Steve Andreas has developed, taught and propagated patterns in NLP since 1977 along with his wife Connirae Andreas. In March 2014, at a Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in Washington D.C., Andreas spoke about the importance of clinical skills co-existing with the knowledge of neural anatomy. Being a student of chemistry and psychology himself, he always believed that the brief therapy methods that NLP training offers are not a replacement for clinical and counselling psychology.
Neural anatomy deals with problems that are visible on the surface level, for someone who has a general insight about his/her own problems and coping skills, and for someone who is fully in his/her physicality. Andreas has developed a brief phobia cure that he has used and taught several times and to several people. Before diving into Steve Andreas’ phobia cure, there are a few important points that he has made:
1. Make an unconscious change.
Most of the people come to you because they have problems that they cannot control voluntarily. They might call these ‘unconscious’ problems, as even the most rational and ruminating minded people face problems that seem to have no clarifications whatsoever. In such cases, rationality and talk therapy might not make much of a difference. Andreas said,
“If you use your rational mind to do something different then you have a chance of changing the unconscious experience”.
Hence the aim of this method of therapy is to make people realise that they have a choice to look at things differently.
2. Most therapy is about description.
There is an important distinction between injunctive language and descriptive language. Injunctive language is factual, it is the language of science (do this, do that, try this). Therapy is about adding emotions, feelings along with meaning behind words. The way in which we are able to communicate makes all the difference. It not only helps the clients understand us better, but also aids us in getting the required responses from them.
3. Two ways of remembering.
There are broadly two ways of remembering something- one is self position, and the other is observer position. Self position means remembering where we were sitting, what our hands, feet, and rest of the body was touching, what other people looked like from our perspective; as well as what we were feeling, thinking about, etc. in that moment. Remembering an event from the observer position means looking at yourself from somebody else’s perspective. The pivotal point of difference of this perspective is that all the feelings and emotions are cancelled out. A lot of people who experience a PTSD flashback do not realise that they have a choice to experience the event from the outside, instead of being in it.
During the conference in 2014, Steve has discussed the case of a woman who had fallen into a bee’s nest as a teenager, and had gotten stung hundreds of times. 20 years later she still carried her phobia of bees. Andreas managed to cure her phobia in 8 minutes (see: Steve Andreas Phobia Cure Part 1 on YouTube). The video has a 25 year follow up where the woman has explained that the cure instantly worked on her and she has been free of her phobia ever since.
Steps for Steve Andreas’ phobia cure (based on The Fast Phobia Trauma Cure Part 1, 2012):
1. Pre-test: Ask the client to think about something that elicits a phobic response; or an earlier traumatic incident that triggers them. Observe any changes in behaviour and note the unconscious response.
2. Bring them back to the present by using grounding techniques; for e.g. holding their hand, asking them to look at the people around, talking about someone who is in the same room, etc.).
3. Prepare them for the actual procedure by saying “before we begin..”. This is an easy way of making them feel at ease, and possibly less self conscious.
4. Ask the client to imagine being in a movie theatre. Then proceed to making them see themselves on the screen in black and white.
5. Once this image is achieved by the client, ask them to ‘float away’ (dissociate) from where they are sitting currently, and into the projection booth in the movie theatre. Now, they should be able to see themselves sitting in the audience as well as on the screen in black and white.
6. Now, from the projection booth, ask them to run the movie of their bad time (it may be an earlier traumatic experience), in this case falling into the nest, on the screen. Ask them to feel the glass that separates them from the movie theatre while they are sitting in the booth. When the movie is playing on screen, specifically ask them to see themselves ‘freaking out’ during the past event.
7. For some people, it might be hard to actually run the movie and instead they might see a picture. In such cases, ask them to visualise the picture as a film and slowly get to the end. In the woman’s case, she could not seem to get to the end as she kept seeing the traumatic experience over and over again. For her it took half a dozen more tries to be able to see the ending when it was all over.
8. After watching the movie from beginning to end, take a moment to ask them how it felt. The general response might be that they felt a little uncomfortable but it didn’t feel as bad as the actual event.
9. After this, ask them to once again float out of their bodies, now from the projection booth as well as the seat in the audience, and go inside the movie at the end when everything is alright and comfortable. When they are able to do this, make them rewind the entire movie in a second and a half, in colour, just like the real experience.
10. This might take some time to get acclimated to, but once they achieve that, make them run the movie backwards a couple of times and possibly faster.
11. Notice how they react to the same.
12.Once this is over, ask them how they would feel if the event was occurring right now. Take a note of how they respond. If necessary, ask them how they would feel if the phobic trigger was right in their face, to note the sub modality changes.
This exercise is essentially a sensory based experience, and hence it is important to notice all the unconscious responses, as well as allowing the client to take their own time to get accustomed to the visual techniques.
Some important takeaways from this process are:
Test unconscious response at the beginning to see if it has changed at the end of the process. This is important to understand whether the cure has worked or not.
Distract the client after the initial phobic response by using hypnotic tools like “hold my hand”, “look at the audience” till they are re-grounded to the present.
