The Art and Science of Emotional Healing #1 — Waking Ericksonian Hypnosis

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By L. Harrison

For an introduction to the entire series of my articles about mental and emotional healing please read this post — Why You Suffer Mentally and Emotionally and Tips to Free Yourself

One of the most powerful and least invasive approaches to mental and emotional healing is creative visualization and hypnosis. Hypnosis a therapeutic technique based on the human capability to intensely focus attention, reduced peripheral awareness, and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestions. In spite of some ancient myths, it is impossible to hypnotize anything to do what they do not wish to do.

Photo From Everett Collection

For over a century, people have assumed from films, television, shows and, and old school stage performers, (see above photo) that a person needs to be “put under” into a deep state of trance to be hypnotized. This however is not the case. In recent years a new technique, called “waking hypnosis” or Ericksonian Hypnosis has become quite popular. Ericksonian hypnotherapy (or indirect, metaphorical hypnosis) is the term used to describe a very specific type of hypnosis which is hallmarked by the use of indirect suggestion, metaphor, and storytelling, as opposed to the direct type of suggestion that was its predecessor.

Who Developed This Technique

It was created by Milton Hyland Erickson (5 December 1901–25 March 1980) an American psychiatrist and psychologist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy. He was a founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis and a pioneer in many other mental health associations. He was noted for his approach to the mind as creative and solution-generating. He is also noted for influencing brief therapy, strategic family therapy, family systems therapy, solution-focused brief therapy, and neuro-linguistic programming.

What is the Basic Theory?

Erickson believed in the use of therapeutic hypnosis — the induction of a state of consciousness in which a person apparently loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction. He found that indirect suggestion could assist people who have a strong resistance to trance.

Instead of using direct commands, such as “at the count of three you will close your eyes” he would embark upon narratives that would help the client feel in control of the situation. “You may like to close your eyes if you feel your lids getting heavier.” This type of suggestion merely hinted at the possibility of their eyes closing but worked effectively, eliciting the desired outcome without conscious resistance.

Erickson developed ways to initiate transformation during what, on the surface, would appear to be a regular conversation. He was a master at layering his conversations so that the subconscious mind could be helped without the conscious mind being on guard.

Photo By Zerbor

What are these Hypnotherapy Sessions Like?

Erickson usually worked with individuals in private sessions but these sessions might not always take place in an office. He was known to bring his clients into ordinary settings and apply his techniques.

Criticisms of this Approach: Erickson never cared much about having his ideas and techniques tested in a formal research setting. He simply accumulated followers (myself included) who simply saw how effective his techniques were.

Erickson frequently passed off non-hypnotic responses as hypnosis, thereby muddying the water.

Erickson’s approach has been much exploited and misrepresented by people claiming to teach his methods, many of whom had no personal contact with him whatsoever or using NLP as if it is Ericksonian hypnosis.

Much of Erickson’s success, which was never formally, statistically measured came from his charisma and showmanship. Many respected hypnotists believe that Erickson was no better a hypnotist than some of the better stage hypnotists.

Photo by Marriaam

Additional Thoughts on this Approach:

During his long career, Erickson established himself as an outstanding therapist, putting forward the concept that we all go in and out of trance many times during the day without even being aware of it.

Everybody experiences moments of daydreaming or times when we might drive to a location and then wonder how we got there. These moments are indicative of a change in brainwaves that leads to trance. Our subconscious mind takes over and our conscious mind has no recollection of this drift in awareness.

Erickson also considered that it was beneficial to his own sensory acuity if he also went into trance whilst treating his patients. By so doing, Erickson became aware of even the smallest physical changes that occurred in his clients, and these changes, such as tone of voice, skin color, or rate of breathing, would indicate that his client was entering a different state of awareness.

Erickson often taught that when it comes to trance-work, use what you have in order to promote relaxation. He would feedback on such things as the client’s posture, the tilt of their head, the angle of their arms — all these things, and dozens more can be worked into the hypnosis session to give a very meaningful and personal experience for the client.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ericksonian hypnosis is the flexibility with which Erickson operated. He spent time getting to know his clients’ histories and was able to use their own interests and life experiences to help them change.

No study on Ericksonian hypnosis could be complete without mentioning Erickson’s use of metaphor.

Erickson would construct stories that were multi-layered, entertaining the conscious mind on one level but with concealed meanings that would work beneath the surface with the subconscious mind.

In sessions Erickson might hold conversations, tell jokes or stories and not even look as if he was addressing the problem and the results that his clients experienced would appear miraculous.

Milton Erickson’s innovation in the world of hypnosis and psychotherapy has inspired many areas of therapy today, including neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Richard Bandler and John Grindler, who are the founders of NLP, and also Tony Robbins.

Ericksonian hypnosis is considered a highly effective type of therapy and is the preferred style of many hypnotherapy practitioners today, who use these solution-focused techniques to give their clients excellent outcomes.

Photo By THP Stock

Where to Find a Practitioner of Ericksonian Hypnosis

Contact professional associations or seek referrals from people your trust. Also check out the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis —

To read more about emotional healing please check out this Story —

The Art and Science of Emotional Healing — #2 How Superman Heals Depression through Comic Book Therapy
— — — — — –

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I offer advice on the arts, innovation, self-improvement, life lessons, mental health, game theory strategies, and love.

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