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The Wisdom of Milton Erickson

Ronald A, Havens, PhD.

INLPA JP Book Review Harvens Erickson

Book Review

The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson: The Complete Volume

By Ronald A. Havens, Ph.D.

Crown House Publishing Ltd., 2004 The one thing in the use of hypnosis is this: you really ought to know more about it than your patients do. You ought to know it so thoroughly that no matter what develops in the situation, you can think of something, your can devise something, that will meet your patient's needs

---Milton H. Erickson, M.D., 1981

Disciples of the late Dr. Milton H. Erickson will take great delight in Ronald Haven's new offering: The Wisdom on Milton H. Erickson, released by Crown House Publishing in 2004. The book is a compendium of the wit and wisdom of Milton H. Erickson (1902 - 1980) who, during his lifetime exerted profound developmental influence on the practice of clinical hypnosis, and whose work eventually became one of the inspiring forces behind Neuro-Linguistic Programming.


The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson contains thousands of quotes by Erickson, spanning the course of his career, drawn from numerous books, professional presentations, monographs, journal articles, and unpublished manuscripts. The material is organized into three categories: Human Behavior, Psychotherapy, and Hypnosis/Hypnotherapy.

Under the category, Human Behavior, readers will find Erickson's observations on child development, communication and language, pathology, and the relationship between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The Psychotherapy section presents Erickson's teachings, guidance and advice to therapists concerning diverse topics such as creating the therapeutic climate, fostering motivation and trust, providing freedom and protection, and methods of "utilization." The section on Hypnosis/Hypnotherapy is a treasure trove of Erickson's instructions on the art and science of hypnotherapy, trance phenomena, induction methods, and "becoming a hypnotherapist."

In Haven's own words, the book is a distillation of Erickson's remarks, lectures, and writings in "attempting to teach others a way of being and perceiving that would motivate and enable them to use their inherent capacities and previous learnings to cope most effectively with the realistic demands of their lives." In this regard then, the book has something of value for every mental health or medical professional, regardless of one's specific training or discipline.

Havens does more than just provide a collection of quotes. He begins the book with a brief biography of Erickson---his life, work, and accomplishments. Havens gives his readers a chapter revealing his research and process in compiling the material in the text. Then, with each chapter and every set of quotations, Havens provides an introduction and summary to facilitate the reader's comprehension of the material therein.

Several themes come through in this work that gives us a window into the mind of Erickson and creates a gestalt of his genius and his philosophy of life. Havens writes that, Erickson's fundamental orientation toward life, perhaps the central theme of his work was that people must learn to recognize, to accept, and to utilize what actually is in order to meet their needs, accomplish their goals, and satisfy their purposes. Rather than lamenting, distorting, or denying the unpleasant facts of life or fantasizing about an easier, more ideal reality, Erickson proposed that people must experience and acknowledge the realities of their situation and apply whatever capacities they have in order to cope as effectively or purposely as possible with those realities. He recognized that this is often a difficult or confusing task, but argued that to do otherwise is to create artificial restrictions, unnecessary handicaps and unrealistic perspectives. (p. 3)

Another theme is Erickson's reverence for individuality, personal freedom, and the patient's subjective view of the world. Erickson wrote and spoke about the wisdom of the unconscious mind and of the body. He exhorted his colleagues and students to learn from observing, to use what a patient presents, and to maintain an attitude of curiosity and flexibility. For Erickson, the focus was on the possible, not perfection, on the future, not the past, and on behavior, not insight.

Havens states that there is no easy way to become an Ericksonian hypnotherapist, because Erickson operated with no single theory or formula. Ericksonian hypnotherapy is more than special techniques such as voice inflections, word games, puns, metaphors, and anecdotes. It is "the recognition and acceptance of reality coupled with the willingness and ability to use whatever reality offers to accomplish the results desired."

Haven's gives these thoughts on the essence of Ericksonian hypnotherapy:

It is a total commitment to being a hypnotherapist in all aspects of life, and not just a feeble attempt to act like one during office hours. It is the slow painstaking accumulation of detailed and accurate observations and related skills. It is the willingness to participate in the hypnotherapeutic process oneself and to learn from direct personal experience as a hypnotic subject what hypnotherapy is all about and what the tool of hypnosis can accomplish. It is the ability to access one's own unconscious potentials…and the choice to use and be guided by them. Ericksonian hypnotherapy and psychotherapy are crafts that demand practice and dedication. (p. 363)

The Author

Ron Havens. Ph.D. is co-director of the Milton H. Erickson Institute of Springfield, Illinois and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. He has published five books and over 30 articles and book chapters. With Catherine Walters, in 1989 he wrote Hypnotherapy Scripts (Brunner/Mazel) and produced an instructional audio tape entitled An Introduction to the Trance Experience. He also maintains a private practice and consults to health care providers at hospitals and mental health agencies in his locale.


Hypnotherapists and NLP practitioners will enjoy this book from beginning to end, because it will help them to think as Erickson thought. The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson reveals the ideas, truths, and observations that Erickson taught and modeled throughout his career. Read this book, and then, as Erickson, himself, said, "All of you will apply what I say in accordance with your own understandings."

To purchase The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson, contact:

Crown House Publishing Ltd.
Editorial/Marketing Offices
4 Berkley St.
Norwalk, CT 06850

Phone: 203-852-9504

This article originally appeared in Anchor Point