Milton Erickson . .

. . . or Milton H. Erickson to be exact was the founder of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

Dr. Milton Erickson is included on this website not only because he was a brilliant hypnotist but because of his effect upon Dr.’s Bandler and Grinder and the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Milton Erickson was born in Nevada in 1901 but grew up on a farm in Lowell, Wisconsin and was a sickly child that was both dyslexic and color blind and in fact the only color he could see was purple so he often wore and surrounded himself with the color purple.

Milton Erickson developed polio at the age of 17 and they expected him to die but through force-of-will he kept himself alive. He had planned to be a farmer but because of his physical inabilities he figured he could be a physician, it’s not as hard as farming. While sick in bed with polio Milton Erickson began studying the language patterns of his siblings noticing how one could say “yes” and mean “no” and vice versa. This ambiguity became important in his hypnotic language patterns.

Through remembering what it was like to move and walk Milton Erickson began to rehabilitate himself, though still not being able to walk. He took a grueling 1000 mile canoe trip alone and by the end of the trip he was able with a cane to walk.

Erickson met the famed anthropologists Gregory Bateson and his wife Margaret Mead when they asked him to explain the trance-dance that was filmed by the couple in Bali.

Erickson also did a great deal of work with the legendary author and LSD user, Aldus Huxley who had written Brave New World. During one session Erickson had Huxley hallucinate his wife in the room when she was not there and during another session he had Huxley hallucinate his wife not in the room when she was sitting in a chair in plane sight.

Unfortunately for the world the pair had agreed that Huxley would take detailed notes and records of the proceedings with Erickson only taking the most cursory notes. As fate would have it Huxley had a home fire and all of his notes from the experiments were destroyed.

What made the self-taught hypnotist Erickson so unique was his use of covert language patters or what Bandler and Grinder called the Reverse Meta-Model, or Milton Model.

Erickson tells the story of a woman that was a secretary at a hospital where he was on staff that had disabling menstrual cramps that required the woman to be sent home from work. When she came to him in distress, he asked her to take about 20 minutes of “dictation” and then she could leave for the day. Miraculously when Milton was done dictating, the woman’s cramps were gone. This worked several times. One time the woman had another therapist read the same notes to her and the cramps did not go away. Milton eventually quit dictating for fear that the hospital might inquire into what he was really doing, which he was still just learning and was not ready to release to the world.

Erickson believed that the unconscious mind was always listening and that it listened and responded best to indirect suggestion. It was therefore his efforts to communicate with the unconscious that led him to create his unique patterns.

Another patient that Milton worked with early on that was a patient in a mental institution. The poor soul sat in a chair said his name and just rambled word salad for hours.

During the first session Milton just sat with the man. The second session Milton sat with the man, the man said his name and then spewed word salad. Milton in response said hello, “I’m Milton”, and then spewed a “word salad” of his own that had hidden in it’s gibberish reverse meta-model pattern language. This went on for weeks until one day the patient said, lets talk right and began to talk to Erickson normally. Soon after this man’s Identity was retrieved and he was able to resume his normal role in society.

Erickson invented what is known as the hypnotic arm levitation by accident one day while working with his sister who was one of his favorite subjects. He had meant to say: imagine your arm floating up, but forgot to say “imagine” and low and behold her arm floated up.

Erickson believed that it was appropriate for the therapist to go into a trance himself to be more sensitive to what the patient was unconsciously communicating, this is called up-time in NLP. Dr. Richard Bandler repeatedly says that if you want to get a person into trance, “go first!”

Erickson believed that trance occurred often during the course of a day so rather than working to create deep trances with clients, he would just wait for a naturally occurring trance and then utilize it.

In NLP quite often a deep induction is not necessary. The programmer might ask a client to remember a specific incident or occurrence, seeing what they saw, hearing what they heard, feeling what they felt, even stepping into the memory . . . The client is in trance.

In fact when a person is seeing something in the mind that is not in current shared physical reality, or hearing something, or feeling a touch when there is no visible toucher, the person is in a light trance and NLP can be used.

Erickson was a master at gaining rapport. On one occasion he worked with a professor who didn’t believe could be hypnotized. He purposely failed in his induction because the other person’s ego, needed to win the encounter. Later, as a way of “saving face” the same professor allowed Milton to gain ideomotor responses because ideomotor responses are not “hypnosis”. Eventually this professor became a good subject for Erickson. Quite often people would receive an audience with Milton and then an hour or so later leave not remembering anything had occurred during the audience.

When Gregory Bateson made arrangements for Bandler and Grinder to meet with his friend Milton, Dr. Bandler put himself into a trance before entering Erickson’s office so that as Milton tried to hypnotize Richard, he could not and Richard was able to take copious notes, written in musical notation.

John LaValle said that one day he and Dr. Bandler were rummaging around in Bandler’s attic and John found a box of music. He asked Dr. Bandler what it was and Bandler responded, Oh those are my notes from my meetings with Erickson.

In Wikipedia Milton Erickson is credited with developing the handshake interrupt or handshake induction. Dr. Bandler claims that actually he invented the induction when he was young and credited it to Erickson because he believed it would be better accepted if Erickson “invented” it than if he did. Bandler emphasizes that with Erickson’s Polio he could not shake hands and quite often had to use one hand to move the other. There is no way Milton could have invented it.

Dr. Bandler had many disagreements with Erickson and states that Erickson didn’t particularly like him. He claimed that Erickson had many rules about how people should live and what happiness is that Dr. Bandler didn’t agree with. Bandler states that Erickson believed that everyone should be married and Bandler said that people should only be married if the find the right partner and want to be married.


Bandler and Grinder tried to quantify and strain the essence of the Ericksonian model into their two early books:


Patterns of Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson I (1975)

Patterns of Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson II (1977)


Milton Erickson not only had an enormous affect upon the fields of NLP and Hypnotherapy, he was instrumental to making Hypnosis a legitimate form of science and medicine.

Master Sam Naples was friends with the late Doctor Chasone, who was a hypnotist and OBGYN who was known to do episiotomy and hysterectomies only with hypnosis and without anesthesia. Naples asked Chasone about Milton Erickson and Chasone claimed that he and Milton Erickson were friends and that in fact Chasone had been a past president of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and that he had been nominated by none other than Milton Erickson himself into this position. He also claims that Erickson came and taught many seminars on the power and benefits of hypnosis in our home town Youngstown, Ohio.

In addition to Bandler and Grinder there were many other people that studied the work of Milton Erickson and wrote about him. One of his first students and developers of his work was Jay Haley. Other important followers include Stephen Gilligan, Jeffrey K. Zeig, Stephen R. Lankton and Stephen Brooks.

Dr. Bandler often states that if anyone is interesting in learning about hypnosis the best work available is Advanced Techniques of Hypnosis and Therapy: Selected Papers of Milton H. Erickson, MD edited by Jay Haley. Click here to leave Milton Erickson and return to the MasterSamNaples-NLP-hypnotherapy homepage