Milton model

The Milton Model is a model for indirect interpersonal communications inspired by psychiatrist and pioneer of medical hypnosis, Milton H. Erickson. The model was created by linguist John Grinder and Richard Bandler, the co-founders of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). It is described by the authors as the reverse set of the meta model. Whereas the meta model sought to specify distortion, deletions and generalization in a speaker's language, the Milton model intentionally utilizes those patterns. It is general, ambiguous and metaphoric. The Milton model and meta model of NLP were the first two models of NLP.

Bandler and Grinder met with Erickson on a regular basis, and modeled his approach and his work over many months. In 1975-1976 they published a first volume set of patterns, Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson Volume I (1975), followed in 1977 by Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson Volume II, which together form the basis of the model, a means to use deliberately imprecise language to enable a person to work at an unconscious or somatic level rather than a cognitive level, to resolve clinical issues more effectively.[1]

The Milton Model lists the key parts of speech and key patterns that are useful in directing another person's line of thinking by being "artfully vague", and in principle the model states that larger chunks (more general use of language) can lead to more rapport, while smaller chunks, (more specific language) is more limiting and has a greater chance of excluding concepts from a person's experience.

The patterns of the Milton Model can be used to

  • pace another person's reality to gain rapport.
  • access unconscious resources of another person to gather information or to lead them into an altered state.
  • distract the conscious mind.


Indirect methods

Erickson maintained that it was not possible to consciously instruct the subconscious mind, and that authoritarian suggestions were likely to be met with resistance. The subconscious mind responds to openings, opportunities, metaphors and contradictions. Effective hypnotic suggestion, then, should be 'artfully vague', leaving space for the subject to fill in the gaps with their own unconscious understandings - even if they do not consciously grasp what is happening. The skilled hypnotherapist constructs these gaps of meaning in a way most suited to the individual subject - in a way which is most likely to produce the desired change.

The Milton model is purposely vague and metaphoric and is used to soften the meta model and make indirect suggestions.[2] A direct suggestion merely states the goal. For example, "When you are in front of the audience you will not feel nervous". Whereas an indirect suggestion is less authoritative and leaves an opportunity for interpretation. For example, "When you are in front of the audience, you might find yourself feeling ever more confident". The preceding example follows the indirect method as both the specific time and level of self-confidence is left unspecified. It might be made even more indirect by saying, "When you come to a decision to speak in public, you may find it appealing how your feelings have changed." The choice of speaking in front of the audience, the exact time, and the likely responses to the whole process are framed, but imprecise language gives the client the opportunity to fill in the finer details.[3]

Rapport and entering the client's world

There are a number of techniques that are supposed to be beneficial in building rapport which the authors of the Milton model reported from their observations of Milton Erickson: matching of non-verbal behaviour (ie, posture, gesture, breathing, ...). In Uncommon Therapy, Jay Haley, stated that Erickson developed the ability to enter the world view of his patients and, from that vantage point (having established rapport), he was able to make extremely effective interventions (to help his patients overcome life problems). Bandler and Grinder stated that rapport (verbal and non-verbal) was essential for gaining interest and attention and necessary for effective communication.

Pacing and leading

Bandler and Grinder described pacing and leading the client in their book titled Structure of Magic. While pacing, the practitioner just feeds back the client's current experience. Stephen Gilligan describes Bandler and Grinder's approach as process oriented in which the practitioner paces the ongoing experience of the client in order to build rapport and reducing resistance to the leading statements. Gilligan offers an example similar to the following (p. 4 2003)[4]:

  1. You are sitting in that chair (pacing)
  2. You are looking over here (pacing)
  3. You are breathing in an even rhythm (pacing)
  4. Hearing the sound of my voice (pacing)
  5. And as you move slightly in your chair (pacing)
  6. You may also begin to find comfort entering into a state of relaxation (leading)

The meta model

The meta model was the first model presented by Bandler and Grinder in 1975 based on Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir together with some language categories from transformation syntax.[5] It consists of categories of questions or heuristics which seek to challenge linguistic distortion, clarify generalization and recover deleted information which occurs in a speaker's language. Typically, questions may be in the form of "What X, specifically?", "How specifically?", "According to whom?" and "How do you know that?". Whereas the meta model is very specific, the Milton model was described by the authors as intentionally vague. Many of the Milton model patterns are intentionally distorted, generalized and deleted.

