Dr Robert Lefever gives a personal view of how he sees NLP in relation to the therapies - and argues that there is much that we can learn from all of them - and much that practitioners of NLP already have learned.
It is surprising to me how few counsellors, therapists and psychotherapists (call them what you will – the only difference is the size of the fee) have significant understanding or skill in a wide range of therapeutic approaches. Most restrict themselves to just one therapeutic approach - and they may even come to believe (without evidence) that it is the only one that is truly effective.
In this respect, NLP in the therapeutic context goes out of its way to try to prove the commonality that it has with other therapeutic approaches. It is drawn from studying effective therapies of many different change workers. In doing so it gains rather than loses: it is enriched by looking at the basic patterns of thought and behaviour, inter-personal relationships and techniques that can be employed by any therapist who knows how to achieve positive results.
Furthermore, because it looks at the way the brain actually works – the way it is programmed and the way it reacts to stimuli and creates responses – NLP is truly scientific.
In NLP, ideas are tried out in the crucible of experience. If they work they are kept; if not they are discarded. This is a refreshing contrast with those approaches – notably analytical psychotherapy – based upon little more than fanciful hypotheses, yet which deem themselves to be the psychological holy grail.
Another particularly refreshing feature of NLP is the speed with which it works. A skilled and sensitive practitioner can effect change in minutes or hours rather than months or years. Furthermore, the change persists, whereas in many other therapeutic approaches the process needs to be repeated on a continuing basis to avoid relapse.
Instituting a change in someone else’s mental function is a fearsome responsibility and fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Although there are now more professional counsellors in the UK than there are doctors, for counsellors, there is little common professional training, supervision or monitoring. Anyone would imagine that what counsellors do to patients’ minds is relatively unimportant compared with what doctors do to their bodies. But I would say that this is clearly wrong. Training as a counsellor should be every bit as demanding as the training of doctors.
On the other hand, the training of all doctors should include psychotherapeutic approaches so that they are less tempted to prescribe mood-altering drugs straight away. After all, our knowledge of brain biochemistry is in its infancy. We simply do not know what happens to the brain when patients take mood-altering drugs prescribed by doctors. We may call these substances antidepressants or tranquillisers or anti-psychotics or hypnotics, but those are just names. The pharmaceutical industry may produce complex diagrams to try to illustrate what happens at the molecular level in the brain but if you think they really reveal what is going on, dream on. The truth is that we just don’t know what happens in the brain, other than in a few very basic processes.
Meanwhile, the reductionist approach to the brain really doesn't tell us much about it. The brain is not simply an organ for initiating bodily movement or detecting sensory input from the environment. The most treasured aspects of brain function are the abstract ones concerning its capacity for awe and wonder, hope, enthusiasm, creativity and the appreciation of beauty, love, trust, honour and innocence. The brain works as a unit and should be viewed holistically: altering one of its functions can disturb the others. These abstract functions are too precious, too valuable, too much a part of the essence of life, for us to dare risk upsetting them by prescribing mood-altering drugs.
In my experience, non-medicinal approaches can be very effective in treating depression, anxiety, insomnia and even psychosis. The case against pharmaceutical substances as a form of psychotherapy is not simply that they are dangerous (at the same time as sometimes being little more positively effective than placebo: a remarkable double whammy) but also that they are almost entirely unnecessary. Furthermore, a non-medicinal approach respects the integrity of the brain, allowing it to develop its own solutions while protecting all of its widespread functions. In this respect, I believe doctors should learn as much about ethics as they do about pharmacology.
Helping people through the induction of a trance state is common to many therapeutic approaches. Daydreams or a totally absorbing focus of concentration or simple reflections are all trance states of a kind, and we all have trances of this nature all the time. The art of the hypnotist is to channel these trance states constructively. Of course, they can equally be channelled destructively or just plain stupidly, which is why developing the skills of a hypnotist is a very significant responsibility.
NLP and its clinical application in hypnotherapy have the capacity to change people’s lives significantly for the better. There are some applications, such as in sales techniques or professional performance enhancement, that are nothing to do with clinical therapy as such. But even so, they can enrich people’s lives when used responsibly and with consideration for others - something is true for any human interaction. For me, the crucial benefit of NLP comes in its therapeutic applications for distressed or confused patients. Here it comes into its own as a gentle, respectful and effective therapeutic intervention.
It is a wonderfully effective tool, with which I help people every day.
(This article was adapted from 'Healing Emotional Trauma with NLP.')