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Key Ericksonian Language Patterns

Key Ericksonian Language Patterns

Those who have worked or studied with Erickson often conceptualise his work in terms of the language he employed. This section focuses on two language patterns extensively used by Erickson: embedded commands and ambiguity. For further information, readers are guided towards NLPs Milton model (e.g. Bandler & Grinder, 1975; Grinder, DeLozier & Bandler, 1977; Grinder & Bandler, 1981), arguably the most intricate and convincing framework of Ericksonian language patterns. A skilled Ericksonian Hypno-Psychotherapist will utilise some or all of these patterns in their work with clients.



  • It’s well within your capability to go into a trance.
  • I can be sure you’re close to a deeper awareness now.


  • Don’t go into a trance too soon.
  • I wouldn’t want you to stop smoking before you’re ready.


  • In my childhood, my friends used to tell me, You need to take things less seriously.
  • A man came up to me in the street and said, XXX . . .- it was the strangest thing.


a)Yes/No Qs Response:

  • Could you give me some background information?
  • Are you ready to talk?

b)Modal Operators of Possibility (e.g. can, may):

  • You can relax.
  • It’s possible a pleasant memory will surface.

c)Negative Modal Operators of Necessity (e.g. don’t need/have to):

  • There’s no need to listen to every single word.
  • It’s not necessary to talk.



Words which sound the same but have different meanings

a) Reorientation: Head back on / [Learnings] get set / Hi[gh]

b) Trance: Transform/translator / Days (i.e. daze) / World (i.e. whirled)

c) Miscellaneous: Find me OK? / The rest of your life / Patient / Innocence / Spring /Secure / Also


Words ambiguous with respect to syntactic category (i.e. verb, adjective, noun, etc.)

a) Verb/Noun: Attempt / Move / Remark / Measure / Review / Encounter / Respect

b) Noun/Nominalisation: The sight/touch of the man/woman / Listen to your heart

(Frequently involves literal/metaphorical and/or subject/object ambiguity)

c) Verb/Adjective: 

i)Verb + ing format: Understanding women /Hypnotising hypnotists can be tricky

ii)Miscellaneous: Highly strung / still / separate / mature . .


Where it’s unclear what part(s) of the sentence a word/phrase encompasses

  • Draw a picture of yourself in the nude
  • Sportsmen and women
  • Provide a therapeutic climate of acceptance and expectancy of success


Running two sentences together or continuing to tag further statements on to the end of the sentence so that the listener is unsure where it ends – variation on the confusion technique

  • I’m speaking clearly so you can hear you are relaxing so very well
  • Don’t pay more than you have to fill in the form
  • Enjoy all the feelings you can have . . . the luxury . . . of having . . . all the time . . . in the world
  • These are times to take to . . . adjusting your mind . . . and body . . . to being . . . deeply rooted . . . in comfort

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