The same Milton Erickson whose work inspired Neuro-Linguistic Programming was a brilliant psychiatrist who also utilized hypnosis to help people change their lives in positive ways. From Erickson I learned about the hypnotic or trance state of consciousness in everyday life. Erickson pointed out that more often than we are aware, we are in a trance. A common example can be seen in the times that I have driven from Atlanta, Georgia to Greenville, South Carolina and during the trip my mind wanders in many directions while I am driving up the Interstate. Often I waked up and realized that I had no consciousness of where I was on this trip. Yet, I drove safely up the highway while my mind generated numerous ideas. From time to time I have awakened from this trance and wondered where were the markers that would tell me where I am? This is just one illustration of the trance state.
Erickson had the ability to meet with people and utilize his voice, his posture and his presence to help the person with whom he was working to calm down, to slow down, and to move naturally and easily into a trance state. When the patient was in the trance state, Erickson made suggestions to the patient that were congruent with what the patient had decided to accomplish. He stated these suggestions as possible outcomes rather than demands. He might say, “When you leave my office and are on your way home, you may realize that you are feeling much better. You may begin to realize that your problem is going away.” Erickson was a master of hypnotic suggestions to individuals that were in keeping with the individual’s desires, and he did it in a way that the patient embraced.
I have learned from Milton Erickson the importance of being deliberate and conscious of the way that I use my voice. The tone, the tempo and the emphasis that the therapist uses when speaking to a client often communicate more powerfully than the particular words spoken.
The story has been told of Milton Erickson’s testing this theory of tone and tempo of voice at a cocktail party. As he went through the receiving line, he spoke to the host and hostess in a delightful and soothing voice, “Oh, I just loved the fried horse meat that you offered at the party, and the frog eyes were also delicious.” Erickson noticed that everyone smiled with delight at the compliments that he gave the hosts of the party. Yet, neither the hosts nor the guests heard the content of Erickson’s compliment. How right he was that tone and tempo communicate in powerful, convincing ways.
I also learned from Erickson that tone and tempo often communicate something about the quality of the relationship with the individual to whom you are speaking. Just imagine the different ways that you can say a simple phrase like, “How are you?” It can be said in a slow, deliberate and warm tempo that communicates acceptance and intimacy, or it can be said in a high-pitched, loud and rapid tempo that communicates rejection. Erickson has caused me to be very deliberate about the way I use my voice in therapy sessions.