Milton Erickson was born December 5, 1901 in Aurum, Nevada. He was raised in Wisconsin and suffered a series of illnesses as a child. He referred to many of his childhood experiences as autohypnotic “flashes of light.” Autohypnosis is self-hypnosis. One of Erickson’s most vivid autohypnotic moments occurred while he had polio. During his illness, he experienced a hypnotic state and spent many weeks becoming keenly aware of how his physical communication would often contradict his verbal communication. Erickson spent much of his early adulthood in solitude, focusing on learning how to understand his own body language. This interest would prevail throughout his career.
Polio left Erickson partially paralyzed, and he developed post-polio syndrome in the 1950s. This condition further inhibited his mobility and forced him to use a wheelchair. To deal with muscle fatigue and pain, he used self-hypnosis techniques.
Dr. Erickson was plagued with enormous physical handicaps for most of his life. At age 17, he contracted polio and was so severely paralyzed that doctors believed he would die. While recovering in bed, almost entirely lame and unable to speak, he became strongly aware of the significance of nonverbal communication – body language, tone of voice, and the way that these nonverbal expressions often directly contradicted the verbal ones. He also began to have “body memories” of the muscular activity of his own body. By concentrating on these memories, he slowly began to regain control of parts of his body to the point where he was eventually able to talk and use his arms again. His doctor recommended exercising his upper body only so Milton Erickson planned a 1,000 miles canoe trip to build up the strength to attend college. His adventure was challenging, and although he still did not have full use of his legs at the end, he was able to walk with a cane.