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The Big Answer


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Uncommon Therapy: The Psychiatric Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.

a book by Jay Haley

(our site's book review)

One of the earlier systems thinkers in psychiatry, Milton H. Erickson (which Haley’s book is about) saw problems in family systems rather than in isolated individuals. He knew decades ago that therapy needed to be active and “strategic,” not passive. The latter therapies took forever to accomplish anything, if they indeed did accomplish anything. (See Does Therapy Help? to answer this question.)

But in order to deal with a person from a family context, much had to be learned: “The clinician who wishes to understand the natural development of families in order to guide his strategy finds himself largely ignorant of this process and labors under the burden of myths about how families ought to be rather than how they are. An additional problem is that what understanding we do have can be quickly outdated as the culture changes and new forms of family life appear. The nuclear family of parents and children living in households separate from their extended kin is a relatively recent development.” See The Way We Really Are.

He’s skeptical of therapies that are mere tools of patriarchal power: “Many wives, for example, discontented with the narrow patterns of suburban life, have been stabilized for years by intensive analysis. Instead of encouraging them to take action that would lead to a richer and more complex life, the therapy prevents that change by imposing the idea that the problem is within their psyche rather than in their situation. . . . Symptoms usually appear when a person is in an impossible situation and is trying to break out of it. . . a symptom cannot be cured without producing a basic change in the person’s social situation, which frees him to grow and develop.” MCs are all about changing our situations so they are truly nurturing.

Sometimes therapy prevents needed change by imposing the idea that the problem is within patients' psyches rather than in their situations
Sometimes therapy prevents needed change by imposing the idea that the problem is within patients' psyches rather than in their situations

Erickson usually advocated operating on the situation and its relationships so that people didn’t end up being pulled right back into the muck as soon as they went home; other therapists were seen to react to this hopeless situation by using drugs. Haley tried to get individuals out of hopeless situations rather than adjusting them to these dysfunctional environments. To the degree family members could act as positive elements in patients’ lives, he’d encourage contact, knowing that people need all the social supports they can get in order to thrive. He sees isolation as a serious situational defect. He often used hypnosis to expose the root of patients’ problems as soon as possible.

Erickson often used hypnosis to expose the root of patients’ problems as soon as possible
Erickson often used hypnosis to expose the root of patients’ problems as soon as possible

His work is significant in that it was part of psychiatry’s early attempts to transform what was obviously and intrinsically a systems situation (therapy) from one dedicated to the reductionist’s perspectives of the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm to one dedicated to the systems perspectives of the new, ecological-holistic paradigm.

The bad news? Big Pharma is pushing shrinks to be drug pushers who define psychological issues as brain defects needing drugs. The worse news? Many are buying into that nonsense! Biological psychiatry is selling the idea that by dealing with the biological system, no reductionist’s perspectives are involved in their ideas. And yet, by saying that psychological issues are mainly just manifest defective brains that need Big Pharma's miracles, they are defining a reductionist’s perspective. The most outrageous statement is that the upbringing is irrelevant and only brain chemistry is the cause of these psychological issues, they're putting their foot so far into their mouth their toes tickle their butt!

Here's a behaviorist's Skinner Box for conditioning LOWER animals—it uses rewards and punishments. Why would anyone insult a child by using this stuff on her? She's a human, not a rat! More reductionism.
Here's a behaviorist's Skinner Box for conditioning LOWER animals—it uses rewards and punishments. Why would anyone insult a child by using this stuff on her? She's a human, not a rat! More reductionism.


Breggin clearly demonstrates in Reclaiming Our Children that we aren’t actually a nation of crazies and defectives needing to be saturated in psychiatric pharmaceuticals to fix our broken brains
Breggin clearly demonstrates in Reclaiming Our Children that we aren’t actually a nation of crazies and defectives needing to be saturated in psychiatric pharmaceuticals to fix our broken brains


Big Pharma spreading 'good health via medicine' across the land
Big Pharma spreading "good health via medicine" across the land