Ericksonian Hypnotherapy, Stress and Healing

Interview with German publication
Esotera:Neues Denken und Handlen, Feb. 1995, p. 18-25

Updated on December 14, 2001

Ernest Lawrence Rossi, Ph.D.

1. What is the difference between traditional and Ericksonian Hypnosis?

Rossi: Milton H. Erickson, MD was a remarkably creative individual and an important transition figure in the history of hypnosis. Traditional hypnosis is usually understood to mean that a hypnotherapists helps a person achieve a state of deep rapport within themselves as well as the doctor so that more effective communication can take place between them. The doctor then uses direct suggestions to heal the patient or facilitate problem solving. While Erickson certainly used this direct authoritative approach he was also a genius in what we called “The Naturalistic or Utilization Approach” wherein there is a greater focus on helping each individual patient find their own talents for problem solving and healing in their own unique manner. Ericksonian hypnotherapy emphasizes and facilitates the patient’s own creative processes.

2. Is it possible to make someone do something in trance that they would not do while normally awake?

Rossi: While there is still controversy on this question, many years ago in 1932, Erickson published his first scientific paper on hypnosis dealing with this issue. He found that it is not really possible to consistently manipulate another person’s behavior against their will. However, I believe there are evil geniuses who at some time and some place could probably manipulate some types of people against their will at least for a short while. Thus we must be ever vigilant against the use of hypnosis by the wrong people who are not trained ethically and professionally.

3. What are the advantages of hypnotherapy in comparison with other kinds of psychotherapy?

Rossi: Hypnotherapists like to believe they have special skills in observing people and helping them achieve their optimal states of consciousness for realizing their highest potentials. We now know, for example, that during hypnosis some people are able to optimize certain of their brain waves for optimizing performance in certain areas. With the new brain imaging methods like the Pet (positron emission tomography) scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance images) we can now document the reality of the dynamics of the healing process in cognitive therapy and hypnotherapy. Even more significant I believe is the new research on gene expression with what is now called "DNA Microarray technology. I believe the growing edge of research in the new millennium will be to use this new technology to illustrate the changing patterns of gene expression with psychotherapy in general and hypnotherapy in particular.  In my new book "The Psychobiology of Gene Expression: Neuroscience & Neurogenesis in Hypnosis and the Healing Arts" (W. W. Norton Professional Books, May 2002) I introduce this emerging psychogenomic approach with a variety of new techniques to explore the possibility of facilitating gene expression and neurogenesis in creatively oriented psychotherapy.

4. How can Ericksonian Hypnotherapy help people with practical problems like improving school and work performance?

Rossi: Above all Ericksonian hypnotherapy helps people learn how to better recognize their own natural inner resources for problem solving and healing. Each of us is different and we have to learn what is unique about how we each function at our best. This knowledge needs to be understood by everyone. It is not to be restricted to any special professional group. As we learn more about the creative process and how to optimize our own healing I believe this knowledge will eventually be taught in the schools along with reading and writing and arithmetic.

5. In your book The 20 Minute Break: Using the New Science of Ultradian Rhythms you write about a Basic Rest Activity Cycle that takes place within us thoughout the day every 90 minutes or so. How is this related to optimum performance and healing?

Rossi: Ah, at last, I thought you would never ask! Everyone knows that being your best in work, play and general health requires that you are well rested. What’s really new and exciting is to learn that Nature has built a natural rhythm of activity and rest in all of us that runs for about an hour and a half or so throughout the day- we call it an ULTRADIAN RHYTHM because it takes place many times a day. Every hour and a half or so you need to take a rest break - if you don't you may be well on your way to the Ultradian Stress Syndrome: you get tired and lose your mental focus, you tend to make mistakes and have accidents - If you continue to ignore your need to take a break you can actually get sick.

When you learn how to recognize your need to take a 20 minute break you can convert your stress into what I call THE ULTRADIAN HEALING RESPONSE - Its that wonderful feeling of comfort and well being that you have when you are well rested and in top form!

