The Collected Papers of Stephen Lankton, Volume I: 1985-2002

Assembling Ericksonian Therapy: The Collected Papers of Stephen Lankton, Volume I: 1985-2002

Barrett, Norma

Assembling Ericksonian Therapy: The Collected Papers of Stephen Lankton, Volume I: 1985-2002. Stephen Lankton, MSW. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker, & Theisen, Inc. (2004). 287 pages. Reviewed by: Norma Barrett, Ph.D., Rolling Hills Estates, CA.

During a weeklong residential workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, circa 1976, John Grinder gave to Stephen Lankton and me a task to be completed as part of the NLP training in which Lankton and I were participating.

For me it was a most meaningful experience: the very first double induction of my hypnotic work career. It obviously affected all of us to a significant degree. The subject accomplished her outcome, I incorporated the double induction pattern into my work with my husband Philip as my co-hypnotist, and Stephen Lankton has his first volume of Collected Papers-all because of that phenomenal physician in Phoenix.

Through the years I’ve watched Stephen Lankton progress in his personal and professional life, yet I had no idea how remarkably articulate he is in his writing-until now. I accepted Dr. Phillips’ request to review this book with the presupposition that it would be a “piece of cake,” an easy read and complete in less than a week.


This is a collection of articles about very useful and important subjects, and I find myself rereading whole paragraphs in fascination with the multiple meanings available from each read. Multiple embedded metaphors meticulously manipulating minds-in the best possible sense.

Clearly, Lankton has not merely collected and reprinted these works. He has reworked and updated some of them, and arranged them in a way to help us appreciate even more clearly the impact of Erickson’s legacy. The focal point of this book is-of course-the work of Milton Erickson and his influence on the use of hypnosis as an adjunct to medical and psychological intervention.

Lankton reminds us: “Traditional therapy is based on the assumption of an objective reality that is independent of our efforts to observe it” (p.4).

And yet, the ability to observe is basic to Erickson’s work and to doing good brief therapy. What Lankton presents in these chapters is a model of therapy-in a sense representing what Erickson “resisted”-“attempting to set forth an explicit theory”-because “a rigid adherence to theory often becomes a Procrustean bed that cuts the legs off clients in order to make them fit” (p.5).

And yet Lankton does suggest this as a theory of human development which “assumes people are in a continuous cycle of learning experiences with ever increasing complexity.” (p.6)

Further, he states:

Therapy is based on observable behavior and related to the present and future circumstances of the client. While people have memories, perceptions, and feelings regarding their past, preoccupation with the past to the exclusion of present and future will unnecessarily prolong and complicate the process of therapy. The hallmark of an Ericksonian approach is an emphasis on current interpersonal relationships and their influence on the development and resolution of problems. Individuals may have developed a symptomatic behavior in the distant past, but the Ericksonian view focuses on how the problem is maintained in the present. Efforts are concentrated on increasing new arrangements of learning that can be applied to solving problems in the client’s present life (p.7).

That is elegant!

In his article on “Using Hypnosis in Brief Therapy,” he describes scientific study and clinical application of hypnosis as a “tree with two branches” that continue to grow apart despite many efforts to integrate them.

How right he is.

In “Just Do Good Therapy” (p. 135) he mentions qualities the client desires in a therapist: “…an enchanting therapist who stimulates pleasant mental excitement… who is relevant to my reality… who will not label me… with humanity and humor” (p. 149).

Don’t we all hope to have these qualities and to be seen this way by the people to whom we deliver our service?

The articles on metaphor are a joy to read with helpful suggestions on construction and use of metaphor in therapy. Lankton also adds some sage advice:

Intellectual knowledge is of very little use; knowledge rooted in sensory observation invariably proves to be the most useful kind for therapeutic metaphors. The most simple observation of nature, human or otherwise, often provides the foundation for a teaching story. In order to tell such a story, however, the therapist must have used his or her skills of observation. It is such a simple but important point: If you don’t notice anything, you don’t have anything to say about it (p. 123).

Obviously I enjoyed reading this book (and thus rereading several of the articles). I do wish, however, that despite the fact that Lankton had years ago completely dissociated himself from his prior involvement in the Neuro-Linguistic Programming model, he had given some credit to the work of John Grinder and Richard Bandler in their exploration of Erickson’s model. I understand his reluctance to be associated with NLP because of the bastardization of that model and the unrealistic claims made by some NLP “practitioners,” but much of what I read in these articles is quite directly related to the NLP model. It would have been a most gracious gesture to acknowledge Grinder in more than one place (p. 155) especially for his excellent work on the linguistic patterns he extracted from Erickson’s work.

I shall recommend this book to my students as a fine reference in their own exploration in how to “just do good therapy.” I recommend it to our readers for the same reason.

Reviewed by: Norma Barrett, Ph.D., Rolling Hills Estates, CA.

Copyright American Society of Clinical Hypnosis Jul 2004

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