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How Milton H. Erickson Revolutionized Hypnotherapy

Erickson's methods focus on accepting and utilizing the client's reality.

Key points

  • The premise of Ericksonian hypnotherapy is that everyone already has all the tools that they need.
  • They hypnotherapist accepts and works with the client's reality.
  • The trance induction method used is tailored to the specific needs of the client.

Most modern hypnotherapists, especially those who follow the teaching of the brilliant psychiatrist and innovative hypnotist Milton H. Erickson, choose an induction based on their assessment of the client. Older forms of hypnosis often relied on a standard induction script that they used with everyone. Milton H. Erickson threw out standardization and recommended making up a new induction for each client that fit that client’s personality and the nature of the client’s issues.

In the initial meeting, Erickson recommends that hypnotists explore with clients what they form absorbing and relaxing and then invent an induction that incorporates what they have learned about the client. Anything can be used to induce trance as long as the client finds it absorbing and it interrupts his or her usual way of thinking so that new learning can take place.

An Example of Erickson's Work

Once Erickson had a client referred to him for migraine headaches who was extremely competitive. No previous medical interventions had helped him. According to Erickson:

He would compete with you on anything…he watched for every possible chance to compete.

Erickson decided to utilize the client’s competitiveness as part of his induction and incorporate it into the treatment. Here is an abbreviated version of what he told the client:

I am NOT going to work with you. But I will do this. You put your hands on your knees and see whether your left hand will rise up and touch your face first or your right hand first.

A competition developed between the two hands and it took about half an hour for one hand to win. When that happened Erickson said:

The tension is in the muscles and you hold that tension in your hands when they are competing…Now if you want to have headaches, why not have a headache free of muscle competition?...I’d like to have you know what muscle relaxation is by letting your hands compete in relaxing (Rosen, 1982, p. 81).

Here, Erickson utilizes the client’s mindset, his competitiveness, and builds an induction around it and frames the solution in competitive terms as well. When Erickson says, “I will NOT work with you…”, the client sees that as a challenge and defeats Erickson by going into trance and by learning to stay headache free.

This story also illustrates some basic points about Erickson-influenced modern induction techniques:

Principles of Modern Induction

  1. The induction should suit the person that you are hypnotizing.
  2. You utilize what they already do to help them go into trance. This man knew how to be competitive, so Erickson utilized that in the service of the therapy.
  3. The induction should be non-threatening to the person you are hypnotizing. This client was very comfortable competing with Erickson. Another client might be very uneasy if put in that situation.
  4. The induction is an interpersonal event. For it to go well, you and the client must be in sync. Accepting the client’s competitiveness and building the interventions around it is an example of getting in sync with the client.
  5. The hypnotist creates a continuous feedback loop: He or she influences the client and in turn is influenced by the client’s reactions.

Here is an example of this last principle:

If the hypnotist says to the client during an induction:

You can feel the chair under you supporting you, and you can feel the texture of the cloth on the arms, and you can go into trance. What are you experiencing now?

And the client says:

I am thinking about when I was in third grade and the teacher read my paper to the class.

The hypnotist takes his cue from the client and stops focusing on the client’s sensory experience of the chair and switches to saying things that will deepen the experience of spontaneous memory retrieval and hopefully lead to a useful trance experience.


Modern hypnotherapy techniques that are based on the groundbreaking work of the psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson involve inventing a new induction method for each client, accepting the client’s reality, and utilizing the client’s reality to help the client go into trance and achieve his or her therapeutic goals.


Rosen, S. (ed.). (1982). My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales Of Milton H. Erickson. NY: W. W. Norton Company.

Havens, R. A. (2005). The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson: The Complete Volume. UK: Crown House Publishing.

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