6. What happens if we do not pay attention to these natural rhythms? How do you use this knowledge in hypnosis?

Rossi: When you do not pay attention to your natural rhythms of activity and rest you are in danger of falling into stress. This is an entirely new way of understanding what stress actually is! STRESS IS NATURE’S SIGNAL THAT WE NEED TO TAKE A BREAK - IF WE DON'T WE FALL INTO THE MANY SYMPTOMS OF THE ULTRADIAN STRESS SYNDROME - making mistakes, having accidents, feeling fatigued, irritable, depressed and uncertain of yourself- maybe even psychosomatic symptoms!

Taking a 20 minute healing break allows your mind and body to recover - it more than just a luxury to feel good! Your mind and body needs a chance to build up its supplies of available energy -to clear up the backlog of unfinished business and gear up for another hour and a half of good work, play and health. The Ultradian Healing Response allows you to optimize your health as well as your performance and creativity.

I believe that hypnosis as well as most other holistic approaches to healing are actually utilizing the ultradian healing response without knowing it. When the hypnotherapist tells you to relax, get comfortable an focus inward to go into a healing trance, he is actually entraining your natural ultradian healing response. That is one of the most interesting characteristic of these natural mindbody rhythms of performance and healing - they are very responsive to so-called “psychosocial cues.” Ultradian rhythms are the secret connection between the so-called magic of words and how our body uses the information in words to heal at all levels down to the cellular-genetic level. Ultradian rhythms are highly flexible and change easily in response to environmental demands. Ultradian rhythms are especially sensitive and responsive to psychosocial cues. If there is a life emergency, for example, you are immediately aroused emotionally. This emotional arousal immediately shifts your ultradian rhythms to a peak of heightened activity. If someone shouts "emergency" this simple word becomes a psychosocial cue that can shift your ultradian rhythms.  The basics of ultradian science are presented in a volume I edited with David Lloyd, a biologist at the University of Wales in Cardiff: "Ultradian Rhythms in Life Processes: An Inquiry into Fundamental Principles of Chronobiology and Psychobiology" (Springer-Verlag, 1992).

7. What will you be presenting at the “Visionen Menschlicher Zukuft” in Germany this year?

Rossi: I will be presenting the most recent research data on what I call the process of mind-gene communication and healing. I will be discussing and illustrating with practical demonstrations how therapists can facilitate such healing with new approaches to hypnotherapy. I hope to also present this new view of how we can all learn to use our natural ultradian healing response every hour and a half through out the day as a very easy form of self-hypnosis. Erickson believed that everyone experienced what he called “The Common Everyday Trance.” I believe I am helping people experience the reality of it in their daily lives at a more profound level than they previously believed possible.  The basic need at this point is to do research to establish the reality of gene expression and neurogenesis in humans with therapeutic hypnosis and psychotherapy.  Up to now most of this research has been done with experimental analogues of psychotherapy in memory research with experimental animals.  The Nobel Prize winner for physiology in 2000, Eric Kandel (1998), has published a most insightful paper on the possibilities of facilitating gene expression and neurogenesis with humans in psychotherapy.  See also Gabbard (2000) for a neurobiologically informed perspective on psychotherapy.

8. What is the message for German colleagues and interested laymen?

Rossi: Above all Germans have much to be proud of in their long tradition of doing pioneering research in hypnosis. One of my earliest teachers was Andre Weitzenhoffer from Germany who helped develop the modern hypnotic susceptibility scales that are used for research and clinical work thoughout the world. Today I would mention the outstanding research that is being done with hypnosis and the immune system by Walter Bongartz, Ph.D. on faculty at the University of Konstanz. I am currently helping Wolf Buntig, MD, the medical director at ZIST ( Zentrum fur Individual und Sozialtherapie near Penzberg) develop his training program for professional psychotherapists and laymen interested in exploring their own personal experiences of healing and self transformation. Most fascinating is that we are now engaged in a program of research to document what I call the process of mindgene communication in my book Die Psychobiologie der Seele-Korper-Heilung. I hope to see all Germans continue to take a leading role in these new areas of deepening our understanding of life and healing.  I would be happy to consult with any research group interested in developing a research program exploring the possibility of facilitating gene expression and neurogenesis in therapeutic hypnosis as well as any form of psychotherapy.  Contact me at  I really believe this is the wave of the future in psychotherapy as well as the path to a new and deeper understanding of all the humanistic arts.

Gabbard, G.  (2000).  A neurobiologically informed perspective on psychotherapy.  The British Journal of Psychiatry, 177, 117-122.

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