The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson

The complete volume

By: Ronald A. Havens


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Size: 234mm x 156mm
Pages : 416
ISBN : 9781904424963
Format: Hardback
Published: February 2005

Milton H. Erickson was one of the most creative, dynamic and effective hypnotherapists and psychotherapists of the twentieth century. He used unconventional techniques with remarkable success. This outstanding work of research extracts the core wisdom of Milton H. Erickson’s life-long work.

Gleaned from the records of over 140 publications and lectures given by Erickson during his career, this combined volume is an essential part of the available literature on Dr. Erickson. Part One on Human Behavior and Part Two on Psychotherapy, present his methods and lessons, including his feelings on the use of objective observation, the uniqueness of the conscious mind, the realities and abilities of the unconscious mind, the creation and use of a therapeutic environment, and many other aspects of the life and work of this remarkable thinker and teacher. Part Three, Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy, presents a clear account of how Dr. Erickson conceived of hypnosis, particularly its access to the unconscious and its role in the process of therapy.

Picture for author Ronald A. Havens

Ronald A. Havens

Ronald Havens is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Springfield where he taught for over 30 years. Throughout that time he also conducted a part time private practice, wrote numerous articles and spoke extensively on the therapeutic uses of hypnosis, and led professional training workshops on Ericksonian approaches to hypnotherapy throughout the country.


  1. “The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson” by Dr. R.A. Havens is a “concordance of Erickson`s concepts and knowledge”. Havens manages what few achieve, a scholarly and erudite overview of one of the most brilliant and prolific writers of the twentieth century and one of the greatest thinkers, practitioners and innovators in the field of hypnotherapy. Havens writes with clarity and in a style that makes Erickson`s work both accessible and engaging not only to those already familiar with his teachings but equally to those who are learning about hypnosis for the first time. Erickson`s simple and “audaciously revolutionary concepts” are explored in brief chapter introductions followed by examples of his teachings and philosophy gleaned from 140 texts: ideal for those wishing to refresh earlier encounters with Erickson`s work.
  2. If you are one of our readers who never had a chance to meet and experience Milton Erickson in person, Ronald Havens gives you an opportunity to get to know this phenomenal physician/psychiatrist/philosopher - at least in a literary sense - in this collection of quotes directly from the lectures, articles and books of Erickson's work.

    Obviously, Havens accomplished a monumental task: this book offers a veritable treasure box of wisdom. Havens writes: “He (Erickson) devoted his life to careful observation of Himself and others-¦ as a consequence he learned how to enable others to utilize potentials they did not know they had and he helped them to resolve personal and interpersonal problems that no other professional has been able to touch” (p. xii).

    Anyone with an interest in doing hypnotic work, theoretically, clinically or in research will find this book useful to help in their own exploration of human behaviors, some of which they may have never even thought about until now. It's possible that looking at these bits and pieces of Erickson's verbalizations would be like working on a very intricate crossword puzzle maybe with printing on both sides of some pieces making it very difficult to work this puzzle. Havens helps us (a little), in that he has sorted the content into categories. However, because there is that precious hypnotic gift of ambiguity in many of these utterances, they could be lifted and placed in other categories, and they would still fit! That tells us that much of what Milton Erickson had to say has the lasting quality of wisdom for the ages.

    If Erickson had a secret it was his ability to observe people with astute open minded naivete which allowed him to really see and hear them with accuracy. This ability enabled him to respond to them using their framework and then helping them to change what needed changing. Havens gives us numerous examples of this concept. The first section “Relevant Quotations” covers observation. In 1977, Erickson stated: “When I wanted to know something, I wanted it undistorted by somebody else's imperfect knowledge” (p. 15).

    Perhaps, this is a key to what Erickson offered us: observation of what is gives us the information we must have in order to proceed. Further, he tells us: Unfortunately lack of critical observation or inexperience sometimes leads to the inference that the subjects are unresponsive rather than the realization that they are most responsive in a more complex fashion than was intended (Erickson, 1980, p. 188).

    Just reading through the contents (p. i-iv) gives the reader a carefully structured reference to all the subject matter covered. Part One on Human Behavior, Part Two on Psychotherapy and Part -˜three on Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy allow the reader to select specific topics, and to mix and match Erickson's thoughts about each.

