Six Core Competencies of Ericksonian Therapy

What are Core Competencies?

     The Core Competencies of Ericksonian Therapy is a project spearheaded by Dr. Dan Short. This project consists of a series of foundational principles for practitioners and institutes seeking mastery in Ericksonian therapy. These principles have been divided into relational foundations and a set of core competencies. The goal is to provide researchers and practitioners with a thorough knowledge and subsequently skill sets that are most closely associated with outstanding clinical performance as an Ericksonian therapist.

     The knowledge and skills relating to a particular discipline constitute the core competencies of that approach. As defined by Marrelli, Hoge, and Tondora (2004), a core competency is a measurable human capacity that is required for effective performance. Core competencies include the knowledge, skills, and abilities required before the practitioner can say that he or she is using a particular model of practice. As with other evidence-based therapies, Ericksonian therapy is a conceptually distinct approach to therapy with specific core competencies that can be taught and measured in practice. It is evidence of these core competencies that makes outcome-based education (OBE) possible.

What makes Ericksonian therapy unique?

     The Ericksonian approach to therapy represents an international community of individuals inspired by the pioneering work of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. People who identify themselves as being an Ericksonian practitioner typically have participated in a systematic program of training organized by either the Milton H. Erickson Foundation or by one of the accredited Erickson institutes located in different countries around the world.

     In contrast to many traditional schools of therapy, Ericksonian therapy is not a systematic set of procedures or treatment protocols, but rather a constellation of principles that guides the therapeutic process. The core of Ericksonian psychotherapy is the permissiveness between practitioner and the client, which makes it difficult to define. While the roles of practitioner and client remain distinct, neither are constricted by orthodoxy or protocol; rather each are free to explore any ethical direction or possibility, elicited through the process of therapeutic discovery.

    In this regard, Ericksonian therapy is a perspective of learning, healing, and growth that fosters flexibility in an ongoing adaptive way. Thus, practitioners are encouraged to exercise great flexibility and creativity as they work collaboratively with the client. The standard by which progress is measured is subjective, and it is established by the client, relative to his or her personal goals (i.e., phenomenological).

Ericksonian Therapy Defined

     Ericksonian therapy is broadly classified as any goal-oriented, problem-solving endeavor grounded in methodology inspired by the teachings and casework of Milton H. Erickson, MD. More specifically, Ericksonian therapy is defined as an experiential, phenomenologically based approach to problem solving that utilizes existing client attributes, while evoking natural processes of learning and adaptation. Meaningful therapeutic change can occur across multiple systems (e.g., cognitive, behavioral, affective, subconscious, autonomic, and social) as symbolic or directly lived experiences are used to destabilize maladaptive patterns and bring forth inherent resources that can be utilized for immediate and future problem solving endeavors. Hypnosis and/or hypnotically derived methods are central. Utilizing inherent resources that may be obscure to the client is essential, while an explicit theory of personality and the interpretation of patterns in one’s history are not.

The Core Competencies Video Series

Dan Short, PhD and Scott Miller, PhD discuss the Core Competencies of Ericksonian Therapy project.

Core Competency I - Tailoring

A readiness to



     One of the basic tenets of Ericksonian therapy is that every client is a unique individual who requires a tailored therapeutic treatment. Erickson was unimpressed with the results produced by treatment standardization and replication. He viewed the individualization of treatment as a therapeutic imperative and objected to protocols of how therapy should proceed. Erickson emphasized the importance of observation and flexibility as he used immediate knowledge of the client to guide intervention, rather than theoretical knowledge derived from a diagnosis.

Core Competency II - Utilization

A readiness to

utilize client attributes,

interpersonal dynamics, and situational factors.

     The concept of utilization is considered by many to be one of Erickson’s greatest contributions to psychotherapy. Simply put, utilization is a psychotherapeutic strategy that engages circumstances, habits, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, symptoms, or resistances in service of the overarching goals of therapy. Thus, the Ericksonian practitioner learns to become “response ready,” a special state of heightened observation and inclination toward validation that helps the therapist reduce conflict while working toward meaningful outcomes.

Core Competency III - Strategic

A readiness to create a

self-organized problem solving


     In addition to emphasizing the importance of accepting the uniqueness of every individual, Ericksonian therapy also recognizes the innate design of human beings as self-organizing creatures or “life builders.” Erickson believed that we are purposeful organisms oriented toward survival and growth with an innate need for mastery of internal and external life experiences. This results in a striving to overcome obstacles and challenges, while drawing from organic knowledge and a lifetime of learning. Therefore, in Ericksonian therapy it is assumed that all individuals have an elemental need to seek out challenges of their choosing, to strive toward personally meaningful goals, to build a adaptive future, and to exercise personal will in regard to one’s identity, relationships, and world view. This is collectively referred to as “self-agency.”

Core Competency IV - Destabilization

A readiness to

disrupt stable psychological patterns

to encourage flexibility and learning.

     In Ericksonian therapy numerous systems are targeted for change. These include cognitive systems, behavioral systems, social systems, and even biological systems. As stated earlier, people are believed to be self-organizing, if there is sufficient flexibility., which means that growth and adaptation are innate processesAny system that is too rigid (whether it be cognitive, behavioral, or social) is characterized by patterns that perseverate and repeat over time and are insensitive to shifts in contextual demands, all of which inhibit adaptation. In such instances, Erickson believed that learning new patterns of thought and behavior required a temporary period of destabilization during which conditioned responses are denied full expression.

Core Competency V - Experiential

A readiness to prioritize open-ended

experiential learning.

    Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience. It is specifically defined as learning through reflection on doing. For experiential therapies in general, the therapist is viewed as a facilitator of certain kinds of exploration of experience. The therapist should not be seen as an expert on the content of the client’s experience. Rather, clients are viewed as experts on their own experience and therapy is meant to be a discovery-oriented process.

Core Competency VI - Naturalistic

A readiness to create the expectation that

change will occur naturally

and automatically

     Erickson taught that each human being is part of nature, and therefore endowed with certain universal powers of nature. For those who view growth, learning, and freedom as inherent in all living things, then it logically follows that during therapy people should be given the freedom to respond in a way that corresponds with natural growth, learning, and healing.

Where Can I See Erickson In Action?

     In these videos from the Milton H. Erickson Foundation’s archives you will see Erickson in action, demonstrating his innovative therapeutic techniques. He was greatly limited physically, but a powerful and pragmatic force mentally, able to promote dramatic and lasting change in his clients.

How can I learn more?

     The purpose of this project is to help clarify the communication, research, practice, and global standards of training for Ericksonian therapy. Although for some individuals the term “manual” brings to mind negative images of rigid protocols and cookie cutter approaches to treatment, the general intent for this manual is merely to ensure that any person who claims to practice, research, or teach Ericksonian therapy can have their claim measured against a universally agreed upon set of standards.

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