Quotes by Milton H. Erickson, MD
“You always call it hindsight. Two weeks too late to think of the right retort to make. You lead with your unconscious; you make that retort immediately…Trust your unconscious; it knows more than you do.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“It’s the individual responding to the individual.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Don’t try to imitate my voice, or my cadence. Just discover your own. Develop your own techniques. Be your own natural self. I tried to do it the way somebody else did and it was a MESS!” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Discover their patterns of happiness.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Teach them to be comfortable in their bodies.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“In hypnosis you are seeking to alter their body awareness, their body understandings, their body experiences, their body responses.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“You use hypnosis not as a cure but as a means of establishing a favorable climate in which to learn.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“There are so many things in human living that we should regard not as traumatic learning but as incomplete learning, unfinished learning.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Theres no such thing as a dignified proper neurosis” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Pain is incomplete learning.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“You can teach a child the importance of pain by your behavior. You can also teach a child the importance of no pain by your behavior.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Milton listened with his eyes.” —Bertha Erickson Gallun (Erickson’s sister)
“In therapy your patients should have an appreciation that you are not afraid to tell the truth. They are afraid of the truth and they try to beat around the bush.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Now our unconscious mind often gives the right idea and then they take charge of it consciously and messes it up” —Milton H. Erickson
“What is easiest to see is often overlooked.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Allow yourself to see what you don’t allow yourself to see.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“You can pretend anything and master it.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Sometimes—in fact more times than is realized—therapy can be firmly established on a sound basis only by the utilization of silly, absurd, irrational, and contradictory statements.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Always turn any insult—misunderstand it as a compliment. And that baffles the person…What are they going to do with your very stupid remark? They’re going to try to make sense out of it. And that’s their problem.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“So in therapy when your patient says something that is tangential for your therapy, misunderstand it, give it a new interpretation, and make that tangential remark totally useless. Some patients will try to pick a quarrel with the therapist or try to lead the therapist to look in the wrong direction. And you can use your own stupidity to keep right on the right track.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“He wanted to make a father out of me. I made a colleague out of him.”—Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
I’ve given you a tip.
“And people are prone to cut down the seriousness of their problem and balloon out their troubles caused by a little neurosis. And you differentiate between the troubles they encounter and the actual neurosis…” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Maybe your unconscious knows that you’re not really sincere.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Adults are only little children grown taller.” —Milton H. Erickson, MD
“It isn’t so much what the therapist does, as what he gets his patient to do” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“I went from one room to another, inspecting… hoping I’d find something I could use..” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“There’s no such thing as a dignified proper neurosis” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D
“You don’t take insults. You leave them with the insulter. It’s his problem. And in therapy your patient will come to you with hurt feelings: ‘My husband called me an ignorant, incompetent, nonentity.’
“‘Is that the best your husband could do? Is his vocabulary lacking? He must’ve meant something but what did he mean using just those few words?’ And she starts looking at the insults in a different way. And I’ve discredited the insult.” —Milton H. Erickson M.D.
“I’d ask her, ‘So you’re afraid of everything? Don’t you ever get thirsty? Don’t you ever get hungry? You say you’re afraid of everything? That includes water? Good food?’ And I’d put her in a position of knowing she had exaggerated and misinformed me. And she’s going to be—start checking everything she says and she’s going to start doubting the all-inclusiveness of her fears. And when she starts doubting those, then you can give her faith in this, in that, until she knows that she likes to be alone at times. And she does like the scenery. She does like the sunlight. She does like the quiet at night when she wants to sleep. She does like to sleep. She does like hunger. She does like to go to the bathroom. And you reverse her complete negativism by adulterating it with a great many positive things. And there are so many positive things. She may dislike the color of her eyes, but she liked her eyes.”
—Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“When patients are on the verge of tears I’d go in the other room, get a flower pot with a houseplant in it and say, ‘If you feel like crying it will save me from watering this plant.’ And tears are useful. Now, actually when a patient starts crying they buildup additional shame for themselves because they are crying. Present them a flower pot and the whole complexion of the situation can change.”
—Milton H. Erickson M.D.
“People will think and feel the way you want them to IF you react in the right way. It’s easy enough to go to the hospital and get a patient to cry. I think it’s better to get them to laugh.”
–—Milton H. Erickson, MD
“I told him in a trance state to feel all his muscles just get acquainted with his body. And so you tell him his toes, his feet, his ankles, his knees, his calves, his leg muscles, his back muscles, arm muscles and so on. The second time when I saw him, I said,”Dallas, after a year of coaching you’ve reached the catapult of 58 feet. I’m going to tell you something and listen to me. Dallas, no matter how intelligent you are, you really don’t know the difference between 58 feet and 58 feet and one-sixteenth of an inch.” He agreed. I said, “You don’t know the difference between 58 feet and 58 feet and one-eighth of an inch. And I kept on increasing until, “You don’t know the difference between 58 and 59 feet.” And Dallas agreed. And I said, “Now you’ve been thinking all this time that you can put only 58 feet. Now you know you can put 58 and one-16th, one-eighth, one-quarter, one-half, three-quarters, 59 feet.”
And Dallas said, “That’s right.”
12 weeks later he set a National High School record, and I just freed him from that, uh, 58 foot superstition. And that summer he came and said, “I’m on the American Olympic team for shot put. What should I do?”
I said, “Dallas, I know you can win the gold medal. I know you can win the silver medal – and the shot put in the Olympics is just a superstition.”
