Milton Erickson had an interesting influence on me that remained outside my conscious awareness for nearly ten years.
As an undergraduate, I did a semester of fieldwork at a state Psychiatric hospital in New Jersey. To an undertrained twenty year old, facilitating groups, testing, and attending staffings on a campus of huge brick buildings with barred windows from which emanated some of the most frightened and frightening sounds ever made, was intimidating enough for me to decide I didn't want to be a psychologist; teaching elementary school sounded much more appealing!
Toward the end of the semester, the intelligences that were in charge of the hospital recognized that we had no business performing our assigned duties on the wards, and more and more of our time was spent learning how to be a psychologist by modelling them in the staff break room.
I entertained myself by finding things to read. I read an interesting article about a psychiatrist from Arizona who had helped a boy with enuresis by telling him he was curious which night he would be dry. I also read how this man, as a boy, had helped his father get a calf in a barn by pulling its tail. There were several articles, interesting stories I read many times over, but without any regard to their relevance; I was going to be a school teacher. I quickly forgot that I'd ever read them.
Almost ten years after, having taught elementary school, and running a childcare program for at risk families, I decided to pursue a degree in school counseling. While in that program, I assisted my professor who was hosting a workshop by Jay Haley. Never having heard of him, I decided to read some of his books. I found myself becoming fascinated with works by and about Milton Erickson. I felt a sense of disconnected familiarity with what I was now learning, like knowing there's a specific word you want to use to describe something, but its lost on the tip of your tongue. I felt the same need to search until I found that connection. I recognized some of the techniques I had been using in my work with children and families, and in my behavior in general, but could not place where they had come from; I thought they were just, "the way I am."
Volumes later, I came across an anecdote about Young Milton Erickson, helping his father get a calf into a barn by pulling its tail. Fireworks went off in my head, and the sparks of recognition floated down into their predesignated places. I remembered the articles I had read back in the hospital staff room. I realized not only had I wanted to be a therapist all along, but I already had an idea of how I wanted to be as a therapist. I had learned something I didn't know I had learned, and I had put it away until I was ready to know I knew it. Now I could resume the task of learning more.
Though I never had the priviledge of meet Dr. Erickson, I'm delighted that a forum like this, and the foundation's activities, make avaiable opportunities to meet and learn from some of the people who did.
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