This book is an unusual form of collaboration. My contribution has been the writing of it and the working out of a framework for thinking about the nature of human dilemmas. The contribution of Milton H. Erickson has been his influence on my thinking about that framework and the variety of brilliant therapeutic techniques presented here.
Although most of the writing is mine, the case material is drawn from the writings of Dr. Erickson and from tape recordings of conversations with him. This work is actually a joint product of meetings I have had with Dr. Erickson over the last seventeen years.
I was given a rare opportunity in January 1953, when I was employed by Gregory Bateson on his research project to study communication. John Weakland also joined the project at that time, and Bateson offered us full freedom to investigate whatever we wished as long as we dealt somehow with the paradoxes that arise in the communicative process.
That first year Milton H. Erickson passed through our area offering one of his weekend seminars in hypnosis. I said I would like to attend, and Bateson arranged it. He had known Dr. Erickson from an earlier period when, with Margaret Mead, he had consulted him about trance films they had made in Bali.
After that seminar my research investigation included the communicative aspects of the hypnotic relationship. John Weakland joined me in this endeavor, and we began to make regular visits to Phoenix, where Dr. Erickson was in private practice. We spent many hours talking with him about the nature of hypnosis and watching him work with subjects. On the road teaching and consulting somewhere in the country several times a month, he was also conducting a busy private practice.
Despite his two attacks of polio and his need to walk awkwardly with a cane, he was vigorous and in good health. His office was in his home, a small room just off the dining room, and his living room was his waiting room. Several of his eight children were still small and at home in the 1950s, and so his patients mingled with his family.
His home was a modest brick house on a quiet street, and I often wondered what patients from various parts of the country, who expected a leading psychiatrist to have a more pretentious office, must have thought.
After we had studied the hypnosis of Dr. Erickson for a time, our interest shifted to his style of therapy. In the mid-1950s, I began a private practice of psychotherapy, specializing in brief treatment. My task was to get someone over his problem as rapidly as possible, usually using hypnosis. I soon realized that merely hypnotizing people did not cure them; I must do something to bring about change.
I sought a consultant in brief-treatment methods, and in those days of long-term, insight therapy there was no one available. Don D. Jackson, who had been supervising the therapy we were doing with schizophrenics in our research project, could be helpful, but his experience with brief therapy was limited. As I cast around for someone to advise me, I found that the only person I knew with special experience in short-term therapy was Dr. Erickson.
From our talks on hypnosis, I knew he had a special style of therapy that sometimes involved hypnosis and sometimes did not. I began to visit him to discuss problems about the cases I was treating. It soon became obvious to me tha t he had an original style of therapy that had never been adequately presented in the field.