Steve Andreas’ NLP Blog

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Sometimes an intervention doesn’t work because something else needs to happen first. Putting on your pants before putting on underpants just doesn’t work very well, unless you just want to get attention at a party. Other times a “great” intervention might not quite fit the circumstances. You may see a nice-looking shirt in a store window, but when you try it on, you may find that it just doesn’t fit your body.

There is a widespread misunderstanding that a particular experience will be a resource for any problem or outcome, in any context. However an experience that is a wonderful resource in one situation can be a disaster in another. A “resource” experience may not fit at all, or it may be a close fit, but not close enough. Sometimes a “resource” experience is inappropriate because it’s too specific.

Recently a therapist sent me a detailed description of her work with a friend, asking me some questions about what she did. The exceptional detail in her description gave me some confidence that my responses will be relevant. (This definitely wasn’t a case of, “I tried X method but it didn’t work; what should I do?”) Her letter provided a rich opportunity to point out examples of a number of different “fine points” in NLP work. My responses are interspersed in brown italics.

 

Hi Steve:

I was using your Resolving Grief technique from Heart of the Mind on a friend recently. I had some questions regarding the process. I was wondering if I could get your take on this?

My friend expressed a loss of a friendship; it wasn’t a death, but a termination without any closure. So she had mixed feelings — anger, anxiety and sadness — since the loss of friendship wasn’t on her own terms.

Interestingly, when I had her access the presence of this person, she created an entire scenario in her head that has never happened. She said it’s the scenario she generally creates about this friend, which causes anxiety. The friend (who is in color/moving) is sitting down in a chair that my friend normally sits in during class, and she’s located 2-4 feet in front of my friend. My friend is standing and the ex-friend is to the right of her sitting in the chair. The ex-friend then says some snarky comment to my friend. My friend says she hears her ex-friend’s voice first, then sees her, and then panics.

 

Steve:

It’s useful to disentangle your friend’s three different feelings. Her sadness is in response to the loss of the relationship, and anger indicates that there is some “unfinished business” that needs to be resolved using the forgiveness process before doing the grief process. You’ll find more detail on resolving grief than we put in Heart of the Mind in a later article.

I assume that her scenario elicits panic because she anticipates having a difficult talk with the lost friend, so she’s anxious about how that might turn out.

For those interested in such things, the sadness and anger are at the same logical level (the relationship), but the anxiety is at a higher logical level because it is in response to how she imagines the discussion of the sadness and anger with her friend might turn out (about the relationship).

        

I contemplated doing the phobia cure, but I wanted to see how changes in the submodalities would affect her.

 

Since the scenario your friend is imaging “never happened,” it’s a future forecast, in contrast to a past memory. This means the phobia method isn’t likely to work. The phobia method is great for a response elicited by a past memory. However, panic and anxiety are in response to a future event, not a past one, so different methods are appropriate for that.

 

I then asked her to think of someone who is no longer in her life but who she thinks fondly of.

 

This is an example of asking for a resource counterexample that is too specific. When you’re doing the grief process, the instruction is to “Think of someone who is no longer a part of your daily life, but when you think of them, you experience them as a resource.” This lets her choose from many different kinds of “resource” and doesn’t box her in to a specific one.

I’m nearly certain that “fondness” is an inappropriate resource for your client, because her anger hasn’t yet been resolved — fondness and anger are opposites. It might (or might not) be appropriate for her to be fond of her ex-friend after forgiving her, but it’s certainly a mismatch when she’s still angry.

For another example of the importance of choosing an appropriate counterexample resource, check out the following article. In the example in this article, even though I was careful to ask for a general outcome, “Think of someone she had hated in the past, but now felt OK about; she no longer hated him,” she chose an example of someone she now felt that “she had come to care for him and trust,” which was inappropriate for her. Here is the relevant part of the article:

 

“When I asked her how she felt with this image moved to this new position, she said it was somewhat better, but her feelings of anger ‘dragged along with the image,’ a strong indication that this was not an appropriate change for her. I thought there might be something about her resource experience that didn’t quite fit, and that probably if I had stopped here, or insisted that she continue, it would not have been good for her.

“So I gathered information, asking her about the person whom she had once felt anger toward, but now felt OK about. ‘What was it about that person that allowed you to let go of your anger?’ She said that she had come to care for him and trust him. I said, ‘It certainly wouldn’t be appropriate to care for and trust the man you still hate, would it?’ to which she heartily agreed. This told me that we needed to find a somewhat different resource experience, someone whom she had forgiven, but still didn’t care for or trust.” For more detail about this kind of careful resource selection, read this article.

 

The submodalities of the image of this person were really similar to that of her ex-friend. This fond person (color/moving) was sitting to the right of her. Both were seated on a couch. And the first thing my friend noticed was, again, the voice, but this time it was laughter. The only differences I noticed was that this person was very close in distance (nearly touching) and the quality of tonality was laughter (and not snarkiness). Another difference was the position of my friend. This time she was seated next to her friend in this representation.

When the submodalities are that close in comparison what would you do to create a pleasing shift?

 

Since both images are of friends, it’s not surprising that they are quite similar. However, you have described two very significant differences in location; in the resource experience they are both sitting, and they are much closer (“nearly touching”). Either one of these differences by themselves could easily elicit the different sound (laughter instead of snarkiness). There is a similar example in my transcript of a shame session, in which unpleasant cackling turned to the pleasant sound of a merry-go-round in response to changing location.

