Updated: Apr 7
Milton Erickson was an American psychiatrist who specialized in family and medical hypnosis. Erickson was left paralyzed after contracting Polio at the age of 17. Milton Erickson drew his inspirations from his own experience demonstrating the power of the unconscious mind.
While recovering in bed, Dr. Milton Erickson was almost immobile waist down and was unable to speak, this made him more aware of the power of non verbal communication – body language, tone of voice and the manner in which the nonverbal communication contradict the verbal communication. Dr. Milton Erickson began to have ‘body memories’ of the muscular activities of his own body. He concentrated on these memories and was soon able to regain control over the parts of his body to a point where he could now speak. Milton Erickson always believed that the unconscious mind was always listening and whether or not patience is in a trance, therapeutic suggestions could be made as long as the same would resonate at an unconscious level. In this manner what would otherwise be perceived as a normal conversation might induce a hypnotic trance.
While traditional hypnosis is more direct and authoritative and encounters resistance from the subject, Milton Erickson’s approach is permissive, accommodating and indirect. Milton Erickson maintained that it was not possible consciously to instruct the unconscious mind, and that authoritarian suggestions were likely to be met with resistance. The unconscious mind responds to openings, opportunities, metaphors, symbols, and contradictions. Effective hypnotic suggestion, then, should be “artfully vague”, leaving space for the subject to fill in the gaps with their own unconscious understandings – even if they do not consciously grasp what is happening. The skilled hypnotherapist constructs these gaps of meaning in a way most suited to the individual subject – in a way which is most likely to produce the desired change.
Richard Bandler and John Grinder identified this kind of “artful vagueness” as a central characteristic of their ‘Milton Model’, a systematic attempt to codify Erickson’s hypnotic language patterns.
Dr. Erickson’s career spanned more than 50 years. He conducted extensive research on suggestion and hypnosis, first as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, and later throughout his medical training and during his initial professional appointments in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Michigan. By the late 1930s, Dr. Erickson was renowned for his work in hypnosis and eminent in psychiatric circles.
Dr. Erickson brought a fundamentally shift in psychotherapy. Many elements of Erickson’s perspective have been incorporated into mainstream practice.