The Milton model: inverse of the meta-model

Unspecified nouns, pronouns and verbs

Process verbs: to understand, generate, think, consider, process, comprehend, ... Pronouns: We, our, "this gentlemen", "some people", ...

Example 1: "People can generate resources using the Milton Model."

In this sentence there are a number of aspects which are not specified according to the meta model of NLP:

  1. Which people, specifically? (unspecified pronoun)
  2. How specifically can these people generate resources? (clarify unspecified verb)
  3. What specific resources do these people generate? (clarify unspecified noun)

In order for the respondent to comprehend the sentence, he or she would have to make their own meaning for these unspecified nouns ("people", "resources") and verbs ("generate").

Referential index shift

A shift in referential index occurs when the subject of the sentence shifts from one perspective to another. In the following example, first person (I) shifts to second person ("you").

  • Example: "From my perspective, I think this model has been in improving my communications, your colleagues will notice that you have become more effective in your communications.

Null comparatives

Use of comparison words (more, better, best, greatest) where one or both of the objects compared is unspecified:

  • "The more you practice the use of this model, the better you will become at communication."

Universal quantifiers

  • Use of quantifiers such as: all, every, everyone, ...
  • Example: "You can always improve your language skills with every conversation you have."

Linguistic presuppositions

  • "Before you go into trance, I'd like you to sit comfortably in that chair as we talk about your outcomes for today."
  • When you go into trance, you may discover new resources that you did not realize you had yet.

In the above examples the temporal predicates "before" and "when" presuppose that the person "will go into trance" is unstated yet assumed nevertheless.

Indirect suggestion

Conversational postulates

These are yes/no questions but are rarely answered with a yes or no. In order to understand the sense it is necessary to process the meaning of it.

  • Example: Can you just take a moment to take a deep breath and relax?

Embedded questions

Rather than directly asking: "What are you thinking about?", one might state:

  • "I'm curious to know what you are thinking.", or
  • "I'm just wondering what you are thinking."

In the above example the question what are you thinking about? is embedded in the statement sentence structure.

Embedded commands

An embedded command is typically distinguished or marked out using a subtle shift in voice tonality or non-verbal cue.

  • "You may begin to feel a sense of comfort as you begin to develop these skills in your daily life."

In the above example two commands: (1) feel a sense of comfort and (2) develop these skills are embedded in the sentence structure. The command would be marked out by the speaker, for example, verbally with a subtle shift in voice tone (e.g. deeper voice tone) or voice quality (e.g. "a gravelly voice"), the voice may be directed spatially or with non-verbal cues or anchors (gesture, body position, held tilt).

Negative commands

A classic example is Fyodor Dostoevsky's quote from Winter notes on summer impressions: “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” In this case "think of a polar bear" is an embedded command.

Similar ideas to Negative commands appear throughout popular culture and sayings, often with variations on animal and colour, such as "It's as hard as trying not to think of a pink rhinoceros". George Lakoff tells his cognitive science students, "Don't think of an elephant", resulting in his students thinking of exactly this.[6] In this case "think of an elephant" is an embedded command which is syntactically processed before the negation, "Don't". For example,

  1. Don't go into a deep state of relaxation just yet. Just sit down on that chair and get comfortable first.

In the above example, the indirect suggestion in italics is negated. Bandler and Grinder (1976), like Erickson, believed that unconscious mind would process this command nonetheless.

Tag questions

  1. You're coming, aren't you?
  2. Do listen, will you?
  3. Let's have a beer, shall we?
  4. You're developing a deep state of relaxation, aren't you?


