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Potential Not Pathology

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This book is designed to assist counsellors who would like to use and understand the psychotherapeutic strategies of Milton Erickson but often find it confusing, intimidating or unrealistic. Using colourful case studies and stories told in everyday language, this work will educate and help professionals in being able to understand how to adapt and apply creative and resourceful therapy interventions based on the concepts of Ericksonian psychotherapy. It will also assist clinicians and therapists in easily implementing the concepts of Ericksonian psychotherapy into their work in order to energise and revitalise their therapy sessions. Subjects explored include client resistance and client potential, the role of imagination and playfulness in the therapeutic work, and the healing possibilities hidden within stories and metaphors.

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CHAPTER ONE Developing the Erickson mindset

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CHAPTER ONE

Developing the Erickson mindset

T

here are important beliefs and assumptions when working with clients from an Ericksonian perspective. Adopting these ideas does not mean you have to completely change how you work with clients. In fact, I believe that by adopting these ideas it will help you become more successful in working with clients no matter what your theoretical orientation may be. I recommend playing with this way of viewing therapy for a few weeks and then going back and noting how your sessions felt different. You may already be thinking in this direction. If so, wonderful! Keep it up. If not, then open your mind a little and try out this new mindset.

The mindset we bring to the therapeutic process may be the most important element in working with our clients. If we view performing therapy as something that is old and drab, we tend to get more old and drab clients. On the other hand, if we view therapy as an exciting journey of self-discovery (for both client and therapist) our sessions are often more animated and interactive. The beliefs we have as therapists may determine whether our clients improve.

 

Chapter One: Developing the Erickson Mindset

ePub

There are important beliefs and assumptions when working with clients from an Ericksonian perspective. Adopting these ideas does not mean you have to completely change how you work with clients. In fact, I believe that by adopting these ideas it will help you become more successful in working with clients no matter what your theoretical orientation may be. I recommend playing with this way of viewing therapy for a few weeks and then going back and noting how your sessions felt different. You may already be thinking in this direction. If so, wonderful! Keep it up. If not, then open your mind a little and try out this new mindset.

The mindset we bring to the therapeutic process may be the most important element in working with our clients. If we view performing therapy as something that is old and drab, we tend to get more old and drab clients. On the other hand, if we view therapy as an exciting journey of self-discovery (for both client and therapist) our sessions are often more animated and interactive. The beliefs we have as therapists may determine whether our clients improve.

 

CHAPTER TWO Utilisation

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CHAPTER TWO

Utilisation

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he most important concept for anyone interested in working from an Ericksonian perspective is utilisation. The main reason

Erickson was so effective in his work was his abundant use of utilisation. Stephen Gilligan, one of Erickson’s direct students and the creator of self-relations psychotherapy, has remarked that utilisation is probably Erickson’s most important contribution to the field of therapy

(2002).

Whereas many therapists have predetermined patterns and techniques for their clients, Ericksonian therapists often appear to have no specific agenda. No matter what the client presented in the session,

Erickson believed in using any experiences or actions presented by the client to facilitate growth. Utilisation is the creative process of integrating aspects of client behaviour and attitude into a method for developing therapeutic change. Utilisation can be seen as “a perspective of optimism and confidence in the clients’ ability to respond to treatment”

 

Chapter Two: Utilisation

ePub

The most important concept for anyone interested in working from an Ericksonian perspective is utilisation. The main reason Erickson was so effective in his work was his abundant use of utilisation. Stephen Gilligan, one of Erickson's direct students and the creator of self-relations psychotherapy, has remarked that utilisation is probably Erickson's most important contribution to the field of therapy (2002).