    In Chapter Nine, Havens states “Anyone Can Be Hypnotized” - and what a comforting thought that is to those of us who work hypnotically: “Trance is a common experience” (p. 205); “Hypnosis is a normal phenomenon of the human mind” (p. 206); and, “any normal person can be hypnotized provided there is adequate motivation” (p. 206). This is a helpful set of notions to embed as a fine reason to incorporate hypnosis into therapeutic work. Just imagine what an inspiring message this delivers to the beginning students of hypnosis.

    Some quotes demonstrate Erickson's fabulous use of language: “... there is something that you know but you don't know you know it. As soon as you find out what it is that you already know, but you don't know, you know then you can begin” (p. 278). There is a certain enticing quality in “not knowing what you know.” In a related manner, John Grinder with his excellent linguistic background was able to decipher and label many of Erickson's linguistic patterns, thereby making them accessible in a way that Erickson himself could not (Grinder & Bandler, 1981). Havens has given us a volume that is nicely sorted and categorized to allow us to absorb some of what Erickson offered. Much of this has served to change the way by which many people view the mystique of hypnosis: there is an amazing amount of common sense in Erickson's statements.

    This book is an excellent “desk volume.” It can also serve as an inspiration to us when we encounter some difficult challenge. On those “tougher than ordinary days” turn to p. 232 and read Erickson's thoughts about the use of psychopharmacological drugs. “In all the experimental work that I've done my feeling is that drugs of any sort are a handicap, because then you have to deal with the patient and the drug effects, and you're handicapping yourself. The only drug I favor is an ounce of whiskey half an hour before the patient arrives -you take it.” Obviously, the man also had a great sense of humor!

    In his closing, Havens reminds us (in true Ericksonian style): “Becoming an effective hypnotherapist means adopting a hypnotherapeutic style of life. The words and concepts uttered by Erickson can serve as a source of motivation and as a guide, but they cannot serve as the answer. The answer lies within each one of us, in our total commitments to learning by objective observation and experiences how to use our toll range of conscious and unconscious capacities and how to help others learn how to do the same. We no longer have Milton H. Erickson to redirect our attention, to correct our erroneous interpretations, or to chide us for our naive acceptance of whatever “truth” comes our way. Maybe, just maybe, therapists will fill that void with their own objectively based wisdom and experientially derived skills instead of a new theoretical school or a new personality to emulate. If so, then Erickson's message and example will have gotten through. We have to grow up, accept the wisdom given to us, and admit that this is a difficult business, a complex craft. We owe it to our patients to use Erickson's wisdom wisely. More importantly, we owe it to ourselves.”

    We recommend you read this book and heed the messages.
  3. Milton H. Erickson was one of the most creative, dynamic and effective hypnotherapists and psychotherapists of the twentieth century. He used unconventional techniques with remarkable success. This outstanding work of research extracts the core wisdom of Erickson's life-long work, gleaned from the records of over 140 publications and lectures given by him. Part One on Human Behaviour and Part Two on Psychotherapy present his methods and lessons, including his feelings on the use of objective observation, the uniqueness of the conscious mind, the realities and abilities of the unconscious mind, the creation and use of a therapeutic environment, and many other aspects of the life and work of this remarkable thinker and teacher. Part Three, Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy, presents a clear account of how Dr. Erickson conceived of hypnosis, particularly its access to the unconscious and its role in the process of therapy.
  4. I have read many books about Milton Erickson, but this is the only one that I've ever understood immediately. Ronald Havens completely demystifies his subject, making it absolutely clear that the only way to become as good a therapist as Erickson is to work at observing everyone and practise constantly. A brilliant book!
  5. This work has been out of print for a while and Crown House Publishing has performed a service in re-printing it.

    An indispensable compendium of MHE's statements on every respect of psychotherapy, hypnosis and human behaviour.
  6. A comprehensive study of a great man, which offers value to the layperson and the experienced therapist alike. Well presented, good overviews and thorough in the detail.

    Added to a recommended reading list.
  7. A wonderful book allowing us not just another compilation of, but a comprehensive insight into, the wisdom of Milton Erickson. The book is most welcome for students and practitioners alike.
  8. There can be no self-respecting therapist who has not heard at least mention of Milton Erickson. Even many people in the street may well be familiar with his name even though they may not go into details about him. Milton Erickson was, arguably, the most effective, creative, challenging and dynamic hypnotherapist that the world has ever had the good fortune of seeing.

    Where Paul McKenna is the people's hypnotist in the sense of being well known and well followed, Milton Erickson was, and foreseeable always will be, the therapists' therapist.

