Neo-Ericksonian Approaches to Psychotherapy & Hypnosis
One of the major principles of doing therapeutic work I learned from Dave Dobson is the idea of “Pebble Kicking.”
What is Pebble Kicking? Well, I’m reminded of a story. Actually, a couple of stories.
The first story is about a Spiritual Teacher who was walking with one of his disciples along the banks of a river on their way to a hootenanny. (That might not be the correct term for a gathering of spiritual types, but you know what I mean.)
Along their way they came upon a group of young kids who were skipping stones into the river. The teacher, never one to pass up an opportunity to teach young boys a lesson, produced from the pocket of his robes a beautiful stone. It was perfect in every way. Gorgeous color, gorgeous shine, with a rounded flat surface perfect for skipping.
The boys oohed and ahhed over it like it was a precious gem. Then, without saying a word, the teacher turned and threw the rock over the water in a low arc that caused it to skip more than a dozen times before it slipped into the water and disappeared.
The boys were incredulous that he would throw away such a beautiful stone and stood dumbfounded for a moment. The teacher was about to start speaking about the lesson to be learned here, but before he got a word out, the boys all started speaking at once, asking if they found it, could they keep it. The teacher chuckled, thinking they’d soon see the futility of this quest, and said “yes, I suppose so, but…” and with that they all ran into the water and began diving down trying to find the stone. After watching them for a few minutes they continued on their way, leaving the boys to their task.
Hours later, as the men were returning from their journey, they came to the place where the stone skipping had taken place. There remained just one boy still diving into the waves. Amazingly, just as the men arrived at the spot, the boy surfaced excitedly with the stone in his hand! “I found it! I found it! Can I really keep it?”
The teacher smiled warmly and said. “Yes, of course. It now belongs to you. You have earned it.”
The child ran off totally thrilled as the disciple looked at the teacher and said, “That was your lesson all along wasn’t it? You wanted to teach them the value of perseverance and hard work.”
The teacher blushed and said, “No, not at all. The lesson I had intended was one of the transience of material things, and that everything, even the most beautiful rock, was temporal in nature. But I guess the lesson of perseverance was the one he needed to learn.”
The second story is of New York based Psychotherapist and Ericksonian Hypnotherapist, Susan Lee Bady. She was delivering a talk to NYSEPH (New York Society for Ericksonian Psychotherapy and Hypnosis) regarding the integration of Ericksonian Hypnotic techniques with traditional hypnotic techniques.
She described a situation with a client who had cancer. She ascertained what his condition was and what he was hoping to gain from his session with her. With this information she began to weave a beautiful therapeutic metaphor rich with imagery of undersea gardens, dolphins and peaceful, healing suggestions. After she finished her story and reoriented him to waking consciousness, she asked him how he felt. He told he that, while he found her words very nice and agreeable, he was really hoping she’d say something about how he was going to be fine and heal from the cancer. So she said, “OK, close your eyes. Drift back to the undersea garden. Feel the healing energy there and know that that means you are going to be fine and heal from the cancer.”
At this point she saw him take a deep breath and relax comfortably.
She continued her talk by reporting that he responded well to their session and was recovering from cancer, so that meant that that direct hypnotic suggestion she had offered him, using his words exactly, really did the trick.
Just then a hand went up in the front row. Dr. Sydney Rosen had a question. Now, at NYSEPH, Dr. Rosen is a revered figure, as well he should be. He has served as their President, is a respected Psychotherapist and is the author of “My Voice Will Go With You,” a collection of Milton Erickson’s therapeutic metaphors, so when Sydney Rosen raises his hand at a NYSEPH meeting, you can be sure people respond.
Susan called on him. “Yes, Sydney?”
“How do you know?” was his somewhat vague question.
“I beg your pardon?”
“How do you know that it was the direct suggestion that did the trick and not your beautiful and rich metaphor? Just because his conscious mind found it agreeable to hear those words doesn’t mean that his unconscious mind didn’t create the healing based on your metaphor. I mean, how would you know?”
Susan had to agree. (Wouldn’t you?)
Dr. Dave Dobson once said that what we are, as therapists, is pebble kickers. When we’re doing therapy with someone, we’re like some person standing on top of a mountain kicking pebbles. Many times, maybe most times, these pebbles don’t make too much of an impact. Perhaps they’ll just skitter down the slope a bit and stop.
But every now and again one of those pebbles will kick off some accumulated pebbles, and they’ll collectively kick over some rocks and they’ll kick over some boulders and pretty soon you’ve changed the whole face of the mountain.
Thing is, you never know which pebble’s going do it. You just keep kicking pebbles until you see that the change has taken place.
Dr. Milton Erickson once said, “My learning over the years was that I tried to direct things too much. It took me a long time to let things develop and make use of things as they develop.” (Erickson, 1976, pg.267)