Milton Erickson was not an “Ericksonian”


Milton Erickson was not an “Ericksonian”


 Neo-Ericksonian Hypnosis v. Ericksonian Hypnosis

There is an old joke that says “How many Ericksonian Hypnotists does it take to screw in a light bulb? The answer is “Seventeen. One to change the light bulb and sixteen to argue how Milton would have done it.”

This past January I had the pleasure of witnessing a demonstration of real, live “Ericksonian” Hypnosis for the first time in my life. That’s because I was attending a workshop by Milton Erickson’s daughter, Betty-Alice Erickson, and she did a demo. It can be said that she was doing “Ericksonian” hypnosis because she is, in fact, named Erickson. All those other people doing “Ericksonian Hypnosis?” No. Not really.

They are doing something similar to it, yes. Something inspired by it, certainly. Actually the same thing as it? No. Even the people who were the closest students of Erickson all teach “Ericksonian Hypnosis” differently and emphasize different things. Not one of them was ever certified by Erickson as an “Ericksonian Hypnotist.” Heck, even Erickson himself wasn’t an “Ericksonian.” If you asked him what that even meant he’d have launched into a story and not answered directly.

It is true that all of the different “students-of-Erickson’s-who-teach” are correct from their perspective and it is enlightening to learn from each of them. I’ve enjoyed trainings from Stephen Giligan, Bill O’Hanlon, David Gordon, Paul Carter, Jeffery Zeig, Ernest Rossi and more. Every training has been interesting and, perhaps because of these multiple descriptions, I have gotten closer to an experience of Ericksonian hypnosis than any one teacher could offer. Still I believe a more accurate term is called for. The term misleads because it sounds specific and yet it is not.

Besides, if Milton Erickson himself did not lay out a specific set of requirements for what constitutes “Ericksonian Hypnosis,” much less create a certification program, then who gets to decide what that is?

Here’s a hint – it’s not the NLP version. This I learned the hard way.

In the early 1990s I made a trip to Phoenix, Arizona where I was able to pay a visit to Elizabeth Erickson, Milton’s wife, at their house. The house is a museum now but at the time she still lived there. She was extremely pleasant and gracious to me – showing me around the house and Milton’s office, describing things and telling stories. Everything was going fine until I mentioned that I taught classes in Ericksonian Hypnosis as an NLP Trainer. It was like a light switch was thrown. She never said anything derogatory about NLP or my teaching Ericksonian Hypnosis. She didn’t say anything at all. She just looked at me without smiling and made no comment. The rest of the visit was awkward and brief.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love NLP and use it everyday. It has been immeasurably valuable to me in my life and in the lives of countless other people. The point is simply that, as great as NLP may be, the NLP version of Ericksonian Hypnosis is incomplete.

There is, of course, one more factor to take into consideration. Milton Erickson has been dead for more than 34 years now. Even so, Ericksonian approaches to Hypnosis and Psychotherapy have continued to evolve. NLP has been a valuable contributing factor in its evolution as has been the work of Stephen Gilligan, Bill O’Hanlon, Carol and Steve Lankton, etc., etc., etc. Even if Erickson were alive, his work certainly would have evolved since 1980.

This is why I propose the term “NEO-Ericksonian Hypnosis.” I believe it to be a more accurate term because it differentiates between Erickson’s own unique way of working and what it has become today, yet it pays homage to the great man’s legacy.

When I teach seminars on Neo-Ericksonian Hypnosis I include knowledge and understandings gained from NLP along side with viewpoints and experiences from all my trainings with the first generation of Erickson’s students. I also include a good deal of viewpoints and techniques I learned from Dr. Dave Dobson who’s unique approach to the phenomenon of Hypnosis parallels Erickson’s but was developed separately from Milton. I also, of course, teach things I’ve developed on my own in my almost 30 years of working with people. So, really, how could I call it anything else?

(The next 6 day, 3 weekend Neo-Ericksonian training will begin in December)

About Doug O'Brien

Doug O’Brien is a Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP, and a Certified Hypnotherapist. In 1988, while assisting at NLP and NAC training seminars with Anthony Robbins, Doug achieved the designation of Master Trainer. He now conducts numerous seminars of his own around the globe (specializing in the “Sleight of Mouth” patterns of Robert Dilts, NLP Certification Courses, and Ericksonian Hypnotherapy) and helped found Columbia-Presbyterian’s Department of Complementary Medicine with Dr. Mehmet Oz.

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