Whereas many therapists have predetermined patterns and techniques for their clients, Ericksonian therapists often appear to have no specific agenda. No matter what the client presented in the session, Erickson believed in using any experiences or actions presented by the client to facilitate growth. Utilisation is the creative process of integrating aspects of client behaviour and attitude into a method for developing therapeutic change. Utilisation can be seen as “a perspective of optimism and confidence in the clients’ ability to respond to treatment” (Dolan, 1985, p. 7). Erickson saw any and every action of his client as helpful in assisting the client to access more of their own personal resources to make different and empowering choices for themselves.

 

CHAPTER THREE Altering patterns

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CHAPTER THREE

Altering patterns

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rickson often said that the reason people continue in the same dysfunctional ways of interacting with the world was due to their lack of flexibility. He felt that the more flexible clients could become, the easier it would be for them to change. In order to create a shift in clients’ maladaptive behaviour, therapists need to design interventions that give clients more flexible responses to their problems. Just the act of giving clients an extra degree of flexibility could cause some portion of their symptom to change (O’Hanlon, 1987).

An analogy to this approach would be when one makes a cake. If the ingredients of a cake (flour, sugar, eggs, milk, etc.) are altered in any way, the cake will be different. It will still be a cake but not the same cake as the one with the set pattern of ingredients. For example, if I was making a cake and I added three times the amount of milk the recipe called for, the cake would not be as firm as I might like. If I left out sugar when making the cake it would probably not have much taste to it. If I added salt instead of sugar, then probably no one would want to eat it.

 

Chapter Three: Altering Patterns

ePub

Erickson often said that the reason people continue in the same dysfunctional ways of interacting with the world was due to their lack of flexibility. He felt that the more flexible clients could become, the easier it would be for them to change. In order to create a shift in clients’ maladaptive behaviour, therapists need to design interventions that give clients more flexible responses to their problems. Just the act of giving clients an extra degree of flexibility could cause some portion of their symptom to change (O’Hanlon, 1987).

An analogy to this approach would be when one makes a cake. If the ingredients of a cake (flour, sugar, eggs, milk, etc.) are altered in any way, the cake will be different. It will still be a cake but not the same cake as the one with the set pattern of ingredients. For example, if I was making a cake and I added three times the amount of milk the recipe called for, the cake would not be as firm as I might like. If I left out sugar when making the cake it would probably not have much taste to it. If I added salt instead of sugar, then probably no one would want to eat it. In all these scenarios we can still call it a cake but it would certainly not be the same as if we followed the original recipe.

 

Chapter Four: Multilevel Communication

ePub

In the past several years many in the psychotherapy field have been influenced by a model of therapy that mostly emphasises the conscious world of the client. From this perspective, the most important area a therapist needs to consider in treating clients is the conscious mind and the analysing, judging, and thinking it performs. This model of therapy is usually done with excluding or ignoring the potential ally in healing that resides in the client's unconscious mind.

Practitioners from the Ericksonian perspective strongly believe that the involvement of the unconscious mind is extremely important for generative change to occur in therapy. An Ericksonian therapist acknowledges that the unconscious is involved in the process of therapeutic change. Erickson believed that through the therapy process the therapist can offer the unconscious the freedom to experience unique, flexible ways of resolving problematic issues (Havens, 1996).

The role of the unconscious in psychotherapy was not a new idea when Erickson began his work. At this time psychotherapy was predominately psychodynamic in nature. Followers of Freud viewed the unconscious mind as a repository for thoughts, desires, and ideas that were socially unacceptable. He also believed the unconscious mind was a psychic storehouse for disturbing emotions and that memories of a traumatic nature were repressed.

 

CHAPTER FOUR Multilevel communication

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CHAPTER FOUR

Multilevel communication

I

n the past several years many in the psychotherapy field have been influenced by a model of therapy that mostly emphasises the conscious world of the client. From this perspective, the most important area a therapist needs to consider in treating clients is the conscious mind and the analysing, judging, and thinking it performs. This model of therapy is usually done with excluding or ignoring the potential ally in healing that resides in the client’s unconscious mind.

