Anorexia is a situation that is difficult for practitioners to treat. It takes a village to help in these situations, and there is often a high mortality rate involved with these cases as well.
In this video, you will see Erickson’s unusual way of treating anorexia. Erickson described himself as a person who has an iron fist, but a velvet glove. He knew when it was right to be firm, to be disciplined, and even to be assertive in work with a client. Psychotherapists traditionally have a demeanor of being very sweet. Most of the time that works because if there’s anything that is in short supply in today’s society, it’s sweetness, and psychotherapy is often an unusual situation where the therapist is remarkably sweet to the client.
Erickson knew when to be tough and when to be firm with a client. He knew when to increase the level of tension. Often times, therapists are about down-regulation, and making things calmer, but in this particular case, increasing the tension and setting some unusually firm rules is required. This case demonstrates utilization — utilizing what the client values, utilizing what’s available in the situation… In this case we are going to see different methods — methods that are individually oriented, methods that are interactionally oriented, and methods that are systemically oriented that involve the family.
Dr. Jeffrey Zeig provides insightful commentary on this historic Erickson clip.
Milton H. Erickson, MD, was an American psychiatrist who specialized in medical hypnosis and family therapy. He was founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis and noted for his approach to the unconscious mind as creative and solution-generating.
Dr. Erickson was plagued with enormous physical handicaps for most of his life. At age 17, he contracted polio and was so severely paralyzed that doctors believed he would die. While recovering in bed, almost entirely lame and unable to speak, he became strongly aware of the significance of nonverbal communication – body language, tone of voice, and the way that these nonverbal expressions often directly contradicted the verbal ones. He also began to have “body memories” of the muscular activity of his own body. By concentrating on these memories, he slowly began to regain control of parts of his body to the point where he was eventually able to talk and use his arms again. His doctor recommended exercising his upper body only so Milton Erickson planned a 1,000 miles canoe trip to build up the strength to attend college. His adventure was challenging, and although he still did not have full use of his legs at the end, he was able to walk with a cane.
The Ericksonian approach departs from traditional hypnosis in a variety of ways. While the process of hypnosis has customarily been conceptualized as a matter of the therapist issuing standardized instructions to a passive patient, Ericksonian hypnosis stresses the importance of the interactive therapeutic relationship and purposeful engagement of the inner resources and experiential life of the subject. Dr. Erickson revolutionized the practice of hypnotherapy by coalescing numerous original concepts and patterns of communication into the field.
The novel psychotherapeutic strategies which Dr. Erickson employed in his treatment of individuals, couples, and families derived from his hypnotic orientation. Although he was known as the world’s leading hypnotherapist, Dr. Erickson used formal hypnosis in only one-fifth of his cases in clinical practice.
Dr. Erickson effected a fundamental shift in modern psychotherapy. Many elements of the Ericksonian perspective which were once considered extreme are now incorporated into the mainstream of contemporary practice.
Jeffrey K. Zeig, PhD, is the Founder and Director of the Milton H. Erickson Foundation and is president of Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, Inc., publishers in the behavioral sciences. He has edited, co-edited, authored or coauthored more than 20 books on psychotherapy that appear in twelve foreign languages. Dr. Zeig is a psychologist and marriage and family therapist in private practice in Phoenix, Arizona.
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