Last updated: 1 July 2015
If you are a practicing hypnotist, you may come across a client who speaks in an indirect matter, in other words, in metaphors.
Or you may even need to treat a schizophrenic patient, who basically “lives” in a metaphor.
As you probably know by now, Milton Erickson was a master in the field of metaphor. He was just as much at ease speaking to a client or patient in that person’s metaphoric language as he was in day-to-day conversation with a “normal” person.
But one thing he adamantly refused to do... and something that sharply distinguished him from other therapists… was to “explain” the metaphor to his client or patient.
He was totally unwilling to “interpret” to people what their metaphors meant to them.
He did not translate “unconscious” communication into conscious form.
Erickson always worked within the metaphoric context of his patient, responding in kind.
Whether through the use of stories or parables, by physical interpersonal action, or by subtle direction, Erickson brought about (usually rapid) change working within the metaphors of his client or patient.
He held a firm belief that if he tried to “explain” or “translate” the metaphor to his client or patient, that person’s depth and pace of change could be severely hampered.
And his deliberate avoidance of interpretation applied not only to verbal communication, but to nonverbal communication as well, such as body movements.
Erickson was famous for his extremely adept ability at picking up nonverbal communication.
But the information he received remained nonverbal as well.
As an example, a female patient once told her therapist “I’m fond of my husband,” and she covered her mouth with her hand as she spoke.
Trying to help, the therapist “explained” to her that she had some sort of reservation about what she said about her husband because of her hand action.
In his mind, he helped her by making her “aware” of her unconscious gesture.
What would Erickson have done instead?
First of all, he would NEVER have made any kind of comment related to the woman’s hand gesture.
He would have simply accepted it as a form of perfectly valid communication.
In his mind, to try to translate the gesture would be “disruptive” and even discourteous.
Even worse, it might grossly simplify what could turn out to be an extremely complex statement.
Or… in the words of Erickson historian Jay Haley: “Typically, “insight” interpretations of unconscious communication are absurdly reductionist, like summarizing a Shakespearean play in a sentence.”
So… emulate the greatest hypnotherapist the world has even known, and don’t try to “mind read” your client… either through that person’s verbal or nonverbal actions.
Let them have their metaphors, and work to affect change within them… without explanation, translation, or interpretation.
It may seem small to the novice starting out, but learning little tricks like this are essential if you want to “trick” the conscious mind!