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Using NLP in Ordinary Life

Will Murray has accepted the challenge of using NLP in casual situations many people wouldn’t attempt. Recently he shared some examples of conversational change with me; I found them interesting demonstrations of how NLP can be used quickly and easily in ordinary life, so I asked him to write up some of them for this blog. We are pleased to share it with you below:

Since NLP is based on the way your mind already works to make useful changes, often it’s easy to make changes conversationally, so that it doesn’t seem to be “work” or “therapy.” This makes it possible to incorporate it into your daily life, seamlessly and easily. I encounter perhaps a dozen opportunities every day to incorporate NLP patterns into casual conversation with immediate results.

Using NLP in a casual situation is a little bit like shining a flashlight around a dark room. You see only where you point the beam. Sometimes the beam illuminates a nice opportunity to help a friend, and then I feel okay to take a next step, and offer a new choice.

 

Shortening the two-year heartache

Bill, a long-time friend, asked me for advice about a complicated relationship situation. He and I had spoken several times about his relationship, which had recently ended surprisingly and abruptly and had this poor fellow sleeping poorly, unfocused at work and unable to eat properly. A therapist friend of his had suggested that he would have to go through a series of stages, which would “take two years” before he could “put this sad feeling behind him.” That didn’t sound necessary or useful to me, so I asked, “Two years—that’s a long time to feel bad. When are you ready to be done with this?” Bill said, emphatically, “Yesterday!” spoken with force and speed and in louder volume than the previous parts of the conversation. This nonverbal “all systems go” behavior convinced me that he really meant it, so I asked Bill if he would be willing to try something that would shorten the two-years of bad feelings. “Of course,” he replied. “And would you like to try it now? It might take five minutes or so.” Again he said, “Yes,” So I used the following process:

  1. Reference example. “Can you think of a relationship that really hurt you in the past, but which you are completely done with at this time, and it no longer causes you any trouble? I don’t need to know what it is; I just need to know that you can identify an experience that fits that description.”

He responded that yes, he could think of something like that, and his nonverbal behavior (calm expression, relaxed posture, etc.) confirmed his verbal statement.

  1. Elicit the qualities of the experience. “When you think of that relationship that no longer bothers you, where do you see the image in your field of view? How far away from you? Movie or still picture? Large or small image? Does the image have a border? Color or black and white? Fast or slow or normal speed? Sharp or grainy? Bright or dim or normal? Is there sound with the picture? Do you have any physical sensations in your body in a place you can point to when you see this picture?”

He represented the relationship that once really hurt him but now no longer bothers him as a color movie, about iPad-screen size, about 10 inches to the left of his left temple, a little faster than normal speed, normal sharpness and contrast, no sound and no physical sensation.

  1. Transform the hurtful image into the qualities of the reference example. “Now get a picture of the relationship that hurts you now, but think of it in the same way as the one that doesn’t bother you any more. Make it as a movie, color, about iPad size, about 10 inches to the left of your left temple, and run the movie a little faster than normal. Go ahead and do this now and tell me when you are done.” . . . In about 15 seconds he said, “Okay, I’m done.”
  1. Test. “When you think about the end of this relationship, when you think about her, how is it?” He responded in a matter-of-act tone, “Well, I guess she needs to do what she needs to do. Too bad it ended this way, but, you know, life goes on.”
  1. Stronger test. “Okay, let’s say you are walking down the street and turn a corner, and there she is, almost bumping into you, and she’s with some other guy.” He said, again in a “so what” tone of voice, “I guess I hope she’s doing well.”
  1. Test for objections. “Ask yourself, as though there were a part of you who could answer, ‘Is there any part of me that objects to feeling this way about the past relationship?’ and notice and report to me what you notice.” Bill paused for a minute, and replied, “No, I don’t think so.” Again, his nonverbal behavior appeared congruent with his verbal answer, so I took it as accurate.

Two weeks later he reported that he is beginning to see someone else, is sleeping through the night and eating well. And he wondered, “Why do you ask?” The five steps above took two or three minutes, and then we just carried on with the rest of our conversation.

