Living in a Post-Ericksonian World

For many years, I tried to be more like Milton Erickson. This chapter is about the more difficult challenge of trying to be more like Gilligan. It is based on 22 years of teaching, practicing, and writing about hypnotic psychotherapy. It indicates how my path has diverged from Ericksonian thinking. I hope it encourages others on their own paths.

What was really astonishing about Erickson was his willingness to be himself, to accept his "deviancies" from the norm. This courage translated directly, I believe, into compassion for and acceptance of others. To follow a similar path is remarkably challenging. But this is what we stand for as therapists.

In describing where this post-Ericksonian path has led me, I'll start by honoring a few core ideas from Erickson's legacy that still light my way. I'll then raise questions about how these ideas are put into practice. The main intent is to stimulate thinking, rather than to argue about truth.

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An invisible presence is awakening: Key ideas in self-relations therapy

All types of events, positive and negative, may be seen as extraordinary states of consciousness, that is, experiences that take us beyond the ordinary “identity state” we tend to usually occupy.  

Self-relations is especially interested in such experiences for two reasons.  First, without the proper skills and relationships to such experiences, a person may become mired in suffering or distracted in endless fantasies.  This is often what is happening for people seeking psychotherapy.   Second, and equally important, a skillful relationship to extraordinary states of consciousness can allow deep transformation and success in creating what Self-Relations calls the “4-H club”: happiness, health, helpfulness (to others), and healing (of self and others)

Self-relations sees extraordinary states of consciousness, both pleasant and unpleasant, as essential and vital parts of a person’s developmental growth. 

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The experience of “negative otherness”: How shall we treat our enemies?

Psychotherapy is in large part a conversation about our relationships to such enemies. These enemies embody what we might call “negative otherness”. It is “otherness” in that it doesn’t fit with our identity, ideals, values, hopes or plans; it’s negative in that it seems to want to negate our presence, our humanness, our integrity, our very lives. Without the presence of “negative others”—whether we think of them as internal states, behavioral patterns, external institutions, other people or groups—we would have no basis for a psychotherapy conversation. So how we think about this negative otherness, how we understand our relationship with it, how we develop our responses to them, makes a great deal of difference.

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The problem is the solution: The principle of sponsorship in psychotherapy

The principle and processes of sponsorship are the cornerstone of self-relations. The word “sponsorship” comes from the Latin spons, meaning, “to pledge solemnly”. So sponsorship is a vow to help a person (including one’s self) use each and every event and experience to awaken to the goodness and gifts of the self, the world, and the connections between the two. Self-relations suggests that experiences that come into a person’s life are not yet fully human; they have no human value until a person is able to “sponsor them”. Via sponsorship, experiences and behaviors that are problematic may be realized as resources and gifts. In this way, what had been framed and experienced as a problem is recognized as a “solution”.

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