The First Convocation
This excerpt is from “Ericksonian Approaches to Hypnosis and Psychotherapy,” pp. xxi -xxvi, published by Brunner/Mazel in 1982
The International Congress on Ericksonian Approaches to Hypnosis and Psychotherapy, held in December of 1980, was conceived as a training event that would recognize and extend the contributions that Milton H. Erickson, M.D., made to the health sciences. Dr. Erickson was scheduled to be the featured speaker.
The Congress was both academic and clinical. The meeting centered on the presentation of 50 academic papers, and 21 four-hour clinical workshops were presented in three time blocks on Thursday morning, Thursday afternoon, and Friday morning. The Convocation on Friday afternoon opened the academic assembly.
In an attempt to present some of the emotional flavor of the Congress, the Convocation is presented here as it was recorded.
Jeffrey K. Zeig:
The Erickson Congress is distinguished on a number of accords. We have an outstanding faculty here. It consists of more than 60 people from 12 nations, and they are all locomotives and there are no cabooses. A friend of mine looked over the program, and she said that it was an embarrassment of riches. I think that is an excellent description.
We are also distinguished on a number of other accords. This Erickson meeting is the largest meeting that has ever been held in the name of hypnosis. I think that it is also the largest meeting that has ever been convened that will honor a person who was strictly a clinician rather than a theorist in the field of psychotherapy. Traditionally, psychology has provided more recognition for theorists than it has for therapists. But we are congregated here to pay tribute to Erickson, and Erickson was interested in how to therapeutically influence individuals — not in how to correctly describe personality.
Our debt to Milton Erickson is enormous. Erickson was a man whose genius at doing psychotherapy was legendary, and his impact on the field of psychotherapy will be tremendous. Currently, many people consider Erickson’s methods to be state of the art in the field of psychotherapy. Erickson was known by many as the world’s greatest communicator. I think Erickson’s genius at living was even more extraordinary than his genius at doing psychotherapy. He was a wonderful model of living “the good life”. He could create a tremendous aura of electricity, vibrancy, excitement, and aliveness around him. And it was that aura of being glad-to-be-alive that was really so much part and parcel of the man who was Milton Erickson. This Congress was conceived for a number of reasons. I had originally thought of it as a 79th birthday gift for Dr. Erickson. For six-and-a-half years, while I was his student, he provided training for me at no fee. I didn’t have any money, and he didn’t choose to charge me.
Early in March 1980, I told Dr. Erickson that 750 people were registered for the Congress. I reminded him that the Congress was my way of saying “thank you” for all of the things that he had done for me — and that it wasn’t enough. There are many people here in this room today who could have told Erickson something similar — that whatever “thank you “ they could say simply wouldn’t be enough. This Congress was also convened as an opportunity for Dr. Erickson to see the impact of his work. It was also to be an opportunity for Erickson and his friends to visit once more. A little bit over two years ago I had the vision of this meeting room, Symphony Hall, filled. I had the vision of being able to introduce Dr. Erickson to you and have him present himself and his ideas to you personally. That vision was almost a reality.
A little over a year ago, I visited Dr. Erickson and spontaneously asked him, “What’s your goal?” He replied immediately, “To see Roxanna’s baby.” His goal was to see the birth of his 26th grandchild. Now, I knew that Dr. Erickson’s mind worked like that. I knew that he would have a goal to which he was directed. It would not be an obsession; rather it would be a light that would draw him into the future. Another purpose of this Congress was that it was to be one more goal for Dr. Erickson — a light after which he could strive — and it was that kind of light because he really did want to be here with you.
Erickson was a member of the organizing committee of this Congress. He personally approved and was involved in the selection of all the faculty. So we meet here to honor a legend. Our purpose is not to mourn Erickson. He was a firm believer that life is for the living and he wouldn’t have wished to be mourned in any way. Our purpose here is to celebrate Erickson, to teach something about Erickson’s methods, and perhaps event to institutionalize the contribution of someone who, I think, will stand out as being the Einstein of psychotherapy.
On the stage here we have an ironwood tree. It’s my honor to introduce you to this ironwood tree and to welcome you to what I hope will be an uncommon conference for a very uncommon person.
I next would like to introduce Sherron Peters. Sherron is the Administrative Director of the Congress. Without the tremendous amount of work that Sherron put it, this meeting would not be convened here today.
Sherron S. Peters:
On behalf of the Board of Directors of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation, I warmly welcome you to the International Congress on Ericksonian Approaches to Hypnosis and Psychotherapy. In attendance, we have physicians, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors from every state in the United States and from more than 20 countries. We have a delegation from Holland alone of over 60 people; from Canada we have over a hundred. The total registration of the Congress is about 2000.
We are very proud of our distinguished faculty. More than a dozen of the Congress faculty have been presidents of their own national hypnosis societies and numerous others have served as officers to their national hypnosis societies. Besides having an internationally renowned faculty, we also have internationally known therapists who are in attendance to the Congress, including Carlos Sluzki and Bob Goulding.
