Common steps and sub-activities

Arm lifting

The seminars, workshops and lectures of Milton H Erickson – edited by Ernest Rossi and Margaret O Ryan

I like to use some such attention focusing procedure as the gentle lifting of an arm. Nobody knows exactly what I mean by such an action. There is no previous experience, learning, or understanding of what I am doing. This lack of understanding leads to that open readiness to respond. In such a situation the unconscious is going to be decidedly attentive.

Now, I can illustrate this point ….. I think all of you have seen me take hold of a patient's arm, lift it up and move it about in various ways, thereby inducing a trance. And I've tried to teach a number of you how to take hold of a wrist, how to take hold of a hand.

You do not grip with all the strength in your hand and squeeze down on the wrist. What you do is take hold of it very, very gently and suggest the grip of the wrist. But you don't really grip it: you suggest a movement of the wrist; you suggest a movement of the hand; you suggest an upward movement.

How do you suggest an upward movement? You press here on the thumb, just slightly, while at the same time you're moving this finger this way to give it balance.  You're moving your finger this way laterally, and the patient gives attention to that thumb lifting the hand, or to that thumb suggesting the lifting of the hand.

Now what happens is that the patient unwittingly tends to follow out your suggestions by virtue of his consciously directed attention to the firm pressure on the top of his hand, and by virtue of his unconsciously directed attention to the touch of your thumb underneath his hand. That gentle touch indicates that it should remain a gentle touch, and the firm touch is up here. The only way you can get the firm touch to remain firm is to keep moving the hand up against it, and the only way you can keep the lower touch of the thumb on the hand a gentle touch is to keep moving the hand away from it.

And so you're suggesting an upward movement against the firm touch to maintain the firm touch; and you're suggesting an upward movement of the hand with the gentle touch by moving the hand up so that it remains a gentle touch.

And you need to practice this technique over and over again. It is one of the quickest and easiest ways of distracting the conscious attention and securing the attention of the unconscious mind. I think that you ought to practice taking hold of a wrist or a hand at every opportunity…………

Now how do you suggest catalepsy in that fashion?

You lift the hand up in that fashion. Now when does my thumb come away from his thumb? I let it linger there and linger there, so that there will be a sense of lingering. Or I draw my hand out this way in such a manner that the patient has a nice, comfortable feeling of the lingering of my hand. You want the patient's attention on his hand. You want the development of that state of muscle tonus, because once the muscle tonus is established to achieve catalepsy, that means you have enlisted the aid of the unconscious mind throughout all of the patient's body.

If you can get a catalepsy in one hand, there is a good possibility that you can get catalepsy in the other hand. And if you get catalepsy in the other hand, then you've probably got catalepsy in the right foot, and in the left foot, and throughout the body, the face and the neck. And as soon as you get a catalepsy with that balanced tonicity of the muscles you have a physical state that allows the patient to become unaware of any disturbing sensations.