Steve Andreas’ NLP Blog

NLP Articles, News, and Tidbits about Psychotherapy and Personal Development
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At a conference back in the 1960’s someone asked Paul Watzlawick, “When can couple therapy be terminated?” Wazlawick replied, “When the husband says to the wife, ‘This coffee is terrible,’ and they both know that he is talking about the coffee.” The implication is that they are not talking about their relationship, the wife’s inability or unwillingness to make good coffee, the husband’s blaming or impossible standards, or anything else — just that the coffee is terrible, so they can focus on practical problem-solving to improve the coffee.

At another conference, Watzlawick was asked to define maturity. He replied, “Maturity is doing what you think is best, even when your mother thinks it’s a good idea,” implying that the son isn’t burdened by having to rebel reflexively against the mother.

Richard Bandler used to joke, “I’m only a hypnotist, so this is only a suggestion,” followed by an embedded command. Since the word “only” means “nothing but” or “nothing else but,” “I’m only a hypnotist” (which would ordinarily indicate a statement that is self-deprecating or minimizing) literally becomes, “I am a hypnotist and nothing else.” This creates a context in which the listener becomes a hypnotic subject who responds to the hypnotist’s suggestions. The usual meaning of “This is only a suggestion,” in which the word “only” would ordinarily minimize the impact of what is said next, reverses to become a command to be followed hypnotically. Recognition of the reversal of the usual meanings of these phrases creates an enjoyable joke to further distract the listener’s conscious mind. All this occurs through implication.

Implication is far subtler than presupposition, much less likely to be noticed or challenged, and much more likely to elicit an appropriate response without interference by someone’s conscious beliefs or understandings.

Milton Erickson’s use of implication was both fundamental and pervasive in almost all his work, yet trainings in Ericksonian hypnosis rarely even mention it, much less thoroughly train participants in how to use it for gathering information and therapeutic change. Understanding implication is like opening a new set of eyes and ears, and it makes sense out of many of Erickson’s interventions that otherwise only appear to be bizarre and mysterious. I have recently written an article giving many examples of Erickson’s Use of Implication in the Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter. You can read the article here — scroll down to p.8.

I have also written three detailed “how to” articles on implication in previous editions of the Erickson newsletter; for your convenience here are links to those:

Online conference: Ericksonian Hypnosis in the Treatment of Depression:

Eight experts share their experience and insights.

Depression is often clearly a response to loss — of a loved person, a valued job, a sense of self-identity, a treasured activity, a dream, or a future. In my segment of this conference, titled “The many faces of loss, and how to resolve it,” I explore the possibility that all depression is in response to some kind of loss — including a number of experiences that are often not thought of as losses, such as a “midlife crisis,” or an image of a stable and loving childhood that an abuse victim never experienced. If this is true, then resolving the loss will lift the resulting depression. Ryan Nagy is a skilled and intelligent interviewer, willing to offer his own personal experience in response to trying out what we are discussing.

Other speakers in the conference include Erickson experts Michael Yapko — who probably knows more about depression than anyone else on the planet — and Bill O’Hanlon, who has been very open about being suicidally depressed as a college student.

We are joined by presentations by Carolyn Daitch, Rob McNeilly, Bill Wade, Carol Kershaw, and Lynn Johnson.

The conference is available in video, audio, and smartphone versions, and has a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with it, so you risk nothing by signing up. The written description of the conference and presenters is easy to scan quickly, and includes a short video introduction by Ryan, that puts a human face on this learning opportunity.

~Steve Andreas

Click here to read more about the conference.

Eight experts share their experience and insights.

Depression is often clearly a response to loss—of a loved person, a valued job, a sense of self-identity, a treasured activity, a dream, or a future.

In my segment of this conference, titled “The many faces of loss, and how to resolve it,” I explore the possibility that all depression is in response to some kind of loss — including a number of experiences that are often not thought of as losses, such as a “midlife crisis,” or an image of a stable and loving childhood that an abuse victim never experienced. If this is true, then resolving the loss will lift the resulting depression. Ryan Nagy is a skilled and intelligent interviewer, willing to offer his own personal experience in response to trying out what we are discussing.

Other speakers in the conference include Erickson experts Michael Yapko — who probably knows more about depression than anyone else on the planet — and Bill O’Hanlon, who has been very open about being suicidally depressed as a college student. We are joined by presentations by Carolyn Daitch, Rob McNeilly, Bill Wade, Carol Kershaw, and Lynn Johnson.

The conference is available in video, audio, and smartphone versions, and has a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with it, so you risk nothing by signing up. The written description of the conference and presenters is easy to scan quickly, and includes a short video introduction by Ryan, that puts a human face on this learning opportunity. 6 CEU credits are available for Psychologists, Social Workers, Nurses, and Marriage and Family Counselors.

You can check out more about this online Ericksonian Conference at this link.

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: