Ericksonian Hypnotherapy

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Ericksonian hypnotherapy (indirect hypnosis) refers to hypnosis characterised by indirect suggestions. Indirect suggestions are often harder to resist, because the conscious mind does not recognise them as suggestions. An example of indirect suggestion is “You may want to close your eyes if you are feeling sleepy”. Meanwhile, direct hypnosis would be “Close your eyes when I say three”.The indirect suggestion hinted at the possibility of the client’s eyes closing.

Erickson found that clients were more receptive to indirect suggestions, because there was little conscious resistance. Hence, Erickson began developing ways to initiate change indirectly to allow for less resistance from the conscious mind.


Dr Milton Erickson developed this method. He is considered the “father of hypnotherapy” as he was a prominent psychiatrist and psychologist. At 17 years of age, he was paralysed from polio. This made him observe the people around him and he began to realise the importance of nonverbal communication such as tone and body language. Erickson noted that nonverbals often contradicted with what was being said. Hence, he started analysing body movement and vocal intonation. His works have inspired guided imagery and neuro linguistic programming.

Key Elements of Ericksonian Hypnotherapy

Indirect communication

Erickson focused on the unconscious mind, when he realised it was able to elicit change. Indirect suggestion allows the unconscious mind to understand the points made, but would go undetected by the conscious mind. Transformation was able to be initiated even though it would appear as normal conversation on the surface.


Erickson recognised that each client is unique. Thus, he spent time getting to know his clients and use their life experiences to promote change. Erickson also tailored each client’s approach to help meet their specific needs.

Symptoms for change

Erickson believed that client’s symptoms were part of the process, hence he focused on changing the symptoms. For example a client has a compulsion to ensure the light switch is turned on and off twenty times before feeling certain that the switch is turned off. Erikson would instruct the person to turn the light switch on and off forty times instead. He believed that this would change the client’s behaviour as the client would realise that it is a chore.


Confusion Technique

Ambiguous sentences and complex words are used to confuse clients and disrupt their train of thought.  As clients try to understand these sentences, their brain becomes overloaded with information- the conscious mind is busy. Subsequently, indirect suggestions are made to the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is able to access these indirect suggestions, as the conscious mind is occupied.

Encouraging Resistance

Rather than encouraging clients to elaborate on their narratives, Erickson would tell clients to withhold information and discuss only what they wanted to. This passive approach allowed clients to feel that they needed to save this upperhand for something important. Nonetheless, clients would have revealed everything to the therapist by the end of the session.

Seeding Ideas

Through indirect hypnosis, therapists would “seed ideas” into clients’ mind via stories or metaphors or stories. By “seeding ideas” the suggestion is in clients’ mind. Stories are often multilayered, while metaphors uses comparisons to allow the unconscious mind to work on the concealed meanings.

Shock Therapy

Erickson would use psychological shock therapy to let clients face their fears. For example, a client did not want to leave her house because she thought she had small feet. Erickson actually stepped on her feet and exclaimed “How is a man supposed to marry a woman with such big feet?” The client was shocked and cured.


Relaxation is needed for trance work. Erickson would personalise the hypnosis session by pointing out the clients’ posture, position of the feet, or angle of their arms, to make it more meaningful for clients. Furthermore, he would use external sounds-beyond the hypotherapist’s control- such as a phone ringing or people talking loudly to deepen the trance. For example, “The phone continues ringing, this is a sign for your body to relax deeper. With every ring, you can go deeper into a state of relaxation.”

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Janna is our in-house blog writer and therapy specialist. She is supporting The Therapy Platform users towards successful therapy experience. 


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