(Nick Kemp is a great new colleague, whom I met through Andy Austin, author of The Rainbow Machine.)
Nick Kemp © 2008
In 2006 I was a guest on BBC Radio talking about my work with curing phobics, and curing them live on the air. In most instances I had an hour or less to finish and test the work, which meant I had to develop a really excellent strategy to produce unequivocal results in a very short period of time. These two processes form part of what I call the “Provocative Change Works Approach” which draws from the work of Richard Bandler, Frank Farrelly, Milton Erickson, and other experiences from my work in personal development since 1979. I use these exercises with great success in private practice where I regularly see literally hundreds of clients each year in hour-long sessions, and also in my NLP and Provocative training workshops. About 40% of the clients I see in private practice come with anxiety issues and/or panic attacks. To date I have used the following exercise with these clients and had 100% success in producing substantial improvements with just a single session of getting the client to practice these processes.
These methods can be used not only for phobias, anxiety, and panic attacks, but also for many food issues and other compulsions, jealousy, anger, and other problems where the person feels overwhelmed by intense feelings.
I. Internal Voice Tempo Change
Whenever I see a client with a problem, I always start by asking myself the question, “How do they do that?” I began to realize that there are a number of elements that are very similar in a wide range of conditions, which on the surface may seem very different, but actually are not that different when taking a closer look at the client’s internal experience. With a wide variety of problems that create tension and anxiety, the client has been talking to themselves in a fast tempo that creates and sustains their intense feeling response.
They are usually talking to themselves at such a fast tempo that they become hyper alert and stimulated, and aren’t able to access other choices-rather like driving a car on the freeway while stuck in high gear, unable to change down into lower gears. At that fast speed, it’s not possible for them to exit and turn off onto side roads, or stop for lunch.
Before beginning the exercise below, I do a congruence check, “Does any part of you have any objections to having a more comfortable response in all the situations in which you have had these intense feelings?” Any objections or incongruences need to be satisfied before proceeding. In the outline below, sentences in quotation marks give the exact language that I use, with explanatory remarks in parentheses, or in plain text without quotes.
“Now I know from what you have told me that up until this point (implication of future change) you have experienced this intense feeling on a number of occasions. Bring one of these times to mind now, and let me know what you are either thinking or saying to yourself at these times.”
Notice that this language is more immediate and associated than, “Think of a time when-” which is more ambiguous, and could result in the client thinking of an experience dissociated, or running through a listing process of scanning through different examples. Usually they are able to tell me immediately what they are saying to themselves.
If the client doesn’t know what they are saying to themselves, they may be too disassociated from the experience at this moment. When this is true, sometimes I ask them the following:
“If I were to draw a picture of you in one of these experiences as in a comic book where the artist draws “thought bubbles” above the person’s head, what should I put in the bubble to indicate what is being thought at this precise moment? ”
Or you can use some version of the “as if” frame: “If you did know, what might it be?” or simply, “That’s OK, just make up something.” Since I will be adjusting the tempo, not the content, the exact content of what the voice says is not important.
“So the phrase you have said to yourself (the past tense provides a gentle implication that the old sentence will stay in the past) is, ‘The plane is going to crash into the sea.’ When you have said this to yourself, do you say it in your normal conversational speaking voice, or is it said at a faster tempo? (The tense shift from past to present tends to elicit full association into the experience.)
Here I am offering the client just two options; most will immediately confirm that they are using a faster tempo of speaking. If they suggest it’s otherwise, I ask them to check; to date out of the more than 300 clients I have done this with, everybody has been able to notice a much faster tempo.
“OK, now I am going to ask you to do three things. The first is to say or think this phrase exactly as you have done to date and notice how you feel in response to doing so.” . . .
“OK, now I am going to say your sentence, slowed down by about one third. After I have said it, I want you to say or think this sentence to yourself at this slowed-down speed and notice what’s different.” . . . (Note the presupposition that something will be different, which of course will be the case as by slowing down the speed they have to change the way they think about it, “shift gear,” change breathing, etc.)
“OK, now I am going to say the same sentence even slower, and then I want you to do the same, and let me know when you have done so.”
I then slow down the tempo dramatically, allowing long pauses between each word-at least two or three seconds-often matching each word to the client’s breathing out. I watch the client carefully to observe how they are anticipating when they will hear the next word, and make sure that I say the word somewhat later than they anticipate. I usually pause even longer between the next-to-last and last word of the sentence-at least double the length of the previous pauses. This tempo shift effectively deconstructs the meaning of old sentence, and changes their response.
“OK, now when you try (presupposition of failure) to think of this as you used to, what are you noticing that is different?” (Note the verb shift from present, to past, to present tense.)
Another way to do this exercise is to ask the client to see the sentence in front of them, translating the sentence from the auditory to the visual. I ask them to notice what it looks like, and tell me the submodalities of the sentence-distance, size, color, type font, etc. Then I ask them to begin to stretch the sentence apart, creating spaces in between the words -first noticing the new locations of the words, and then paying attention to the spaces in between the words, rather than the words themselves (a figure/ground shift). If I don’t see a dramatic shift, sometimes I ask them to separate the letters as well, and again pay attention to the spaces, rather than to the letters. This further changes the meaning of the sentence, and is also a demonstration that the client can voluntarily change their feeling response.
