Yes, Erickson "entered" the delusions of psychotic patients. I don't
know that the emphasis was to cure them. Rather, it was to help them
maximize their potential to enjoy life.
There are many cases of Erickson working with psychotic patients. A
notable case, the case of John, appears in "Experiencing Erickson" (Zeig,
Brunner/Mazel). For a list of cases, you can see O'Hanlon & Hexum, "An
Uncommon Casebook" (Norton, 1990).
Erickson demonstrated that the symptoms of the psychotic patient could be
used as a "handle." By helping patients to strategically overcome
symptoms, they could make more global progress.
Here is an example of some of my work with a psychotic patient. It is a
excerpt from "The Evolution of Psychotherapy" (J.K. Zeig, Ed., 1987:
In working with John, a paranoid schizophrenic, I had a
cotherapist, one of my residents, also named John. We worked for a
number of weeks and got the patient to the point where he was
communicating directly much of the time. One day he can in speaking in
garbled, unintellligible schizophreneze. It was as if he had regressed to
his chronic state and our previous therapy was for naught.
I tried a number of ways to influence him to speak directly, but
none of these were effective. Then I hit upon an idea. I turned to John-
the-patient and said, "Let's have a crazy talking contest. I'll talk
crazy with you for five minutes and John-the-resident, will be the judge
as to who does the better job."
John-the-patient, and I talked crazy for five minutes, and then
we turned to John-the-resident, who looked up at me and said, "Sorry,
Jeff. John won." I indicated that I was a little off that day, but I
could accept it graciously.
Next I turned to John-the-patient, and said, "Let's try it
again. I will be the judge and let's have the two Johns talk crazy for
five minutes." I signaled when the time was up. They both turned to me.
I expressed my regrets to the patient, saying, "Sorry, John. John won."
In fact, John-the-resident, did a better job of talking crazy. Then I
said, "Fair is fair." I took off my watch and gave it to John-the-
patient, and said, "Now John-the-resident, and I will talk crazy, and
you be the judge as to who does the better job."
The patient looked carefully at the watch and parodied being a
timekeeper. After the time was up, he looked at me and said his first
coherent sentence of the day, "Sorry, Jeff. John won." Subsequently,
the patient spoke at a more cogent level and we were able to make
So, if a patient speaks "schizophrenic," then why not influence him from
within his model by speaking schizophreneze -- playfully? One can
utilize what the patient brings. Good psychotherapists influence
patients from within the patient's frame of reference.
Thinking of schizophrenia as a "degenerative brain disease" does not
promote interventions. We all have limitations, and we do best to enjoy
life in spite of -- even because of -- our limitations.