Perhaps one of the most well known NLP processes is the phobia-trauma process. Usually associated with relieving psychological trauma, NLP has many applications in the physical arena as well.
Continuing our series on NLP in everyday life, this week’s story by Steve Andreas, co-founder of NLP Comprehensive, describes using NLP to reduce the affects of physical trauma.
Using NLP with Yourself: Reducing Physical Trauma
by Steve Andreas
First there was psychoanalysis, analyzing the mind. Then there was psychotherapy, in which one person treats or “therapizes” another. NLP can also be used in this way, but primarily NLP is about psycho- education, teaching someone how to use their mind, so that people can use it with themselves, as more of a personal practice, rather than a therapy, and in this piece I’ll offer you an example.
We have a private well, with a pressure tank to maintain pressure. Our water pressure had been somewhat low, so on the last day of November I adjusted the pressure switch, turned on the pump, and happily watched the pressure climb up past the 30# or so it had been. As it climbed past 50#, suddenly the back of the tank exploded-BLAM!!–and by Newton’s second law, the tank flew (no exaggeration) into me, giving me a number of bruises and a nasty Y-shaped gash just over my left eye. If I were an inch taller-or the trajectory of the tank had been an inch lower-I might have lost an eye.
On my way to the house and then to the doctor, whenever I thought of the explosion I re-experienced a bright white flash, and the impact and the pain. The rusty scale from the inside of the corroded tank had a very unique oily smell that had gotten on my clothes, and each time I smelled it, that also triggered the white flash and impact. My immediate concern was to get medical help, but as soon as I was in the clinic getting the gash pulled together and stitched up (two dozen stitches, both cutaneous and sub-), I did several processes to promote healing.
The first thing I did is something I learned from Tim Hallbom, called the “physical trauma process.” I imagined that I was a stunt man hired for a movie of my explosion. Well prepared with padded clothing and other tricks of the trade, I re-experienced all the events of the explosion without injury, and repeated this sequence from before the explosion to after it ten times. This added ten movies of being unhurt to the one of being hurt, and the result was an internal experience of going through the explosion and coming out fine-just as when you sometimes stumble or bump into something without any injury. I have no proof that this process works, but I have several examples where it certainly seemed to make a difference. In one case, a woman in a seminar turned her ankle when she stood up and lost her balance, and she was absolutely sure that she would be limping for some time. I had her do this process immediately, and about 15 minutes later she stood up and walked completely normally, without any pain. The process takes only a few minutes to do, and could only be harmful if someone had such a loose grasp on reality that they then did things that made a real injury worse.
The next thing I did was to separate myself from the event by watching a movie of the exact same sequence of events from about 20 feet away. From that distance I saw myself watching the pressure switch, the tank exploding and hitting me, and then me walking to the house and calling the medical clinic. From this perspective, I could see him feeling the impact and pain, but I was only a detached observer of those events. After this, whenever I smelled the smell of that peculiar rusty scale or thought of the explosion, it triggered this detached movie of seeing myself (instead of the white flash and blow to my head). This is an example of the NLP “visual/kinesthetic dissociation” process that can be used to resolve most phobias quickly, as well as most traumas and PTSD. (Heart of the Mind, Chapter 7)
Then I used a process to support healing developed by my wife, Connirae. I compared my image of the gash in my forehead to an image of something that I know will heal quickly, like an ordinary cut that I might get while cutting vegetables. When I did this, the gash was black and bright red, while my image of an ordinary cut was surrounded by a bright white light (Different people will have very different color codings). Then I transformed the bright red and black of the gash to the white light. This gave my new injury the same coding, indicating nonverbally that it would heal quickly. This is far more impactful than any verbal message or affirmation, because any time I thought of the gash I automatically saw this white light that indicated healing.
Finally, I added an additional piece that I thought of some time ago. One of the first and most dependable signs of healing is itching, as the nerve endings regenerate into the healing tissue. The experience of itching is also one of easiest things to induce hypnotically simply by focusing your attention. So I attended to the gash waiting for the first itches to occur, which happened almost right away (probably far too soon to actually be the result of healing). Besides being another nonverbal indication of healing, this did something else very important. Focusing on the itching implied not attending to other sensations like heat, soreness, or pain that could indicate that the wound was not healing.
Another example of this kind of redirection of attention is what nurses are trained to do when patients begin to come out of general anesthetic after an operation, something that we learned from Sandra Aspromonte. The nurse needs to know if the patient is nauseous, in order to be prepared if they vomit, because in their semi- conscious state they might aspirate the vomit into their lungs, which would be very serious. However, in their semi-conscious state, the patient is extremely suggestible. If the nurse asks, “Are you nauseous?” they may create the very response that they don’t want-vomiting. So instead, at the first sign of consciousness in the patient, the nurse asks, “Are you hungry?” This question is also very hypnotic, and since hunger is incompatible with vomiting, directing the patient’s attention in this way tends to preclude vomiting-without ever mentioning it.
In one of Milton Erickson’s cases, a woman would gasp uncontrollably just before bedtime, which interfered with her sex life. Erickson instructed her to do something that naturally elicited giggling, which prevented her gasping. A more general example of this principle of eliciting an incompatible response is useful in dealing with fear. Curiosity is a state that is incompatible with fear. In fear, you run away from something, while in curiosity, you go toward something in order to learn more about it. If you can elicit a strong state of curiosity about something that someone has been avoiding, that will preclude fear. Typically after curing a phobia, clients will be very interested and curious about what they had previously been avoiding, indicating that the curiosity was already present, but the fear was so strong that the curiosity was overwhelmed, and wasn’t noticed.
Back to my gash. The doctor wanted to schedule my stitch removal 7 days later. However, I had to get on an early airplane 6 days later to go present at a conference, so I had the stitches out the previous day (less than 5 days after the injury). I had wondered if I would look a bit like Frankenstein, but when the stitches were removed, there wasn’t even a thin pink line where the skin had healed. I looked up common times for stitch removal and found 3-5 days for face, and 7-10 days for scalp (Is forehead included in face or more like scalp?) so maybe it wasn’t so miraculous. However, it certainly did heal up very nicely, and no one at the conference noticed the scar unless I pointed it out. A couple of months later, it blended in completely with my other wrinkles-one of the advantages of getting older!
More resources on relieving Phobias and Traumas:
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You can enjoy more of Steve’s writing in our articles section. Steve will be teaching in person in our Summer Master’s in Winter Park, Colorado. This will be a unique program because he and Charles Faulkner are redesigning the training using the principles from his latest book, Six Blind Elephants, and additional understandings from Cognitive Linguistics with NLP Comprehensive’s unique Immersion Training approach to make your training experience easy and deep.
More applications of NLP in the healing field can be found at the NLP Institute for the Advanced Studies of Health (IASH). IASH is a great volunteer organization started by Tim Hallbom, Suzi Smith, and Robert Dilts. They produce a major NLP conference in the United States every two years in San Francisco, where you’ll find a number of new and unique NLP presentations and processes both on health and other applications. We have the complete recordings of the last conference available here and we will be announcing a special conference savings next month – so stay tuned!