 

I had her take the ex-friend and replicate the exact motions, laughter, position of her fond friend who’s no longer in her life. She said it felt a little better, but that she still missed her ex-friend. She appeared sad and affected by the loss. Did I neglect to do something here? Or were the representations of the two losses just too similar?

 

As I’ve already mentioned, the representations are significantly different, so that’s not the problem. It would be better to start with shifting position alone, and find out what difference that process change makes. Asking her to replicate motions and laughter include changes in content, so those generally won’t be as useful. The key thing is that her anger needs to be resolved first in order for the grief process to work, so she’s still stuck in her two responses of sadness and anger. Very few people spontaneously think of forgiving as a resolution. (Many will think of expressing their anger or revenge instead.) Also very few are initially “ready” to forgive someone else. A major part of the forgiveness process is to satisfy (not “overcome”) the objections that most people have to reaching forgiveness — and some people have a lot of them!

 

I followed through with getting the values of that friendship, and she placed those values in an image in a location (as quotes on her wall in her bedroom.)

I then asked her to give those values form, whether abstract or vague. She wanted to use a person she knew, who she said embodies all of those qualities. What are your thoughts on that?

 

I think that is fine, as long as you go on to make that image more symbolic/abstract, which you do. However, proceeding with the grief resolution process won’t be very productive until the anger is first transformed into forgiveness.

 

Instead I asked her what form those values would take if symbolic or a visual representation. (I didn’t think it was prudent to have those values represented in a person in case this person ever left her life in the future; then there disappears the values.)

 

I agree. The main reason for making the values symbolic/abstract is to separate them from the image of the specific person in her past, so that they can be found in other people in her future life.

 

She then said the values were now inside a book she was the author of.

 

Her seeing the values inside a book that she is the author of is a nice metaphoric indication that your friend’s unconscious mind is participating fully. And her being the author of the book implies taking an active part in satisfying her values.

 

I then had her multiply the book, stack them, change each book a tad different from the previous one, and scatter them into her future, allowing each to drop at different locations. I explained how those values would be represented by friendships and experiences in her future, etc.

 

I realize that you may have done it, and just not mentioned it, but making the books glow is an important part of the process. When they glow, they are like lights beckoning the client, drawing her into the future (in contrast to the loss in the past). Instructing her to “change the story a little” in each book would have been a nice additional touch, preventing her from just changing the color of the cover or binding of the book, which wouldn’t be as useful. Later on you could utilize her metaphor by casually mentioning that some people are an “open book,” or that it’s useful to “close the book” on some past events.

 

Since she felt marginally better, but a tad underwhelmed, I asked her to play more with the submodalities.

 

I’m glad that you noticed that she was “underwhelmed,” so that you could go on to offer her more choices.

 

She made the ex-friend into a still black and white photo that was placed on the ground and any voice that emanated from her was a cartoon-like voice. In an instant all of her anger, sadness and anxiety dissipated. I even had her picture the friend sitting and saying the snarky comment, then pushing that image way back into the distance and the image that would come to the forefront was the one of the black and white still photo. Obviously this is not a visual squash, but I don’t know what to call it.

 

No, it’s not a visual squash; you asked her to chain two images together sequentially. The visual squash integrates two images into a simultaneous image — after finding a common outcome, or a joint outcome. (Heart of the Mind, chapter 13.)

 

but I had her play with rotating the images in quick succession. This alone made her crack up. She made the black and white photo really absurd, which seemed to shift her entire experience of the loss.

 

The kind of submodality shifts you explored with your friend (in the previous two paragraphs) to shift her experience are all fine, and got nice responses. However, without knowing her outcome/intention, so that you can satisfy it, it is really unlikely that they would be effective or lasting. In this case, her outcome is her need to resolve her anger, and none of the submodality changes you offered her accomplished that.

 

She said when she thinks of her friend now she can feel her presence, but the image of her face is obscured and vague, which she says she prefers because it has decreased the unpleasant feelings. Any value judgment on the fact she no longer sees the ex-friend’s face upon recalling her? She said when she tried to see the ex-friend’s face in her mind her feelings began to regress so she preferred not to.

 

That is a pretty clear message that she can’t “face” her friend without feeling the unpleasant feelings of anger and sadness, which are both still unresolved.

 

Sorry for the long email peppered with all of these questions! Though my friend seems ecstatic with the results, I’m not. LOL!

 

I applaud your noticing the difference between your experience and your client’s report. You did help her have a new and more satisfying response to her ex-friend. And I agree with you that those results are not complete. Using the forgiveness process will complete it — though you might have to repeat the grief resolution process after you do.

 

I feel like I took numerous missteps with the Resolving Grief process. I’m constantly trying to examine the feedback I receive, and the areas I went wrong, to improve what I can do in the future.

 

Your ability to notice when your work isn’t fully satisfying, and your willingness to ask for and receive feedback, is wonderful — and all too rare!

 

Anyway, if you read this entire email, I salute you! And appreciate it.

 

Thanks; it was a pleasure to respond.

When I sent this article to the therapist to look over for accuracy, she wrote back:

“Thanks again! This was excellent. It assuaged many of my concerns and answered so many questions. Beyond appreciative.”

