Generally on Erickson and NLP

(with some murder thrown in)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Rivers of ink could be written about Milton Erickson and indeed have been. He was extremely prolific himself and I would personally consider him possibly the most outstanding hypnotist that ever lived. I have read extensively of his works, sometimes in uninterrupted 8 hours shifts for days on end. So fascinating was this man and his skill that it continues to captivate me to this day. It astonishes me that today even most practising hypnotherapists do not seem to be aware of much of his work.

Erickson is considered by some to have been an elitist and somewhat of a snob because he thought only qualified doctors should be permitted to practice hypnosis. I have also read of him being described as a misogynist and authoritarian as well as full of himself and not even that great a hypnotist.

It is my considered opinion after extensive reading of his works that Erickson could possibly be misinterpreted to be any and even all of those things. That at times he may even have encouraged it to some degree and in certain ways; though never too overtly I think.

That said however, my own personal opinion of Erickson is rather extreme.
He could certainly be rude or authoritarian or slovenly or whatever was required to assist a patient. Erickson was unafraid of trying and becoming whatever he thought might help a patient heal. Personally after having read many of his transcripts I also feel that Erickson loved women in general and was if anything the opposite of a misogynist. This is of course only my personal opinion. However I have noticed that in general, certain few men who make no apology for being male, can often be considered as such. I do not consider them misogynist either.

More importantly I think, he was (at least certainly in my opinion) one of the most ethical people that ever lived. Frustratingly unfortunately, I cannot actually divulge in specifics why this is my opinion except to those that have already figured it out on their own and also have come to this conclusion due to their own research. To do otherwise would actually somewhat diminish what was certainly one of his biggest and most important accomplishments. An accomplishment that in my view has and should to all intents and purposes remain essentially secret.

Secondly I think it is beyond discussion that factually he achieved changes in people that to my knowledge no one has yet matched on anything like his consistency over a period of some 50 or 60 years.

Thirdly, and this is a very little known fact even amongst people who studied him extensively, Erickson carried out an experiment in secret over a period of 40 years before divulging it in his writings. His writings describe the results and the methodology of the experiment. He is always a very objective writer in most instances and his own powers of criticism are as always perspicacious. Nevertheless one of the amazing qualities of Erickson is that he seems impervious to that so common human foible: appearing to oneself as unprepared or weak because of a lack of perceived value by others. In the write up of this experiment Erickson does not actually write his conclusions. Just the results.

In my own personal opinion, what the experiment proved if we accept his results and even allowing for the margins of error that he himself identifies in any case, is that under a state of hypnosis, not only the reality of the subject changes, but actually reality itself has to undergo a certain degree of warping.

My best sense of this is that it feels to me as if Erickson had with this experiment achieved the application of something as bizarre and seemingly fantastical as Einstein’s theory of relativity to the human condition. Relativity theory clearly shows that at different positions and at different velocities a person would experience the same star as having a different colour size and mass. And in either of those positions, those measurements would be perfectly accurate.
Reality is even more fluid than we imagine.

Erickson with his secret experiment, to my mind proved that when a person enters a hypnotic state the laws of physics, the fundamental laws of reality, somehow make a very tiny yet absolutely real shift. And it is such a fundamental little shift that one cannot help but wonder…if reality can shift. Shift at such a basic level.. then… just…what kind of a Universe do we actually live in? And what is really possible in it? Or perhaps the question we should ask is: What is actually impossible?

Recent discoveries by Russian scientists on human DNA (most notably Dr. Pjotr Garjajev and Dr.Vladimir Poponin) and the possibility that DNA acts as tiny wormholes, possibly allowing human beings to sometimes predict the future under certain conditions would seem to also tie in with the first studies done by Erickson in such a dedicated and (due to the lack of modern equipment) time-consuming manner.

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NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) on the other hand was the invention of John Grinder and Richard Bandler. Most of NLP was discovered by observing three people. Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls. Once again in my no doubt biased and subjective opinion, the very vast majority of NLP concepts I would for the most part ascribe to Milton Erickson.
The work done by Grinder and Bandler in their two-volume work The Hypnotic Techniques of Milton Erickson is without a doubt genial. NLP has spread like wildfire over the last 30 years and is now practiced by people all over the world. Certainly it has taken many people to achieve this, yet in my opinion without Erickson, NLP would probably not exist nor be nearly as useful as it is.

After such a glowing view you might be forgiven for thinking that I am writing from a perspective of hero-worship of a now conveniently dead and so somewhat sanctified famous personage. This is not the case but you are of course free to think so. I happen to think Erickson was no Saint, but I do think he was unusually intelligent. An extremely observant man with a very practical streak in him. Such a man when faced with the truth will almost invariably make ethical choices. In a way I think his good sense almost made it inevitable for him to choose as he did and hence achieve what he did.

As for the usefulness of NLP in general I will now show my biased, subjective, opinionated, perhaps even elitist view.

I think NLP is useful as far as it goes and a good set of skills to learn and use in your own life especially, as well as that of others and clients. I also somewhat disparagingly sometimes refer to NLP as Kentucky Fried Hypnosis.
You might think it is only a matter of semantics however I think of NLP, and yes I mean ALL of NLP (admittedly in a purposefully simplistic way) as a mere specialised subset of hypnosis. I also think that the vast majority of NLP is basically a reframe of reality that allows you to process it and thus affect it more effectively. Of course such a vast definition is hardly helpful to those that aren’t using my language in the way that I am.
I tend to think of hypnosis as more complete, more holistic and ultimately more helpful in the long term as well as in general more definite, more permanent and all-round “better” than NLP for most therapeutic purposes. Of course while an identical technique with identical success and results would be called an NLP technique or result by an NLP practitioner, I would no doubt call it a hypnosis technique or result. Such is the confusing but far from meaningless way of hypnotists (and NLP practitioners).

There is one last point that I cannot help but enjoy needling the hordes of NLP enthusiasts who seem to consider Richard Bandler as their guru with. Milton Erickson practiced hypnosis and cured many, many people of sometimes very serious afflictions and certainly cannot be disputed to have been overall a power for good in the world. The man usually mostly credited with the “discovery” of NLP is Richard Bandler —in great part also due to his own self-marketing as such— it is interesting to note that Bandler was one of only three people in the room when one of those three people, the only woman in the room, was shot in the face with a .357 magnum revolver and killed. Neither Bandler nor his then friend James Marino was ever convicted of her murder though it was clearly not a suicide. Bandler also was demonstrated to be a fantasist about more than a little of his past, somewhat obsessed with violence, having threatened innocent people with firearms on at least some other occasion before as well as being a heavy drinker and also user of cocaine in large quantities. Personally, I am also extremely dubious that Bandler was a force for good in anyone’s life that he acted on directly, though of course I have met many of his devoted followers, who have attended his seminars and trainings at rather expensive prices for the privilege of being trained by a fantasising, heavy drinking, cocaine user that was somehow or other involved in the murder of an unarmed woman in circumstances that can only be described as suspect in the best of cases. [1]

Given my personal take on ethics then, I hope you will forgive me if I treat the product of this particular “genius” with a little more suspicion than the work of Erickson.


[1] See the article on Bandler by Frank Clancy and Heidi Yorkshire in the Feb/March 1989 edition of Mother Jones for more details.

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