a freshman in college so this was in 1969 - I was doing a paper on delinquency and I went to a Berkeley bookstore looking for books. There was this white clad book on the shelf and it jumped out because it was white and the title was "Uncommon Therapy." I pulled it out and started looking through it and it was fantastic, so fascinating that I ended up on the floor reading through it and bought it, of course, and read it cover to cover a couple of times.

I was absolutely bowled over by the work that this man had done. And then I kind of forgot about him and he ended up on my bookshelf for five or six years. Then all of a sudden, Richard and John are talking about this guy, Milton Erickson. So that was kind of a secret joy for me.

Doug:         And you were a psychology student?

David:         I was, yes. Actually, originally I was a psychobiology student and I ended up killing a whole bunch of animals. Early in my senior year, I got so overwhelmed by all the animals I'd slaughtered that I had an epiphany and changed my major to psychology. Fortunately, within a matter of weeks from doing that, I met Richard Bandler and that gave me some kind of focus for my work because, at that point, all I was doing was graduating and I had no idea what I was going to do. But meeting Richard Bandler in my senior year was a godsend.

So anyway, Richard and John, of course, had already been studying the work that Erickson was doing and they'd introduced me in particular to his metaphoric work and said, "Here, run with this," which was easy for me to do. I was very interested in it anyway and they said, "Well, you need to explore this." So, I did and then they arranged for me to go meet with Erickson, which would have only happened through their intercession because, at that time and all times, Erickson wasn't letting anyone come see him unless they had advanced degrees and I did not at that point. All I had was a BA.

Doug:         Great. So he made an exception for you because you were sent by them?

David:         That's right.

Doug:         Well, thank goodness for exceptions.

David:         No kidding!

Doug:         Because that led ultimately to the book Therapeutic Metaphors, correct?

David:         Yes, it did. I was actually already working on the book at the time I went to see Erickson. Actually, what that trip and the subsequent trip led to was Phoenix. That's when we gathered the audiotapes that Mary Beth Myers Anderson and I studied and used to model what he was doing therapeutically. See, that was my introduction to Erickson. My introduction to Erickson was not hypnosis. My introduction to Erickson was his therapeutic work.

If you have read Uncommon Therapy, which, of course, everybody in the world should read...

Doug:         By Jay Haley.

David:         Yes, that's right, by Jay Haley. There's almost nothing about hypnosis in there. There is a great deal about his therapeutic work and how he engineered or created change experiences for his clients.

Doug:         Right, that is actually one of points of focus for tonight. Now that we've got a little bit of background out of the way and people have a better idea of where you were in all of that, I'd like to begin by asking about the distinction between Ericksonian hypnotherapy and Ericksonian psychotherapy. You know, how he actually intervened with people wasn't always through trance. In fact, I would gather from the literature that I've read that it was only sometimes through trance.

David:         That's completely my experience and understanding of his work, too.

Doug:         Okay.

David:         Now, I think we should also make a distinction between formal trance work and informal trance work. He was using informal hypnotic patterns a lot.

Doug:         Would you describe how he would do that?

David:         Well, for instance, if he wanted to get somebody to change their idea about something or take a certain stance, he would start seeding in ideas throughout his conversation in order to put that person's attention on that particular aspect of their experience. I think that probably a lot of people will know the lovely example of when he was working with Joe and doing formal trance work with him using the metaphor of planting tomatoes and tomato seeds. He embedded in his description of all this planting all kinds of suggestions about relaxing and pain going away and things going through stages and so on.

Doug:         I see.

David:         He would do the same in conversations working with a client (or us as students who were sitting at his feet as well, as a matter of fact) as a way to seed ideas into this other person.

Doug:         So could that be thought of then as what we might call Ericksonian language patterns? Many of the people listening and others who will be reading this on the website will be interested in the language patterns and how Dr. Erickson would specifically seed those ideas.

David:         Yes, he would always be using those language patterns. And so one could, I think, justifiably say that he was hypnotic in his approach to interacting with people both conversationally, therapeutically, and then also - where it became obvious, of course - in the formal trance work that he was doing.

Doug:         I noticed a lot of times with traditional hypnosis, if you will, that there seems to be a kind of format for a session. In other words, a client will come in and the hypnotist will run through a particular format: First they'll establish rapport. Then it's on to information gathering. They will talk about the problem for a little bit and establish what they want. Then they'll say, "Okay, let's do some hypnosis. Close your eyes and we'll count you down, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6," you know, "deeper, deeper, deeper" sort of thing. And then they'll give direct suggestions, typically like, "Your eyes are getting sleepy. You are now a non-smoker. You hate the taste of cigarettes; etc., etc., etc."

That kind of thing. And when they bring them out of the trance, they say, "Now go home and listen to this tape six times a day." Erickson didn't seem to have that sort of way of working.

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