Back to the Swish—research article

Steve’s Response to Shawn’s blog post, Neuroscience, Metaphors and Coaching

 

Shawn writes:

         “I briefly mention a few of the other sillier objections Steve raises.”  I think the word “sillier” is an evaluative judgment that goes far beyond a respectful exchange of different opinions, and has no place in this discussion.

I nearly got pulled in to respond to a further discussion of neuroscience. Yes, there is such a thing as an electrical synapse (I didn’t know that) in which ions carry charge from one neuron to another. However ions are not the same as “sparks of electricity” bridging a gap, and electrical synapses don’t use neurotransmitters. Wikipedia says, “Without a qualifier, ‘synapse’ commonly means chemical synapse.” Chemical synapses are far more common, they do use neurotransmitters, and the neurotransmitters are not charged ions (much less “sparks of electricity”), they are neutral. (Shawn didn’t know that.)

 

More to the point, all this discussion about synapses (and which of us knows less about neuroscience, different kinds of conditioning, and nuclear physics) is so distant from the discussion of the swish pattern that it is totally irrelevant to the use of NLP with a particular client (or one who isn’t particular).

 

My challenge to Shawn in a previous post was:

“Please provide a specific example of how a specific ‘principle of neuroscience’ can be used to choose a direction for ‘experimentation with clients’ in a way that goes beyond what we already know and can predict from NLP principles or practice.”

         Shawn has not provided such an example. He mentioned a “fusiform swish,” but without any details, and he offered a definition of “working memory,” but without any indication of how that “goes beyond what we already know and can predict from NLP principles or practice.”

         This dialogue started with my reviewing YouTube demonstrations of the swish pattern, which is a very specific experiential NLP process with clear and specific instructions about how to do it. Our discussion then veered off into neuroscience, conditioning, nuclear physics, and other theoretical topics that have little or nothing to do with how to do a swish. I’m quite willing to discuss any experiential aspects of the swish, but I’ve completely lost interest in any further discussion of neuroscience, conditioning, nuclear physics or other theoretical matters.

 

Back to the swish pattern:

A 2011 Pubmed article reports the results of 3 studies on the feeling response to moving images as follows (from the abstract):

         “We found that negative scenes generally elicited less negative responses and lower levels of arousal when imagined moving away from participants and shrinking, and more negative responses and higher levels of arousal when imagined moving toward participants and growing, as compared to the responses elicited by negative scenes when imagined unchanged. Patterns in responses to neutral scenes undergoing the same imagined transformations were similar on ratings of emotional arousal, but differed on valence-generally eliciting greater positivity when imagined moving toward participants and growing, and less positivity when imagined moving away from participants and shrinking.”

         These findings are experiential, unequivocal, and could hardly be more directly relevant to the mechanics of the swish pattern. Furthermore, they are consistent with my understanding of the swish (detailed in a previous post) namely that the negative feeling elicited by the cue image decreases as the cue image moves away and shrinks, while the positive feeling in response to the desired self-image increases as the image moves closer and becomes larger.

These findings are not consistent with Shawn’s understanding that the feeling in response to the cue image is “maintained,” and (somehow) “applied” to the self-image. Here is what Shawn wrote:

“. . . the client has a desire for the cigarette, and the classical swish is intended to maintain the state of desire but to then apply that desire to the self-image. The client maintains the state of ‘I want’ but changes from “I want to smoke’ to ‘I want to be her’; meaning her ideal future self.”

Firstly, note that Shawn writes, “ideal future self,” which is not correct, and can lead to problems if the client has an unrealistic perfectionistic idea of what “ideal” means. The desired self-image can be described in a variety of ways—“evolved,” “more capable,” “someone for whom the problem behavior is no longer an issue,” “the more capable you of the future.” etc. That may seem like hair-splitting, but it is not. The “linguistic” in NLP indicates the importance of precision in the use of words in doing change work—sloppy language results in sloppy (and more difficult) work.

As I wrote in a previous post, the desire for the cigarette” has to be an ambivalent feeling, because the client wants to change the behavior that elicits the feeling. If that feeling were “maintained,” and “applied” to the desired self-image, the result would also be ambivalent, indicating a sloppy process and result.

Even more important, if it were true that the state of desire elicited by the cue image is simply transferred and applied to the desired self-image, there would be absolutely no need to be sure in advance that the desired self-image is strongly attractive in itself, which is a key element in the process when done correctly, and as originally presented by Bandler.

A Response to Shawn Carlson’s blog post Patterns Within Patterns

 

I’d like to start by completely agreeing with Shawn’s description of a lovely piece of reorienting in time that can be used to consolidate any change, however made: An additional temporal step is added by inviting the client to step into the future and, looking back, see the changes she has made within the ‘past-future’ visible from the farther future, “step into the future, and looking back toward now, realize how far this change has taken you.”       

However, this great process doesn’t appear to me to fit the steps of the Meta Pattern, which assumes integration (“collapsing”) anchors, rather than some other way of combining experiences, such as chaining. The beginning state is a solution state, rather than a problem state, so when you ask a client to “step into the future,” that dissociates from a solution, and associates into a “farther future” that is a resource in itself, (rather than simply a “break state” from which to choose a resource state). While associated into this farther future, the client views scenarios from the intervening time (the past from the point of view of being associated into the farther future).