    He is largely responsible for shaping the modern view of hypnosis and hypnotherapy that we are familiar with today. Few, if any, would fail to acknowledge his enormous contribution to the body of knowledge and practice that is hypnotherapy.

    Erickson endured two serious bouts of polio in his life and was confined to a wheelchair for much of his later years. This did not prevent him from using his active, creative and unique mind. He learned to use the healing methods of self-hypnosis to deal with his personal handicaps and to discover and uncover and then promote ways of experiencing life at more profound levels.

    He delighted in his work and was never happier than when he was able to share his knowledge with others, realising that much of what he was sharing would be life transforming for many of his listeners ( I almost said, disciples).

    I have read many books during my time as reviewer and some I have found as exciting as seeing paint dry. Some have been as easy to digest as a tough beef steak would be for a vegetarian with no teeth. Not so with this book!!!! This book has been wonderfully crafted by the author to ensure that the essential spontaneity and creativity of Erickson is maintained. As a book it is a work of art in its excellently put together content. As a tribute to Erickson it is unequalled and as a “good read” for the practitioner it is top of the list! From beginning to end the book is inspirational and challenging. It encourages the reader to think and then challenge his/her own thoughts Erickson would have been a good dinner guest. This book allows us the privilege of his company, humour, intelligence and inspiration at any time and for that I thank the author and publisher most sincerely.

    We have all had difficult clients from time to time. Erickson did too, and he was able to hypnotise even the most resistant of people. He could do so either with or without the client actually being aware of the fact.

    In all his work he was challenging and creative, searching for and exploring new methodologies making the foundation upon which we now build today.

    There is no doubt that his methodology was innovative and he may well have been looked upon as a renegade by many of his practitioner peers. However, as people saw the results of his labours his innovations became more appreciated and many of his patients were actually sent to him by other therapists whose own methods were not getting the desired effects.

    He has become the therapist's therapist ever since his early days and was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal of the International Society of Hypnosis:

    The medal is inscribed - To Milton H Erickson, MD - innovator, outstanding clinician and distinguished investigator whose ideas have not only helped create the modern view of hypnosis but have profoundly influenced the practice of all psychotherapy throughout the world.

    Indeed, I challenge you to read this book and not be influenced or changed by it in some way.

    Milton Erickson would have made a wonderful dinner guest. In this one volume we have his wit and wisdom, guidance and gravitas, inspiration and encouragement. It is a book which in a short space of time will be well used and reused but never abused. Some books fill a gap on the shelves. Some look imposing! Some even keep that shelf from bowing in the middle. This one will be in the shelf so little. It will be in constant use.

    It is like a treasure chest of inspiration and encouragement and, above all else, sincerity and honesty, that we can never tire of dipping into and being happy to learn from.

    With his death we lost a living force and ever emerging challenge from a man who was only too pleased to be able to feel that he was teaching us to become more effective in our work.

    Dr Havens has given us the chance to have in one volume what one could almost call the ” essential Erickson”, and I feel that we all will discover we owe him and the publishers a debt of gratitude in keeping the Ericksonian ethic alive and accessible. Erickson can , should we choose, be our motivation and guide. One thing he can't be is the answer to all our questions. He would be the first to say that these essentially lie within each one of us. He is not the provider of simple solutions. He is not the idol to imitate. What is is the source of much wisdom which makes us think.

    As the author says ” We owe it our patients to use Erickson's wisdom wisely. More importantly, we owe it to ourselves”.

    This book is a work of art. It is truly a tribute to a great man. In itself it is an academic milestone which will be difficult to equal let alone better. It is a book to be read. As Dr Havens said, ” We owe it to ourselves.
  9. “The beauty of this book is the quality of the writing. It is wonderfully easy to read providing a good overview of many aspects of Ericksonian hypnotherapy. It is also the funniest “serious” book I have read in years. Many of the case studies are hilarious ” I particularly love the case of the “Hugest Fanny” (I promise it's there in chapter 6 !) which had me in stitches. It doesn't go into great detail but concentrates on providing a broad overview. It is an interesting and well written book and I recommend it for students of hypnotherapy, or anyone interested the field. “
  10. Wow! What a fascinating book this is. The author has managed to organise Erickson's ideas and thoughts on therapy, hypnosis, human growth and much more in a clear style. This book is easy to read and very hard to put down! We all have an idea of what we think Ericksonian therapy is or what Erickson meant but it is only after reading this book that I realised that Ericksonian therapy does not exist in any structured “school” or way specific step by step technique. It is more a concept, a way of being than it is a set of techniques or “how to do” steps. This book gives everyone a chance to read for themselves and make sense in their own way of what it was that “the Master' was trying to impart to his students and, after all, that is what Erickson wanted us all to do ” make sense of it in our own way.

