Milton Erickson, a psychiatrist specializing in medical hypnosis is the founding father of what is known today as Ericksonian hypnosis. Milton believed that many of the body’s ailments could be solved through working with the subconscious mind.
His theory was not developed through intense study or training, instead, due to the serious illness of polio; Erickson was his own first patient. It is widely recorded that Milton was long paralyzed and unable to talk when his condition was at its worst. Unknown to the doctors assisting him, he began to regain his health using his own memories.
By recalling what sensations he felt when his arms and legs worked, Erickson was able to train his body to respond to those sensations. The memory of feeling an arm, finger, or knee move was enough for him to develop his own form of personal hypnosis. Milton was also able to learn a great deal about people and their body language during the time he was unable to communicate.
Eventually, he was able to bring his body back to the point of arm movement and speech. Milton was yet unable to walk and decided that he must face a physical trial of endurance before his body would recall the feeling of walking. After a solitary canoe trip, almost a thousand miles long, he returned to society able to walk with the assistance of a cane.
Because of his own personal learning experiences and his intense interest in medical therapy, Milton was able to develop a hypnosis therapy specific to his beliefs. A big part of Ericksonian therapy is giving the patient the ability to withhold information.
By telling a person undergoing this therapy that it is okay to not disclose everything, the person must choose what topics are acceptable to discuss.
Eventually, because one topic leads into another, and because the person is not being asked questions, most of the important information will be made known.
Milton also liked to discuss choices with his patients that made them chose between two unpleasant options. By asking the person if they wanted to do something now or later, he was not giving them a choice of doing it, he was simply asking when. Even though the person had the ability to deny ever doing the activity, the question was posed in such a way that denial of the action seems impossible.
Erickson believed that people put themselves into trances all the time, every day. These moments of intense focus on something thought rather than something in the tangible world, were therapeutic opportunities to Erickson. By operating on the belief that the mind can absorb information at any and all times, Milton was able to incorporate intense focus into his hypnosis sessions.
Though his methods seemed controversial during his time, he rarely used full hypnotism in his therapy sessions. Milton’s methods were break through and shed new light on an area of therapy widely misunderstood. One of the greatest developments of Milton’s was the group intervention session, a method used to confront someone with the power of love and support of a group.