Practitioners from the Ericksonian perspective strongly believe that the involvement of the unconscious mind is extremely important for generative change to occur in therapy. An Ericksonian therapist acknowledges that the unconscious is involved in the process of therapeutic change. Erickson believed that through the therapy process the therapist can offer the unconscious the freedom to experience unique, flexible ways of resolving problematic issues (Havens, 1996).

 

Chapter Five: The Renaissance Man

ePub

The following is a transcript of a therapy session with seventeen-year-old Stanley, who came to me with his mother seeking help for depression. He was referred for counselling by his medical doctor who had already prescribed antidepressants for Stanley. In addition, a local psychologist had diagnosed Stanley as suffering from major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Stanley's mother was a housewife who was busy raising Stanley and his ten-year-old sister. Stanley's father was a medical doctor working close to twelve-hour days in the emergency room of a large hospital. Mother and son appeared to genuinely care for one another and both seemed ready for Stanley to begin feeling better as soon as possible.

S = Stanley

M = Mother

T = Therapist

(It is important to pin down this pattern of depression by asking the client to give a detailed breakdown of how the pattern is created and maintained.)

(These questions are causing Stanley to shift uncomfortably in his seat, as it may be that he has not previously really examined the feelings he is experiencing. The continued examination of his emotional state is an attempt to get Stanley to be very specific about the pattern he has been creating. It is usually unwise to begin changing patterns without a clear representation of all the elements that play a part.)

 

CHAPTER FIVE The Renaissance man

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CHAPTER FIVE

The Renaissance man

T

he following is a transcript of a therapy session with seventeen-year-old Stanley, who came to me with his mother seeking help for depression. He was referred for counselling by his medical doctor who had already prescribed antidepressants for

Stanley. In addition, a local psychologist had diagnosed Stanley as suffering from major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Stanley’s mother was a housewife who was busy raising Stanley and his ten-year-old sister. Stanley’s father was a medical doctor working close to twelve-hour days in the emergency room of a large hospital.

Mother and son appeared to genuinely care for one another and both seemed ready for Stanley to begin feeling better as soon as possible.

S = Stanley

M = Mother

T = Therapist t: s: t: s:

Okay, so what motivated you to come to see me today?

I have been depressed.

For how long?

For over two years.

87

 

Chapter Six: The Possessed Boy who Belched

ePub

The following is a transcript of a session I had with a family who had been referred to therapy due to their child's behaviour. Eight-year-old Danny began having emotional outbursts and stated he was suffering from depression and having auditory and visual hallucinations. He had been briefly hospitalised due to an over-reactive school official who mistook his statements of wishing he were dead as a definite intention to commit suicide. His mother had told his caseworker that Danny was frequently having “mental breakdowns” and “seeing and hearing people” who were not present. Danny's father had been working as a long-distance truck driver who was often absent most of the year but over the last year had lost his licence as a result of a drink-driving conviction and was unable to drive his truck for at least a year. He spent most of his days sitting around the house feeling bored. Danny's mother, who previously had not worked, was now working six to seven days a week, up to twelve hours a day, at a diner to support the family.

 

CHAPTER SIX The possessed boy who belched

PDF

CHAPTER SIX

The possessed boy who belched

T

he following is a transcript of a session I had with a family who had been referred to therapy due to their child’s behaviour. Eight-year-old Danny began having emotional outbursts and stated he was suffering from depression and having auditory and visual hallucinations. He had been briefly hospitalised due to an overreactive school official who mistook his statements of wishing he were dead as a definite intention to commit suicide. His mother had told his caseworker that Danny was frequently having “mental breakdowns” and “seeing and hearing people” who were not present. Danny’s father had been working as a long-distance truck driver who was often absent most of the year but over the last year had lost his licence as a result of a drink-driving conviction and was unable to drive his truck for at least a year. He spent most of his days sitting around the house feeling bored.

Danny’s mother, who previously had not worked, was now working six to seven days a week, up to twelve hours a day, at a diner to support the family.

 

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