This process is an example of a general pattern that Erickson called “reorientation in time.” It is also an example of nesting one experience inside another one, rather than integrating two experiences, or chaining them together sequentially in time. It is structurally identical to the phobia cure, in which the client associates into the movie theater, and nested within that dissociates from the past phobic memory. It’s also an example of utilization. If someone has a phobia, we know that they are skilled at associating into a memory, so we ask them to associate into the movie theater visualization to provide a context for dissociating from the troubling memory. This nesting of experiences is a different experiential process (there are others) that doesn’t fit the steps of the Meta Pattern.

 

I’m getting a little tired of playing “whac-a-mole” responding to misrepresentations of what I have written. For instance, Shawn writes, This is exactly a formulation of the HNLP Meta Pattern (so I am a little surprised that Steve is arguing there is no such thing!).”

I never said there is “no such thing”; if that were true, we wouldn’t be able to talk about it! What I said was that this meta-pattern was a useful, but somewhat crude early generalization, with a lot of exceptions. Connirae’s and my statement from Change Your Mind (1987) starts with. “One very broad general formulation of change work . . .” The word “One” clearly implies that there are others, and stating that it was “very broad and general” indicates that it lacks a lot of detail, and likely has exceptions or counterexamples. It was also written 30 years ago; luckily we know more now than we knew then.

What I disagree with is Shawn’s statement that, “Perhaps if I demonstrate how the Meta Pattern is the basis of all change work enough times, the universal truth of the Meta Pattern will become unarguable!”

         There are a number of problems with this statement. First, it’s not possible to prove universality by providing “enough examples.” [just as Finding 100,000 apples, or even a million apples, wouldn’t “prove” that other types of fruit don’t exist — and I have already provided some oranges and bananas. The Meta Pattern is useful, but there are many significant examples of change work that don’t fit the Meta-Pattern.

Setting aside the question of whether or not there is any such thing as “universal truth,” let’s take a look at Shawn’s description of the visual squash, which he presents as an example of the Meta Pattern:

“Similarly, in the visual squash, you separate and externalize the parts that are creating the inner conflict. You place one as an image on the client’s left hand and the other on their right. We are now at step 2 of the Meta Pattern, we have dissociated the client from their problem (the internal conflict).” I agree with Shawn fully up to this point.

Shawn goes on to write: “On to step three of the Meta Pattern, associating into the resource. First let’s help your client to find the appropriate resource. We do this by chunking up on the ‘intentions’ of each part until we find a shared value, or at least values that sufficiently overlap. This shared valued is the resource. At the same time we build rapport between the parts by asking what each can learn from the other.”

It’s important to realize that the intention of each part — as well as any shared intention — is still dissociated, not associated. The two parts (and their intentions) are still represented as separate images in the two hands, and also separate from the client.

Shawn follows with, “We then associate the client into this resource, typically by internalizing it “bring that back inside your body.” Shawn has omitted a very crucial step, namely bringing the two hands, and their associated images together to “collapse” them, before bringing the resulting integrated image into the body. The Meta Pattern specifies “collapsing” two associated states (problem and resource). But in the visual squash, two dissociated images are “collapsed,” followed by association.

Furthermore, neither image in the visual squash is either a problem state or a resource state. Neither one is a problem in itself, the problem is the conflict between the two. The resource is the result of combining them.

         In the discussion above, and in previous posts, I have set forth my understanding of the Meta Pattern, and Shawn has set forth his. Readers will need to come to their own conclusions.

 

Shawn writes, “In collapsing anchors, as Steve rightly says, there have to be two states or two anchors to collapse. Steve then for some reason says that this requirement is not included in the Meta Pattern; this is incorrect.”

In the Meta Pattern diagram there is no mention of any anchoring — none whatsoever. There is also no mention of a cue for the problem state, or the context of the problem state. This kind of omission is inevitable in any vague general outline that purports to be universal. I prefer more detail and specific steps, to be sure that nothing essential is left out.

One of the sources of much of my disagreements with Shawn is that we are describing very different levels of detail. This can be illustrated by different responses to the question, “Where is Times Square?” One answer is, “It’s in North America.” Another is, “It’s in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue.” Both answers are true, but the second provides much more specific and detailed information.

A car that is running poorly could be described as being in a very bad “state,” but that wouldn’t indicate much about how to fix the problem. A good mechanic might be able to listen to it and determine that it only needs a small adjustment in timing. Likewise, someone’s “problem state” is a very general description, while “see a movie of yourself in that situation” is a very specific small intervention — a change in point of view that leaves all the other aspects of a “problem state” (content, sounds, context, etc.) undisturbed.

When talking about general states it is easy to ignore differences, and see similarities. I keep making distinctions, and Shawn keeps saying they aren’t important, and that they all fit the Meta Pattern, which is based on integration of a resource with a problem state.

 

One principle that I have found very useful in making changes (whether in NLP or in other contexts) is to make the smallest change necessary to get the desired outcome. There are at least two important reasons for this. One is that it is much easier to make a small adjustment, such as point of view, the location of an image, or in some other submodality. As Milton Erickson said, “Your task is that of adjusting, not abolishing.” The other reason is that a small adjustment is much less likely to interfere with the rest of the client’s functioning than a large one — what is usually called “ecology” but which would be more accurately called congruence.

