Case Study

Case Study

Using Neuro-Linguistic Programming to Help a Panicked Client: From Certainty to Uncertainty

By Steve Andreas

March/April 2012

“People don’t come to therapy for explanations; they come for experience.”

    - Frieda Fromm-Reichmann

We’ve all seen clients who suffer from debilitating and obstructive feelings of uncertainty: “I don’t know what to do with my life,” “I don’t know whether to stay or go,” “I can’t motivate myself.” But sometimes the problem is that people are so certain of a particularly paralyzing perception of themselves or the world—“I can’t make it on my own,” “No one else will ever love me,” “My life is over”—that they can’t take productive action to improve the quality of their life. In such cases, reducing certainty can be an essential first step in working effectively with a presenting problem, or even defusing it completely.

I view certainty, like all our feelings, as an internal experience composed of images, sounds, feelings, and thoughts. The principal element in creating certainty is the vividness and clarity of that internal experience. An experience that’s remembered as a large, close, colorful, panoramic image with intense sound will feel much more certain than one that’s remembered as a small, distant, colorless, flat picture with no sound. The link between the intensity of the emotional and visual imagery and the resulting certainty is true of both lasting traumatic memories and positive imprints—those special life-changing memories that sustain us through difficult times.

If you’ve ever tried to change someone’s mind when they’re…

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012 7:52:49 AM | posted by Jason D. West
Great stuff as usual Steve. I'm looking forward to training with you soon in CO.


Jason West

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 8:18:45 PM | posted by S. Andreas
Reply to Steve Green:
Firstly, what I did with the client was not hard work at all. It was an easy and enjoyable exchange that was delightful.

Secondly, yes, it certainly would have been "simpler and much more straightforward" to do what you suggest.

There is only one small problem with a direct approach--no matter how true that might be—and I do agree with what you write. Actually creating that realization takes more than just telling someone that "that they are just thoughts, stories, fantasies, and not true. They are just made up." That is conscious mind talk, and rarely effective. (When I worked in the oilfields in the 1950's this was described as "pissing into the wind.")

Creating that realization requires changing the internal images, sounds and feelings that a client uses to determine what is real and what is not. This can be done directly ("Make that image transparent; hear that voice as if it is coming from an old tape recorder" etc.) or conversationally by telling and acting out relevant stories behaviorally so that they are processed as real, which is what I did in the session.

Daniel Kahneman's excellent book, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow presents a huge variety of experiments that his "Dual system" theory is based on:
-System 1 is fast, relatively primitive and prone to error, and is what many people have called the "unconscious," or "right brain."
-System 2 is slower, and more work, using logic, mathematics, language, often described as "left brain."

Most clients are troubled by feelings, addictions, and behaviors that are generated unconsciously by system 1 thinking.

System 2 thinking has little effect on this UNLESS it utilizes images, metaphors, narratives, etc. to communicate in a way that system 1 can respond, which is what I did in the session described.

One of the main points in my article was the difference between just talking logically to someone about their problem which unfortunately is what most therapists do, and communicating appropriately with the client's system 1 that is creating the problem.

I think every therapist (and anyone else who wants to understand how our minds function) would benefit enormously from reading Kahneman's book.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 2:33:17 PM | posted by Maria
Great article, thank you!

Thursday, July 5, 2012 11:52:16 AM | posted by Neil
Brilliant, thankyou for this, there are so many applications of NLP, and self management certainly is the big one for me!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 11:13:19 AM | posted by Dr. Michael of Grantham Therapy
Well worth reading Steve and thank you. When our perception shifts, it immediately provides a new vision of the world. Regards, Michael

Monday, May 14, 2012 10:07:22 PM | posted by John D Lentz
How wonderful to read the work of a master, weaving so elegantly words, emotions, and associations so that the client feels better and has more options.

Saturday, April 21, 2012 3:10:03 AM | posted by Eugenie
What elegant, skilled work! I especially appreciate the step-by-step explanation and rationale for each strategy used; so useful for us learners out there. You are a great
ego-free teacher. Thank you for ministering to Sarah!

Thursday, April 19, 2012 7:43:45 PM | posted by Ron Klein
As usual, Steve, you are a wizard!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012 1:08:39 PM | posted by Larry Iverson PhD
Steve, Your weaving through the situation is beautiful. Thanks for sharing in a way that assists me in being ever more effective.
Best to you, Larry Iverson

Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:55:37 PM | posted by Steve Green
Phew! Blimey! I am sweating from reading all of that!

That's a lot of hard work there.

Would it not have been simpler and much more straightforward for the client to realise that it's all just a story, just thoughts, and there's nothing to it?

Thoughts, both positive and negative, pop up automatically, but whether they are positive or negative, you save a lot of time, effort, energy and stress when you realise that they are just thoughts, stories, fantasies, and not true. They are just made up.

And that there is no need to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts, 'cos they are made up too!

Just realise that they are thoughts, and leave it at that.

Job done!

Apply this to your life and your practice and life will be much simpler, happier and stresss free.

Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:52:33 PM | posted by Joan Courtney
What an elegant way to shift perception and therefore the client's reality. I appreciated the reminder form John Grinder also. Being congruent is a wonderful way check on client progress and calibrate the change process itself. Thank you, Steve!

Thursday, April 19, 2012 6:25:34 AM | posted by Rosie OHara
It's a great article, you and your readers might find my blog here , interesting, useful and funny. The blog relates to what I did when told I had breast cancer and how I used NLP, by changing my language, reframing other's meaning etc.