Utilization is a technique that has opened up entirely new vistas in mental health treatment and personal life. Utilization happens when you transform an existing resource into a tool with a meaningful purpose. Where this can be surprising is when things that seem very negative or inappropriate are used. Often, the negative behavior is just a dysfunctional attempt to get a good outcome, as when a child misbehaves because it gets them some attention.

When Erickson was working at a mental hospital, there was a patient there who claimed to be Jesus Christ. The patient spent quite a bit of time rubbing his hands together while he was spaced out. It also happens that the hospital had a wood shop where patients could do projects. 

One day, Erickson approached the patient and said, “Sir, I understand you are a carpenter.” Since Jesus is well-known to have been a carpenter, Erickson knew that the patient would have to say yes, that he was a carpenter. Erickson got him to cooperate with having sand paper and a wooden block attached to his hands so that instead of merely rubbing his hands together, he would sand and work on the block of wood. 

In time, this sensory experience created familiarity, and his skills and interest became stronger. In time, this patient, who had seemed to be a hopeless case, was making furniture. So what was it that Erickson utilized? 

He utilized the two most serious symptoms, symptoms that most other professionals would have attempted to eliminate; the delusion of being Jesus, and the longer periods of being spaced out and uselessly rubbing his hands together. Erickson used these symptoms to link the patient to valuable resources: identity, motivation, engagement, and experience, as well as the real-world resource of the wood shop. 

The next time you are concerned, disturbed, or just irritated by something that someone else is doing, put your creative hat on and see what creative forms of utilization you can come up with. 

Brainstorm with other people who are also concerned for even more ideas and practical ways to put them into action. You can do utilization with difficult or troubled children as well.