So, your client is highly analytical and tense... how do you get beyond this to install new attitudes and new frames of reference? Matthew Wingett describes one technique that he fitted to one client, in order to help her get out of her stuck state.
Matthew Wingett, Editor NLP LIFE
A little while ago a client came to me with an intense fear of enclosed spaces. An enclosed space could be almost anything: even stopping her car under a bridge caused her to become uncomfortable, and the MRI scan that she had undergone a few months before had caused her to panic intensely.
I did a lot of NLP work on her, rapport building, working with submodalities, running the fast phobia cure, using kinaesthetic anchors and so on. There was no doubt about it, hers was a pretty stubborn phobia - and though, after some time, the symptoms were reduced, I could in no way say that they were completely removed.
I sat with her and reviewed her symptoms, and I ran back through everything that we had done. A piece of the jigsaw was missing, that was clear to me. So, what I had missed?
In the course of the conversation that ensued between us, the client revealed that at the age of 14 she had undergone a deep trauma that was not directly connected to the symptoms she was now presenting. I am aware that in NLP one does not usually pursue the content of a trauma, but she revealed enough in the conversation for me to realise that I was dealing with something that was not a straightforward phobia in which someone receives a scare and then relives it every time something similar occurs.
This client had (understandably, in the circumstances) attached a massive extra emotional meaning to her original trauma. In that trauma she had felt weak, vulnerable, humiliated and had had her movement restricted. She felt ashamed, she told me, and angry at herself. Whenever she found herself in a situation in which she felt that her movement was going to be somehow restricted, she felt deep anxiety, and was overcome with an overpowering sense of helplessness. Running this deeply traumatic event backwards was not an option that could work for her - the whole event was far too upsetting for her to even visualise. I realised that I needed to deal with the trauma more subtly, rather than working on the claustrophobia alone. Realising that I was running short of time, I arranged to meet her the following week to focus directly on it.
I considered the client after the session, to see what resources I could work on with her. What did I know about her? She was highly intelligent, highly analytical, very wordy - indeed, she worked as a solicitor, concentrating on supporting clients in industrial disputes. In our conversation, I had also come to appreciate that she had a strong sense of justice. Also, during our session she had expressed an interest in literature, becoming fascinated with some antiquarian books that I kept in the office.
Her analytical streak had manifested itself in our work on submodalities. While I was asking her to do various mental exercises, she had found it difficult to get completely involved in the process - often stopping to ask me: "Yes, but why should this work?" Completing the review, I decided that I needed to bypass her critical faculty - and that I could do it with a series of metaphors.
At the start of the next session, when she came into the room, I affected being distracted, looking down at the manuscript of a book I was in the middle of writing. I had laid out the chapters on the floor. Some of the chapters were ones that I had decided to strike out and remove from the book. On those I had drawn a thick blue pen line across each page. There were around four or five such chapters, conspicuously cast to one side from the main body of the copy.
As I expected, my client couldn't stop herself from being interested. She came over and stood beside me with big wide eyes, saying: "What's this?" She was clearly fascinated.
"Oh," I said airily. "It's a book I'm writing. It's not finished yet. I'm just going back over it at the moment. I was a bit stuck with it, but I realised that the whole story needs to be strengthened." I pointed at the discarded chapters. "Sometimes, in order to make a story stronger, you need to take out whole chapters. Doing that makes you focus on what makes things in the story more enjoyable."
I moved the conversation on quickly, mentioning that at the weekend I was going to go to London to see my brother, and my lovely niece, Jamila. My client expressed interest in this, and I told her that my niece had grown up to be a very confident young woman. She always smiled, I said. I mentioned that there was only really one time that I remembered her having some problems. It was when she was about fourteen years old. She had been mugged, and her telephone had been stolen. I then mentioned that I'd helped her get over it.
My client clearly felt for the story. "What did you do?" she asked.
"Well, part of the problem was my brother's reaction to the mugging. He was so angry that he just blamed everyone. He got in his car and drove around the streets of London, trying to find these kids who had mugged his daughter. And when he couldn't find them, in his powerlessness he vented his frustration on Jamila. Why did you get your phone out on a bus? - Why weren't you more careful? So, Jamila ended up feeling that the mugging was in some way her fault."
"So what did you do?" My client asked again. She was by now really involved in the story.
"Well, I told her about a time when I was a kid. There was this boy at school who bullied me. Made me feel terrible. For years I just felt so weak and stupid. Then one day, years later, I was driving down the road and I saw a big kid picking on a smaller kid. Without thinking, I got out of the car and separated them. I found out the story from the pair of them - and it was exactly as I had thought: the big kid was just bullying the little one for no reason. I made sure that the smaller kid got home safely, and made him promise me that he would report this bullying to his parents and his headmaster. I realised then that the event I had thought was so terrible when I was a kid had made me feel a much stronger sense of justice about things. It gave me the strength and conviction to set things right."
I changed the subject again. "Still, before I go up to London to see my brother, I'll be going to have dinner with my parents - they only live around the corner."
She asked where, and I told her. Then I added: "It's great going to see them. When I was at Uni - that must be about 14 years ago now - how time flies - I found an acorn on the ground. I took it back to my student digs and watered and grew it in a pot. Then, when it sprouted, I took it home the following spring and planted it in my parents' back garden. It grew really strong for a few years, and I was really proud of it. Then, when it was just starting to mature - you know how trees look when they stop being saplings and start looking like young mature trees? - Well, a neighbour was cutting a hedge and dropped a branch on it. It broke off the main trunk so there was only this crown of branches, the top broken off. I thought it was going to die. But it's amazing, how nature heals things. Over the years, I watched one of the branches bend upwards to replace the main trunk. If you look at it now, you can't tell that it was damaged when it was young. You just can't see the join. And now it's a healthy maturing tree…"
I could see that my client had really enjoyed the conversation. She was a little bit unfocussed in her eyes, and was smiling in a contented way.
So, with these three stories told, I said to her: "Oh, but aren't I just talking and talking? Time to start the session…"
The session went extremely well. Part of what I did with my client that day was a technique called "Changing Personal History". The technique requires that the client takes resources, insights and knowledge that the client has now back into the past… in this case to right a wrong.
It worked beautifully. A few months later, we happened to meet again. She told me excitedly that she had taken rides in elevators, in the London Underground and was preparing to take a flight in an aeroplane...She was excited, and she was also puzzled by the changes she had experienced. A look of bafflement crossed her face. "I don't really get why it worked - but it did," she said. "It's very strange, and rather wonderful!"
How had it worked? Well, she didn't know it, but I had made sure to the best of my ability that I had made her aware of all the resources she needed "before" the session had started. I had bypassed her critical faculty - that why-asking part of herself - while telling her a few apparently irrelevant stories.
So, that is how I set a metaphor context with one highly analytical client!
This article and associated image, Copyright Matthew Wingett, 2009
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