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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Who speaks for the relationship?

The attack on the Twin Towers and the consequent bombing of Afghanistan were stunning expressions of violent relationships in the new global order: the two poles of religious fundamentalism and rampant consumerism trying to destroy each other.  Each side is convinced of its own righteousness; each side is committed to destructive violence as its primary relational act; and each side believes they will “win.”   As the months pass, I can’t help but be reminded of Gandhi’s observation that, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

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