My Mentor: Milton H. Erickson, MD

By Jeffrey K. Zeig, Ph.D.
March 11, 2013

For one to have a mentor in life is fortunate. But to have Milton H. Erickson, MD, as a mentor was the chance in a lifetime. I studied with Erickson from 1973 to 1980, traveling intermittently to Phoenix before I moved there in 1978 to be closer to him. I have had both the privilege and honor to learn from, spend time with and laugh with Erickson. The knowledge and insight he gave me has been invaluable.

Erickson was a master of several therapeutic techniques, techniques he pioneered. Indirect techniques such as metaphors, anecdotes and analogies were part of his repertoire. Two of the most significant “tips” he passed along to me were utilization and tailoring.

A cornerstone to Ericksonian therapy, utilization is a posture that the therapist takes of finding virtues in perceived faults. Whatever exists in the therapy situation, including resistances, problem patterns and values can be harnessed to accomplish therapy.

Utilization was also Erickson’s way of tailoring therapy to the individual. He invented an approach for each patient.

When I first met Erickson I smoked a pipe, perhaps because I thought it fit my image of the earnest young psychotherapist. Erickson did not talk about my tobacco addiction as a way of get-ting me to quit. Rather, he told me a story that changed my perception about smoking.

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