Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D.

When I first began studying psychology and psychotherapy at The University of Michigan many years ago, I remember questioning what I was learning. The field focused on pathology and finding ways to define and explain it. It didn’t make sense to me as each theory seemed to explain things according to their orientation, not the client’s!

In fact, there’s an entire book used to diagnose mental health conditions called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). It has gotten larger and larger over the years only highlighting exactly what I rebelled against in my early years of training and continue to ascribe to today-

A headshot of Michael Yapko in white shirt

I was hopeful I could do things differently and well, frankly, better. 

My focus was always on the individual client, not some theory or label.

My emphasis was and always has been on what was right about my clients, not what was wrong.

I believed people did not have underlying, ulterior motives for their symptoms but rather, were lacking the skills to know how to go about improving their circumstances and perspectives.

I did not believe in the archeological digging for explanations in people’s pasts. Those were only explanations and could be explained in many ways according to any theory one might subscribe to, that didn’t make it true.

I knew there had to be a better way of understanding mental health and doing therapy. Then, early in my career I learned hypnosis and it was a game changer. It opened up ideas and possibilities that I knew were achievable with my clients as well as outcomes I didn’t expect or even know were possible. 

My ideas continued to develop and the the emphasis became one of  explaining HOW my clients did what they did, not WHY.  This lead to a broader understanding of patterns of behaviors rather than addressing individual symptoms which became a central theme in my work. Interestingly, it was this perspective about the steps involved in how one goes about achieving goals that led to the interesting work I did with elephants (see below).

Teaching clients the skills they need and the steps to achieving their goals turns out to be exactly what most clients want. They “come to therapy to change their future, not their past” (a common quote of the late Dr. Milton H. Erickson) and I have vowed to help them to do that. 

Below is a brief biographical description and for those who want the details, feel free to click on the cv link below.


Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist residing with his wife, Diane, in Southern California.

He is internationally recognized for his work in developing strategic, outcome-focused psychotherapies, the advanced clinical applications of hypnosis, and active, short-term non-pharmacological treatments of depression. He routinely teaches to professional audiences all over the world. To date, he has been invited to present his ideas and methods to colleagues in more than 30 countries across six continents, and all over the United States.

Dr. Yapko is the author of 16 books and editor of three others, as well as the author of dozens of book chapters and journal articles. His most recent works, Process-Oriented Hypnosis and The Discriminating Therapist,  highlight some of his most significant and unique contributions to the fields of psychotherapy and clinical hypnosis.  These include focusing on patterns in people’s problems (process) rather than the specific problems themselves (content), and learning to recognize ‘how’ people maintain their issues, rather than speculate ‘why’.   A classic in the field of hypnosis is Dr. Yapko’s textbook, Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis (now in its 5th edition) .  His award-winning books include: Mindfulness and Hypnosis and Treating Depression with Hypnosis:Integrating Cognitive-Behavioral and Strategic Intervention. His most popular self-help books on depression include: Breaking the Patterns of Depression (now also available in an audiobook format), Depression is Contagious and Keys to Unlocking Depression. Dr. Yapko’s works have been translated into 10 ten languages.

Dr. Yapko is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, a member of the International Society of Hypnosis, and a Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He is a recipient of lifetime achievement awards from the American Psychological Association, The International Society of Hypnosis, and The Milton H. Erickson Foundation for his many contributions to the fields of psychotherapy and clinical hypnosis.

Dr. Yapko has been a passionate advocate for redefining how we think about and treat people’s problems, especially the most common ones of anxiety and depression. He has especially been a vocal critic of medicalizing depression given that there is substantial evidence that depression is about much more than biology alone. He further questions the all-too-common treatment approach of simply medicating people with drugs whose safety and efficacy are highly questionable.  Dr. Yapko’s focus is on wellness not pathology and he emphasizes that this is not simply a semantic issue. By focusing on wellness,  treatments  emphasize helping people access their resources and personal strengths as well as helps them develop  skills they may be missing in order to achieve the quality of life they seek.

Therapy isn’t just about feeling better – it’s about being better. Dr. Yapko’s major point is both simple and compelling: Tough things happen in life and people who have the skills to manage their lives, including their moods and behavior, do better than those who don’t. Beyond effective treatment, he also highlights the role of skill building in developing strategies of prevention.

Michael teaching in jacket and tie at Erickson congress

Award winning psychologist

Michael is a recipient of lifetime achievement awards from The American Psychological Association, The International Society of Hypnosis, and The Milton H. Erickson Foundation for his many contributions to the fields of psychotherapy and clinical hypnosis.

Award winning books from Michael Yapko

Award winning AUTHOR

Michael has written extensively and has had his books translated into 10 language.  He’s been awarded the Arthur Shapiro Award from the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis for “best book of the year on hypnosis” for five of his books pictured above:

Process-Oriented Hypnosis: Focusing on the Forest, Not the Trees (2021),

Taking Hypnosis to the Next Level  (2018),

Mindfulness and Hypnosis:The Power of Suggestion to Transform Experience (2011),

Hypnosis and Treating Depression: Applications in Clinical Practice (2006) and

Treating Depression with Hypnosis: Integrating Cognitive-Behavioral and Strategic Approaches (2001).

He’s also received “The Milton H. Ericksonian Award for Scientific Excellence in Writing” from the Editorial Board of the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis for his article, “Suggestibility and Repressed Memories of Abuse: A Survey of Psychotherapists’ Beliefs” (1994).

Michael speaking with microphone in hand

International trainer

Having taught in more than 30 countries, Michael has positively impacted thousands of clinicians around the world. His perspectives encourage respect and identification of individual strengths. He focuses on depathologizing people by focusing on “how” to help them develop the skills they needs to reach their goals.

Michael speaking with microphone in hand

Board Member & Content Creator

Michael is on the scientific advisory board of MindsetHealth.com with the mission “To empower a billion people to improve their health by unlocking the power of the mind.”

He is the creator of the mental health digital program launching in late August 2024.  It is designed as a self-management tool to help people manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to develop the skills for feeling and being better.

Michael and Elephants

Michael’s abilities to observe and develop a learnable sequence of steps for achieving goals brought him to a project with elephants that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams. Skills and perspectives that were critical to his clinical practice became the reason he was asked to consult with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (previously known as the Zoological Society of San Diego.)

More About Michael & The Elephants