I used this same process with someone going through a tough time in his marriage. The couple counselor had advised him that the problem was his anger. After doing this brief process with him, he said, “What do I have to be mad about? I don’t have any reason to be mad.” His wife reported that the couple counselor now thinks they can move on to the next part of their process.

 

What comes next?

Barbara is a college professor friend who had some previous experience with NLP. One July 4th, a bunch of us from the building wanted to watch the fireworks from our roof, but she had a fear of heights and would not consider climbing the vertical ladder, crawling through the hatch in the roof, standing on the roof or descending through the hatch and down the ladder. I asked her if she would like to be done with her fear of heights, and upon receiving an affirmative answer, I spent a few minutes using the Fast Phobia Cure with her. She then scaled the ladder, enjoyed the fireworks from the roof, descended the ladder and went through the rest of her evening as though nothing unusual had happened. Her husband was quite surprised. When I asked her about her fear of heights (stronger test), she said, “Oh, that was never a big deal anyway.”

At a spontaneous Sunday dinner with Barbara, we were talking about our weekends. I was just finishing a training session in Metaphors of Movement with Andrew T. Austin that the Andreases had sponsored, so I mentioned this. Barbara said, “Metaphors—nobody uses metaphors.” I asked, “Would you like to test it out?” Most of NLP is vastly easier to demonstrate than describe, so I often invite interested people to try some NLP pattern that is relevant to them.

To explore the Metaphors of Movement approach, I elicited a metaphor by using a vague, general question: “You know that thing in your life, you know, that has a lot of your attention right now? I don’t need to know what it is, but you know what it is, right? What is it like?” She replied, “Well, it’s like I’m standing at the edge of a forest.” Now that she had the kernel of her metaphor, I quickly took her through the initial steps to draw out the metaphor, by asking her to observe and report what is to her left, right, front, back, below and above. She could describe her surroundings in all those directions. To the left was dense brush; to the right, the same dense brush. To the rear was a concrete path. Above was a clear blue sky. Directly below Barbara’s feet was a gravel path, about a foot wide. In front was a forest about five steps in front, with the thin gravel path disappearing into the trees. Then I asked her to take one step in each of those directions, then return to center, and say how it was for her. Barbara said that “it doesn’t feel good” to step to the left or step to the right toward the brush. When she took a step back, her face looked as if she smelled something bad and her head retracted as she said, “Oh no…no good.” When I invited her to take one step forward from her original position, then step back, Barbara said, “I could see a little better from there. Do I have to step back?” No, of course not,” I replied. “They are your steps.”

There are more steps to the Metaphors of Movement approach, but we were in the middle of dinner, and her nonverbal responses indicated that she was having a nice internal experience, so we returned to normal conversation. The next afternoon I received this unsolicited email:

“Thanks for doing that visualization exercise with me yesterday. Turning 60 has been challenging because I don’t know what I want to do with myself for the next phase of my life. I’ve felt frozen, not knowing which way to go. Last night I slept very soundly and then this morning I felt like I knew how I want to move forward. I don’t need a radical change, just a minor adjustment. So I won’t be quitting my job or moving into a cabin in the woods, but I will step down from being department chair and dive into more teaching, research, building the nonprofit I started, travel, exercise, and building friendships. Sounds like an exciting path into the future.”

This was a nice report, but the “stepping down” part caught my ear. As department head, she has a certain status and position, and I wanted to make sure she was ready for that kind of change. A few days later, I ran into her in the parking garage, and simply said, “Hey, you know about your decision to step down? You have a certain status now; how do you think that will change?” She replied, “Department head isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. It isn’t a big step down.” Then we went on to talk about how atrocious the weather has been for bike riding.

 

Lining up the group facing forward

Working with a planning group or giving mental skills training to groups of athletes is not exactly casual conversation, but I have learned that a strong start to any session is important, so I casually insert a bit of future orientation right at the start. I like to ask the members of the group to imagine being in the future in order to set an agenda. I will ask the group, “Let’s say our session today goes as well as you could possibly want. You are at the end of our day together, and you are able to look back and say, ‘This is just what we needed. I’m glad I was here for this.’ What would we need to get done today for you to be able to say this?” Then the group makes a list of things that would make them glad to be part of this process, setting a direction for the meeting. We record the list and look at it again at the end of the day to make sure we accomplished everything they wanted.

