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Hypnocounseling: An Eclectic Bridge Between Milton Erickson and Carl Rogers

By Hugh Gunnison

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Crown House Publishing Ltd., Wales U.K.

Copyright 2004

Reviewed by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D.

When I first saw the title of Hugh Gunnison's Hypnocounseling, I was intrigued by the concept of blending the legacy of two men who made some of the most significant contributions to the practice of humanistic psychotherapy in the twentieth century. Like most counselors and psychotherapists, I studied Carl Rogers in graduate school and was quite enthralled with his book, On Becoming a Person (1961). Beginning a career as a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner a few years later, I, like so many other before me, became immersed in anything I could learn about Milton H. Erickson. What a delight to find a book that integrates and pays tribute to the work of these two geniuses!


Gunnison states that the purpose of Hypnocounseling is to "merge the philosophies of the utilization and person-centered approaches" of Erickson and Rogers in a process model of therapy. Hypnocounseling is defined as "the use of Ericksonian hypno-suggestive language in conjunction with Rogers' person-centered highly facilitative therapeutic relationship," mainly in the context of brief, solution-oriented therapy.

Gunnison reveals compelling similarities between Rogers and Erickson. Both men grew up in the Midwestern US, on farms, surviving life-threatening childhood illnesses. Perhaps as a result of their childhoods, both developed exceptional capacities for observation and introspection. Both men advocated a therapeutic approach centered on the needs and perceptions of each client, respecting clients as authorities on their own lives. Rogers championed the concept that the therapeutic relationship is the primary purpose of counseling, providing sufficient conditions for the client to experience growth and achieve resolution. In a similar way, Erickson taught his followers to honor the client's values and beliefs and use them as leverage in the therapeutic process. Both clinicians rejected authoritarian methods, and instead encouraged clients to act as co-creators of the therapeutic process. Both promoted the idea that the therapist learns how to conduct therapy by understanding the personality of each client. Both advocated a client-therapist relationship that is flexible, indirect, permissive and unique for each client. Both demonstrated a positive regard for the client, based on empathy and the ability to communicate a genuine caring: a faith in each client to find his or her own path for personal growth.

Erickson spoke of trusting the unconscious mind and using it as a source of inner wisdom. He even said that he joined his clients in the hypnotic trance. Likewise, Rogers spoke of his own experience with clients as an "altered state of conscious…in which my nonconscious intellect takes over." Both men used metaphor as a therapeutic tool. Both believed in "utilizing directional tendencies and evoking the innate wisdom of the core self, that inspires a tendency for personal growth and fulfillment." Both Rogers and Erickson favored a phenomenological perspective on human experience.

In addition to the philosophy of Erickson and Rogers, Gunnison draws upon quantum mechanics and chaos theory to propose that the human being is best described as a collection of "dynamic, holistic and emerging systems." This foray into the new physics is a bit of a stretch for us non-scientific types, but Gunnison makes it comprehensible. He writes that "chaos-complexity theory portrays a backdrop against which each individual can be said to be a complex, adaptive system, tending toward self-actualization." He offers that we can best understand Erickson's and Rogers' approaches if we understand that "reality" does not exist except in the way each human perceives it, and therefore all experience is subjective.

Gunnison borrows from complimentarity principal to say that human beings are full of paradoxes and inconsistencies. He borrows from uncertainty principal to make the point that things mean whatever we think they mean and meaning can therefore never be absolute. The results we observe depend on the questions we ask; a thing cannot exist apart from the framework of our own paradigms. Our expectations shape our observations. These tenets seem to underscore the beliefs of Erickson and Rogers.

"Hypnocounseling views the human, not as a collection of stimulus-response arcs, but rather as a holistic and integrated organism," writes Gunnison. The role of consciousness cannot be left out of understanding human psychology. Gunnison examines the constructs of human choice and free will versus determinism. He explores the interaction between brain processes and subjective consciousness. He concludes that human beings are a gestalt of perceptions and contradictions, living in an environment where "truth" is that which serves a purpose and carries consequences. All of this has significance for understanding Hypnocounseling, and the subsequent hypnotic phenomena that can occur in the therapeutic conversation.

Gunnison further makes the case that when two people enter rapport, the exchange occurs at both the conscious and the unconscious level. The therapist's suggestions are the product of her or her subjective model of the world. The client's responses are the result of perceiving and processing those suggestions within a personal, subjective framework. The differences between client-centered therapy and hypnotherapy begin to blur.

Gunnison presents his own clinical strategies that are representative of those that lend themselves to Hypnocounseling (scripts and sample dialog accompany the descriptions). The "Surrogate Self Technique," for example, is designed to break through a therapeutic impasse, when the client and therapist feel stuck and the work is not progressing. The counselor invites the client to participate in a Gestalt Therapy type of role play/interview, in which the client pretends to be her own friend "who knows you better than you know yourself." In the role of the friend, the client answers questions about what she needs from therapy and how therapy could advance.

Other strategies are the "Fantasy Relaxation Technique" (inspired by Wolpe's work in systematic desensitization) for anxiety management, and the "Fantasy Door Approach," which uses guided imagery to help the client discover hidden aspects of self. In these strategies, NLP practitioners can easily identify anchoring, pattern interruption, perceptual shifts, figure-ground changes, meta-stating, and metaphor.

Since Hypnocounseling is well-suited to brief therapy, Gunnison a chapter on the principals and presuppositions of brief therapy, and the type of questions that facilitate solution-finding. He suggests beliefs that counselors can adapt and adopt in developing a personal creed of counseling---essentially a statement from the counselor to the client about what the counselor is willing to do and not willing to do in the therapeutic context.

Readers will come away from this book with a deeper appreciation of the importance of the supportive therapeutic environment-a concept best summed up by Gunnison when he writes:
Hypnocounseling is the glue that binds the primary strategy to the client. Hypnocounseling, with its emphasis on the therapeutic relationship, the belief in people and its utilization and hypno-suggestive language, provides a substructure for positive growth and change. Remember, counseling is neither fixing up or changing clients. Rather it is providing a therapeutic environment in which the counselor assists the client in "fixing" and "changing" self. (p. 179)

About the Author

Dr. Hugh Gunnison is an Emeritus Professor of Counseling at St. Lawrence University in New York State. He has published numerous articles, conducted workshops, and presented papers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Europe. Currently, he works with his wife, Patricia, in private practice in Canton, New York, and offers workshops nationally and internationally on the subject of Hypnocounseling.


Gunnison's thorough exploration of the core conditions of the therapeutic relationship took me back, in a gratifying way, to my early training in the philosophical foundations of hypnotherapy and counseling. In this carefully crafted book, Gunnison has creatively examined and amalgamated the teachings of two giants in the field of mental health whose work exemplified the sacred nature of the therapeutic encounter at its best.

Although Hypnocounseling is not about NLP per se, the applications of NLP concepts and modeling methods are evident throughout, as the author explains the underlying structure, linguistic maneuvers, and presuppositions of Rogerian counseling and Ericksonian hypnotherapy. This scholarly book is well written and engaging, and worthwhile reading.

To purchase Hypnocounseling, contact:
Crown House Publishing Limited
Web site:
4 Berkley Street
Norwalk, CT 06850

This article originally appeared in Anchor Point in 2005.