As a practicing hypnotist myself, I have found there are few hypnotists endowed with a phenomenal mastery of the art and science of weaving metaphorical stories as Dr. Milton Erickson. Erickson was one of those rare human beings whose innovative methods helped to break down psychological barriers while uncovering the emotional wounds of his clients.
In tribute to his unsurpassed skill, he was considered the most pre-eminent hypnotist in the world at the time of his death. All this despite his ability to be humble and unassuming with his patients.
A remarkable will to live
At the age of 17, Erickson contracted polio, which affected him for the rest of his life. Yet he had a remarkable will to live. One night, the doctor told his mother he didn’t think Erickson would make it through the night. Having overheard the doctor’s pronouncement, Erickson stayed awake the entire night, holding to his promise he would see the sunrise the next morning.
Covert messages bind the stories together
Erickson loved to host “Teaching Seminars” attended by highly skilled psychiatrists and psychotherapists from the US and around the world. He would tell one story after another until finally, you discovered the covert message binding all the stories together.
One day Dr. Erickson wanted to demonstrate hypnosis before an audience. He chose a nurse named Betty to be his subject. As it turned out, Betty was suicidal. Everyone in her ward at the hospital knew this about her. Erickson hypnotized her and while she was in a deep trance, they “visited” the arboretum, the zoo and finally, the aviary. He described the various plants to her while in the arboretum, he explained how baby kangaroos grew inside their mother’s pouch for three months while at the zoo and spoke about how the Arctic Tern could fly 10,000 miles from the Arctic down to the tip of Argentina, using an inner guidance system which no scientist has yet understood.
To everyone’s shock and dismay, Betty did not show up at work the next day, nor the day after. Eventually, people blamed Erickson and another doctor, Dr. Alex, for her disappearance, claiming she had committed suicide.
Nope! A new life.
Sixteen years passed and one day, Erickson got a call. It was from Betty. After she met Erickson that afternoon, she left the hospital and immediately signed on as a nurse in the Nursing Corps of the Navy. Later, she moved to Florida and married an Air Force Officer. Together they had five children. As Erickson later described it: “I named all the things worthwhile living for. And nobody knew I was doing psychotherapy except me. They thought I was demonstrating hypnotic phenomena. They never realized I was intentionally doing psychotherapy.” He was, indeed, a very remarkable man.