how it works

How Does It All Work Together?

puzzleI get asked a lot about what technique to use when, how to use hypnotic language in a session, how do you apply anchoring and the meta model. In NLP trainings, techniques are often taught one-at-a-time and as discrete techniques. In sessions, there’s more improvisation. Many students are uncomfortable with that. Thus, teachers in the field promote authoritarian models where the therapist controls the whole process and has a regimen all laid out.

But in my mind, the best healers work with what the client gives them. They respond — not dictate. They explore the client’s model of the world and help the client adjust their ideas, thoughts, beliefs and patterns until the client achieves their goal.

So, what does that look like? Well, in the scenario below, a therapist is using NLP techniques and hypnotic language to help a client with their relationship issues. You can see the dialog and parts of the strategy behind it.

The Session

Client: “I fail at relationships because I’m damaged goods.”

Therapist: “How, specifically are you ‘damaged goods?'”

Client: “Well, my mother never showed me any affection when I was growing up so I have a problem showing affection.”

Therapist: “How, specifically does not being shown affection cause you not to be able to give affection?”

Client: “Well, I had no role model.”

Therapist: “How does not have a role model keep you from showing affection?”

Client: “Well, I never learned how to do it.”


We now have some relevant information about this client’s model of their relationship problems. Note the cause and effect language that supposes that a lack of affection growing up causes lack of ability to show affection. This cause and effect “map” is probably not helpful in the client having healthy relationships. We’ve challenged the model slightly by questioning the cause and effect connection.

Now the therapist switches gears and starts looking for other contexts where the client has some of the information and resources they need in this context. Where would your average person gain knowledge of affection — even if their mother had never shown it? Maybe they have pets they’re affectionate with, maybe they’ve seen examples of affection in movies…


Finding Relevant Resources

Therapist: “What’s your favorite romantic movie?”

Client: Client names movie.

Therapist: “In that movie, how does he show her he loves her?”

Client: “There’s one scene where he strokes her hair — that’s really nice.”

Therapist: “What is it you don’t understand or can’t do regarding stroking hair? Can you move your hand?”

Client: “Of course I can move my hand. I know how to stroke hair, I’m not an idiot!”

(At this point, the therapist recognizes that he may have lost rapport, so he makes sure to match the posture of the client.)

Therapist: “I don’t think you’re an idiot either! Help me understand so I can help. I’m confused. You said you are damaged goods because your mother never showed you affection. I asked you how you were damaged and you said you have a problem showing affection because you didn’t have role models. But then, you told me you know at least one example of what affection is — stroking hair. Is that right?”

Client: “Well, yes.”

Therapist: “And you said you know how to stroke hair and you arm works and everything. So, it sounds like you know how to show affection. Is that right?

Client: “Yes.”

Therapist: “So, what stops you?”

Client: “I guess I feel uncomfortable showing affection.”

(Now, the therapist will look for more, pre-existing resources in the client.)

Therapist: “Where in your life do you feel comfortable showing affection?”

Client: “I came here because I’m not comfortable showing affection.”

Therapist: “Right. I’m just trying to understand the scope of the situation. Are there specific people you are more comfortable showing affection to? Things you’re affectionate with? Certain situations in which it’s easier to show affection?”

Client: “Well, I pet my cat.”

Therapist: “Ah yes, a cat! On a scale of 1 to 10, how good would you say you were at showing affection to your cat?”

Client: “About a 4.”

Therapist: “Ok, so just a little under average. Are you comfortable petting your cat?”

Client: “Yeah, it’s nice.”

Therapist: “And you’d like to be that comfortable showing affection to certain humans? Not everybody, of course. You might not want to start stroking your bank manager’s hair.”


The therapist is narrowing the scope of the problem down in the client’s mind. The client’s mother was not a role model for showing affection, but the client did have role models [movies]. The client knows what affection looks like [stroking hair] and they are capable of doing it [their arm works]. The client can show a near average level of affection to a pet. The client might not even want to show affection to some people [bank manager]. The problem has been narrowed to feeling comfortable doing something that they know how to do, and it’s only a problem with specific people.


The Therapeutic Goal & Resources

Client: “If I could be as comfortable showing affection to my girlfriend as I am with my cat, it would be progress.”