Having participants do this focuses their attention on desired outcomes and sets an optimistic tone right from the beginning. It may seem like a small thing, but I have found it really effective. Although each participant answers that question individually, having the group’s collective sense on a flip chart, and then returning to it at the end, helps the group’s work come together smoothly, because each knows the goals of all the others. A key to this three-minute experience is to have the participants place themselves in the future and experience what has already happened. Participants often refer to the desired outcomes during the session, and more easily stay focused on the agenda.

 

Have a nice race day

In many of these situations, my friends and family know my NLP background and have a situation they would like to address, so I have implicit permission to demonstrate or do an NLP pattern. With a group, I’m on contract to help them achieve the results they want, and they expect me to bring the most effective skills I have to help them. Occasionally, though, doing some NLP with a total stranger seems appropriate.

I was getting ready to race in a triathlon in Boulder Reservoir in 2013. All of us were standing knee-deep in the water just before the start of the race, which consisted of a ½-mile swim, 15-mile bike race then a 3.1-mile run. It was a beautiful morning, just dawning, with the reservoir glassy and a few golden scattered clouds catching the first light. A few hot-air balloons were ascending to the east, right in line with the buoys marking the swim course. It was a great morning for a race (at least I thought it was). Nearby was another triathlete standing next to me knee deep in the water about one minute before the start of the race. He was muttering something and staring down into the water, with his fists clenched. Barely audibly I could hear him saying, “Oh God, oh God, oh God.” I noticed that he kept his gaze down, looking a few feet in front of him.

I guessed that he was having an internal experience of a terrible race to come. Maybe he was catastrophizing about getting bumped into and panicking in the swim (150 of us were all going to start swimming hard together all at once), or crashing his bike or getting a flat tire or getting cramps or throwing up or getting blisters from his running shoes or losing his way on the run course or having an asteroid strike his home—I didn’t really know. But it was clear to me that he wasn’t in a good emotional state to have an enjoyable race.

NLP uses eye position to detect how someone is thinking. Eyes looking down usually indicate that someone is talking to themselves internally, or having a strong emotional feeling, or both. Eyes looking up usually indicate that someone is having a primarily visual experience, making pictures in their mind’s eye, and usually having less emotional feeling. By changing eye position, you can change how someone is experiencing.

So, without permission, and without announcing who I was, or what I did, I simply said, “Hey, look at those balloons going up” and I pointed up at the balloons above the horizon. He looked up, stopped his muttering and unclenched his fists. Then I said, “Great day for a race, isn’t it?” He looked at me, giggled a little, and said, “I guess it is.” Then the starting gun went off, and the race was on.

Will Murray, is an NLP Practitioner living in Boulder, Colorado. He has trained with Connirae and Steve Andreas and has participated in many other training sessions. Will has an 18-year career as a management consultant to non-profit organizations. He is a certified USA Triathlon Level 1 coach and a certified triathlon youth coach, specializing in mental skills on the coaching staff of D3Multisport. Will is co-author of The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Conditioning for Endurance Athletes, which uses NLP patterns to enhance athletes’ results and enjoyment and Uncle: The Definitive Guide for Becoming the World’s Greatest Aunt or Uncle.

In response to my last blog post, Rob Voyle sent me an email with great detail about his experience in using the Spinning Feelings process that may explain why some people have found closed loops, while others have found spirals. His comments stimulated a number of thoughts and responses in me, the kind of collegial exploration that I love, and that happens all too seldom in the field. For readability, I have made this into a dialogue between us, which Rob has checked over and approved.

Rob: I have been “spinning feelings” since you demonstrated it briefly in Winter Park some years back (2009). I ask people, “What direction does it travel, where does it begin and where does it go to.” (What’s its path)? Most people have no trouble with this question.

Steve: Sometimes, as in my example with Joan, it may take some exploration to realize the path is somewhat different from what they originally noticed.

