Common steps and sub-activities

Erickson’s contradiction

The following technique was developed by Milton Erickson for his hypnotherapy sessions, with the objective of producing trance states in naturally argumentative people. 

The key to the success of this technique is to also ask the person to use a nod of the head or shake of the head to mean yes or no.  It is the need to try to keep two simultaneous activities going that provides the final befuddling effect.

The seminars, workshops and lectures of Milton H Erickson – edited by Ernest Rossi and Margaret O Ryan

So often you will find your patient adhering steadfastly to his conscious understandings. ….. But, you know, in going into a trance, in deepening a trance, in teaching a resistant subject to go into a trance, sometimes what you need to teach or to learn for yourself is the difference between thinking and doing.

Not long ago a patient came into my office and said, "I have had dozens of people try to hypnotize me, and I can't go into a trance. I just can't."

I had the feeling the subject could go into a trance if he could get clarified in his own mind, so I began a series of questions.

"What is your name?" I asked.

"You know darned well what my name is," he responded. "I gave it to you, and you wrote it down on that sheet of paper. You not only wrote my name, you wrote my address, I don't know why you ask my name when you already know it."

"You know that I do now?" I said.

''Certainly, " he answered .

"Do you know that I know it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, "I know that you know it, and I can't see any sense in your asking me."

"Can I change your name?" I asked.

"No, you can't change my name," he answered. "I am the only person who can change my name, and then I would have to do it legally. I would have to go to court and petition for the change."

"So your name can't be changed?" I said. 'All right, but tell me this. Tell me that your name is John Jones."

"My name is not John Jones," he retorted.

"I know that," I said. "But tell me that your name is John Jones."

"Well," he said, "I won't do that. My name isn't John Jones."

"Do I know that?" I asked.

"Certainly you do."

"Do you know it?"

"Certainly."

'All right," I continued, "tell me that your name is John Jones."

"IT IS NOT!" he answered emphatically.

I asked him how many times he had to explain to me that his name was not John Jones.

Did he really believe that I knew it now?

Could he tell me that his name was John Jones?

It took quite a while for that man to understand that he could think, My name is George Washington, and nod his head yes; and when I asked, "Is your name John Jones?", he could nod his head yes while he was thinking, It is George Washington.

The man needed to know the difference between neck muscle action and his thinking; he had to know definitely that his neck muscle action couldn't change his name.

Now I asked him, "l don't know your name, do I?"

It was such a struggle for him to shake his head no, but after I had gotten him to answer a whole series of questions in which his head movement answers were contrary to his thinking answers then I could slip over into questions in which his head movement agreed with his thinking:

'And you are not in a trance now, are you? But you want to go into a trance, don't you?"

And so I would get a positive and a negative answer in accord with my questions and in accord with his understandings and his desires.

‘And you don’t know that you are going into a trance, do you?’

He shook his head no. He didn't know that he was.

That sort of question.

I got him to divorce his thinking from his action, and thus his action was his response. As soon as I got him willing to divorce his thinking from his response, then I could start enlisting responses - positive or negative - as befitted the situation; and sure enough, he went into a trance quite satisfactorily.