my first big NLP challenge

(this one goes in English to reach a wider audience. those who are researching/studying/practicing NLP can find more info after the break)

So last week I went to face my first big NLP challenge. Scenario: a 68 year-old man who has been visiting psychiatrists for the past 4 years, under medication for hallucinations and bipolar disease. His wife called me and explained that he does barely talk, doesn’t maintain conversations, doesn’t go out of the house for months (except for going to the hospital), doesn’t smile for ages, etc… you get the picture.

This was simultaneously scary and exciting ;) Never had a chance to deal with a person like that, much less to try and make him change his condition. Anyway, since I am committed to develop my skills in this practice, I told I would pay them a visit. As he was under heavy medication for his behaviours and hallucinations I feared that I might find him very sedated and that would ruin the change work. So I instructed his wife to reduce by half the medicine intake on the day before my visit, and to remove it completely on the day itself.

yes, magic has a structure! ;-)

Unfortunately, she was too afraid to do that and only reduced a little bit on the day I went there. Because of that he was still too drugged and speaking and moving slowly. This got me a bit upset as now I could not have access to the part of him where all those problems manifest. Anyway, after 2 hours, his wife was amazed when I asked her “can you bring us his wheelchair? we want to go for a walk outside”, she could not believe that he actually agreed to go outside the house. He actually got to smile and laugh a few times, something he didn’t do for many months (so they say…)

Before I left I told her again to reduce the medicine (very gradually) and see what the effect would be like. And if he displayed negative signs she could call me again for a second session.
This week I finally got feedback! She was very very happy, in her own words, her husband is a very different person since I was there, he is talking, smiling and even wants to go outside everyday! She asked him what I did to him but he can only say “nothing, we just talked… and one time he told me to close my eyes…” hehe magic in action ;)

Lets see how the situation develops from here on! :)

for those interested, here is some NLP related stuff:

Warning: I’m sharing this because since I started studying NLP I was always curious to read about how different people work with different techniques and solve different challenges. I’m sharing mine also to help others in the same situation. This is NOT by any means a set of instructions to be followed. Please remember that NLP techniques are not pills that you prescribe, but a bunch of ways to get the responses you are looking for. If there was one valuable thing I really learned with Dr. Richard Bandler was: “if what you are doing isn’t working, try something else… ANYTHING else”. This means: be flexible, and be creative! In NLP you can not be stuck with a specific strategy or technique just because it worked one time in a similar situation. Every person, every brain works differently. What matters here is to be very aware of the feedback you are getting. If the response you are getting is not the one you want, change whatever you need until you get it right!

I don’t want to make a 100page long description of what I did, so I’ll just summarize the most important things in some bullet points.

  • First and most important, don’t assume anything. I acted like I did not know what was the case and what I was going to do. “How can I help you? What do you want?” was a good way to start. Of course that, as usual, you get the reverse answer (“what I do not want”). So our first work was to bring the right answers to those questions and define the desired outcome (being peaceful, more open, smiling and talking – his words, not mine – remember that its the person that has to have an active role in changing, not you imposing it)
  • Then I tried to figure out the process with which he was putting himself down or what was making him feel some bad things and blocking him from doing other things. This is were I slipped a little bit. When the client gets to talk, be careful not to get lost in content! It’s really easy, because they are used to dive deep into the content, in psychiatrists and psychologists. Remember, in NLP we go for the process, the content doesn’t matter. Once you find yourself navigating in the content part, get out! It’s really easy to be stuck there and start asking about different things of their lives etc etc, which don’t make much difference (if any!). Of course that it’s nice to be nice (to show empathy with their grieves), so get a balance between both :)
  • Once I got some relevant information out about the processes, I tried to do some change using submodalities, but it was really difficult due to his sedated state and lack of attention. This is why its important not to be stuck in a technique! Adapt, change, and move on.
  • I understood that a physical problem in one of his legs was stopping him from walking properly (had to use a wheelchair), and that was one reason why he didn’t want to go outside. I challenged him to go with me for a walk in the wheelchair, so as to show that he is committed to do positive changes, to me and to his family. He immediately rejected it with aversion. He actually said to me repeatedly “you can ask me anything, but don’t ask me that!”. I thought that this strong rejection should have some “gold to be mined”  so I went to explore that. Whenever he thought about going outside in a wheelchair he had a voice inside his head, saying stuff like “oh look at that poor man, oh he is so sick” etc etc. That made him shy and reluctant to step out. So I tried again playing with submodalities, using a person that he did not trust or that he despised completely.
  • About the smiling and laughter, after a simple handshake interrupt and guiding him in a simple trance induction we revived a memory from the past where he was having lots of fun. Again, submodalities, strengthening the experience, 2 or 3 times. This got him to smile and laugh for the first time. And we anchored it. Now he was aware that he still had all the resources he needed to be in a good mood and laugh, whenever he wanted. We future paced this state into possible future situations.
  • After this and some more talking, I challenged him again to go outside in the wheelchair. This time, he offered no resistance whatsoever.. it’s like it never was a problem before! (even I was so amazed at how quickly he changed his opinion about it, that I had to ask twice… mistake on my part ;)
  • The anchor was useful at 2 or 3 different times, especially during our walk outside. He did have a enjoyable walk, with some funny parts :)

This is a very short summary, the whole thing took about 2-3 hours. But I think the most important is here, other things I had to ommit because they are not easily explainable. Don’t forget to be in rapport and to pay attention to everything single clue you can (eye accessing cues, breathing change, meta model, etc). I hope its useful to you.

PS – regarding the reduction of medicine intake, I only told them to reduce it because I knew that the specific medicine he was taking was only for his psychic condition (depression, hallucinations, etc). Play it safe, only do things that are free from causing other problems.

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4 thoughts on “my first big NLP challenge

  1. Hi. I’m really glad that you decided to write this experience in enghlish, so I can understant it. I’m passionate about NLP also, and this experience you posted just reassured me that I chose correctly (to follow my passion with NLP) :)

    You should create a blog in english with similar posts like this one.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi! thanks for your feedback!
      I’m afraid I wouldn’t have enough content for a blog, as I do this stuff only once in a while when opportunity arises.. it’s not my job or anything ;)

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