In some instances I may then get the client to run both the auditory and visual versions of this exercise at the same time. To date I have used this with around 300 clients and in a single pass, no client has been able to get back their original sentence with the original response.
After doing this, it is imperative to do a thorough congruence check again, by carefully future-pacing and testing the new response in all the different contexts in which they previously had the old response. Any concerns or objections need to be respected and satisfied in order to preserve any other useful outcomes that may have been served by the old response.
II. Spinning Feelings
When I first trained with Richard Bandler in the 1990s, I instantly warmed to many of the tools in the NLP tool set, and especially to how changing visual and auditory representations could make dramatic changes in a person’s perceptions and feelings. In one of the first demonstrations I saw he began to talk about “spinning feelings,” which at that time I thought seemed pretty strange. Little did I know that this technique would later become one of the main tools I would use in private practice with clients. In a demonstration with a client with troubling feelings, Richard would have them close their eyes, and ask them to gesture with their finger or hand to indicate their answer to his questions (Try this yourself with a problem feeling to get an experience of this process):
“Where in your body does the feeling start?” . . . “Where does the feeling move to?” . . .
After determining the path of the feeling, he would ask them to indicate whether the feeling moved in a clockwise or counter- clockwise direction as it moved along this path. . . .
At the time I wondered whether this was a hypnotic suggestion to the client, but since then I have found that in nearly every instance when using this approach a client can easily notice that the feeling was definitely moving in one of these two directions, clearly indicating this with their hand gestures.
Then Richard would ask the client to reverse the direction of the spin (along the same path) and to tell him what they noticed was different when they did that. . . .
Since then, I have seen Paul McKenna also ask the demonstration subject to give the feeling a color, usually choosing blue or white.
The result of reversing the direction of spin (and adding in color) is that the troublesome feeling reduces greatly in intensity- sometimes to zero-and may also change in quality.
Since then, I have used this process successfully with a large number of clients with anxiety, panic attacks and phobias, and also with OCD, anger, jealousy, PTSD, and other very intense feelings. I have not yet found an example of an intense feeling that it did not work with.
When I see clients I use a variation on this approach, first doing a thorough congruence check to determine if the intense feeling serves any useful outcomes that need to be respected and preserved. Then, paying careful attention to the language used in the session, I begin by saying:
“I assume that you have felt this feeling in a variety of different situations. I want you to close your eyes so that you can attend more completely to your feelings. When you think about one of these situations now, where do you first notice the feeling physically in your body? Please gesture with your hand or fingers to indicate that.” . . .
“Then where does the feeling move to? Again indicate this with your hand.” . . .
This gives me the overall path of the movement of the feeling. Then I ask them to open their eyes, and I ask whether the feeling spins in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction along this path, gesturing with my finger in both directions to clearly indicate what I mean. After they identify the direction of spin, I ask them to close their eyes again, and say:
“I want you to notice what changes (presupposition of change) when you begin, now, to spin that feeling in the opposite direction?” . . .
Typically the feeling becomes much less intense, and may also change in quality.
“When you give this feeling a color that is a relaxing color for you, and spin it a bit faster in that (opposite) direction, what else do notice about how it begins to change, now?” . . .
Adding in a color often accelerates the process of changing the feeling. Allowing the client to choose the color to add is respectful of their individuality, and also allows their unconscious mind to contribute to the process. This changes the client’s attention from the kinesthetic feeling itself into a visual image of its path through space.
When the client has run through this exercise a couple of times, the direction often automatically changes and the old pattern is not there in the same way that it was.
Again after doing this, it is imperative to do a thorough congruence check by carefully future-pacing and testing the new response in all the different contexts in which they previously had the old response. Any concerns or objections need to be respected and satisfied in order to preserve any other useful outcomes that may have been served by the old response.
I have gotten the best results by using this in combination with the “Tempo Change Works” exercise, usually alternating between the two approaches. I’ll do one example with one method, and then another example in a different context with the other. I also make extensive use of Frank Farrelly’s playful provocative language and attitude, which adds another powerful dimension to changing the old response. I recently worked with a woman with OCD, who initially wrote:
“I have just found your email address on the website and wondered what treatment you have for OCD. I have had OCD for 24 years. Sometimes it’s bearable, but now and most of the time I cannot live with it. I obsessively clean, check and make sure everything is in order. It is with me the moment I wake until I go to sleep. I am currently on Sertraline medication, but it does not seem to be enough, and my family life is suffering. I am married with two young children and cannot live in the environment much longer.”
The work was done in the first session; in the second session we mostly did a review of what she noticed was different. We scheduled a third follow-up session, which she later canceled because she didn’t need it, writing:
“I would like to cancel the appointment I have with you on Friday 14th December at 9AM. I do not need any treatment at the moment. I thought I would leave it a few weeks since the last appointment to see how I got on. It seems to be working-very well!! I cannot thank you enough for the help you have given: it has changed my life.”
I rarely use the classic fast phobia cure these days, because this combination of approaches has resulted in successful outcomes for clients much faster and more easily. If you would like to observe how I use the Spinning exercise, my “Provocative Change Works for Phobias” DVDs show me using this and other processes working with a needle phobic and claustrophobic with immediate behavioral testing.