For instance, imagine that you notice some irregularities and palpitations in the beating of your heart, so you consult a doctor. After she listens to your heart, takes an EKG, and asks a few questions, she says, “Well, some simple life-style changes will resolve those symptoms, but a heart transplant would also work.” I hope it’s obvious that a heart transplant would be a lot more difficult, and have significantly more risk of problematic consequences. Unfortunately working with “states” (especially ones like “awesomely confident”) is a lot more like a heart transplant, changing much more than is necessary or useful.

 

         Shawn writes that, “The problem and resource then ‘duke it out’ within the client’s physiology. This is repeated until the resource state (or a resource state) emerges the winner.” That is a description of what happens if you integrate two very different “large chunk” states, an indication of trying to make a “heart transplant” type of change, in contrast to a small adjustment. Unfortunately a client’s responses to a “heart transplant” change is often quite intense, leading both client and therapist to be unduly impressed, rather than realize it’s only a result of sloppy work. Years ago, a boss I had frequently said, “Do not confuse motion with progress.” The best changes don’t usually involve pyrotechnics; they are usually exemplified by the classic, “Hmn, I never thought about it that way.”

The idea that states have to “duke it out” until one “emerges a winner” usually results from thinking about the emotional intensity of a state, rather than its appropriateness for the problem. This leads to an assumption that I have called a “the mathematical fallacy of states”: that if you have a negative state rated at a 7, you need a positive state rated at least 7 or 8 to “overcome” it.

This is obviously false in the case of the phobia process. A phobia is a very emotionally intense state, let’s say somewhere in the range of 7-10; Dissociation is a much less intense state, perhaps somewhere in the range of 1-3. There is no “duking it out,” nor any “winner” when using the phobia process; there is no conflict at all. The change in point of view is a specific and precise adjustment that is makes it easy to view a troubling memory comfortably.

 

Shawn follows with, “The Meta Pattern is then repeated on an iterative basis by running the client through other triggers, and other contexts, until the client is not able to identify any more examples of the problem. This is typically fairly quick as the brain is an amazing generalization-machine!”

Yes, the brain is an amazing generalization machine, and you can do change work by repeating the same change on different contents and contexts to help it generalize, a Shawn describes. However, it is far easier and simpler to begin by asking the client to choose the most intense example of a problem response. This is identifying what cognitive linguists call a “prototype” experience that represents the entire category of problem experiences. If you do this before intervening, a change in the prototype will automatically generalize to all the other examples, in a kind of “domino” effect, so you only have to do the change once, which is more efficient. Of course it’s important to check other examples to make sure that generalization has occurred, but you don’t have to keep repeating the change work. Checking three different past examples, followed by three future examples, is usually sufficient to confirm generalization.

 

Shawn goes on to write, “By the way, when this happens the Meta-Pattern-TOTE-strategy ends (to quickly address another of Steve’s objections).” I assume that is how Shawn works; my objection (yet again) is that there is no mention in the Meta Pattern diagram of a TOTE, an exit, or a criterion for stopping. The arrows go around clockwise between the four circles, and Shawn has emphasized that you can start anywhere on the circle.

 

Shawn writes, “I agree with Steve that dissociation is part of the resource state for a phobia.” Again that is not what I wrote; I wrote that dissociation is the resource state (not “part” of it). The “laughter; and ‘safe-to-safe’ experience” that Shawn mentions are embellishments (and there are many others) that be used to support dissociation, but they aren’t usually required.

 

Finally, I completely disagree with Shawn’s statement that, “Steve’s modal collapse, ‘How is it possible that you should be able to do something you can’t do?’ is an example of what Robert Dilts calls ‘apply to self.’ ” I’m pretty sure Robert would agree with me, and I would think that John Overdurf might also agree. Can you send this section to John and ask him if he would be willing to comment?

The sentences, “I can’t do it” and “I should do it” both apply to the self of the person speaking, but neither refers to the sentence itself, which is what the phrase “apply to self” refers to.

A trivial, but instructive, example of “apply to self” is “This sentence is true,” because the sentence describes itself. A more useful example is, “Everything I do is stupid.” Since saying that sentence is one of the things that someone does, the sentence refers to itself, and therefore the sentence must also be stupid. Pointing this out can weaken or break the problematic generalization.

What happens in what Shawn is calling a “modal collapse” is that an unrecognized contradiction becomes apparent. “I should do it” presupposes that I can do it, while “I can’t do it” presupposes the opposite. By juxtaposing these two statements, the contradiction (“speak against”) becomes apparent, and something has to give. If there is good evidence that the “it” is not something I can actually do, the “should” vanishes. If the evidence is less robust, the contradiction can be resolved by reconsidering the “can’t” and exploring alternatives that I might actually be able to do.

I think the explanation above is a lot simpler and clearer than Shawn’s description: “The modals ‘can’t’ and ‘should’ exist in different ‘modal spaces’ (we will call them ‘frames’): ‘can’t’ generally inhabits either the epistemic (personal knowledge) frame, or the doxastic (personal beliefs, without knowledge) frame. ‘Should’ generally inhabits either the deontic (duty), or axiologic (cultural) frames. In any case for brevity I will only address the can’t modal here using the doxastic (belief) space.”

