When choosing a hypnotherapist, clients should understand that we do not all use the same techniques. This post will compare the two most important bodies of techniques: those developed by Milton Erickson and John Kappas.
Our methods are always the same: attain depth and change
thinking. As depth increases:
- the regulatory activity of the conscious mind decreases,
- the elements of the subconscious mind operate more
independently (they disassociate).
When the right depth is attained, behavior at that depth is changed through suggestions. These suggestions must match the expectations of the conscious mind, which must still interpret them for the subconscious mind that regulates the body and motivations.
Prior to Erickson and Kappas, many hypnotherapists worked at shallow depth and used scripted suggestions. This limited both the pool of clients and the types of behaviors that could be changed. Both Erickson and Kappas used systematic studies to create techniques that made it possible to attain any depth and address almost any behavior.
While they shared the same goals, Erickson and Kappas worked
in entirely different contexts.
Erickson was a practicing psychotherapist in an academic setting. Many of his published papers recount experimental sessions where he attempted to teach the curious how to do “hypnotic work.” This “work” included (among others) catalepsy (muscle rigidity), analgesia (pain suppression), amnesia (lose memories) and age regression (revisit old memories). These skills were also important in therapeutic settings but are rarely emphasized in his reports.
Erickson’s methods are powerful but require great care. Depth
cannot be created willy-nilly but must be done as a spelunker enters a cave,
with markers and lights left in place to ensure that the patient can be brought
out if something ugly is encountered. For this reason, the American Clinical
Hypnosis Society he founded requires that all members be licensed psychologists.
Erickson’s ethics were impeccable. In his favorite paper (“Deep Hypnosis and Its Induction”) he offers the following principles.
A subject needs to be protected at all times as a personality possessed of rights, privileges, and privacies and recognized as being placed in a seemingly vulnerable position in the hypnotic situation. …
This protection should properly be given the subject in both the waking and the trance states. …
There should be a constant minimization of the role of the hypnotist and a constant enlargement of the subject’s role.
These principles came to full expression in his paper “The Burden of Responsibility in Effective Psychotherapy.” In the three cases reported, each cure was achieved as the patient slowly and laboriously explained his condition and described the behavior that would resolve it. Erickson did nothing more than suggest a powerful compulsion to do as the patient himself said.
Erickson was not followed by an intellectual heir. In part this reflected his choice of cases. Personal fondness or intellectual challenge seemed to play a large influence. When writing of patients (rather than volunteers) Erickson focused on complex cases often involving medical or psychological disorders. Many of his patients were referred to him as a “last resort” following ineffective surgical or drug treatment.
For less acute treatments, Erickson’s desire to guard the integrity of the patient’s autonomy led him to use images and metaphors familiar to them – again increasing the flavor of his therapy.
Given the diversity of his cases, it was unlikely that a formal manual of Ericksonian technique would arise. That does not mean that others have not built upon his legacy. Neural-Linguistic Programming (NLP) offers a model of information processing (although Hammond, in Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors, disputes its efficacy). Erickson’s use of implication in suggestions is a hallmark of a certain therapeutic style. Zeig and others focus on hypnotic disassociation as the key to effective therapy.
Kappas learned hypnosis at a young age, using it informally with family and friends. He polished his skills at a school for professional stage hypnotists. Although a terrible performer, Kappas was recognized for his hypnotic technique. He was picked by a pair of TV producers to represent the profession in a never-aired series.
In contrast to Erickson, Kappas was directive in his style.
However, he recognized the need to utilize natural processes in allowing the
mind to seek balance and health. To facilitate this, he devoted years to developing
a theory of mind that – while psychologically sound – was understood by people
from all walks of life.
Four pillars formed the basis of most Kappasinian therapy. The Theory of Mind was extended with Eric Erikson’s Stages of Development. The tendency of the mind to shift emotional pain to physical pain is explained in a basic theory of body syndromes. The Institute recognized the importance of dream process – both as relates to developing new behaviors and releasing obsessions and trauma.
Most importantly Kappas developed a fundamental theory of relationships (the Emotional / Physical dichotomy known here as Protector / Adventurer). While harder to explain than the Theory of Mind, E&P accounts for many of the most serious conflicts we face in our relationships, giving clients hope that they can work their way to a resolution. In this process, Kappas (as Erickson) was protective of the client’s goals and preferences, passing no moral judgment on behaviors that many would consider deviant.
We might expect that Kappas as a therapist was focused on the nuts-and-bolts of everyday living. Indeed, his recorded cases histories are dominated by commonplace issues, including fears and phobias, neurotic behavior (especially obsessive/compulsive personalities), marital disputes, and inexplicable pains, tics, and allergies.
As he aged, Kappas became more sympathetic to Erickson’s ethic,
guiding the development of Cheryl O’Neil’s therapeutic imagery program. In this
technique, the client constructs resources before venturing out into their
subconscious landscape. The therapeutic imagery comes from the client’s own
From these elements, Kappas and his team at the Hypnosis
Motivation Institute constructed an accredited hypnotherapy training program.
Successful students have been applying those methods for fifty years.
What should be appreciated, however, is that Kappas designed
a sandbox that minimized the chance that a therapist could upset the mental
balance of the client. Age regression is almost never used – rather hidden
trauma clears through the dream process. A limited set of therapeutic practices
is employed. Recommended session length is one hour at weekly intervals.
The effect is that the client develops an understanding of their behavior and emerges with a strengthened partnership between the conscious and subconscious minds. It is that outcome that is most important to me as a therapist. Kappasinian hypnotherapy is not limited to helping the client accomplish their goals. It improves their understanding of their mind, empowering them to confront future challenges with their whole being, rather than just the part that they reason with.
And the Winner Is…
Always the Kappasinian client and the Ericksonian patient.
Neither approach is better than the other. Erickson left less in the way of organized therapeutic techniques, and those we have require greater control and discipline attained through formal psychological training. Kappas left a large and well-motivated body of techniques, constrained by models of “typical” behavior that can hinder treatment of deep psychological disorders. Ericksonian therapy has the flavor of surgery, with behaviors added or removed in various states; Kappasinian therapy tends toward overall integration of the hypnotic and waking experience under processes controlled by the client’s subconscious.
As a client seeking support, you are encouraged to understand your therapist’s approach. Appreciate that hypnosis is a tool employed in several practical styles. Don’t be afraid to explore alternatives. Your comfort with the therapeutic method is an element essential to successful change.