During my training as a professional hypnotherapist and during the many years that led to my instructor status involving Neuro-Linguistic Programming, I constantly heard my teachers espousing the wonders of Dr. Milton H. Erickson. Yes, it was Erickson, who has been called the Father of American Hypnotherapy, who gave us tremendous insights into permissive approaches to hypnosis. However, as the cult of Ericksonian followers emerged, it seems that an entire universe of very effective hypnosis was completely whitewashed from the realm of clinical application. Indeed, many authors and self-styled experts – to include international associations that claim the authority to certify hypnotherapists – fail to recognize the power of relatively rapid and direct approaches using suggestion and imagination to heal the mind and body.
The indirect, naturalistic, and permissive Ericksonian approaches are currently dominating medical and psychological applications of hypnosis. They are elegant and particularly suited to fearful and resistant subjects. Clearly, a competent clinician should strive to master the many techniques associated with this system. Nevertheless, should one limit their education solely to the development of such skills, I am afraid to point out that their arsenal of hypnotherapy talents will remain stilted and ineffective in many situations. This is unfortunate, as there are a breadth of highly effective techniques available to the practitioner who seeks to fully understand the wealth and true nature of hypnosis in the healing arts.
Unfortunately, among many of the licensed professionals there seem to be an unjustified prejudice regarding non-Ericksonian skills. In fact, many a publication seeks to establish the credibility of the author’s ideas by unjustly – with limited and uneducated insights – denigrating the traditional skills, usually by using the term authoritarian to bash them. Most of them fail to realize that these near-mythological rants simply stem from a rather emotional dislike between Dr. Erickson, and his chief rival David Elman, a former radio personality and stage hypnotist, who taught thousands of medical doctors and dentists during the 1950’s and 60’s. This rift has been further exacerbated by a handful of Ericksonian-oriented associations who continue the irrational exclusivity proposed by Erickson. The truth, however, is that the techniques taught by Elman were as brilliant in their own right as those of Dr. Erickson.
While Elman was never licensed in the medical or mental health fields, his ideas appear to have been a merger between his traditional direct approaches – which were apparently influenced by stage hypnosis techniques – and his thorough studies of a long line of medical and psychological authorities such as Hippolyte Bernheim, MD, and Henri Munro, MD. It was his effective synthesis of his practical stage-oriented skills with his profound understanding of medical applications of hypnosis that prompted a group of New Jersey physicians – which I believe to be frustrated students of Dr. Erickson – to approach Elman and request that he instruct them on the proper use of hypnosis in medicine. Even though he was quite clear that he lacked formal medical qualifications, he found that his talents were very congruent with the needs of the doctor’s patients.
Elman’s contributions were many. His students learned quick 3-minute techniques that soon evolved into 1-minute techniques and even the wonderful skill of Waking Hypnosis. (The level of trance created by these physicians would never have been achieved using Erickson’s methods.) Add to this the ability to rapidly create levels of trance sufficiently deep for use during extensive surgery. While in my exhaustive study of Elman I found he had difficulty with about 10% of his subjects, he was able to achieve results in many situations that Erickson regarded as impossible.
I have been teaching Elman Hypnotherapy – as well as Ericksonian hypnosis – for several years now. My students have reported very interesting results. This includes medical doctors giving what would normally be painful inoculations without the awareness of their patients and removing sutures and stitches without any form of anesthesia. Also, psychologists and counselors mentioned elegantly relieving pre-surgical stress and alleviating lower back pain. All of this was done not by authoritatively barking commands at a surprised subject, but with the calm, respectful tone that is normally attributed to the permissive practitioner.
A competent, professional hypnotherapist and any licensed professional that regularly employs hypnosis in a medical or mental health practice must become proficient in the wider range of skills. By understanding the that basis of hypnosis is the bypass of resistance and empowering efficient selective thinking, the breadth of the clinicians skills can provide a multitude of approaches to what is a very powerful, yet simple healing technique.
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