The Milton Method And Hypnotherapy

Published: 21st March 2012
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A lot of clinical hypnotherapists use the Milton Method for treating their clients. The Milton Method blends the techniques of hypnosis established by the pioneer Dr Braid with the concepts of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). But what is the Milton Method all about and where did it come from?

Those of you who have dabbled in the world of English literature might be wondering if there's any link between this method of hypnotherapy and the writings by the poet John Milton. There isn't really any link between Paradise Lost and hypnotherapy unless you really stretch things (and know the poem well). The Milton Method is named after the founder, as usual, but is taken from the first name (not the surname) of Milton H Erickson.

Milton H. Erickson was a leading hypnotist - of the clinical kind, not the silly stage sort - who founded the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis. He had a rural background and originally wanted to be a farmer, but he suffered from a range of problems, including dyslexia and colour-blindness. Later, in his teens, he was infected with polio and became so paralysed while in the grips of the disease that he nearly died. The doctors did not expect him to live, and he was lying in bed, watching a beautiful sunset and wanting to live to see another one. When he thought about this experience, he realised that when he saw that sunset in his mind's eye, he couldn't see a tree he knew was there. Obviously, his mind had blocked out what was really there and had affected his perception.

Another formative experience for Erickson during this bout with polio was how he became more aware of non-verbal communications - body language, tone of voice and the like.

These experiences sent Erickson into the world of medicine. Not only was he too weak to work on the farm, he was now also curious about how the mind could affect how reality is perceived. He also pushed himself to go through an intense physical challenge that he later referred to as an ordeal. Later, he would use the concept of an "ordeal" in the setting of clinical hypnosis. (It is interesting to note here that ancient shamanic practices also used ordeals as form of training so a shaman could enter a mental state that is remarkably similar to that of a hypnotic trance.)

One of Erickson's major contributions to the world of psychology as well as the world of hypnosis was his perception of the unconscious mind. This differed from the original concept put forward by Sigmund Freud - who also experimented with the use of hypnosis as part of clinical therapy. Erickson maintained that the unconscious mind is always alert and able to receive information, even when the person is asleep or in a trance state. Freud, by contrast, believed that the unconscious was the place where all the unwanted or inappropriate thoughts and desires were pushed. Both ideas have something going for them, but it's easy to see Erickson's idea at work. If you've ever dreamed about, say, wailing police sirens and a high-speed chase and woken to find the alarm going or even an actual siren outside in the street, you can see how you have been subconsciously listening even while you've been asleep.

Erickson also believed that everyone goes into trance states. We've all seen someone staring into space, seemingly oblivious to what's going on around them. And we've probably done it ourselves. Common phrases for these light, everyday trances include woolgathering, daydreaming or being in a brown study.

In the clinical setting, Erickson often used indirect suggestions rather than direct suggestions, both as a method of inducing a hypnotic trance and also when the time came for implanting the suggestions while the client is in the trance state. His idea was that the unconscious would resist direct commands but would respond better to indirect suggestions. For example, instead of saying "You will not panic when you see a spider," to someone suffering from arachnophobia, Erickson would have said something like "When you see a spider, you might find yourself feeling calm and at peace."

There is an art to phrasing the suggestions correctly, and this is where some of the techniques of NLP come in. For example, a hypnotherapist following the Milton Method would not say "You will not..." or "You are not likely to..." Negative commands (dos, don'ts and won'ts) merely implant the reverse of the desired outcome. After all, which words have the most meaning in the sentence "You won't panic"? It's the words "you" and "panic". And these words are what will be implanted. In this sort of situation, the hypnotic suggestions will go on the desired outcome phrased in a positive way. Instead of putting emphasis on panic, fear and anxiety, it will be put on confidence, calm and peace. We all know that negative suggestions don't work to produce results: just think of the attraction of the forbidden, or the classic "try not to think of a pink rhinoceros". (What picture do you have in your mind right now? A pink rhino, right?)

Sometimes, however, this technique of negative suggestion can be turned around, usually earlier on. The therapist might say "You don't have to tell me everything about X." This not only implants the suggestion that the client will open up more, but also gives the client greater freedom - they are more likely to talk about something painful or difficult if they have permission to do otherwise.

Body language experts have cottoned onto one of the important ideas taught as part of the Milton Method of hypnotherapy. Erickson believed that it is important for the therapist to establish a rapport with the client as part of a hypnotherapy session. To establish this rapport, the therapist will mirror the posture, rate of breathing, etc. of the client. Not only does this help the client feel comfortable and at ease with the therapist, it also helps the therapist understand the client better. Body language experts tell us that mirroring another's stance, etc. establishes a bond - you often notice close friends or lovers mirroring each other. Mirroring works on the subconscious (or unconscious) as follows: (a) Close friends mirror each other. (b) This person is mirroring me. (c) Therefore, this person is a close friend. A comic example of an attempt to mirror another as a way of establishing rapport can be seen in the film Mr Bean's Holiday, where Mr Bean tries to sit in the same way as the Russian film director's son who he has been stranded with.


Any more questions about hypnosis and hypnotherapy? Positive Tranceformations has answers for you. (Click now to get SEO for real readers, not robots, using Semantic Writing by Rick Rakauskas).

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