Steve Andreas’ NLP Blog

NLP Articles, News, and Tidbits about Psychotherapy and Personal Development

Resolving depression/suicide/aggression

The current issue of the Psychotherapy Networker includes a “case study” describing helping a young man who was depressed in response to his internal dialogue, and in danger of being rehospitalized.

This session demonstrates how to use the comprehensive method for working with a troublesome internal voice described in detail in my recent book, MORE Transforming Negative Self-Talk.

The link to the article is good now, but may not be in another month or so; if you want to read it, do it soon.

Read the article here: Voices of Reason: Empowering clients to alter their internal experiences

We’re pleased to include this guest post written by our son, Mark Andreas. It first appeared on Mark’s Blog “Tools & Tales of Change.”


Over the years, many people have asked me, “What was it like growing up with your parents using NLP on you all the time?”

To which I like to respond, smiling, “How would you feel if your parents NLpeed on you your entire childhood?”

Then I point out that there is a big difference between using NLP on someone and using NLP with someone. Just think about the presuppositions (assumptions) of each statement:

“I use NLP on someone” presupposes that I am the actor using NLP on a passive person who is the object of my activity. Whether used for good or bad, it is manipulative. There is separateness and disconnection from the other person, with no attention given to how the other person might experience the interaction. The assumption is either that they are powerless to help themselves, that I know what they want better than they do, or that I’m going to manipulate them into doing something that goes against what they want, or some combination of these. From a metaphorical standpoint, I have to be above someone to use something on them. So I’ll be looking down on them, and they will likely feel the burden/impact of the tool I’m pushing on them from on high. The image that comes to my mind is a stone-worker chiseling away at a figurine until it looks the way he wants it.

“I use NLP with someone” presupposes that we are both benefitting from NLP together. It can only be used for good; it is cooperative. There is togetherness and connection with the other person, with equal attention given to how I and the other person each experience the interaction. The assumption is that both of us have the ability to help ourselves, that I’m using my tools to support us both discovering what we each want, and in service of us both getting more out of the relationship than either of us would have discovered alone. From a metaphorical standpoint, I have to be on the same level as someone to use something with them. It will be much more likely that we see eye to eye, and there is room for the give and take of feedback. The image that comes to my mind is of a dance between two people, or two people walking side-by-side.

So after my humorous response to people about being NLpeed on as a kid, I tell them that my experience growing up was that my parents used NLP with me and my brothers. They used NLP communication tools to support us in gaining clarity and connection with what we wanted, and to support them in communicating clearly with us about their needs and boundaries. The goal was always about finding solutions that worked well for everyone in the family.

As young kids my parents often asked us, “Mark, Loren, Darian, would you like to go to bed now, or in five minutes?” Of course we responded with “five minutes, five minutes!” But our parents weren’t using this clever presuppositional form to manipulate us into going to bed against our will. On the contrary, they were using NLP with us. They were acknowledging and honoring our ability to act and choose to a degree that was appropriate to our age. They were also front-loading the idea that it was almost time to sleep, so we could start preparing ourselves internally for that stage of the day—an essential need of every human being, both parents and kids.

Could we have said “no” to the five minutes question? Of course. But why say no to something that is done with us, and for us?

So if you find that an NLP tool isn’t working, one thing to check is, “Have I been trying to use NLP on someone? Or am I using these tools with someone?”

Using with:

1. First, change your language. Instead of “I want to use NLP on them,” or “I’m going to talk to them,” or “I was really laughing at them,” see what happens when you change to using with: “I want to use NLP with them,” “I’m going to talk with them,” “I could try out laughing with them,” etc.

2. Notice how your own internal experience changes when you change to using with. For me with is an experience of being on the same level as the other person, with eye contact, give and take, stepping into the others’ shoes, working together side-by-side, going in the same direction, and cooperation.

