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Milton Erickson

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Milton Erickson (1902-80) is a doyen in hypnotherapy and psychiatry. He based his work at Arizona, Phoenix, USA. His early life was fraught with a spate of tragedies, which he overcame with extraordinary audacity. Milton Erickson shot up to fame through his amazing 'miracle cures'. Since his death he has become a legend.

Milton Erickson was born colour blind, and was affected by polio at the age of 19. In his attempt to cure his disabled body himself, he understood how the small babies in his family learnt to move their hands and legs. His sensory perception on the level of non-verbal communication was made extremely acute. These observation and training helped him later to design non-conventional "Ericksonian Hypnosis".

An unorthodox psychiatrist, congenial family doctor, ingenious strategic psychotherapist and master hypnotherapist… These are the words often used to describe Milton Erickson. He could cast a fabulous spell on Western psychotherapy. Even since his entry in to the scene, the subject of hypnosis has been pruned of superstition and is now widely recognized as one of the most powerful tools for change.

Born into a poor farming community in Nevada, Milton Erickson was speechless until he was four. Later, he was afflicted with severe dyslexia, to be profoundly tone deaf and colour blind. At the age of seventeen, he was struck with a bout of polio. Following this he was paralyzed for a year and doctors had little hope for his life.

Despite beset with miseries, Milton Erickson went on to qualify as a medical doctor and psychiatrist. In the following years he rose into the World’s greatest practitioner of therapeutic hypnosis and one of the most effective psychotherapists ever.

Milton Erickson was a great researcher too. His musings went into the extent and limits of hypnosis as a tool for personal change. He could influence major thinkers like Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, inspired the developers of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and began the spadework for innovators of brief therapy like Paul Watzlovitz.

For Milton Erickson, it was as if the spate of tragedies were not to end. In his fifties he was struck by a second bout of polio that subjected him to a great lot of physical pain. Simply he took this as an addition to his rich experience from life. Later when he became highly effective at treating other people’s pain with hypnosis, his prior experience stood in good stead. He describes many of his approaches to sensory alteration and pain control in work named ‘Hypnotic alteration of sensory, perceptual and psychological processes'.

Milton Erickson had gained more fame through his legendary ‘Ericksonian handshake’. By this he would send someone into deep trance. Working along a basic human principle, it taps into the natural human 'reorientation response', triggered by shock or surprise. This occurs with 'the handshake' as a familiar social pattern is interrupted. Brief therapy, solution focused therapy, systemic family therapy, child psychology even sports performance training have benefited from Milton Erickson’s work and ideas.

Though his illness and old age confined him to a wheel chair, nothing deterred Milton Erickson form his regular chores like teaching, demonstrating and practicing his remarkable skills as a therapist. It took time for the world to recognize Milton Erickson and his works since it mostly contradicted standard psychological dogma. It was simply because his results were so consistently good that he became a personality to be reckoned with.


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