by Jeffrey K. Zeig, Ph.D.

[Editor’s Note: We have many distinguished and accomplished professionals who are contributors and authors of articles for GO INSIDE magazine. Dr. Kay Thompson, was a highly visible and honored woman in dentistry and in hypnosis worldwide. She wrote Autohypnosis for Bruxism for us. All of us here at GO INSIDE will remember her fondly as an incredible and wonderful person. Jeffrey Zeig, Ph.D., Director of the Milton H. Erickson Foundation, Inc., has provided this following eulogy. – Stephen Lankton, MSW]

Kay Thompson, DDS, died Tuesday, May 26, 1998 at 10:20 PM of adenocarcenoma of unknown primary origin. The worlds of hypnosis and dentistry have lost an irreplaceable leader, and a great friend.

I knew Kay for 24 years during which time she was my teacher, advisor, colleague and friend. I first met her in 1974 when she taught at a regional workshop I attended that was sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). She intimidated me. She was an imposing figure, so sure of herself and so talented. I already knew Erickson, and knew that Kay was one of his primary students. She and Robert Pearson, M.D. were Erickson’s chosen successors in guiding ASCH.

She was a political powerhouse in that organization, and one of its most important and popular teachers. During the next few years I attended a number of Kay’s presentations at various ASCH meetings. I remember her wisdom and followed her advice. She counseled students to learn fundamentals and attend numerous introductory workshops before promoting themselves to more advanced levels. Little did I know that I would one day share the podium with her at professional meetings.

In the early years of the establishment of the Milton Erickson Foundation, Kay was an invaluable advisor. She had uncanny political instincts. I would present a conundrum to her, and she would respond immediately with an astute analysis and sage advice. I strove to emulate her ability to summarize positions and foresee how parties would react. Kay had an awe-inspiring ability in this regard. Her predictions were unerring, her analyses of people were tempered and discerning.

She took interest in my personal development, concerned herself with my stresses. Seeing me overwhelmed and harried at one conference, she took me aside and told me to smile more. Hypnotized by her manner of suggesting such simple advice, I have been haunted by it through the years. When you see me smiling through the stresses of a conference, you will know that there is a little “Kay Thompson” inside, guiding me.

Once, noticing how I was grinding my teeth, she personalized and sent me a hypnosis tape. I was able to return that favor. When Kay was diagnosed with cancer she asked me to make a hypnosis tape for her.

Kay presented at all of the Erickson Congresses and Seminars from their inception in 1980. Attendees consistently rated her one of the most highly valued speakers. At the Congresses I scheduled myself on panels with Kay. It was a self-serving act. I always learned so much from her. I marveled at her wisdom and her clever turns of phrases. Her rapid-fire word plays were spellbinding. I remember her talking about pain control by saying that pain was like a pane of glass.

The pane allowed the light to pass through it and provided protection from conditions outside. There could be warmth inside the pane. There could be quiet on the inside of the pane, etc. She taught me to use language more facilely, emphasizing both direct and indirect suggestions. She taught me invaluable lessons about speaking to the physiology, not merely the psychology, of patients. I learned from her the importance of motivation statements to augment suggestions. It was this contribution to the field of hypnosis of which she was most proud.

Kay did not publish much, but she did contribute five chapters to proceedings of Erickson Congresses. There is much to be learned by careful study of these papers that combine both experiential and didactic learnings.

In recent years Kay was a friend, even somewhat of an older sister. We talked about our relationships, our stresses, and our activities. She was always so care-full with me, wanting the best for me. She took real pleasure in my personal growth.

Kay Thompson was born in 1930. She would have been 68 on her next birthday. She received both her BS (1951) and DDS (1953) from the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated from dental school as the only woman in her class. Kay was in full-time dental practice in Pittsburgh from 1953 to 1976, and then continued part-time. She donated time to provide dental services at a residential facility for physically and mentally handicapped adults.

Kay was past president of ASCH and Fellow and recipient of the highest awards of both ASCH and the Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. She was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award from the Milton H. Erickson Foundation for her contributions to the field of psychotherapy. She was only the second female ever elected to the Board of Trustees of the American Dental Association, and was honored by that group for her exemplary service. She was the first woman to be elected president of the Pennsylvania Dental Association in its 120 year history.

Kay held a number of academic appointments including serving as a clinical associate professor at the West Virginia School of Dentistry. She traveled nationally and internationally to lecture on hypnosis, language and pain/healing control. She received numerous awards and held prestigious positions of leadership in many hypnosis and dental organizations.

Kay grew up as the only child of the only professional family in a small community. Her father, also a dentist, was an inspiration to her and she emulated his altruism.

Kay first met Erickson in 1953 and followed him as a student and colleague through the years. At her first meeting she described how fascinated and terrified she was by Erickson. Of Erickson, Kay said, “He had more influence on me than anyone but the woman who gave birth to me.” She later became a great friend of the entire Erickson family.

Kay is survived by her husband, Ralph. We send him our heartfelt condolences.

The Board of Directors of the Erickson Foundation is planning a special tribute to Kay. We are setting up a fund that will be used to advance the causes that she held so dear. Those who wish to contribute can earmark their bequest to the “Kay Thompson Fund.”

Kay gave so much to so many. We will miss her wisdom and spirit. I will miss a trusted friend.

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