Milton Erickson

by Lorraine McReight

Milton Erickson was an American psychiatrist, psychologist and hypnotist (the American term for hypnotherapist). Born in 1901, Erickson specialised in medical hypnosis and family therapy. In 1957 he founded the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) which still exists today. He was also a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychopathological Association. Erickson is considered by many to be the father of modern hypnotherapy.

Ericksonian Hypnosis is favoured over traditional forms of hypnotherapy by many therapists because of its flexible and solution focused style. Erickson did not believe in trawling through a client’s past and believed that every client has the resources and solutions to their problem within them. Using an Ericksonian approach requires creativity and versatility on the part of the therapist, but great results can be achieved by those who master the variety of techniques he used.

So what makes Erickson’s style of hypnosis different from other forms of hypnosis?

Well, first and foremost, Erickson always adapted his approach to suit each individual client. Despite often being described as the master of permissive, indirect hypnotherapy, Erickson would also be authoritarian, direct and provocative. In addition to these hypnotic processes, Erickson loved to use stories and metaphors both in and out of hypnosis. These stories had messages for the unconscious mind, which would be ‘missed’ by the conscious mind. Erickson believed in the ability of clients to interpret what was said in their own way, and he developed what has become known as ‘conversational’ hypnosis. Famous too for his language patterns, Erickson would direct his client’s attention inwards on a search for meaning, (known as trans-derivational search. This in itself is a form of trance and therapeutic suggestions can be made in this hypnotic state.

Erickson discovered the power of hypnosis early in life and used it as a way of dealing with pain and physical restrictions. Stricken with polio for the first time at the age of 17, and again more than 30 years later, Erickson suffered pain and mobility problems throughout his life. In addition he was dyslexic, colour blind and tone deaf, but he didn’t allow any of these challenges to limit his ability to work or live a full life. Erickson was a great example of the power of the mind, and his work and life are testament to his strength through adversity.

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