In response to my previous blog post on synesthesia, Gary Skaleski (MA, LPC, currently working as an EAP case manager) wrote the following:


“About 1976-77 John Grinder was teaching about modalities, and at one point came up with a technique which I had not heard anyone else talk about, not written up as far as I know, but which I found helpful. We started talking about synesthesia, and while discussing overlap, John suggested we spend time every day mapping from one modality to another, but at such a small level that we would never get overwhelmed.  Example: take a sound.  Not a word (big scope: “Amen”) but part of that word (‘Ah’) and turn that into a feeling (not emotion, but how and where that sound feels physically in or on your body), then take that feeling and turn it into a visual image (again, not a scene but a simple shape, color, etc.).

“The order is not important, and could start with a feeling, to visual to auditory, etc.  Just keep overlapping at this small level.  After a few weeks of doing this, I noticed a significant drop in my general anxiety — things that might have ‘gotten under my skin’ did not elicit as large a response as before.

“It’s an interesting and effective technique, and in this age of mindfulness and meditation, it’s also a way someone could take any experience, chunk it down, and use the small elements of that experience to remap at an equivalent level in all systems, so going back to thinking about the original experience is not as overwhelming as before.”


I wrote back: “Gary, thanks for your note. I remember Grinder presenting this ‘small chunk overlap’ as a way to work with schizophrenia about 1978 (and it may be mentioned in Frogs into Princes) as a gentle and non-threatening way to integrate modalities. I don’t know anyone (other than you) who has tried it, but it certainly sounds right, and I can’t see how it could possibly hurt. Boredom would probably keep me from spending enough time doing it to be worthwhile, but others might not be so encumbered.


Gary replied: “This was early NLP, so submodalities and spinning feelings were still in the distant future.  I would probably spend about 20-30 minutes a day doing this, and it was fascinating to concentrate on the smallest detail (a line, different parts of words with different sounds, pitches, volume, and feelings here and there (equivalent to the est technique of asking, ‘What color is your headache?  Where is it located?  What shape is it,’ asking this over and over until it changed or disappeared).  Anyway, we were still green in those days and John could have told me to put my head in a garbage can and yell to cure something and I probably would have done it.”


Steve wrote to John Grinder, asking him to look over the above to see if it accurately represented his memory and understanding, and/or suggest changes or additions; his reply is below:


John Grinder replied: “Your account strikes me as entirely plausible. I have no idea about the dates involved — it sounds close to when the period when we were exploring synesthesia. I have had good success in cases of clients who get triggered by X; if you elicit a reasonably well-specified description of the triggering stimuli, you can decompose them into their submodality components, and use small pieces of those components mapped onto other submodalities of other representational systems through synesthesia circuitry (e.g. swatches of color, small sounds, any of the submodalities kinesthetically) and either have the client’s unconscious (ideally) or in some cases, have the client deliberately present to him/herself these small chunk elements (and therefore meaningless and ineffective as a trigger), the triggers lose their ability to access the states that they have been historically associated with. In my experience, this has worked with the full range of clients, from chronic schizophrenics to off-the-street clients.

“I have used the small chunk approach with synesthesia mapping with many clients over the years — it works very well (for me, at least) with things like pain control. I remember taking a fall climbing and breaking a bone in my ankle. I had about one and a half miles to get back to my pickup truck. Because of my fascination with, and playing around with, such synesthesia mapping, I mapped the pain (important to maintain a sensing of the pain to avoid doing things that would exacerbate the injury) onto pressure and heat. By so doing, it was able to carefully return to my truck without further damaging my ankle.

“I have used it with women who want to be fully conscious during childbirth but not feel the pain. One striking example was a woman who has strong K > V circuitry. I had her practice for some weeks during her pregnancy. When she went into labor, the professional medical types wired her for contractions as well as the baby for heartbeat, breathing. She was walking around the room talking to her mom and friends, and the nurses were looking worried and constantly checking the instruments. Fortunately they were intelligent enough not to mention that according to the instruments, the woman should be in severe pain. The baby was born premature and was kept in a critical care unit because the brainstem breathing was not mature enough to safely maintain the breathing patterns. The mother decided to stay in the hospital to be close to her baby. Two or three days after the birth, she, the head nurse, and her mother walked in the room where she had been in labor. She stepped through the door, stopped abruptly and exclaimed, ‘They have painted the room!’ What had happened was that practicing the synesthesia patterning (K >V) kicked in unconsciously, and she had succeeded in remaining conscious and mobile by changing the colors in the room to one that served as a measurement of the pain without the requirement of experiencing the pain.

“I was amused by Gary’s statement about yelling into a garbage can — it is certainly accurate that congruency on the part of the agent of change is a powerful aspect of doing change work.”