What Is Ericksonian Hypnosis?

Under conditions of traditional hypnosis, the client is fully aware that they are being hypnotized. You have all see the movie or television scene where the powerful, authoritative hypnotist implants suggestions in his subject, along the lines of “you are getting sleepy, your eyelids are getting heavier and heavier. You will stop smoking…”.  Traditional hypnosis is authoritative, direct and forceful.

But there is another method of hypnosis; an indirect method that is named after Dr. Milton Erickson, a prominent 20th century American psychiatrist and psychologist who is widely regarded as the “father of hypnotherapy”. Ericksonian hypnotherapy uses more of what is called indirect suggestions. Indirect suggestions are much harder to resist because they are often not even recognized as suggestions by the conscious mind, since they can disguise themselves as stories, metaphors or symbols.

The Ericksonian Hypnosis model focuses on three aspects:

  1. 1.Rapport – Building an empathetic connection with the client. In addition to verbal communication, this may include “mirroring” the subject’s body language (not mimicking, which could be off-putting.
  2. 2.Overloading conscious attention – By distracting the conscious mind with vagueness and ambiguity, one is able to open the unconscious to change. Erickson developed very specific techniques that he called “the confusion technique*” and the “handshake induction**”.
  3. 3.Indirect Communication – Subjects can only meet a direct order in two ways; with acceptance or dismissal (the latter being more likely). Indirect suggestion, being more subtle and elusive, can be a more productive way to invoke change.


* Confusion Technique – A confused person has their conscious mind busy and occupied or distracted, and therefore more open to unconscious learning. A confused state is actually a trance in itself and confused people are more susceptible to going into a trance state. Confusion may be created by ambiguous words, complex or endless sentences, pattern interruptions, etc.

** Handshake Induction – One of Erickson’s most famous hypnosis techniques is the handshake induction. Erickson demonstrated that it was a subtle way to change the subject’s accepted behavior. When someone performs a handshake you may have never realized it’s a trance. It is the most widespread social norm in the world to shake hands at the beginning of a meeting; we don’t even think about it. By interrupting this subconscious process, Erickson was able to open the mind for suggestion. This is a classic example of “pattern interruption.”

Erickson’s handshake technique is well documented in his books and by those that have met him. He began with a strong, normal shake to begin the induction. Then he would interrupt the process by loosening the strength of the grip and brushing specific fingers against the subject’s hand. It’s quite complicated to learn, but a powerful induction.

Why did I learn about Ericksonian Hypnosis? In my last novel, “The Torch is Passed”, Deirdre Southington is a forensic psychologist who works for the National Security Agency. She uses Ericksonian hypnosis to get another character to admit to their involvement in a crime. Deirdre does this by having several conversations with the other character over several encounters and implanting indirect suggestions.

I stumbled across Ericksonian hypnosis while doing research for The Torch is Passed and found it fascinating. Look into it. Learn it if you dare…