Home PageBlogErickson’s Influence on Ministry

By Rev. John Lentz D.Min.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 15 seconds

Dr. Lentz is the Director of the Ericksonian Institute of Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Pastor of Radcliff Presbyterian Church. He is the retired Chief Chaplain of the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women and Adjunct Professor of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

It has been my experience that Dr. Erickson’s work has helped many people in ministry. While the following are personal experiences and observations, I believe they are representative of how people from a faith perspective are drawn to Erickson’s work. I’m grateful to be sharing these experiences with you to highlight Erickson’s impact on my approach to ministry and counseling.

It is no exaggeration to say that Erickson’s work has impacted every aspect of my ministry. His genuineness in treating each person as unique trumpets showed his deep respect and compassion for people. His emphasis on, and ability to transform shame-generating problems into sources of pride and self-esteem are in harmony with a theology of a loving God. Erickson’s work was, and is, the most spiritually positive approach that I have ever encountered. In part, this is due to his profound emphasis on life as reflected in the way he lived, in his actions.

Dr. Erickson’s genuineness and commitment to life was obvious. This induces people to look for solutions rather than feeling self-pity. His own physical limitations gave him even more credibility with patients who felt limited themselves. Erickson invited others to embrace life in ways that he loved and therefore his words rang with truth. The more I know, the more his work influences what I do and how I do it. His utilization principle and emphasis on hypnotic language, as well as the blurring of the lines of formal trance, were innovations that have given me permission to understand ministry in a whole new light.

As a young chaplain, I struggled to find ways of becoming a better minister and therapist. While I first began studying Erickson’s work, I found it changing my understanding of ministry and transforming the way I approached therapy. Dr. Erickson’s work became one lens through which I looked at how prayer, sermons, and pastoral visits could provide healing. For example, before, I could not understand how anyone could want someone else to pray for them. To me, this seemed demeaning. Why couldn’t individuals pray for themselves? Then, because of Erickson’s influence, it dawned on me that prayer is an altered state and that when people wanted me to pray for them, they were asking me to invite them into an altered state of awareness. Suddenly, I was very eager and ready to pray with people. Now it made perfect sense. And it treated the other person in a respectful way. Prayer became an opportunity to invoke an altered state and was useful for brief therapy interventions.

Over time, it also made sense to use prayer as a means of a brief trance state to do therapeutic work. If people got into difficulties through an altered state and could more easily overcome the original block to effective living, then prayer was a natural opportunity to utilize an altered state. For many, it is a place where they feel safe. The most complex therapeutic piece of work I ever did while praying was to incorporate the scramble technique into a prayer so a young woman who was a serious cutter could stop cutting herself. Because of her fundamental beliefs, it was easier to do it that way than it was as a therapist. It worked.

Sermons are another area where Erickson’s work transformed my thinking. I had studied preaching but nothing had helped me understand how preaching could really help people – to heal, to change, to overcome. Armed with an Ericksonian understanding of language, sermons became a means of helping people through evoking an altered state. Using variations of conversational trance within the guidelines of what constitutes a sermon became easy. Crafting them to be intentionally therapeutic was more challenging. With much help from Jeff Zeig and using all of the knowledge I could gather from conferences with Ericksonian presenters, the method became more workable.

Even though I have been refining my work for nearly 20 years, I feel I have only begun to understand how to utilize a sermon to elicit health. The focus of my sermons and my ministry is about finding the positive reasons for behaviors and ways to enhance living.

My most astounding realization came about through reading Erickson and the Bible in close proximity. It was almost startling to me to realize that the Bible is also hypnotic. Both Erickson and the Bible use language devices to imply positive things for the reader. And stories of Erickson’s work and the teaching tales inspired me to understand some of the Biblical stories differently. I started seeing strategic interventions in the work of the psalms and in some Biblical stories. That, too, was eye-opening.

Today, I teach these principles to ministers and pastoral counselors as my own understanding of this hypnotic language continues to grow.


This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 24, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.

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