Use the frame “before we begin” to eliminate any and all chances of performance anxiety. This aids in reassuring them that the procedure hasn’t begun yet.
Implication of the movie theatre is that the movie was made in the past, or during some other time and whatever is playing on the screen is not real ‘now’.
Dissociating into the projection booth gives the client an overall visual of them sitting in the audience watching their own selves on the screen.
It is important that the entire movie of the traumatic incident should be played in black and white.
The distance from the screen is helpful in separating them from the bad experience. They might find it somewhat weird, but their non verbal responses clearly indicate that they aren’t reacting as drastically to the imagery as they did during the pre-test.
Seeing and feeling the plexiglass adds a definitive separation between them and the movie theatre and for them it feels like a safety net that can prevent them from physically falling into that situation again.
Daniel Kahneman has said that “People tend to remember the most intense emotional experience or the end of it”. Thus, changing the end (or in some cases, the beginning) of an experience is of utmost importance.
Run the movie till the end when everything is better.
Normally when a person is experiencing a flashback, in the real timeline of the event according to the cause-effect sequence of an experience, the trigger comes first and then comes the feeling. Running it backwards will show them the feeling first and then the trigger. When you ask them to visualise the event backwards, in less than two seconds, and in colour, they are now presented with the choice of having a flashback backwards and real quick, so that they emerge on the good side of the event (either before or after).
The key question to ask the client who may or may not be trusting the process is “If it did work would that be OK with you?”.
Lastly, test to see if the response has changed by using the same non verbal cues and elicitations as before.
In Steve’s own words, this procedure has nothing to do with neuroscience. A carpenter needs to know about different kinds of wood, tools, bolts; knowledge of molecules and atoms does not affect him at all.
Similarly in therapy, knowledge of the internal workings of the brain and the molecules and atoms reacting and interacting with each other is of no use to the therapist.
There is no advice based on neuroscientific facts that might be useful or appropriate during therapy. Andreas believes that you do not need to rely on the crutch of neuroscience for therapy.
Another effective and brief pattern that Andreas follows is to rapidly resolve anxiety. This technique was originally developed by Richard Bandler who discovered that feelings spin.
According to Bandler, spinning these feelings in reverse is a powerful intervention technique for resolving anxiety and other strong feelings.
Several demonstrations show him applying this model which is known as ‘Spinning feelings’ on clients who present with problems related to anxiety. It is yet another therapeutic tool that has proven to show positive effects.
Steps for Rapid Anxiety Relief- Spinning Feelings (based on Rapid Anxiety Relief with NLP- Steve Andreas demos Spinning Feelings, 2015):
Ask the client to close their eyes and imagine a situation that induces stress or anxiety.
Ask them to identify the path of the anxious feeling in their body, i.e. where it begins and where it ends. For e.g. Joan becomes anxious in a situation where she feels alone. In her body, the anxious feeling begins in her neck, then it goes down through the right side of her chest, which leads to a clenching feeling in her stomach and ends in her groin. Thus, the path of the feeling for Joan is from her neck to her groin.
Now comes the first weird question for the client; ask them to think about the colour of this feeling. In Joan’s case, it was an opaque white.
Ask the client to identify the direction in which the feeling is spinning for them. They might explain it in words (clockwise/ anti-clockwise, right to left/ left to right, etc.) or they might demonstrate through hand gestures.
Next, ask them to imagine a stressful situation again, till they can feel the anxiety in their body. But this time, make them spin the feeling in the opposite direction and change the colour to one that they really like. Now ask them to find out what happens after they do this.
Ask them to try this technique for a few other scenarios and see what happens. Also ask them whether they would prefer this feeling than the one they had earlier in all stress or anxiety inducing situations.
In Joan’s case, she met with a much more comfortable sensation in her body that what she had earlier. She even smiled because of the joy she felt by doing this! A follow up that was taken a year and a half later confirmed that she was coping much better with her anxiety even though she had to face a few challenges during that time.
The main goal of administering these techniques is to make the clients realise that they have the power to make a decision for themselves when it comes to coping with a situation.
Not all ineffective coping mechanisms are maladaptive, so it is important to respect what the client wants to do for their own benefit. But in cases like anxiety and phobia, it is also important to introduce them to another way of programing their thought pattern, which in simple words is a choice that they can make to alter their experience of living with a disorder. It is crucial to note that these techniques will not work on someone with zero insight.
In a powerful response to a prominent therapist and author who has previously said, “Neural pathways are created by strong emotions that never go away. They are burnt into your brain”, Steve said, “Well they may be burnt into your brain but you can look at them differently”.
This article is a contribution of Steve Andreas. Steve Andreas is a contemporary psychologist who has helped to pioneer the practice of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
This article on 'Knowledge of Neural Anatomy' has been contributed by Rucha Lidbide, a psychology student at the Savitribai Phule Pune University. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas. GIRP is an Umang Foundation Trust initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.
She is interested in the field of I/O psychology, specifically ergonomics. In the future she wishes to explore opportunities that involve research.