—Excerpt from “Just a Superstition”: Dallas Long, In The Room with Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“I won golf tournaments that way by teaching the golfer to think he’s still on the first hole. He had to be told, he’s now on the 18th and he’s won. I’ve trained a lot of Olympic Athletes. I’ve got a lot of Olympic Gold medals – only they’re in the care of others.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Neurosis is a way of hanging on to things you have no right.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“In therapy you focus attention to where it should be focused. ” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“In hypnosis you are seeking to alter their body awareness, their body understandings, their body experiences, their body responses” -Milton Erickson, M.D.
“I want you to discover the difference between your thinking and your doing.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Psychotherapy is treating a patient as an individual who is unique. There will never be a duplicate of that person. And you use the uniqueness of that person. And that person possesses a lot of unknown qualities. And I discovered she liked African Violets. I promoted a liking that she already had….Just one visit, seeing one place where she still had energy, and then capitalizing on that energy and spreading it over everything.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“I think short-term therapy can be extremely useful. But you have to be—make that short-term therapy useful to the personality.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Try tonight to dream an explanation.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
Student: “Did you say patients ARE afraid of the truth?”
Milton Erickson: “Aren’t they? Why would a big zeppelin woman come in and say, ‘I’m a trifle overweight.’ And a man with a potbelly and he hasn’t seen his feet for years, say he’s a trifle overweight. And why does a patient who goes on three month binges, drunk for three months or six months at a time say, ‘I’ve got a slight alcohol problem?’ Because they’re afraid to face the truth.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“You often hear, for example, doctors saying, ‘I don’t know how I did that right. I really didn’t know how to do it. When I was working in surgery the idea came to me to do it this way so I did it this way and it turned out to be right.’ It’s something you learn unconsciously; And our unconscious learning is retained much longer. And it’s not so available as our conscious thoughts. And our unconscious knowledge comes forth when it’s needed.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“I identified myself and demanded that I be given a tour of the house… I went from one to another inspecting, hoping I’d find something that I could use …just one visit, seeing just one place where she had energy, and then capitalizing on that energy and spreading it over everything.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Now after 29 years of terrible anti-social behavior on Joe’s part, and 23-year-old Edie said, ‘You can if you’re a gentleman’—and that was Joe’s psychotherapy. For 29 years of sociopathic behavior and Joe became a farm man, a totally different man. And when you look over society, how many a man is ruined by being rejected by a girl, was reformed by a girl saying, ‘Yes.’ And how many people have some little incident in their life that determines how they will live.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“When I work with you I keep you in mind… Psychotherapy is the individual responding to the individual. When working with you I look for your unique attunement to life’s energy and together we make it a part of your everyday life.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“I awakened and said, ‘Yes…I was in a trance. I know that you’re better educated than I am, and know that you are more intelligent than I am. I know that you’re quicker-witted than I am. And considering all that, at first I thought it’d be impossible to accept you as a patient. Then I realized that my unconscious mind was just as smart as you are. And so when you came my unconscious mind took over.’” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Milton listened with his eyes.” —Bertha Erickson Gallun (Erickson’s sister)
“There’s always the other side of the coin” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“When I work with YOU, it’s YOU I keep in mind.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
Student: “I have a question to ask you. Umm, it’s about when we talk about the unconscious being the-the smarter part, the part that really knows what’s going on, so, do I assume from that when people have gotten themselves in messed up situations that it’s all their conscious mind that’s been-that’s the demon?”
Milton Erickson: “Now our unconscious minds often gives us the right idea and they take charge of it, consciously, and messes it up.”
(excerpt from Volume I of In the Room with Milton H. Erickson, M.D.)
“Our unconscious learning is retained much longer. And it’s not so available as our conscious thoughts. And our unconscious knowledge comes forth when it’s needed.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“A trance state is using your brain so that you can entertain any thought and give reality to that thought, to that memory, the same way you can dream at night.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Psychotherapy is treating a patient as an individual who is unique. There will never be a duplicate of that person and you use the uniqueness of that person. And that person possesses a lot of unknown qualities. And I discovered she liked African Violets. I promoted a liking that she already had.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Always turn any insult—misunderstand it as a compliment.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“Don’t tell them to relax; tell them to ENJOY relaxing!” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
Quotes about the unconscious:
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” —Albert Einstein
“Trust your unconscious; it knows more than you do.” —Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
“When I get a hunch and ignore it I always regret it.” —Columbo
“This above all: to thine own self be true.” —William Shakespeare
“What a movie is…the place in which unconsciouses meet—both in the making of and the seeing of—that’s what they’re for… It’s a connecting of the unconsciouses and also a tapping of your own. You say, ‘Unconscious, take it away.’ and you actually learn more about it as you go…Nothing helps get there except understanding the art of hooking up with the back of your own and other people’s mind.” —Mike Nichols
“In each of us lies sleeping beauty, wasted potential, dying dreams. We sleep and live in dormant twilight, never knowing what it means to live, to love the bits of heaven that we can unearth deep in our hearts; not recognizing that our salvation is ever-present in those parts that we have disowned, denied, forgotten. The thorns of fear thwart faint attempt. The prince is courage, the kiss believing and then with these our life begins.” —Kay Thompson’s Student
“There are many things that you know but you don’t know that you know and you can go into trance and discover you knew them all along.” —Kay Thompson
“I believe in man’s unconscious, the deep spring from which comes his power to communicate and love. For me, all art is a combination of these powers; art is nothing to me if it does not make contact between the creator and their perceiver on an unconscious level. Let us say that love is the way we have of communication, personally in the deepest way. What art can do is to extend this communication, magnify it, and carry it to vastly greater number of people. In this it needs a warm core, a hidden element… I believe in art for the warmth and love it carries within it.” —Leonard Bernstein
“You can observe a lot by just watching.” —Yogi Berra
“Freud defined the unconscious; Erickson conversed with the unconscious.” –Jane Parsons-Fein