Rob: When I ask, “What color is it?” many people say “I don’t know,” to which I promptly respond, “Close your eyes and take a look. What color is it?” Everyone has been able to report a color. My tone is quite definite, similar to Andy Austin’s when he gets people to close their eyes and tell him what they are standing on in a metaphor of movement elicitation.

Steve: You can also use the “As if” frame, “If it had a color, what would it be?” or simply “Give it a color.”

Rob: Then I ask, “Which way is it spinning — clockwise or anti-clockwise? Sometimes they will demonstrate it spinning with a finger; other times not. Again if they don’t know, I ask them to close their eyes and have a look. I don’t concern myself with whether it is clockwise or anticlockwise from my or their perspective, it is simply their reference point so they can spin it in the opposite direction. It may be ambiguous to us but it does not seem ambiguous to the client.

Steve: Good point. I want to know for myself which way, and occasionally this might be useful to remind a client if they forget.

Rob: Then I tell the client, “Now set all that aside for a moment. When you think of that situation, what would you like to be feeling?” (calm, assured, peaceful, confident, etc.) “Now remember a time when you felt that feeling in the past at some time.”

Steve: This is relying on the client’s conscious mind to choose the desired feeling. Often it will be fine to do this, but I prefer to just find out what happens spontaneously, because their conscious mind may make a poor choice guided by beliefs or “shoulds.”

Rob: Then I ask, “And what color is that?” Then I get them to spin the feeling the other direction, and allow it to turn from the first color to the second color. I don’t add sparkles. That takes care of the physiological component of the anxiety, which sometimes is enough.

Steve: I suggest you try adding sparkles; most people love it. In that Winter Park demonstration you mentioned, I deliberately left out sparkles, because she described the anxiety feeling as being like “fireworks” which often includes sparkles, and I didn’t want to say anything that might describe the problem state. Of course someone could always have a problematic response to sparkles; hopefully they would express this, either verbally or nonverbally, so one could adjust.

Rob: My usual approach though is to follow it with, “What do you have to hear to be anxious?” which I call a negative mantra that evokes the anxiety. I resolve it as I would a critical voice, or using a visual version of Nick Kemp’s tempo shift.

With regard to the spinning, after intervening I have asked people more details about the direction of the spinning. Some report that the feeling was corkscrewing along the path, others that it is a loop, as Bandler suggests. It doesn’t seem to matter how the spinning is occurring. It is enough that they know and they can spin it the other way. I’ve found that trying to determine all that during the session just creates confusion and is irrelevant, I just need to know that the client knows their experience.

Steve: Interesting. Again, I like to know which it is out of my own curiosity — and haven’t found it creates confusion. But I have been assuming that it corkscrews along the path. I’ll try your way and see what I find.

When my client in the video is talking about what she says to herself, over and over again, she rotates her hands in a vertical closed loop in front of her at 3:57. So it may be that clients represent the spinning of the words in a closed loop, but the spinning of the feeling in response to the words spirals along a path that isn’t a closed loop. If this is so, it might resolve the apparent discrepancy between different reports that I pointed out in my previous post.

Rob: My own reflection on why it works is that many people, when anxious, report they are “spinning out of control” or some other description that includes spinning. People who are in a panic will often flap their hands (“in a bit of a flap”) and their hands flap in a slight circle. As an experiment in a couple of cases I have asked someone to “flap anxiously,” watch what direction their hands were flapping, and then ask them to flap them in the other direction. Instantly the anxiety feeling dissipates. So if your world is spinning out of control just spin it the other way.

Steve: Interesting. Again this may be the spinning of the words they are saying to themselves, in contrast to the path of the resulting feeling — something to explore further.

Rob: I have found that spinning the feeling and resolving the negative mantra has been highly effective in treating most anxieties and phobias, especially when the client has no awareness of a precipitating event for such anxiety or phobias.

Steve: I think there is probably seldom a precipitating event in anxiety; that it is a cumulative generalization based on repeatedly hearing parents or other adults saying things like, “Watch out!” in a high pitched, rapid “urgent” voice in contexts of danger. The urgent tonality is something that is learned unconsciously, and tends to remain unconscious unless attended to.

