Milton H. Erickson, MD was one of the great hypnotherapists of the twentieth century. He was much admired for his creative approach to working with clients, dramatic successes with difficult cases, and for his hypnotic skills. The school of hypnotherapy named after Erickson tends to include his style of hypnotic language, a creative use of therapeutic metaphor, and a belief that everyone has all of the internal resources and capabilities necessary to make any positive changes that they wish. Erickson was also known for his permissive style of hypnotherapy that incorporated the unique individuality of his patients into the therapy that he did with them.
Up until Erickson’s time the prevailing practice in hypnotherapy was to use primarily direct and authoritarian suggestions. “Your eyes are getting heavy. You are becoming sleepier and sleepier….” An Ericksonian approach might be something like: “As you’re sitting there, eyes open, understanding each of these words, you might begin to notice a sense of growing comfort, as you are becoming more focused on certainly more pleasurable thoughts, and that sense of comfort is relaxing, isn’t it?” If you noticed some grammatical inconsistencies in that last sentence, you have already begun to notice one of the characteristic hallmarks of Ericksonian technique. The slight confusions that arise from such inconsistencies are useful in producing a pleasant and productive trance state.
Ericksonian hypnotherapy is rooted in a firm appreciation for the structure and flow of unconscious thought. The conscious mind thinks in terms of logic and the rational. The unconscious uses the logic of dreams, metaphors and puns. So an Ericksonian hypnotherapist is likely to use a metaphor to encourage positive change at the deepest levels. After all it only makes sense to communicate to the unconscious in its own language. And, when metaphor is used there is less likelihood of the hypnotherapist imposing his or her own ideas, because clients will each will project their own unique meanings and understandings into a story.
Another skill emphasized in Ericksonian hypnotherapy is noticing subtle unconscious cues in response to communication. Perhaps you have noticed that some people will begin to nod with movements as slight as a millimeter or two in agreement with something you are saying, or before answering “yes” to a question. A skilled Ericksonian hypnotherapist will observe such minimal cues and use them as feedback. The client literally guides the actions of the hypnotherapist through such unconscious communications. That is why Ericksonian hypnotherapists seldom use the scripts common in most other schools of hypnotherapy. The Ericksonian is responding to the client’s unconscious communications in the moment, rather than hoping that a script (however well constructed) will fit the client’s needs.
When John Grinder And Richard Bandler met Milton Erickson they had no idea how momentous the outcome of that meeting would be. By studying Erickson’s language patterns, nonverbal communications, and use of metaphor in a systematic way they were able to build a easy way of teaching some of Erickson’s most powerful patterns of persuasion. What they learned became one of the major foundations for Neuro Linguistic Programming.
Not many hypnotherapists practice Ericksonian hypnosis, because it requites a great deal of study and practice. Wesley Anderson, DCH is one of the few Atlanta hypnosis practitioners to offer Ericksonian hypnosis.