3. The next time you want to be more with someone, make the specific internal changes you noticed above. So for me, I picture me and the other person both at the same level and making eye contact, (even if we’re different actual heights, or about to have a conversation over the phone where I can’t actually see the other person). I picture us both together, with space between us for give and take, like a flow of energy that for me represents feedback flowing back and forth between us. I’m also aware that I can step into the other person’s perspective at any time, seeing from their point of view. Just as you make these internal changes, you can also make specific external changes that match the with. If I’m talking to a child, I like to crouch down so I’m literally at eye level with them. If I’m sitting with someone, I like to position my chair by their side, so I can literally be on their side (rather than in a face off). While making these internal and external changes, my main focus is to notice what commonalities we both have, so that we can work together on those going forward.

Learn more about using NLP with yourself and others in this 1-day Introduction to NLP with Mark Andreas, Saturday March 14th, in Boulder Colorado.

New Video of Metaphors of Movement Free

Watch this video for a fresh introduction to Metaphors of Movement.

The video is of Mark Andreas presenting at the ACHE conference, and includes some interaction with the audience plus a great example at the end.

We invite you to come to a live MoM training with Andy Austin, the developer of Metaphors of Movement, in Boulder on April 17 – 20, 2015. This will be our fifth time hosting Andy’s training, and his model continues to get better and better every year.

Click here to find out more about the training.

After sending that post, I realized that one of the results of changing auditory self-talk to a visual representation is that it strips out all the auditory tempo, tonality, accent, etc. (Words on a page have no tonality except what is provided by our reading voice, plus a few clues provided by punctuation (;!?,. etc.)

And since those tonal qualities are the major drivers of the emotional/feeling state, it creates a shift even before any other changes in punctuation, tonality, tempo, etc. That elicits a more neutral response that makes it easier to introduce a different tonal pattern or tempo, etc. when going from the visual back to an auditory representation. This seems totally obvious to me now.

Generalizing, this could be a very useful first step when working with any troublesome dialogue—write it out on paper, or a flip chart, or in space in front of a client before intervening in some other way. (This will tend to strip out the existing nonverbal qualities that are driving the bad feeling in problem contexts.)

Bruce Teall pointed out to me that this is likely an unrecognized factor in CBT’s writing out a sentence on a card to read periodically, and may be a factor in the usefulness of journaling.

This bit of clarity has given me a delicious little burst of pleasure.


CBT and nonverbal interventions

In that same post I wrote that I was not aware that CBT utilized changes in nonverbal aspects of internal self-talk, and asked for references to CBT’s use of nonverbal interventions. Maarten Aalberse, in France, sent me a reference to ACT (which is a “3rd generation” form of CBT) that does indeed include changes in accent, tonality, tempo, location, changing the auditory to a visual representation and then changing the visual representation, as well as a number of metaphors that achieve these kind of changes. I’m glad to be corrected on this.


New video on the resolution of PTSD

At the March, 2014 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, I was part of a panel on Neuroscience. The title of my presentation was, “Therapy Isn’t Brain Science,” taking the position that neuroscience findings have no more relevance to therapy than the chemistry of wood has to a carpenter—no matter how true neuroscience is (and there is some doubt about some of it) it is a different level of knowledge that doesn’t tell us what to do with a client. I showed my 30-year-old video of resolving PTSD as an example (which at the time I called a phobia). I began with some explanation of how the basic “movie theater” visualization works, and followed the video with further explanation.

Many readers may find this presentation redundant, but the context of presenting at a national therapy conference lends some additional authority to what I have been saying for years—I didn’t just record something in my basement. The first comment on the video has already made it worthwhile to post it, because there are few experiences as satisfying as knowing that someone has made good personal use of something. I hope Santa puts something as delicious under your tree:

“Extraordinary! As I watched him work with this person, I went along with his instructions and entertained a traumatic experience I had in Vietnam.

Wow. I felt the resolution of the event—it just drained away leaving me with a sense of peace, a sense of being me without a certain background uncomfortableness that has been there for decades. A different me. A me clear. A me not affected any longer. A me with no emotional reaction to a memory of something that always used to produce nausea and upset if I thought about it.

This process is so simple and so profound all at the same time. I will be sharing this with all my therapist friends. The possibilities it offers for extraordinary relief are astoundingly powerful, assuming that the results are consistently duplicatable.

Thank you Steve Andreas.”

