Milton Erickson was a psychotherapist who used stories as an integral part of both teaching and conducting therapy. The stories often seemed spontaneous and unrelated to the problem at hand, but were in reality carefully constructed therapeutic tools.
Subtitled The Teaching Tales of Milton Erickson, in My Voice Will Go With You Ericksonian acolyte Rosen has gathered some of his most well known and pivotal case studies and stories. Rosen contextualises each section or story, and suggest reason why each one is effective, or how is demonstrates Ericksonian theory, providing insight Erickson's process - a proponent of neurolingusitic programming (NLP) and hypnotherapy, Erickson used metaphor and indirect suggestions to influence his patients' outcomes, emphasising rapid therapeutic change in a comparatively short period of time.
The language he used was key, and Erickson utilised individual facts about his patients (from their backgrounds, beliefs, history, habits and the metaphors they themselves used) to tailor his approach to the individual - he believed that the unconscious was always alert and, provided there was resonance with what was said, hypnotic suggestions could cause therapeutic change even without the patient having any conscious knowledge that a suggestion had been made. Rosen notes that the written word is a poor substitute for the full effect of hearing Erickson speak, as cadence and tempo significantly influence the impact of his words.
Though I had heard of Erickson, I had no idea of anything about him beyond the fact that he was a therapist. I read My Voice Will Go With You because my mother recommended it, and had no particular expectation of the book. I was fascinated by the concept and the execution, and the key idea of Erickson's that prescribing problem behaviour can diminish its power. There are two examples of this that stayed with me - the first was when Erickson's (then school-aged) daughter told him that everyone else at school bit their nails and she needed to do the same. Erickson told her she could easily catch up if she bit her nails for fifteen minutes every hour, making the activity a chore that she decided not to do. The second story involved a patient who cycled her weight between a hundred and a hundred and eighty pounds - she came to Erickson to keep the weight off permanently, and he told her to gain weight until she was two hundred pounds, insisting she reach this target even when she was only two pounds away from the weight he set. In a similar story a woman who could never stick to her diet for more than three weeks was told that she had to binge on the twenty-first day of a diet, then start anew on the twenty-second day, turning her previous (problem) behaviour into compliance.
My Voice Will Go With You is the first book in many years that I have wanted to re-read as soon as I finished it. This was partly because the stories and the concept are powerful, partly because I'm using narrative as a methodology in my research, and significantly because I feel differently about a number of aspects of my life (including weight, activity and food) since finishing the book. I most certainly didn't expect to reap a therapeutic change just from reading the text, and it's still early days, but it's a very interesting effect. I'm also intrigued by Erickson and suspect I'll be reading more, so watch this page. - Alex