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.


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