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The Art of Therapeutic Communication

The Collected Works of Kay F. Thompson Edited by Saralee Kane, M.S.W. and Karen Olness, M.D.

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Published by Crown House Publishing, Ltd., Wales, U.K.
Copyright 2004

Review by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D., L.P.C.

Kay Thompson has been called one of the great hypnotherapists of the 20th century and one of Milton H. Erickson's most gifted protégés. She was a trainer of international renown and a brilliant hypnotherapist whose artistry with language patterns amazed her pupils and colleagues. The Art of Therapeutic Communication chronicles the professional life of Kay Thompson through her papers and presentations, transcripts of her seminars, commentary on her life and work, and tributes paid to her by contemporaries. The CD that accompanies the book records ten of Thompson's "live" presentations.

Thompson's collected works cover a wide breadth of topics, including Erickson's approach to hypnosis, hypnotic language patterns, the nature of trance, pain management, hypnosis in dentistry, metaphor, utilization, and ethics. This book preserves her legacy to hypnotherapists everywhere, so that her work continues to enrich and touch the lives of many.

Who Was Kay F. Thompson?

Kay Thompson began her career as a dentist, following in her father's footsteps. In fact, she was the first female dentist to practice in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She wanted to study hypnotherapy to help her patients manage pain and anxiety. She met Dr. Milton H. Erickson in 1953 and became one of his most adept pupils and one of his closest friends. She went on to become an internationally recognized trainer, speaker, and practitioner in the field of medical hypnotherapy. She was widely regarded as a master teacher and clinician.

She served on the Board of Trustees of the American Dental Association and the American Board of Hypnosis in Dentistry. In 1972, she was the first female president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis. She participated in meetings of the Erickson Foundation as a lecturer, workshop leader, and panel member. Colleagues admired her linguistic skills, integrity, ethics, and spirituality. She spoke and taught on the power of imagination, motivation, and belief as essential elements in the practice of psychotherapy.

Thompson's Life and Work

Hypnotherapy was Thompson's lifelong passion. She developed an unusual style of delivering suggestions that became her trademark. Her "word play" was engaging, trance-inducing, and confusing all at the same time, yet somehow always to the point, speaking to the mind via several levels of meaning. She employed puns, double-entendres, rhyme, and alliteration in spell-binding ways. Here is an example of how she addressed "knowing and not knowing."

You really don't know everything that you know that you know, but it's all right if you don't know everything that you know that you know, as long as your know that you don't know everything that you know that your know, and if you know that you don't know everything that you know, but you know that if you need to know it, you'll be able to use it, then you can go right ahead knowing that you don't know everything that you know that you need to know. (p. 109).

If your head isn't spinning yet, here is another example on "accessing trance."

So many natural everyday kinds of things are really very trance-enhancing. Trances start a trend of transferring the tendency to trance out temporarily by tempering the tenor and the tempo of the time, tempting us to theoretically take this trip together. And you seem to be seen to transcend the mundane into the magic of a mosaic of many memories. When you store that mosaic of memories in your mind you discover that it's there to pulled out, whenever it's appropriate for you and whenever it's something that you believe is going to help your client. (p. 113)

Thompson was a big believer in Erickson's concept of "utilization." She advised her students to use the client's own metaphors as the starting point for creative, yet therapeutic communication. Her demonstrations show how she wove "teaching tales" around a volunteer's hobby or occupation. She saw common, every-day occurrences as backdrops for suggestions about problem-solving and personal growth. She also recommended that hypnotherapists maintain a collection of general-purpose metaphors on subjects such as curiosity, learning, remembering, and reframing.

Her take on relaxation was that it is not always appropriate or necessary for inducing trance. She debunked the common expectation that hypnosis requires relaxation, suggesting instead that hypnotherapists give clients the latitude to experience trance idiosyncratically. Her premise was that the client reaches the level of trance appropriate to satisfy his or her needs and motivations. Thompson reminded her audiences to see the client's point of view and guide the client to tap into his or her own potential to solve a problem.

Pain management was one of Thompson's specialties. The text features many of her methods and demonstrations for minimizing and alleviating pain and facilitating healing. Her transcripts describe how she helped clients prepare for surgery by teaching them to control anxiety, pain, and even bleeding. Thompson spoke on how hypnotic pain management can help cancer patients and the terminally ill. More dramatically, Thompson described her own experiences in controlling pain during and after rhinoplasty, dermabrasion, twelve root canals, and an auto accident in which she had broken bones.

The book presents her demonstrations of self-hypnosis methods and the dual induction. You can read her discussions on amnesia, time distortion and post-hypnotic suggestion. There are several papers on hypnosis in dentistry, in which Thompson explains the relationships among psychology, hypnotherapy and dentistry. She was an expert in approaches to bulimia, tongue thrust, gagging reflex, bruxism, hemophilia, root canals, dry sockets, and temporal mandibular jaw dysfunction.


Saralee Kane and Karen Olness poured devotion and painstaking effort into The Art of Therapeutic Communication. They located and examined numerous articles and papers, and transcribed hours of tape-recorded interviews, panel discussions, and seminars. They assembled an array of prestigious hypnotherapists to provide commentary and memoirs. The list includes Betty Alice Erickson, Roxanne Erickson Klein, Sidney Rosen, and Ron Havens, to name a few.

The profession of hypnotherapy owes a debt of gratitude to Kane and Olness and to Crown House Publishing for bringing Kay Thompson's work to a larger audience. I am delighted with the opportunity to become acquainted with Kay Thompson's teaching and philosophy.

I enjoyed this book, consuming it like a smorgasbord of ideas. I imagined myself a student, sitting in on Thompson's seminars-as though she were giving me advice about my own skills in hypnotherapy. Questions came to my mind that found answers in the pages. With a notebook at my side, I madly scribbled notes to myself about how I could adapt some of Thompson's methods in my own work. I transcribed bits of her language patterns so I could practice them.

In my home library, I have a special shelf reserved for my favorite books about hypnotherapy and NLP. This book will go on that shelf. I know I will turn to it again and again, seeking Thompson's advice when I encounter difficult cases, or when my own skills as a hypnotherapist seem inadequate to the task. Through The Art of Therapeutic Communication, Kay Thompson continues to teach, to heal, to motivate, and to inspire.

To purchase The Art of Therapeutic Communication, go online and visit (for readers in the U.K. and Europe)
or (for readers in the U.S. and Canada).