In volume II of my book, Six Blind Elephants, chapters 4, 5, & 6 go into much more detail about modal operators, self-reference, and self-contradiction and how to change them in useful ways.

Notice that Shawn uses the same word “collapse” to “apply to self” and “modal collapse (contradiction), ignoring the distinctions I have made above — and he also uses the same word to nesting experience (discussed in the first paragraph of this post). In earlier posts he uses “collapse” for both integration and chaining. There is a further possible alternative, combining two experiences into a hierarchy of relative importance.

Using the same word “collapse” for all these very different experiences, is like saying that Times Square is in North America. It’s not false, but failing to recognize the different kinds of “collapse” makes it impossible to do really elegant work that makes the smallest change necessary in order to get the client’s outcome.

 

P.S. I was pleased to see Shawn describe discussion of dopamine as a “red herring,” and then disappointed that he went on to discuss it as if it weren’t.

I think the finding that news of a loss results in a dopamine spike may be a result of the “gambler’s fallacy” in which a gambler believes (erroneously) that a loss on one round signals a greater probability of a win on the next one. If the news of a loss is immediately followed by an image of a future win, the latter, not the former, would be what actually elicits the dopamine spike. That would fit better with the overall finding that dopamine is released in response to an expectation of reward. Does anyone know a compulsive gambler they could model to explore this possibility? Even if it’s irrelevant to NLP change work, it’s an interesting puzzle.

Since Shawn describes the “Tree of life” process as not NLP, I won’t comment on that, except to respond to Shawn’s statement, “I find it to be the simplest model that captures any and all human experience.” It seems extremely unlikely to me that any simple model could do that.

Free Holiday Gift for you and yours!

Dear Friends,

For the holidays Mark Andreas has just released a free booklet of two “outside-the-box” cop stories that people are finding touching, humorous, and inspirational in a time when police shootings and abuse of power has regularly made the news. Just a few days ago one of the stories was requested by Macmillan Learning to be included in a popular text book with a print distribution of 175,000 hardcover copies and 25,000 e-books!

We believe these stories carry an important message to be going out at this particular moment.

Download the free booklet from Amazon here.

Also available free on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

 

Message from Mark:

“I want as many citizens and police officers to read these stories as possible, so the booklet will remain free forever. I hope you will help in spreading these great stories to your networks. Would you please consider sharing this inspirational booklet with your personal and/or organizational email list and/or via Facebook and Twitter?”

Please let me know if you would like to join me by sharing this gift between now and Christmas. Below, is a sample email and social media post to make it easy for you to share these stories with others.
Wishing you a peaceful holiday season!

~Mark Andreas

 

******SAMPLE EMAIL******

Dear Friends,

For the holidays I’m sharing a free booklet of two outside-the-box cop stories that people are finding touching, humorous, and inspirational in a time when police shootings and abuse of power has regularly made the news. One of these stories will soon appear in a popular textbook by Macmillan Learning with a print distribution of 175,000 copies. In these stories a police officer with a 30-year police career recounts examples of his unusual creativity as he was called on to deal with dangerous situations where his own life, and the lives of community members, were on the line. I believe these stories carry an important message to be going out at this particular moment.

Download the free booklet from Amazon here:

http://goo.gl/iFa1Fn

Also available free on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

I hope you consider sharing this booklet with your friends and loved-ones—especially if you know a policeman or someone who works in policing or as an emergency responder. You can share this email or use the sample social media post below. Often a true example is the first step to meaningful change in challenging times.

 

******SAMPLE TWEET******

Read a police officer’s humorous and creative responses to dangerous conflict #PeaceOfficer http://goo.gl/iFa1Fn

Note: my old email address andreas@qwest.net no longer works. To email me, please use my new address sandreas44 [at] gmail.com.

       A variety of studies find that overall the median number of sessions that a therapist has with a client is one — roughly half of all clients don’t return for a second session. Whether or not they intend it, many therapists are doing “single-session” therapy a lot of the time. When you realize that there is a better than even chance that your first session with a client will also be your last, that can focus your attention on doing everything you can to elicit a useful change that the client wants. If you are cautious, if you allow the client to ramble on, or if you spend most of the first session taking a history or doing a genogram, you will have very little time left to do anything useful.

       One thing you can do to maximize your impact is to be very specific about what you do in therapy. One of my favorite reminders is that “An ounce of framing is worth a pound of reframing.” If you allow the client to set the frames for what will happen in your sessions, and their frames aren’t useful, you will have to waste time reframing. In contrast, if you begin by offering useful frames for what you do, the client will usually accept that direction — or they will have to work to reframe it.

       Everything you say — or do nonverbally — in the first session will participate in setting a direction for what will occur in your sessions. Pause now, and imagine that a new client enters your office. Allow your unconscious to surprise you with a detailed image of this specific client. Notice how this client is dressed, his or her posture and attitude, facial expression, etc. How do you greet this client for the first time? As you hear yourself greeting him or her, listen to what you say and how you say it. The messages embedded in any discussion of fees, insurance, missed sessions, or other logistics, and any “small talk” that occurs before you get down to work may be as important in setting frames as what you say when you are ready to begin. Your nonverbal behavior may also be more influential than the verbal, but it’s very difficult to discuss that in a written article.