Therapist: “OK, go in your mind to a time, real or imaginary, where you’re petting your cat. You’re there, looking at the cat, petting it.”

(The therapist recognizes the client is in a state and anchors. The therapist leads the client through 3 other situations where the client is comfortable showing affection — two with the cat and one with a child that scraped their knee. Therapist anchors each of those 3 feelings of comfort showing affection.)


Now we have a more specific goal (showing affection to the girlfriend the same way as to the cat). The strategy is anchoring the feeling of comfort in showing affection for the cat. Then you would transfer that emotional resource to the girlfriend context. That’s how this works — you find relevant resources and apply them to the specific, “problem” context. 


An Attempt At An Intervention

Therapist: “Now, imagine that you’re sitting next to your girlfriend. You turn toward her and (therapist fires the comfort anchor) reach out to stroke her hair, feeling the same level of comfort as when you pet the cat.”

Client: “I’m afraid.”

(Therapist drops anchor as it is not yet strong enough to overcome this additional component of the problem.)

Therapist: “What, specifically, are you thinking that makes you afraid?”

Client: “I’m thinking she might leave me. If I let myself love her, it would hurt more when she leaves.”


Now, we have additional information about the client’s map of relationships. Loving more means the possibility of more hurt. That’s what the Meta Model calls a complex equivalence. It calls for a Meta Model challenge.


Expanding The Model

Therapist: “OK, you’re afraid of getting hurt. That’s natural. And it’s smart to not want to get hurt. It’s good that you have a part of you that’s watching out for you and trying to keep you from having pain. Let’s develop that further. What’s going to happen if you continue to avoid showing affection to your girlfriend?”

Client: “She’s probably going to leave me.”

Therapist: “And obviously, that will hurt. So, that wonderful part of you that wants to protect you is actually doing something that could get you hurt. Maybe we can help it protect you in a better way. I wonder what behavior would both allow you to have more affectionate relationships and at the same time, help protect you from being hurt.””

Client: “I have no idea.”

Therapist: “Let me ask you this, will feeling comfortable showing affection make you more or less likely to get hurt?”

Client: “I don’t really know. Maybe a little less.”

Therapist: “OK, so what emotion or mental state would we need to add to comfort in order to keep you from being hurt?”

Client: “Well, if I show affection, it will hurt more if she leaves.”

Therapist: “How much will it hurt if you don’t show affection and she stays?”

Client: “What?”

Therapist: “If she stays and you don’t show her affection… What does that lead to? What kind of relationship will that be?”

Client: “One that’s not as full and rich as I want it to be.”

Therapist: “And if you spend your entire life with your girlfriend, not showing her much affection, how will you feel toward the end of your life?”

Client: “That would feel terrible — like I missed out on the best part of my life.”


We have now sided with the aspect of the client that generates the “problem” behavior. We’ve re-labeled it as smart and as having good intentions. However, we’ve questioned its methods. If done well, this strategy will lead to a situation where the behavioral pattern is more willing to accept a new behavior as a new pattern — as long as the new behavior protects the client as well or better than the old. We’ve also expanded the client’s model to include what would happen if the behavior continues on indefinitely and his girlfriend stays with him. It’s possible he’s never considered the consequences of that scenario. Essentially, that’s the same strategy as the “consequences” Sleight Of Mouth pattern. This pattern can increase motivation to change.


Hypnotic Language

Therapist: “Right. It hurts too. So, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Or is there another way? If there’s a way you could protect yourself more fully and still be affectionate, you can’t see it right now. You don’t understand what that is. You haven’t been able to reach into your experiences and figure out how to have a better understanding of how relationships function.

Client: “For some reason, I’m thinking about a hamster I had as a kid. I really loved that thing. One day, I came home from school and it was dead. My dad and I buried it in the back yard. I was sad, but I happened to be reading a book for school at the same time. In the book, a kid had lost a dog. This kid Billy said that he felt sad, but he knew he’d given a lot of love to his dog and that the dog had a good life. That made it not so bad. He accepted the death as part of the natural order of things. It still hurt, but he accepted it.”