    I strongly recommend this book as essential reading
  11. I have recently been sent a new book to review and felt that it would make an excellent recommendation to your reading list.

    The Wisdom of Milton Erickson ” The Complete Volume, by Ronald A. Havens is one of the finest and thorough books detailing Milton Erickson's work I have seen to date.

    If you would like to look deeper into the work of Erickson I would say that this newly published book is a must for anyone training in Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy. I am sure it will become a classic textbook for students and practitioners alike.
  12. Milton Erickson was undoubtedly the greatest and most pioneering hypnotherapist of the last century! His observation of human nature was phenomenal; the variety and diversity of his therapeutic intervention at times almost bazaar, and only with thorough assimilation of all his comments, does one even attempt to understand the profound meaning of his statements. The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson, The Complete Volume tempts the reader to take a most wonderful mystery tour into the mind of this incredible man. Havens recognises Erickson's passion 'to enjoy and live life to its fullest' and to empower others to do the same. He has carefully distilled the essence of Erickson's wisdom from a lifetime of lectures, scholarly publications and books in modular fashion from chapters on Human Behaviour and Psychotherapy to the grand finale of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. This book is invaluable, challenging, frustrating, enlightening and will reward each reading with new depths of understanding and appreciation. This is one book in a therapist's library that merits reading!
  13. Ronald Havens has produced a collection of quotations from the many published articles by Milton H.Erickson. When I first started to read these quotations I was just “dipping in' and didn't do justice to the philosophy behind the purpose of the book.

    Now that I have had the time to be more systematic and thoughtful about the concept, I can fully appreciate what is indeed contained within the 360 plus pages.

    The book is in three parts-¦. Human Behaviour, Psychotherapy and Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. Each part is broken down into chapters and each chapter contains subheadings e.g.“Observations Regarding Nonverbal Communication”,“The Separate Abilities of the Unconscious”,“Therapists Must Decipher what Patients Say”,“Unique People Require Unique Interventions”,“Use Whatever the Patient Presents”,“Trance is Manifested in a Variety of Ways”,“Keep Your Role and Goal in Mind”,“Use Boredom or Surprise” and “Hypnosis Helps Overcome Conscious Barriers”.

    Each of the subheadings has a wealth of information pertinent to that subject and is followed by a collection of quotations that add substance and insight for the reader to absorb.

    As an example,in the chapter “Initiating Therapeutic Change” with the subheading “Unique People Require Unique Interventions”, Havens offers some insight into how Erickson worked e.g. “Theoretical considerations, classifications and constructs should not be allowed to define or to limit what the therapist sees or does-¦..” and Erickson is quoted, illustrating his beliefs from a variety of angles e.g.“Be willing to avoid following any one teaching or any one technique.” (Haley,1976,p.535) and “And I do wish that Rogerian therapists, Gestalt therapists, transactional analysts, group analysts and all the other offspring of various theories would recognize that not one of them really recognizes that psychotherapy for person #1 is not psychotherapy for person #2.” (Zeig,1980,p. 104)

    “Erickson's use of indirect forms of communication was designed to do more than elicit responses in a reflex sort of way. Many, if not all, of his indirect communications also were designed to bypass the conscious mind and to contact the unconscious mind instead.” enabling him to solicit the assistance of the unconscious mind.

    I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to read this book at this stage of my career as a hypnotherapist as I can more fully appreciate the subtlety of the wisdom of the man so many have admired over the years. There is no doubt that Milton H. Erickson has left us a legacy that will endure. All this from a man born in 1901, who was colour blind and could perceive and enjoy the colour purple, but little else, who didn't speak until he was four, had polio when he was 17 and again at the age of 51. “Throughout his lifetime he was forced to overcome an incredible variety of adversities, but he had a way of turning all of his difficulties into advantages and valuable opportunities for learning.”

    Ronald Havens can feel justifiably proud of what he has produced.All the hard work of researching, interpreting and compiling has resulted in a wealth of knowledge that he has been prepared to share with the world. Put it on your wish list for Christmas.

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