       However, let’s examine the words that you say to a client after the preliminaries and logistics are done, and you are ready to get down to work. What is a typical sentence you might say to start the session? Pause now to write this sentence down. If you think of several different possibilities, write them all down, so that you can examine them later and learn from them. (If you don’t pause to do this, you will rob yourself of a valuable learning experience.) . . .

       Below are actual first sentences to clients, taken verbatim from videos or from transcripts of sessions, many of which were conducted by widely-known and well-regarded therapists. As you read each sentence, imagine being in the position of the client. Notice how each sentence directs your attention in a somewhat different way, and how you respond to it. Again, to learn the most from this article, jot down a few words or brief notes about your response to each of the sentences below, before reading the next one. (Again, if you don’t pause to do this, you will rob yourself of a valuable learning experience.) . . .

  1. “Can you begin by your telling me what you’d like help with?”
  2. “What’s up?”
  3. “Maybe a good place for us to begin is why are you here, and what would you like to get out of the time we have?”
  4. “What’s the problem?”
  5. “I really appreciate your seeing me. You don’t even know me.”
  6. “Let me just tell you a little bit about how I work, and then if you have any questions or anything, let me know. Usually when I meet somebody I’ll spend about thirty, thirty-five minutes chatting with them, getting to know them a bit, finding out what they are hoping for from the visit.”
  7. “I don’t know much about you now. I just simply know that your name is Sally, so if you could fill me in on your age and what you do.”
  8. “What made you decide to come to see me.”
  9. “So what’s the question you wanted us to focus on?”
  10. “I guess I’d just like you to start wherever you feel you want to.”
  11. “So, I noticed you let out a huge sigh of sorts as you walked through the door.”
  12. “What would you like to create in your life?”
  13. “Tell me a little background; tell me where you got stuck, and where you want to go.”
  14. “What can I do for you?”
  15. “What changes do you want to make today?”
  16. “What, specifically, do you need to be able to do, that you cannot yet do, and we will make sure you can do it before you leave here today.”

       I hope it’s clear that there is a huge variety in how these sentences direct attention by setting (or not setting) frames. What does each of these sentences presuppose or imply about what will (or won’t) happen in the session? Below I have noted some aspects of each of the opening sentences listed above; perhaps you will notice others:

  1. “Can you begin by your telling me what you’d like help with?” Presupposes the therapist will help the client, an invitation to dependence, implicitly problem-oriented rather than outcome-oriented, “Like” is weaker than “want” or “need.” “You’d” (“You would”) makes the help hypothetical or conditional. I “would” like help IF some condition were met.
  2. “What’s up?” Very undirected and unfocused, permitting a huge variety of responses, total freedom for the client to respond in any way, and take charge of the session.
  3. “Maybe a good place for us to begin is why are you here, and what would you like to get out of the time we have?” “Maybe” sets a frame of uncertainty, with potential implication of incompetence. “Us” creates a mutual frame. The “why” orients toward a problem, and the “what” orients to an outcome. “Like” is weaker than “want” or “need.” “Would” is conditional.
  4. “What’s the problem?” Exclusively problem-oriented, and presupposes one problem. There is no other direction about what will happen in the session.
  5. “I really appreciate your seeing me. You don’t even know me.” Focuses on the therapist’s feelings resulting from the client’s actions, a curious role reversal. There is no other direction about what will happen in the session.
  6. “Let me just tell you a little bit about how I work, and then if you have any questions or anything, let me know. Usually when I meet somebody I’ll spend about thirty, thirty-five minutes chatting with them, getting to know them a bit, finding out what they are hoping for from the visit.” “Chatting” implies relatively superficial communication, a casual interaction without much purpose or direction—and the sentences above are congruent with chatting. “Getting to know” client is a different focus than either problem or outcome. “A bit” presupposes the therapist isn’t going to really get to know the client — just “a bit.” The purpose of the visit is framed as half connection between therapist and client, and half about the client’s “hopes.” “Hoping” is much weaker than “wanting” or “needing.” “Thirty, thirty-five minutes” is more than half of a 50-minute hour. This presupposes not getting anything done for more than half the session.
  7. “I don’t know much about you now. I just simply know that your name is Sally, so if you could fill me in on your age and what you do.” This implies that to “know much about the client” means learning about their demographic data such as age and occupation, in contrast to their individuality. Neither problem nor outcome is mentioned.
  8. “What made you decide to come to see me.” Oriented to the past, and implied problem, and puts the client in a passive role of having been made to decide something.
  9. “So what’s the question you wanted us to focus on?” Presupposes that the client had a question. “Wanted” assumes the client had a question in the past, which is rather a strange combination, since the “focus on” is of necessity in the present. Flipping to past tense takes the client slightly out of the present moment. “Us” sets a joint frame of alliance.
  10. “I guess I’d just like you to start wherever you feel you want to.” By beginning with “guess” and “I’d” (“I would”) the therapist presents him/herself as being uncertain about the therapy process, with implication of incompetence. Completely open-ended, client can start anywhere, and take control of the session. “Feel you want to” is curious. Since wanting is already a feeling, this asks for a feeling about a feeling, creating intellectual distance from “want.”
  11. “So, I noticed you let out a huge sigh of sorts as you walked through the door.” Indicates that the therapist is attending to client’s nonverbal expression in the present (in contrast to past history). This brings the client’s attention to his/her current nonverbal experience. While this is a nice for rapport and feedback, it doesn’t provide any direction about what will occur in the session.
  12. “What would you like to create in your life?” Present and future-oriented. “Like” is weaker than “want” or “need.” Presupposes that creating something is the solution. Some clients may not want creativity and newness; they may want something to be the way it used to be, as in loss/grief. “Would” is conditional and weaker than “do.”
  13. “Tell me a little background; tell me where you got stuck, and where you want to go.” Asks for both past and future. Presupposes the client is stuck, and that the solution involves going somewhere. Categorizing this information as “background” presupposes that the client’s responses aren’t the “real thing” — they are just background; the foreground isn’t addressed.
  14. “What can I do for you?” Presupposes that the therapist will do all the work for the client, and that the client can tell the therapist what to do.
  15. “What changes do you want to make today?” “Changes” (plural) embraces both problem and outcome, focusing on the transition between them. Presupposes that changes can be made today, and that the client is the one who will make them, yet doesn’t restrict the kind of changes to be made.
  16. “What, specifically, do you need to be able to do, that you cannot yet do, and we will make sure you can do it before you leave here today.” This is the sentence that Don Aspromonte, a colleague in Dallas Texas, who has an extensive background in business and sales, as well as hypnosis and NLP, and who has written an excellent book on sales, Green Light Selling. Don has used this sentence with every client in both therapy and business consulting for over 20 years, after much experimentation and careful thought. Below is Don’s description of the different patterns of influence contained in it.

