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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

The Power of Confusion


Although Erickson would evoke visual images and use his clients' own thoughts to help them go into trance more easily, Erickson found that boredom and surprise were also excellent ways of inducing trance states.  Surprise loosens one’s mental set, and a state of confusion produces an internal search for meaning.  Confusion or a lack of understanding leaves the mind open and searching for the missing meaning, whereas nonsense and wrong understanding cause the mind to shut down, because there is no meaning or a wrong meaning.  Erickson often used irrelevant stories and nonsequitur remarks to induce confusion. 


The unexpected jogs people out of their setting and in this way Erickson was able to dislodge erroneous conscious sets that were causing problems for his clients.  Erickson was able to help people free themselves from mistaken beliefs and false assumptions that they had made.  After inducing confusion, Erickson would give clear-cut suggestions or definitions that were easily grasped so that the client who was striving for meaning, could seize upon it.  People who are especially uneasy with confusion have an urgent need to have that confusion clarified and a suggestion that can be readily accepted is easily acted upon.  The rapidity, insistence, and confidence with which a suggestion is given serves to prevent clients from making any effort to bring about a semblance of order.


This is especially true of George Banks.  He was constantly confused by Mary Poppins and because George truly disliked any disturbance of his routine, well-ordered life, George would readily accept Mary’s suggestions and take her lead, in order to escape this uncomfortable state. 


Erickson relates that the patter of a magician was not intended to inform but to distract (Bandler & Grinder, 1975, p. 137). Through the use of indirect suggestions and by keeping the conscious mind distracted or confused, the client's conscious mind was thus prevented from intruding unhelpfully.  Confusion essentially unstructures things, and Erickson used confusion to unstructured a client’s usual frame, so that he could then restructure where needed.  Sounds a bit like bricolage, especially if one also considers Erickson's notion of utilzation. 


Mary Poppins Uranianly uses unusual and unexpected actions to induce confusion. Doing unexpected things causes moment of chaos and confusion or transderivational search (TDS) in NLP parlance, out of which a new order can arise.  A few examples of confusion occur during Mary's arrival; Mary magically flies using an umbrella, which the children witness, and are awestruck. When she meets with George to discuss the position, Mary's behavior is so unlike the usual interview protocol, along with the fact that she has answered the children's advertisement and not his, this puts George into a state of confusion that he will be in for most of the movie. Mary's introduction to the children occurs after something else unexpected, she slides up the banister, and the following scene in the nursery, provides even more surprise, which one could call the Disney version of "shock and awe," which I for one prefer.


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