Milton Erickson's use of metaphor was explored extensively in Sydney Rosen's My Voice Will Go With You, but an example is given in the first chapter of David Gordon's book Phoenix:

I was returning from high school one day and a runaway horse with a bridle on sped past a group of us into a farmer's yard looking for a drink of water. The horse was perspiring heavily. And the farmer didn't recognize it so we cornered it. I hopped on the horse's back. Since it had a bridle on, I took hold of the tick rein and said, "Giddy-up." Headed for the highway, I knew the horse would turn in the right direction. I didn't know what the right direction was. And the horse trotted and galloped along. Now and then he would forget he was on the highway and start into a field. So I would pull on him a bit and call his attention to the fact the highway was where he was supposed to be. And finally, about four miles from where I had boarded him, he turned into a farm yard and the farmer said, "So that's how that critter came back. Where did you find him?" I said, "About four miles from here." "How did you know you should come here?" I said, "I didn't know. The horse knew. All I did was keep his attention on the road."


It is believed that embedding a suggestion inside of a story or quote distances the speaker from the command in order to reduce resistance. For example:

  • "Milton turned to the client and said, Go into a deep state of relaxation"



Some examples of homophones (phonological ambiguity; same sound with different meaning) from English are
  • you're, your
  • pin and pen in many southern American accents.
  • merry, marry, and Mary in many western American accents.
  • The pairs do, due and forward, foreword are homophonous in most American accents but not in most British accents.
  • The pairs talk, torque, and court, caught are distinguished in rhotic accents such as Scottish English and most dialects of American English, but are homophones in many non-rhotic accents such as British Received Pronunciation.
Examples of "oronyms" (which may only be true homophones in certain dialects of English) include
  • "ice cream" vs. "I scream"
  • "euthanasia" vs. "youth in Asia"
  • "depend" vs. "deep end"
  • "the sky" vs. "this guy"
  • "delight" vs. "the light"

Semantic ambiguity

  • unlockable: (1) capable for being unlocked; (2) incapable of being locked

Scope ambiguity

  1. "Viewing you again as a new person" - it is ambiguous who, the viewer or the person being viewed, is referred to as a new person.
  2. "The new paper and pens" - Here it is ambiguous what is new, the paper, the pens or both.

Syntactic ambiguity

Syntactic ambiguity is where there is more than one possible meaning. It is unclear to what syntactic slot (adjective, verbs or noun) the words fit into.

  • They are training advisers. (It is unclear whether they refers to advisers undergoing training or people who give advice about training.)
  • I'm going to sleep. ("Going" can be a verb with destination "sleep" or an auxiliary indicating near future. So it can mean "I am (now) falling asleep" or "I am (in the future) intending to sleep".)


  1. Grinder, John., and Richard Bandler (1976). Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Volume I. Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications. ISBN 1555520529.
  2. Grinder, John., Richard Bandler, and Judith Delozier (1977). Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Volume II. Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications. ISBN 1555520537.


  1. ^ John Grinder & Carmen Bostic St. Clair, (2001) Whispering in the Wind. C&J Enterprises.
  2. ^ Bandler, Richard & John Grinder (1976). Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Volume 1. Cupertino, CA :Meta Publications. ISBN 0-916990-01-X.
  3. ^ Rothlyn P Zahourek. (2002) Utilizing Ericksonian hypnosis in psychiatric-mental health nursing practice Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. Philadelphia: Jan-Mar 2002. Vol.38, Iss. 1; pg. 15, 8 pgs
  4. ^ Stephen Gilligan (2003) The Legacy of Milton H. Erickson: Selected Papers of Stephen Gilligan
  5. ^ Bandler, Richard & John Grinder (1975a). [The Structure of Magic I: A Book About Language and Therapy]. Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books.
  6. ^ Sutton, Jill (9 March 2009). "A fascination with fire is elementary". Retrieved 2009-03-26. 

See also

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