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Dr Milton Erickson

Ericksonian Hypnosis

Ericksonian Hypnosis is a method of indirect hypnosis named after Dr. Milton Erickson. A prominent American psychiatrist and psychologist, Erickson is widely regarded as the “father of hypnotherapy”. His discoveries have influenced a wide spectrum of therapy from strategic family therapy to neuro-linguistic programming.


Dr. Erickson found that indirect suggestion could result in therapeutic behavioral change. He preferred to converse with clients using metaphors, contradictions, symbols, and antidotes to influence their behavior rather than direct orders. As a patient himself who suffered extreme pain after contracting polio at an early age, he thought it critical to “put yourself in the patient’s shoes” and truly understand the client’s present situation.


Unlike Freud – who encouraged self exploration – Erickson adopted a form of brief therapy where a patient’s past history is not the focal point of change.


The Unconscious Mind

Braid defined hypnotism as a state of extreme focus. However, Erickson knew from experience that patients in physical or mental pain are unlikely to be able to focus at all. Thus, rapid hypnotic inductions are likely to be met with resistance and ultimately fail. Erickson believed that trances happen every day to varying degrees – for example the mind wanders during a commute to work, during meetings, and day dreaming in general. Athletes even enter a trance sometimes referred to as “flow” or “runner’s high”.


Even if the subject is not in a deep trance, Erickson thought the unconscious mind could still be listening. He could make an indirect suggestion that, whether the patient realized it or not, would result in therapeutic change in the patient.

A frequent jokester, Erickson was able to use humor in his conversations with patients as well. In fact his books are scattered with puns and subtle jokes. But this was not just to lighten the situation of patient affected by serious addiction and mental condition– it was deeply strategic. By catching them off guard he was able to open the unconscious mind for change. This ties into his confusion technique.


The Milton Model focuses on three aspects:

  1. Rapport – Building an empathetic connection with the client. In addition to verbal communication this may include “mirroring” the subjects body language while avoiding “mimicry” which could have opposite effect.

  2. Overloading conscious attention – By distracting the conscious mind with vagueness and ambiguity, one is able to open the unconscious to change. See also, confusion technique and handshake induction.

  3. Indirect communication – Clients can only meet a direct orders in two ways: with acceptance or dismissal (most likely the latter). Indirect suggestion is a more subtle and successful way to invoke change.

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