Utilizing Ericksonian Hypnosis in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Practice

By Zahourek, Rothlyn P. | Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, January-March 2002 | Go to article overview
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Utilizing Ericksonian Hypnosis in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Practice

Zahourek, Rothlyn P., Perspectives in Psychiatric Care

TOPIC. Ericksonian hypnosis conceptual framework.

PURPOSE. To acquaint psychiatric-mental health nurses with hypnotic principles and how these can be integrated into their practice.

SOURCES. Published literature and author's clinical experience.

CONCLUSIONS. Ericksonian hypnosis offers an array of potential interventions for psychiatric-mental health nurses to integrate into their practices in a framework familiar to nurses: holism, honoring and respecting individuality, and capitalizing on an individual's strengths.

Search terms: Communication, Ericksonian hypnosis, indirect suggestion, psychiatric-mental health nursing practice, suggestion


Clinical hypnosis is a therapeutic tool and not a therapy in itself. Thus, it can be incorporated into nearly any form of therapeutic communication or psychotherapy modality. Clinical hypnosis is a process of observing and co-creating states of consciousness with another person and participating in a relationship in which the purpose is some sort of change for that client. Contrary to how Hollywood might present it in a sci-fi movie, hypnosis is not done to another and is not a manipulative power play. If hypnosis were so powerful, we would have a foolproof method to help people change unwanted behaviors and perceptions. Hypnosis differs from relaxation, imagery, and biofeedback modalities in focusing on how and when suggestions are incorporated into the intervention.

Hypnosis' long legacy in psychiatry really began with Freud in his development of psychoanalytic theory (Zahourek, 2001). Freud's contemporaries used hypnosis successfully to provide surgical anesthesia before the development of chemical anesthesia. Hypnosis was later used in World Wars I and II to "cure" soldiers experiencing "battle fatigue" (post-traumatic stress disorder) so they could return to the front. To date we still do not know exactly what hypnosis is and why it is successful with some and not others. Theories abound, and well-controlled research continues to yield contradictory and confusing results regarding one form of hypnosis being more effective than another (Mathews, 2000). Most clinical practice continues to rely on theory that has been derived from the many published anecdotal case reports rather than on double-blind controlled studies. Researching hypnosis with its many individualistic and uncontrollable variables is similar to researching psychotherapy itself.

Ericksonian hypnosis, developed by psychiatrist Milton Erickson (1901-1980), offers psychiatric nurses a unique opportunity to expand their repertoire of practice. Ericksonian hypnosis is both simple in being an intentional form of communication, and complex in its capacity to help individuals learn self-soothing techniques and to restructure ego defenses and strengths in psychotherapy. The framework is useful for both long-term psychodynamic therapy and for shorter-term, solution-oriented treatment.

Ericksonian psychotherapy can be employed with clients who have various diagnoses including anxiety, phobias, habit disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress. This article explores some of the basic approaches of Ericksonian therapy and offers examples for integrating these into psychotherapy. The focus is on integrating these techniques without formal induction techniques. I hope psychiatric nurses will respond with "aha," stating to themselves, "I already do some of that naturally." A goal subsequently is for nurses to use these tools more intentionally, skillfully, and purposefully in their practice. Further, this approach to psychotherapy and hypnosis draws on a basic psychiatric nursing tenet I was taught in a foundations of nursing class: "All behavior is meaningful, purposeful, and can be understood."

Ericksonian Hypnosis

Milton Erickson, considered the father of American hypnosis, developed his unique brand of hypnosis based on approaches he called naturalistic, utilization, and indirect (Erickson & Rossi, 1979).

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Utilizing Ericksonian Hypnosis in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Practice


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