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

What, specifically indicates that we will not be working with general outcomes, which is where most clients start, in contrast to a specific behavior that is needed in a specific context.

       do you need (vs. weaker “hope,” “like,” “want,” etc.)

       to be able (optional whether they do it or not, presupposing choice.)

       to do (a behavior, vs. thinking, speculating, attitude, etc.)

       that you cannot yet do ( “Cannot” points them to something they can not do (can=able and not=avoid), something they are able to avoid doing. “Yet” implies that it is something they will be able to do in the future. This tends to eliminate things they believe are not possible or that they never expect to be able to do.

       and (links the foregoing with what follows below; “If you do what I ask, we will make it happen.”)

       we (cooperatively together)

       will make sure (test the results)

       you can do it (strong hypnotic command, with downward tonal inflection)

       before (time specified)

       you leave here today (since they will, in fact, leave here today, this implies that the entire utterance is also true)

       The whole sentence starts out sounding like a question, but ends as a statement. With a downward inflection at the end, the entire sentence becomes a gentle, but even stronger command. After I say the words I shut up, leaving them to ponder the answer without any help from me. Sometimes they will negotiate with themselves and sometimes they will say things that don’t answer the question. It is important to let them respond before you do. Then, your participation amounts to repeating the question, “So…what, specifically, do you need to be able to do that you cannot yet do and we will make sure you can do it before you leave here today.”

       I have often had to repeat the question twice, but rarely three times. They quickly figure out that they need to answer the question before we move on, and I don’t negotiate with them.

       The most common issue we encountered with this sentence was that the client would often begin by saying, “I feel—” or “I want to feel—” We would interrupt as soon as possible, and bring them back to what they need to do.  One effect of this interaction is that our clients were learning to respond to their environment instead of to their own emotional responses.

       Beginning the therapeutic session with this framing we were able to immediately focus on the specific behaviors and contexts where our clients needed to perform better, and we avoided having to listen to long historical recitations. When our clients identified the specific “do” that they “needed” to do, it was usually easy to arrange for them to do it. Our clients achieved better outcomes more swiftly, and we felt refreshed at the end of the day.

       This does require that you have many excellent methods to accomplish these kinds of well-formed outcomes, so that you can keep your promise. If you find this prospect daunting, that indicates that you need to develop specific skills.

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

Simplified Checklist

       From the examples above, we can notice some recurring themes, and develop a checklist that can be applied to any first sentence, to make it clear how a sentence orients and directs the client’s attention.

  1. Problem, outcome, or transition?
  2. Time frame: past, present, future?
  3. Open ended or focused; specific or general?
  4. Doing, vs. thinking, feeling, complaining, talking about, etc.
  5. Who is responsible for making the change — client or therapist (or both)?
  6. What is presupposed, and does this facilitate or hinder change?
  7. Strength of motivation: hope, wish, desire, want, need, must, have to.
  8. Is client/therapist active or passive (or interactive).

 

       Now go back to the sentence(s) that you wrote down earlier when I asked you to think of what you typically say to a new client, and examine it, using the checklist as a guide. If you often have the same kind of difficulty with clients, examine your sentence to see if it invites or permits that difficulty. If you decide that you would like to make changes in what you say, write out your new sentence and try it out with clients — first in imagination, then in reality — to find out how that changes what happens in your sessions. Alternatively, you could try out Don’s sentence (#16) or any of the other sentences, to learn how that focuses your sessions, and impacts your clients.

       You might choose a different first question than Don’s, or decide on some modification that would be a better fit for your typical client and the kind of change work you offer. The point is not to find the “perfect sentence”; the point is to be aware of the impact of a sentence, so that you can frame your sessions in a way that facilitates what you do, making your work easier. As Don writes, “Our clients achieved better outcomes more swiftly, and we felt refreshed at the end of the day.” I hope this article helps you gain clarity about your own first question, and to what extent it sets a direction that is useful.