I would also like to tell you that The Milton Erickson Foundation is now establishing the Erickson Archives. The Foundation is collecting audiotapes and videotapes of Dr. Erickson as well as letters, autographs, and interesting anecdotes about him. The purpose of this project is to have on central location as a repository for historical materials about Erickson. Erickson’s lectures were often taped and these audiotapes and videotapes are currently in the possession of many different individuals. One purpose of the Erickson Foundation is to establish an archive so that these historical tapes can be made available to students here in Phoenix. It was Dr. Erickson’s policy to freely transmit his knowledge and this policy will be continued through the Erickson Archives. The Foundation will pay for duplicating expenses. If you have any tapes that you can contribute or you know of people who do have tapes, please have them contact Jeff Zeig or myself at the Erickson Foundation.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce Elizabeth Erickson and Kristina Erickson.
Elizabeth M. Erickson:
I am extremely gratified beyond words at this wonderful Congress. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of the local people who have worked so hard in the preparation and to all of the speakers and attendees who have come so far to join in this assembly.
I also want to say that I know that my husband would have been extremely gratified, as he already was with his knowledge of the advance preparation and planning which was being made. I want to say that I know, definitely, one thing he would have said, because there were a few previous occasions on which he was given some special tribute and he said this every time. He would take me to one side and lean back, look around with a smile on his face and say, “If only Mom and Dad could have seen this.” (Laughter and applause.)
Kristina K. Erickson:
I feel that I am speaking as several persons here. I am speaking as a member of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation. I am speaking also as a physician who has had the opportunity to know and study both my father’s work and that of many others. I also speak as a member of the Erickson family and, finally, I speak as myself, the youngest daughter of Milton Erickson.
As his daughter, I find that this Congress is awesome. I see his picture everywhere. I see his name; I see purple everywhere. I find it overwhelming because to me my father was — and he found humor in this, because it was one of his favorite stories — he was just my daddy. My father had his picture and a writeup in, I believe, Life Magazine or some other such magazine. I looked at the story; my brother and sisters showed it to me. I leafed through it and said, “Well, what’s so great about daddy?” And my father loved it. He repeated that to me many times. We’d sit in our house which, as most of you know, is fairly modest. He would get a big award and he’d say, “Okay, so what’s so great about daddy?”
But he was, as I say, my dad, as well as the person who those of you in attendance at this Congress see him to be. Despite his many contributions, and the enormous amount of hours that he spent in his work — writing, teaching and giving individual attention to people who contacted him — he also maintained a homey simplicity. And he enjoyed the aspect of life being just daddy or grandpa or Kristie’s dad or Roxanna’s dad.
But I think that the most valuable thing that I learned from my father is something that Jeffrey mentioned that my father did every day of his life— he enjoyed living. He believed in the value of each human as an individual and he believed that each person had worth, dignity and an intrinsic privilege to enjoy life.
My father, despite increasing disability and illness as the years went on, took pleasure in each and every day. Every time I visited him he was taking pleasure in the plants growing around the house, what one of the grandchildren had done, what one of the students or persons who had visited had said. Each little item, he enjoyed. He liked life.
He derived immense satisfaction from knowing that this Congress was to take place and, in that sense, I feel that he did not miss this Congress, that he did participate in it in advance. I wish on behalf of my entire family, on behalf of myself, to thank everyone who has helped to create and organize this conference, as well as each and every one of you who has come from so far or who has come from near to be a part of it. Again, thank you very much.
I am honored to be invited to address this meeting and to welcome you. I will speak quite briefly because I will be addressing you at much greater length later today. Let me just begin by expressing the appreciation of all of us for the extraordinary efforts of Jeff Zeig and Sherron Peters and the others who organized this meeting. It’s really extraordinary.
I think that we can regret only that Milton Erickson couldn’t have lived just a while longer so he could be here. We really should have thought to arrange this meeting years ago; then we could have had him present as well as Gregory Bateson. But now these men won’t join us at a meeting again.
I think that all of us owe a great debt to Milton. To some of us, the debt is really a personal one because he contributed to our lives. I think that we also owed him a debt as a model for professional therapists everywhere. I think that he really had class. His originality and ideas, his ethical conduct, and his generosity set an example for all of us. I think that he also set an example for all of us in how to deal with personal handicaps. He not only surmounted but he turned to advantage his physical handicaps in ways that I don’t think anyone has done before. He had the courage to rise above his pain and difficulties and to make use of them to live an active and long life of hard work.
Whether one thinks about his personal struggles or his professional contribution, we can only really be in awe of this great and good man. I think that the size of this gathering is a tribute to the magnitude of the man we came to honor. The miscellaneous collection of people here is an example of the diverse kinds of people involved in his life. There are really some remarkably mixed backgrounds at this meeting, as I understand it. I think, too, that everyone here had different purposes in coming. People are here to honor Erickson, to have an experience, to learn something, to meet other people of similar interests, and so on.
I hope that you find what you seek here. I think that one of the things that all of us found in our personal contact with Erickson is that, if we met with him for professional reasons, we also always found ourselves influenced by him personally. And I hope that each of you find yourself touched at this meeting, both professionally and personally.