Famous Psychologist: Milton Erickson
Milton Erickson is considered the father of modern hypnotherapy. The therapy he engendered, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, is one of the fastest growing and influential branches of hypnotherapy today.
Milton Hyland Erickson, MD (December 5, 1901 - March 25, 1980) was an American psychiatrist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy. He was founding president of the American
Society for Clinical Hypnosis.
Milton Erickson was born into a poor farming community.
Erickson didn't speak until he was four and was later found to have severe dyslexia, to be tone deaf and colour blind. At the age of seventeen he was stricken with his first attack of Polio (his second would come at the age of fifty-one). It was an extremely
severe infection. He was not expected to survive, and his parents were told that he would be dead by the following morning. He lapsed into a coma. When he awoke three days later he found himself completely paralyzed, unable to move except for his eyes,
and barely able to speak.
Over the next two years, Milton taught himself to walk again (aided in the task by closely watching his baby sister who was only then learning to walk), and closely observed how human beings communicate and how the unconscious mind
works. Thus one of the hallmarks of hypnotherapy was born: indirect suggestion.
Despite his handicaps (or perhaps because of), Milton Erickson went on to qualify as a medical doctor and psychiatrist. Erickson was an avid medical student, and was so curious about and engaged with psychiatry that he got a psychology
degree while he was still studying medicine.
Much later in life, in his fifties, he contracted polio for a second time developed post-polio syndrome, characterized by pain and muscle weakness caused by the chronic over-use of partially-paralyzed muscles. The condition left him
even more severely paralysed, but having been through the experience once before, he now had a strategy for recovering some use of his muscles, which he employed again. After this second recovery, he was obliged to use a wheelchair, and suffered chronic
pain, which he controlled with self-hypnosis. Even this he was able to turn into a learning opportunity as he became highly effective at treating other people's pain with hypnosis.
Despite severe illness in his old age, Milton Erickson continued to teach, demonstrate and practice his remarkable skills as a therapist, even when eventually confined to a wheelchair. Milton H. Erickson died in March 1980, aged 78,
leaving four sons, four daughters, and a lasting legacy to the worlds of psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, pedagogics and communications.
Things Milton Erickson is Noted
Wikipedia summarizes several of the things Milton erickson is noted for including his:
often unconventional approach to psychotherapy, such as described in the book Uncommon Therapy by Jay Haley and the book Hypnotherapy: An Exploratory Casebook by Milton H. Erickson and Ernest L. Rossi;
extensive use of therapeutic metaphor and story as well as hypnosis
coining the term Brief Therapy for his approach of addressing therapeutic changes in relatively few sessions;
use of interventions that influenced the strategic therapy and family systems therapy practitioners beginning in the 1950s including Virginia Satir and Gregory Bateson;
conceptualization of the unconscious as highly separate from the conscious mind, with its own awareness, interests, responses, and learnings. For Erickson, the unconscious mind was creative, solution-generating, and often positive;
ability to "utilize" anything about a patient to help them change, including their beliefs, favorite words, cultural background, personal history, or even their neurotic habits; and
influence on Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), which was in part based upon his working methods.
Some Important Erickson Concepts:
Trance and The Unconscious Mind
Erickson believed that the unconscious mind was always listening, and that, whether or not the patient was in trance, suggestions could be made which would have a hypnotic influence, as long as those suggestions found some resonance at the unconscious
level. You can be aware of this, or you can be completely oblivious that something is happening. Now, Erickson would see if the patient would respond to one or another kind of indirect suggestion, and allow the unconscious mind to actively participate
in the therapeutic process. In this way, what seemed like a normal conversation might induce a hypnotic trance, or a therapeutic change in the subject.
Where 'classical' hypnosis is authoritative and direct, and often encounters resistance in the subject, Erickson's approach is accommodating and indirect. For example, where a classical hypnotist might say "you are going into a trance", an Ericksonian
hypnotist would be more likely to say "you can comfortably learn how to go into a trance". In this way, he provides an opportunity for the subject to accept the suggestions they are most comfortable with, at their own pace, and with an awareness
of the benefits. The subject knows they are not being hustled, and takes full ownership of, and participation in their transformation.
Erickson recognised that many people were intimidated by hypnosis and the therapeutic process, and took care to respect the special resistances of the individual patient. In the therapeutic process he said that
"you always give the patient every opportunity to resist".
Erickson is most famous as a hypnotherapist, but his extensive research into and experience with hypnosis led him to develop an effective therapeutic technique. Many of these techniques are not explicitly hypnotic, but they are extensions of hypnotic
strategies and language patterns. Erickson recognised that resistance to trance resembles resistance to change, and developed his therapeutic approach with that awareness.
Shocks and Ordeals
Erickson is famous for pioneering indirect techniques, but his shock therapy tends to get less attention, perhaps because it is uncomfortable for us to hear such uncharacteristic stories about an inspirational and gentle healer. Nonetheless, Erickson
was prepared to use psychological shocks and ordeals in order to achieve given results:
Thanks largely to Erickson the subject of hypnosis has shed its shackles of superstition and is now widely recognised as one of the most powerful tools for change.
For more information about Milton Erickson, hypnotherapy, and other types of mental health treatment, please click on the websites listed below.
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