Book Review: The Handbook of Ericksonian Psychotherapy

This landmark volume, which compromises the writings of various experts in the discipline of Ericksonian therapy, captures the enormity of Dr. Erickson’s influence on the fields of hypnosis and psychotherapy.  The Principles and the Practices of Ericksonian psychotherapy form the two respective sections of this book.  The Principles portion includes chapters ranging from Assessment, Hypnotic Induction, Utilization Theory, Storytelling, and What is Ericksonian Hypnosis? to Psychobiological Principles of Creative Ericksonian Psychotherapy, Ethical and Legal Concerns in the use of Ericksonian Techniques, Transference/Countertransference, and The Philosophical Position of the Ericksonian Therapist.

The Practices section includes chapters discussing a broad array of clinical issues.  State of the art Ericksonian approaches to the treatment of trauma, anxiety disorders, pain management, addictions, dissociative disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and self-care are thoroughly covered.

Ever-present throughout this volume is Dr. Erickson’s groundbreaking principle of utilization.  Beginning with the chapters on Assessment and on Hypnotic Induction, the theme “accept and utilize” flows through the myriad of clinical interventions detailed.  Particularly strong chapters include: “The Problem is the Solution: The Principle of Sponsorship in Psychotherapy” by Stephen Gilligan; and “Revisiting the Question, What is Ericksonian Hypnosis?” by Michael Yapko.

Yapko’s chapter, found in the first section on Principles, provides an excellent overview of Ericksonian philosophy.  The contrasts he presents with other models of hypnosis and their general principles is most valuable.  He writes, “Ericksonian hypnosis as a style may be more easily charecterized  by the flexibility of the general ‘accept and utilize’ formula than any specific psychotherapeutic approach” (p. 82).

Within part two on Practices, Stephen Gilligan’s innovative chapter elaborates his neo-Ericksonian approach known as Self-Relations Therapy, which views psychological disturbances as evidence that “something is waking up inside the life of a person” (p. 400).  Gilligan asserts that “via sponsorship, experiences and behaviors that are problematic may be realized as resources and gifts… what had been framed as a problem is recognized as a solution” (p. 400).  This elegant extension of Ericksonian philosophy utilizes the full human presence of both therapist and patient.

Notably missing in this volume are chapters focusing on the various hypnotic phenomena utilized clinically in Ericksonian hypnosis and psychotherapy, as well as the development of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), originating from the teachings of Milton H. Erickson.

The title of this work is a misnomer and as such is misleading.  It is not a handbook in the true sense of the word, but instead is a collection of Ericksonian principles and practices, with contributions from those individuals on whom Erickson’s work has had a profound influence.

However, this work has been long awaited.  The energy emanating from it’s inspiration- the vast legacy of Milton H. Erickson–should allow it to catapult onto the required reading lists of graduate students around the globe.  Indeed, this compilation is the only book to provide a nearly complete introduction to the theory of how to employ Ericksonian psychotherapy, followed by a sizable sampling of potential applications of Ericksonian hypnosis and psychotherapy to an array of clinical concerns.  As such it should not only find itself on the shelves of the university bookstore and library, but also in the collection of anyone serious about truly understanding the work of Erickson.  A sincere thank you goes to Geary and Zeig for putting together a collection that is as illuminating as it is helpful.

Reviewed by:   John H. Edgette, Psy. D., and Joseph Dowling, M.S., LPC


Erickson, M.  (1980). The nature of hypnosis and suggestion: The collected papers of Milton H. Erickson on hypnosis (Vol. 1, E.L. Rossi, Ed.). New York:Irvington.

Zeig, J.K. & Geary, B.B. (Eds.). The handbook of Ericksonian psychotherapy. Phoenix, AZ: The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Press.

Zeig, J.K. & Geary, B.B. (Eds.). The letters of Milton H. Erickson. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, Inc.