Milton H. Erickson

Who was Milton Erickson?

Dr. Milton H. Erickson was a famous and brilliant psychiatrist who created a new approach to hypnosis. He is noted for his often unconventional approach to psychotherapy. This approach is what we now call Ericksonian Hypnosis. Erickson maintained that going in and out of trance was a common occurrence that people experienced many times a day. Trance can occur while driving and thinking about important events or while reading, painting, listening to music or a lecture, for example. One can go into trance even while being involved in strenuous physical exercise. it is quite normal to become so fully involved in an activity that one goes automatically into a trance state, becoming momentarily unaware of outside stimuli. These states are so common and familiar that most people do not consciously recognize them as hypnotic phenomena.

Milton Erickson was born in 1902 in a rural community. His early years were relatively  uneventful. He happened to be color blind, tone deaf and dyslexic. Erickson’s life might have continued to be uneventful had it not been for his first attack of polio in 1919 when he was 17. His case was so severe that he was not expected to survive. He went into a coma for 3 days from which he emerged almost totally paralyzed except for his eyes. He also had great difficulty speaking. Erickson had a very active mind and because he was unable to do anything physically, he developed very sharp observational skills. He would watch how his little siblings learned how to walk. He noticed when someone would say “yes” while shaking their head “no” . These powers of observation led Milton Erickson to develop into the masterful hypnotherapist he became later on.

Erickson was supremely flexible, adapting his approach to each individual client’s personality and needs. Sometimes he would be direct, authoritarian, and even aggressive. At other times, he would be permissive, indirect and soothing. Sometimes he would use hypnosis in a conversational way that most people would not necessarily recognize as hypnosis. He was noted for his ability to “utilize” anything about a patient in order to help him or her change more easily, This included their beliefs, use of language, cultural background, personal history, or even their habits.

Erickson developed an extensive use of therapeutic metaphor, story telling and humor in his work with hypnosis. He thought of the unconscious mind as separate from the conscious mind with its own learnings, awareness, responses and motivations. He believed that the unconscious mind was creative, often positive and could find its own solutions for presenting problems. Ericksonian hypnosis as it is used today, incorporates many of the techniques that Dr. Erickson developed.