Why do we study Milton Erickson?
"I know what I do, but to explain how I do it is much too difficult for me."
- Milton Erickson, in the Preface to The Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. by Richard Bandler & John Grinder
Milton Erickson has been one of the most innovative influences on our understanding of hypnosis during the past hundred years. David’s training in authoritarian hypnosis was revolutionised when he first began to read the teaching papers of Erickson.
It is interesting to note that although we speak nowadays of the ‘Ericksonian’ school of hypnosis, he himself did not formulate any techniques or methods. Milton Erickson was a tireless and prolific student of hypnotherapy and hypnotic theory. He published more than one hundred research papers, and co-authored several volumes with Ernest Rossi Ph.D. There have been a multitude of books written about his work by former students. Collections of published transcripts of sessions and workshops he conducted are freely and readily available.
Many have endeavored to extract patterns and structures by studying how Erickson worked, most notably the creators of Neuro-linguistic programming. An understanding of these patterns can be helpful, but one is left with the feeling that there is something missing once the pattern is identified. Perhaps that something missing is the man Milton Erickson himself.
Spending a few hours reading the case studies and interviews of Erickson, one cannot help but glimpse something extraordinary in his work and his connection with people. Indeed, some of his instincts and insights seem almost supernatural, as though he had a deeper knowing than most. Most likely, though, he was simply willing to pay attention, and to trust.
There has been a tendency to almost deify Milton Erickson - humans have long wished to learn from the Masters, and rightly so. But ultimately we must learn that all wisdom arises from within ourselves. This is true of us as therapists, as well as for our clients. Erickson understood this and it underpinned his teaching of hypnotists. A teaching saying of his was that ‘The technique is that there is no technique.’
Just maybe his legacy is truly that each person is an individual and we must all operate out of our own uniqueness. This idea of human uniqueness is the basis of effective hypnotherapy and requires dedication and personal growth on our part. We must accept this understanding to be effective hypnotherapists ourselves.