Milton H. Erickson, MD

Milton Hyland Erickson, MD (1901-1980)

Milton H. Erickson, MD, is widely considered the modern-day father of Therapeutic Hypnosis. He inspired Ernest Rossi who earlier embarked on his own explorations about the interface of body and mind. In 1972 these two pioneers began their 8-year collaboration. They explored the nature of clinical hypnosis and its effects on mind-body healing. Their work together, as well as the work done by Erickson prior to their collaboration, is presented in the 16 volumes of the Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson, MD. After Erickson died, Ernest continued to reflect, expand, and update the work of his mentor.

Erickson was a genius anomaly in many regards. He was colorblind and could only see purple. At age 17 his healthy body was stricken with polio that left him paralyzed, unable to walk or independently feed himself. He had already been interested in the power of mind and had seen hypnosis demonstrated by traveling entertainers. Now with polio he was curious to experience and discover new ways to enhance and accelerate the process of his own healing. One day, while sitting in a rocking chair where he had been left while family members tended the farm, he longed to look out the window but was not in the correct position to do so. He noticed the chair began to slightly rock. Immediately Erickson understood that it was his mind that moved the chair. If his mind could make the chair rock, what else could it do? He cited that moment of insight as the beginning of a deep fascination with using mind to heal.

Erickson’s sensitive curiosity, and his experience to successfully access his own inner resources, gave birth to his lifetime work with mind-body healing through therapeutic hypnosis. In a stepwise approach, he focused his mind to remember how to hold a fork, walk, and learn from the wisdom of his unconscious mind. In the summer prior to entering college he could still scarcely walk, but sought to regain independence and strength. He hatched a plan to take a thousand-mile canoe journey along the Mississippi River, beginning with the downstream direction and returning upstream when his muscles were better developed. Each night he took the canoe to shore, set up camp, fed himself and slept. By the end of that summer Erickson could not only walk, but he had gained great confidence in his capacity to use his unconscious mind.

Graduating from college, and then medical school, Erickson began a career in psychiatry focusing his attention to bring deeper understandings of psychological approaches that heal both body and mind. In his later years the limitations of age and post-polio syndrome relegated him to a wheelchair. Paradoxically, ongoing health challenges gave him an opportunity and credibility to explore creative avenues of rehabilitation for himself and others. He maintained interest to work with seriously ill individuals so they could recapture a quality of life.

Erickson’s life work of contributing to science while bringing hypnosis into the practice of medicine was a commitment he never deviated from. Now approaching half a century since his passing in 1980, the uniqueness of his thinking, expansive ideas, and the prescience of his understandings continue to evolve alongside the present-day sciences. Through his lifetime he called attention to the depth of how one’s life experiences can effect thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We now know this includes gene expression and brain plasticity.

I came to know Milton Erickson through Ernest in 1990. As a couple we continued to explore the foundations of Erickson. We stood on his shoulders to create new therapeutic modalities as sciences emerged. What was Erickson’s most brilliant paper in the opinion of Ernest and Kathryn Rossi? We believe The Burden of Responsibility in Effective Psychotherapy is Erickson’s greatest gift for psychotherapists growth and development.

For the last 25 years Ernest Rossi, Roxanna Erickson-Klein, and myself have worked together as a team to preserve and advance Erickson’s sage teachings that continue to be relevant. Erickson’s classic works are now in new, updated, more accessible, and searchable formats. We are truly proud of the new digital/print-on-demand editions now available on worldwide. Will you enjoy your own discovery of the Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson, MD? I know you will.