Rob: When the person does report a precipitating event such as an auto accident etc. I will use the movie theater phobia cure to deal with that specific event.

Steve: Sounds good; that is probably actually a separate process, but easy for a client to confuse with anxiety.

Rob: I don’t use any formal hypnosis in any of the steps. I used to add a brief relaxation exercise that had elements of trance when resolving the negative mantra, to create a relaxed state, but found I don’t need to do that.

With regard to spinning a feeling, the best experience was just after I had seen you demonstrate it. I was conducting a coach training and was waiting with a couple of participants for the rest of the group to return from an exercise. I took just a couple of minutes to demonstrate and have them experience spinning an anxious feeling, and then the rest of the group arrived and we went on to other things.

One of the people who had done the brief exercise had to have an MRI several months later and he realized as he was being prepped to go into the tunnel that he was claustrophobic and began to get quite anxious, at which point he remembered what he had done in the exercise and spun his anxiety in the opposite direction; the anxiety disappeared and he was able to comfortably have the MRI.

Steve: Others have reported successfully using the spinning feelings process for something that we would usually classify as a phobia. Again this would be something to explore further, to find out if spinning feelings is a valid alternative method for a phobia, or if some apparent phobias actually have the structure of anxiety.

 

Further Resources:

Which Way do Feelings Spin?

I have just posted a 9-minute demonstration to YouTube of the Spinning Feelings process, excerpted from my online streaming PTSD training.

 https://youtu.be/BXNRdASZTk0

I learned this process from Nick Kemp some six years ago, who credits Richard Bandler for discovering that feelings spin, and that reversing this spin is a powerful intervention for resolving anxiety and other strong feelings. After exploring the internal visual and auditory experience of clients’ experience that generated feelings, Nick modified Bandler’s process in several ways.

In this particular example, Joan became anxious in any situation in which she felt alone and potentially helpless. Joan’s feelings of anxiety began in the right side of her neck, went down the right side of her body, then clenched in her stomach and went on to her groin. This is the path of the feeling. Then I asked her to notice the shape and color of the feeling, and finally, “Which way does the feeling spin as it goes along this path?” She responded with a gesture, which is much less ambiguous than a verbal “clockwise” or “counter-clockwise,” since that depends on which way the clock is facing.

Then the intervention is to “Put yourself in that situation that elicits the feeling, and reverse the direction of spin, change the color to a color you like better, and add sparkles to it, and find out what happens.” Joan’s feelings immediately changed to relaxation and comfort. Then we tested this change in her imagination in several contexts, there was an “in vivo” test the next morning when her car wouldn’t start, and again a few days later when she drove home alone across the desert.

Follow-up a year and a half later confirmed that the change was intact, despite a number of significant life challenges that previously would have made her anxious.

In a video that has been recently posted on YouTube, Bandler works with two women with anxiety in a 50-minute session.

https://youtu.be/XAqCwBj-Emg?t=6m20s

He uses a lot of hypnosis, and a wide variety of interventions; one of which is his version of the Spinning Feelings process that is markedly different from Nick Kemp’s version in two important ways:

  1. Bandler assumes that the feeling has to circle back on itself in a closed loop.
  2. When he speaks of spinning, he means spinning along the path of the loop, in contrast to spinning around a path that is not a loop.

Here is a verbatim transcript of Bandler’s elicitation from Lynn, starting at 6:20:

Bandler: Notice where in your body you begin to feel the fear. . . . Where does it start?
Lynn: It starts in my arms and across my shoulders.
Bandler: It starts in your arms and shoulders, and then where does it go?
Lynn: Um, my head.
Bandler: It goes up to your head; and then?
Lynn: My vision starts to go.
Bandler: Your vision starts to blur?
Lynn: Yeah, and my legs start to go.
Bandler: And your legs start to— And when you say “go,” they don’t actually leave.
Lynn: They start to go like jelly.
Bandler: “Start to go like jelly.” And then does it just disappear, or does it circle back on itself?
Lynn: It just stays there—
Bandler: It can’t just stay there; nerves habituate.
Lynn: —until I actually slow down or stop [driving 30 mph].
Bandler: If you have a feeling in a nerve, if it just stays in one place, then the nerve can’t feel; it has to circle somehow.

