Today, we began by looking at ‘strategic therapy’ – a model originally developed by Milton Erickson (who is often credited with the founding of several popular NLP techniques that are commonly used) and popularly advocated by Jay Haley, for use in brief courses of therapy. The therapist initiates what happens during therapy and designs a particular, individualistic approach for each problem. “Strategic therapy isn’t a particular approach or theory, but a name for the type of therapy where the therapist takes responsibility for directly influencing people” (Uncommon Therapy: The Psychiatric Techniques Of Milton H. Erickson MD)
We went on to discuss Milton Erickson’s techniques. He was quite a controversial figure in psychology, being largely self-taught, and favouring methods that some considered unorthodox. He regarded the unconscious mind as creative and solution-generating, and used approaches such as hypnosis (although his definition varies from the commonly held image of a client being put to sleep and being made to do things that they would not usually consider doing – his meaning of this word is more to do with achieving a deep state of relaxation and ease with the client, whereby they are more receptive to ideas that the therapist suggests, more aware of intonation, tone of voice, more perceptive of other signals that could be given), working with metaphor (a wonderful example was given of his discussing sex with a couple who he was counselling – he used the simile of a three course meal – did they prefer to slowly savour their food, enjoying a leisurely entrée with a good wine, or was it better for them to rush through to the dessert?) reframing (suggesting it would be more bother to continue presenting symptoms of unease than to give them up)and my favourite – encouraging resistance (whereby the encouragement of the client’s negativity to any suggestions by the therapist, creates a situation where the client, wanting to oppose the suggestion, finds himself unable to resist without cooperating with the very aim of the therapist anyway – often described as ‘reverse psychology’)
In reading about his work, and the lovely anecdotes about his unusual approach to it, a real sense of his quirky personality came across, and the obvious success of his uncommon methods made me warm to them, rather than reject them. These all seemed to me to be really effective, exciting techniques; but I completely appreciate that a great deal of skill must be acquired in order to practise in this way. Definitely to be used by a confident, experienced and highly intuitive therapist – I have a long way to go yet!
The book by Jay Haley ‘Uncommon Therapy’ (a copy of which I simply had to order, as soon as I got home) describes his technique beautifully here;
One way to view the strategic therapy of Milton Erickson is as a logical extension of
hypnotic technique. Out of hypnotic training comes skill in observing people and
the complex ways they communicate, skill in motivating people to follow directives,
and skill in using one’s own words, intonations, and body movements to influence
other people. Also out of hypnosis come a conception of people as changeable, an
appreciation of the malleability of space and time, and specific ideas about how to
direct another person to become more autonomous. Just as a hypnotist can think
of transforming a severe symptom into a milder one, or one of shorter duration, he
can think of shifting an interpersonal problem into an advantage.
This ‘strategic therapy’ ; where the therapist most definitely takes charge of the treatment, and uses their powers of suggestion, intuition, and at times, plain trickery, into facilitating the client’s change of perception – is commonly used in family therapy situation these days. The therapist will focus on identifying problems, setting goals and helping the clients to examine both the outcome and the effectiveness of them. The British Strategic Therapy Centre advertises this on its website by calling it ” the art of solving complicated human problems with apparently simple solutions” and it strikes me that this quite an accurate summary -of how I perceive it to be, anyway; assisting the client by breaking the problems down into less complex, more manageable issues, and in turn, helping them to find solutions – in other words COMMON SENSE (!) – What any helping professional would try to do; be they a social worker, a support worker, nurse, care assistant or counsellor.
The discussion within the group was really interesting that day, but was slightly marred by the anxiety that the weather was bringing – snow was falling, thick and fast, and many of us in the group had concerns about travelling home, and about how our children were being affected by their school’s snow policies (School these days seem to just shut at the first sign of snow. In fact, England just seems to lose the plot as soon as the weather starts to get a little more extreme – you’d think we would be prepared for it by now; after all, it happens almost every winter. Grrrr…) So, after a brief chat about the paradox of failure within counselling (can counselling ever be considered a ‘failure – aren’t all experiences, regardless of the positivity or negativity of their perception at the time, simply lessons to grow from; the very aim of counselling) those of us with children who needed rescuing from their schools took the decision to cut the day short; me included. Such a shame, as the subject matter on today, of all days, was absolutely fascinating – well I thought so, anyway…