Dr. Milton Erickson was born in a pioneering and rural farming country in 1902. The schooling he and many of his brothers and sisters received was basic, and thus it is not surprising that nobody noticed that young Milton was experiencing the world in a rather unique manner: he was color blind, tone deaf, and slightly dyslexic. These perceptual abnormalities may have led Erickson to a roadless traveled", but it wasn't until his teenage years that his life would take a truly pivotal turn - a turn that would effect his destiny and the evolution of hypnotherapy as we know it.
In the summer of 1919, at the age of seventeen, he was stricken with his first attack of Polio (his second would come at the age of fifty-one). It was an extremely severe infection. He was not expected to survive, and his parents were told that he would be dead by the following morning. He lapsed into a coma. When he awoke three days later he found himself completely paralyzed, unable to move except for his eyes, and barely able to speak. Since there were no rehabilitation facilities in their community, there was no reason to expect that he'd ever recover.
Milton kept his still active and keen mind occupied as he played mental games with himself. He learned to notice the difference between his family's verbal and non-verbal communications. He noticed that sometimes people would say "no" with their mouth while their body was clearly saying "yes." His parents, who took care of him as best they could, fashioned a crude potty for him and left him strapped into his chair for hours. He was sitting somewhere in the middle of the room, looking longingly at the window, wishing he could be near it so that he could see what was happening outside. As he sat there, seemingly immobile, intensely wishing and imagining being outside playing, the chair began to rock slightly. This excited him greatly and he endeavored to make it happen again. He gave himself direct commands: "Move legs! Rock the chair!" Nothing happened. Finally he gave up, sank back into his daydreams, and once more imagined playing outside. Again the chair began to rock! It was the indirect suggestion, that vivid imaging, that produced a response. Using this discovery, over the following two years, Milton taught himself to walk again (aided in the task by closely watching his baby sister who was only then learning to walk), and closely observed how human beings communicate and how the unconscious mind works. Thus one of the hallmarks of hypnotherapy was born: indirect suggestion.
By Douglas O'Brien