Bandler then repeats his assertion that the feeling has to circle four more times (for a total of six times) until finally at 9:02 Lynn gestures in a circle out from her chest, down and in at her stomach. This gesture is quite different from the sequence she provided earlier: neck and shoulders, up to her head and eyes, and finally legs.

I have elicited the path of a feeling of anxiety in many clients, but without assuming that the feeling goes in a circle, and not one of them spontaneously reported that it went in a closed loop. It seems likely to me that Bandler’s finding that the feeling goes in a loop is installation, rather than elicitation. Perhaps a few people have anxious feelings that go in a closed loop, but it is certainly not common if you don’t assume it.

Bandler’s intervention with Lynn is also quite different, starting at 15:02: “I want you to close your eyes, and I want you to see the speedometer coming up, only as it does, I want you to take the very feeling that you have, the one that goes like this (gesturing in a vertical circle in front of him) and as you notice the feeling beginning to spin, I want you just in your imagination for a moment, pull it outside of yourself, flip it upside down, and pull it back in, so that it spins in the opposite direction.”

  1. This is a very different intervention than the modification that I learned from Nick Kemp.
  2. The direction of spin will only reverse if the flip is in the left/right plane; if the flip is in the plane of the loop, it will continue to spin in the same direction. So Bandler’s instruction is ambiguous; depending on the client’s understanding of “flip it upside down” the spin might not reverse—though “spins in the opposite direction” is clear and might overcome the ambiguity.

Despite all the many other interventions that Bandler made in the 50-minute session, including a lot of hypnosis, it is not evident to me that either woman got a useful change. Bandler did ask Joy to say hello to a cameraman, but it is not clear to me that this was an adequate test of her fear of going up to someone and talking to them. “Hello” is only the beginning of talking to someone. Other than that, there was no testing in imagination, and no follow-up information was provided. Even if we assume that these women did get resolution of their fear, there is no way to determine which of the many interventions during the 50-minute session made that possible.

A somewhat similar method, “dynamic spin release” developed independently by Tim and Kris Hallbom in 2008, also presupposes that the feeling moves somehow—sometimes from one place to another, sometimes spinning in one place—and reversing the direction of spin is a key part of their way of working, which varies considerably from one client to the next.

https://youtu.be/nR3IBw7s7Uc

In this particular demonstration their intervention also involves a lot of hypnosis and other processes that are mixed with content: transforming it into a gesture with the hands, taking the feeling out of the body, pushing it away, suggesting that the problem state explode, a healing gift is going to appear, open up the gift, have it fly around the universe with angel wings, (The client showed up that day wearing a Levi jacket with gigantic angel wings embroidered on the back. Kris asked her why she had angel wings sewn on the back of her jacket, and she replied, “Oh, these are my angel wings and they take me wherever I go.” This is a utilization of that information.) collecting healing energy from the universe, reach out with your hands and bring all those healing resources back into your body, etc. The woman’s nonverbal shifts indicate that she got a change, and follow-up reports a profound change in a particularly traumatic history, but again it isn’t possible to know which of the many interventions were responsible for the change.

When I learned the method from Nick, it was also embedded in a lot of hypnosis and other interventions, which is fine in client work — You may as well give it all you’ve got, particularly if you don’t have a specific process that you know will work. However, I wanted to find out how much could be done with reversing the spinning feelings alone, so I stripped it down to its bare essentials, sometimes even leaving out the change of color and the sparkles, to verify that the spinning is the essential change. Changing the color and adding sparkles amplify the intensity of the change, but are not essential. (In another video demonstration I deliberately left out the sparkles, because the client reported that the feeling of anxiety was like “fireworks,” and I didn’t want the intervention to include anything that was similar to the fireworks in the problem state.)

In the streamlined process I use there is only the presupposition that the feeling starts somewhere and goes somewhere else, that it has a shape and color and spin — and the unstated implication that reversing the spin and color will reverse the kind of feeling generated. The result is a very rapid and effective method that is easy to learn and teach to others. And since it stands alone, you can easily confirm that it works even when it isn’t augmented by other interventions.

