Stephen Gilligan is a contemporary psychologist and the creator of self-relations psychotherapy

Early Life

Stephen Gilligan was born December 26th, 1954. He received his doctorate in psychology from Stanford University and began to study a newly developing method of therapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), in Santa Cruz under John Grinder and Richard Bandler in the mid-1970s. It was at this time that he was introduced to his mentors, Gregory Bateson and Milton Erickson. It was Erickson’s work that attracted Gilligan, and he eventually devoted his life to enhancing and sharing Ericksonian methods around the world. 

Professional Life

Stephen Gilligan is a practicing psychologist who has had a profound influence on the field of modern hypnotherapy. After graduating from Stanford, Gilligan became a prominent teacher of Ericksonian hypnotherapy. An abuse survivor, Gilligan used his own experiences and Milton Erickson's methods to enhance and expand his method of therapy, self-relations psychotherapy. In addition, Gilligan is an author and has published several books relating to his method and Ericksonian hypnotherapy. 

Contribution to Psychology

Self-relations therapy seeks to solidify the relationship between a client’s mind and body, emphasizing love and community. Gilligan argues that psychological symptoms are a “leaking of life” resulting from past wounds and negative experiences, and that the symptoms serve as an incentive for a person to explore past hurts. In self-relations psychotherapy, the therapist serves as a “sponsor,” who is present to lovingly accept a person's insights and experiences.

In this form of therapy, the therapist serves three key roles. First, the therapist must help a client gain insight into the unique gifts and positive qualities of the client. Second, the therapist helps the client realize the positive gifts the world has to offer. And finally, the therapist helps the client realize how the client's goodness and the goodness of the world have human value.

This type of therapy draws heavily on spiritual practices from around the world. Through self-relations psychotherapy, clients are encouraged to develop fierceness, which is the ability and willingness to make clear decisions and take decisive action. Clients also cultivate tenderness and mischievousness, which is the ability to explore the world, enjoy life, and display curiosity.


  1. Foundations: The Ericksonian Legacy and Self-relations Psychotherapy. (2007). Retrieved from:
  2. Hott, Rachel. (2012). Two Therapeutic Techniques to Become Centered and Whole. The NLP Center of New York. Retrieved from: