Milton Erickson was born in 1901 and grew up on a farm in Wisconsin in the United States. If he was born today, he would be called dyslexic. In those days, he was a ‘late developer’. He contracted polio but survived after being told that he had only days to live.
He survived only to be left totally paralysed.
When Erickson was unable to move or speak, he started watching his 8 siblings closely. In the process, he learnt their non-verbal communication, body language and tone of voice.
Despite these odds, he not only taught himself to walk again but went on to become one of the 20th century’s greatest therapists.
He simultaneously completed his medical degree and his master’s degree in psychology. His services were in high demand by the US Government during the Second World War. He later became Clinical Director at the University of Arizona.
Erickson’s methods and techniques came to be known to the world in 1973, when one of his students, Jay Haley, published a book called ‘Uncommon Therapy’, describing how Erickson achieved his astonishing results using his own techniques on a variety of problems.
But what was so miraculous about Erickson’s results?
Milton Erickson’s style of hypnosis was based on 3 principles –
- To help someone, you have to empathise with the person and establish a connection (we now call this ‘rapport building’). Otherwise, the person would not trust you have the intention or the ability to help them.
- To access the unconscious mind, you have to distract the conscious. He achieved this using a variety of techniques.
- Indirect suggestions have a greater likelihood of being accepted by the unconscious and helping the person make natural, sustainable changes.
Erickson believed that almost all problems can be solved by accessing a person’s unconscious mind.
Since the unconscious is creative, it can find answers to questions and solutions to problems.
Trance is useful but not a necessity. What is important is for the client’s unconscious mind to be open to suggestions for those suggestions to have a hypnotic influence.
Erickson also believed that trance was a natural state and that people entered trance on a daily basis. (We now know this to be true.)
If you’ve studied hypnosis, you may recall that It happens whenever attention is fixed on a question, a problem, or an event such that it temporarily blocks out all other stimuli, trance happens. In other words, the ABS Formula –
A for Absorb Attention
B for Bypass the Critical Factor
S for Stimulate the Unconscious
Here’s a quick look at Erickson’s methods and how he enabled people to bring lasting, natural changes.
Many people do not accept authoritarian suggestions or commands and tend to resist them. To overcome this, Erickson suggested an indirect approach, using stories, metaphors and symbols in order to get to the unconscious.
So, instead of what you may have seen a Stage hypnotist say, “you are getting sleepy”, Erickson would say “it’s easy for you to go into a trance.”
The vague language allows the person’s unconscious mind to fill in the gaps and play an active role in bringing about the desired change.
Erickson discovered that confusion also helped to bypass the critical factor since the conscious mind was too busy resolving the confusion.
Confusion can be created using metaphors, ambiguous language, complex sentences, pattern interruption and more.
Erickson planted ideas into the subject’s mind, using stories and metaphors. Example, asking someone – “Have you ever been in a trance before?”, exposes them to the idea of trance and implies that a trance is about to happen. The ‘seed’ for trance or hypnosis has thus been planted.
Erickson’s Famous Handshake Induction was Erickson’s way to induce a trance without saying a single word. Instead of shaking hands after extending his, he would interrupt the process by doing something unexpected, like holding their wrist and lifting their hand. This creates confusion, induces a hypnotic state and opens the mind to suggestion.
Another one of Erickson’s strengths was his ability to be innovative. When he had a client, he didn’t know how to deal with, he would send them to a point, in the future, where the client had already resolved the problem. Then he asked the client how he did it, wrote it down, woke the client up, read the list of things to do, saying, “Go and do these things.” As a result, the client would have a blueprint of their own solutions.
Want to learn how to use Ericksonian Hypnosis for your clients to make therapy more effective? Check out this integrated course HERE.