Since I don’t see clients on a regular basis, I have little opportunity to try out the different ways of spinning feelings described in this post (and demonstrated in the videos). I invite readers to experiment with these different ways of eliciting the movement of a troubling feeling and intervening, and I would be very interested in hearing what you discover.

Related resources from Steve Andreas:

And here’s a follow-up: Different Ways to Spin Feelings: A Discussion with Rob Voyle

What’s the rush?

A current article in the Psychotherapy Networker has several interesting and unique case examples, as well as some good discussion of general practice. The case dealing with suicide, below, is one of my favorites, because it is based on an attitude toward suicide that is very different — and much more effective — than the typical mainstream attitude.

If you only have time for the other case examples, start reading on p. 5 and continue through p. 8.

-Steve Andreas

 


 

What’s the Rush?*

I (Jay) was asked by a hospital to see a young man on an emergency basis. Joseph was contemplating suicide and, until that point, had been in treatment with one of their staff psychiatrists. Unfortunately, when Joseph arrived for his appointment, he was told that his therapist was “unavailable.” But he soon discovered the truth — that the very person who’d been trying to convince him that life was worth living had just made her own suicide attempt and was now in a coma.

When Joseph came to see me, he took the position that if his therapist was trying to end it all, why shouldn’t he do the same? I replied that as far as I was concerned, he had every right to do so. In fact, every one of us does, including his therapist. After all, if we don’t have that right, what rights do we really have? Aren’t we allowed to smoke — which some consider just a slow way of killing oneself? What about overeating, bungee jumping, or jaywalking?

I pointed out that if Joseph thought I was there to talk him out of killing himself, he had another think coming. Perhaps his regular therapist had that goal, but I was operating from a different philosophical position. As we talked about this, I asked him if he’d ever been to Brazil. “No,” he said, looking at me as if I was mildly deranged. I explained that if I was going to kill myself there are things I might want to do first. For example, I might want to try parachute jumping or hang gliding. I might want to travel to South America to see some of the sights. After all, what was the rush? Was there a Tuesday special on suicide that I hadn’t heard about? Was this Tuesday better than the following Thursday? I also cautioned that if he were going to do himself in, he should make sure it’s what he really wants, because do-overs are unlikely.

Of course, because of his history at the psychiatric clinic, I knew that he preferred to discuss suicide rather than do it. It was the topic that had preoccupied him and his therapist for many sessions. However, in my view, their discussion wasn’t going anywhere because he and his therapist were both card-carrying members of the same “You’re not allowed to kill yourself” club. My approach disregarded those club rules entirely, enabling the conversation to move into new territory. Another one of the few fundamental principles worth retaining as a therapist is the notion that if the current strategy isn’t working, it’s necessary to do something different.

So Joseph and I discussed the fact that although he knew how Act One had turned out, he had little information about how Act Two might unfold. Sure, it might end up being just as dismal as Act One. On the other hand, it might turn out differently, especially if he could harness some of the life lessons he’d learned in Act One. I indicated that if he was willing to stick around for a few months, I’d be happy to chat about possible Act Two “scripts.” He agreed, and in our work over those next several months, he never again brought up the subject of suicide or showed any interest in discussing the topic.

 


 

*From “Spitting in the Client’s Soup: Don’t Overthink Your Interventions” by Jay Efran and Rob Fauber. Psychotherapy Networker, March/April, 2015, p. 47

Mindfulness Webcast with Connirae Andreas

Connirae is one of 6 presenters, including Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Ron Siegel, and Christopher Germer, in a webcast on mindfulness that’s just been released by the Psychotherapy Networker.

Connirae was included because of her new work, the Wholeness Process. This is a comprehensive method of personal transformation and healing, which can easily be used meditatively and for deep relaxation of the nervous system. The Wholeness Process offers advances in how mindfulness is practiced and understood. It is a much more precise and dependable method of inner work.

Signup for the Mindfulness Webcast ends tomorrow (Tuesday). Note that there is a $149 fee for this.

If you’d like a free introduction to the Wholeness Process, the free video here covers much the same ground as the interview with Connirae on the Webcast.


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