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The Top 10 - Page 17

 

He affected countless people who've never entered a consulting room through the influence of his writings on the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The movement's hugely successful and much-imitated 12-step program is largely based on his ideas.

No family therapist would disagree with his contention that "in the great crises of life, in the supreme moment when to be or not to be is the question, little tricks of suggestion do not help. Then the doctor's whole being is challenged." And therapists of every kind recognize a truth that Carl Jung was the first to articulate: "The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely."

9. Milton Erickson

Despite everything that's been written about Milton Erickson and the diligent efforts of so many to understand just what he did in therapy and why it worked so remarkably well, an air of mystery surrounds his work even now. Shortly after Erickson's death, his 20-year student Jay Haley said, "Not a day passes that I don't use something that I learned from Erickson in my work. Yet his basic ideas I only partially grasp."

The image of Erickson that's emerged in the field is that of a therapeutic wizard possessed of an overwhelming personal power. "He wasn't the kind of person you'd just sit down and chat with," recalls Jeffrey Zeig. "He was consistently working, consistently being Milton Erickson, which entailed having the most profound experience he could with whomever he was sitting with. In that sense, he was constantly hypnotic, constantly therapeutic, constantly teaching."

Perhaps this was because Erickson's physical state necessitated the complete focus of all his faculties. Dyslexic, tone deaf, color blind, prone to vertigo and disorientation, stricken with polio at 17 and again at 51, he spent the last 13 years of his life (the period in which many of his well-known students first met him) painfully confined to a wheelchair. As he tried to model the flexibility and subtle verbal methods he'd spent a lifetime developing, he did so with partially paralyzed lips and a dislocated tongue. Yet, as Haley said, "the man worked 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week doing therapy. . . . Every weekend, he was either seeing patients or on the road teaching." Zeig adds: "The thing that was so impressive about Erickson was the time and energy he was willing to put out. Once he took somebody as a patient, he'd, literally, do anything he possibly could to help that person. When you were a client of Erickson, you just felt he was totally focused on you."

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