Changing Troublesome Self-Talk

In the 2 ½ minute video clip* below, you can view an example of a very elegant and rapid method** for transforming a troublesome response to an inner voice, developed by Mel Davis in the UK. The woman in this video had intense anxiety in a variety of situations in which she said to herself internally, “I can’t do it.” I think you’ll find this rapid change method unique.

Notice that although she is very aware of her feeling shifts, she has no conscious perception or understanding of how they were elicited.

Since most problems are caused by unconscious processing, effective change work must involve changes in the unconscious aspects of our experiencing. Despite this, a great deal of “talk therapy” is directed at developing “insight” or other conscious understandings.

In the video clip I first set the frame that all parts or aspects of ourselves have a positive intent, and then offer her a series of instructions—some verbal, and some nonverbal—directed at changing nonverbal aspects of her experience of the sentence.

Writing what she says to herself on the flip chart transfers the auditory dialogue into a visual experience of the words, which tends to remove the nonverbal tonality.

Changing “can’t” into “can not” changes a constricting modal operator of impossibility into one of possibility and choice—she can always choose to not do it.

I also write her sentence in a way that punctuates it differently, separating it into three pieces: “I can,” “not,” and “do it.”

Finally, I change the tonality of the first piece into a confident statement, the second piece into a rhetorical question, and the third into a command.

All these interventions change nonverbal aspects of her sentence in order to elicit changes in her feeling response to it.


In contrast, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is widely considered the treatment of choice when working with internal dialogue—especially with anxiety or depression—is entirely directed toward the words of an internal voice. CBT identifies and verbally challenges cognitive distortions, such as overgeneralization (“always,” “never”), “shoulds” (modal operators of necessity), either/or polarized thinking, jumping to conclusions, etc. (here’s a more complete list).

CBT has the most research supporting its effectiveness—though that is in the context of multiple sessions, usually ten or more. Some of its most well-known proponents are Aaron Beck, his daughter Judith Beck, and David Burns.

However, the words that someone says to themselves are usually much less emotionally troublesome than the nonverbal elements of how the words are spoken—the tempo, pitch, intonation, accent, pauses, etc. that occur with the spoken word.

A familiar example is that in English a question is indicated by a rising tonality at the end of the sentence, a command has a sinking tonality at the end, and a statement does not shift at the end. If you ask a question with a sinking pitch at the end, it will be responded to as a command. If you make a statement with a rising pitch at the end it will be responded to as a question.

Notice how you feel in response to hearing a hard, screeching, high-pitched voice saying the words, “I love you.” Or try hearing a soft, deep, slow, “smiling” voice saying, “You son of a bitch.” Most people will respond much more strongly to the nonverbal qualities than to the words.

Another example of the importance of the nonverbal is that a fast tempo indicates urgency, while a slow tempo indicates the opposite. This is the basis for Nick Kemp’s method for changing the anxiety created by an internal voice with a fast tempo.***

These nonverbal components often indicate the relationship between the speaker and listener. If an ordinary sentence like, “Please pass the salt” is said in a superior or scornful tone of voice, that tonal quality is what elicits the troublesome emotional response. Most people are usually much less consciously aware of these nonverbal elements, which are largely processed and responded to unconsciously.

Although I have read fairly widely in CBT, and have watched client sessions and videotaped talks by major proponents, I have yet to find any CBT methods that are directed toward eliciting changes in the nonverbal aspects of a troublesome internal voice. If you know of any such CBT interventions, please email me with specific examples or links to examples: andreas [at]


*This video clip is excerpted from an online video training in methods for resolving complex PTSD entitled The PTSD Training.

**There are many more examples of Mel Davis’ method, in chapter 11 of my book Transforming Negative Self-Talk. (Click on the “Look inside the book” feature and sample parts of the book free.)

Norton has recently published a sequel, MORE Transforming Negative Self-Talk. (Again you can click on the “Look inside the book” feature and sample parts of the book free.)

Both books have many additional ways to change nonverbal aspects of an internal self-talk to elicit changes in emotional response very rapidly.

***I had previously used Nick Kemp’s method with the woman in the video clip. Follow-up during the workshop and also some months later verified that she no longer had anxiety in any of the contexts in which she had previously experienced it.

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