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Erickson spent a half-century developing an enormously subtle therapy of multileveled pattern recognition that was almost totally at odds with the mainstream therapies of his day. "Maladies," Erickson said, "whether psychogenic or organic, follow definite patterns of some sort, particularly in the field of psychogenic disorders. A disruption of this pattern can be a most therapeutic measure, and it often matters little how small the disruption is, if introduced early enough."

He discovered that most of the "rules" of life prescribing human limitations were arbitrary beliefs, not facts. His study and mastery of hypnosis taught him that altered mental states and trance were very much a part of everyday functioning. "This understanding," wrote Ernest Rossi, "formed the underlying principle of his later studies of psychopathology as well as for his development of the naturalistic and utilization approaches to hypnotherapy."

Such insights were fundamental to Erickson's approach, but he sought no definite theory to pass on as a legacy. "Erickson has no set method," Haley noted. "If one procedure doesn't work, he tries others until one does. That's what he emphasized to his students, advising a stance of heightened receptivity uncontaminated by formulaic preconceptions." Erickson put it this way: "I don't attempt to structure my psychotherapy except in a vague, general way. And in that vague general way, the patient structures it . . . in accordance with his own needs. . . . The first consideration in dealing with patients is to realize that each of them is an individual. . . . So in dealing with people, you try not to fit them into your concept of what they should be. . . . You should try to discover what their concept of themselves happens to be. . . . It isn't the amount of time. It isn't the theory of therapy. It's how you reach the personality by saying the right thing at the right time."

Further words of wisdom from Erickson: "Trust your unconscious. It's a very delightful way of living, a very delightful way of accomplishing things." And: "Don't try to use somebody else's technique. . . . Just discover your own."

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