Therapist: “Answer me a question… If you are looking back on a relationship after it ended and you have a feeling of sadness, but also feeling acceptance that relationships end, would it feel better knowing that you gave all the affection you could or that you held back?”

Client: “It’s better to give that affection and have the acceptance.”

Therapist: “OK, now that part of you that wants to protect you can understand what to do. Feel acceptance and show affection. I think one of the unexpected benefits of feeling acceptance and comfort, now, is that when you open up your mind to acceptance and comfort in this context, you sense more. From feeling these positive feelings, you have clarity, you’re more in tune with the relationship, you have a firmer grip on what’s going on. And that way, you can more easily solve problems in the relationship or accept it when you know it’s not going to work.”

Client: “What did you say?”


Here, the therapist changes his tonality and pacing to create a more hypnotic effect. He’s using embedded suggestions (bold) to help generate specific resource feelings and to build sensory acuity (sense more) so that the client has better radar and is thus, more protected.


Therapist: “I basically said it’s all good. When have you been able to feel a sense of acceptance in your life?”

Client: “I’ve never really felt acceptance. I’m damaged goods, remember? My mom and all.”

Therapist: “You’ve accepted that you’re damaged goods, have you not?”


The therapist used the Sleight of Mouth “Apply To Self” pattern plus Ericksonian “Tag Question” pattern in that last sentence. One job of these patterns is to confuse the client about their model of the world (that they’re “damaged goods” and that they’re unable to feel acceptance). When confused, there’s an opening to change the belief.


Client: “Yes. No. Wait, I don’t understand the question.”

Therapist: “It was a silly question. Instead, let me ask you this. When you think of acceptance, what comes to mind?”

Client: “That boy Billy and his dog in the book.”

Therapist: “I wonder if Billy was able to feel acceptance in other situations too.”

Client: “Yes, he did.”

Therapist: “Since that book stuck with you for so long, you must have related to it and felt at least some of what he felt. Even if you didn’t, imagine you’re that boy in that book. Look out through his eyes, hear through his ears and feel the acceptance he’s feeling right now.”

(Therapist anchors acceptance [with the same anchor as comfort] as he sees the client access the feelings of acceptance.)

Client: “You know, I guess I have felt acceptance. There was this time in the third grade…”

Therapist: “Good. Go there now in your mind and feel that feeling.”

(Therapist anchors again)

Therapist: “Now,(therapist fires anchor) take those feelings of acceptance and comfort into a situation where you’re close to your girlfriend and notice how it transforms the situation.”

(Client starts to cry. His eyes are closed. Notice the presupposition [an ericksonian technique] that those feelinsg will transform the situation.)

Client: “I’m stroking her hair and she looks surprised. I see gratefulness in her eyes.”

Therapist: “Good. As you allow those feelings of acceptance and comfort to grow, I’ll talk a little bit. Today, we’ve explored one way to show affection. You might not be aware of all the examples you have in our mind of how to communicate affection. Your mind can consider, really consider all those ways, consciously and unconsciously. And apply them. While you sleep and dream, in the days (daze) to come, while you’re doing other things, your mind can ponder all the ways to show affection safely. You can choose to use the best of those ways. You experiment with them in your mind before you actually do them. And the more you show affection, the more comfortable and accepting you are. The more comfortable and accepting you are, the better sense you have of your relationships. It builds itself, from now on. Growing comfort, growing acceptance, growing affection. In those cases where you used to be afraid, comfort and acceptance automatically occur. And it feels really good.

The part of your mind that wants to protect you, can now be involved in helping you feel more comfort and acceptance. It has a more positive and helpful role.

And you can go deep in your mind. Way down deep. Deeper even still and make this new pattern a positive, permanent and powerful part of your existence. An automatic program that works wonderfully.

And as a sign that these changes are now a permanent positive, automatic part of your behavior, when you’re ready, open your eyes, feeling really good.

(Client opens eyes.)

Therapist: “How do you feel?”

Client: “Really good.”


That section is stacked with Ericksonian hypnotic language. There are embedded suggestions, presuppositions, ambiguities, deepening suggestions, suggestions of automaticity, suggestions of increased sensory acuity and more — all aimed toward the client’s goals.



PS: To learn more about the language patterns and techniques used in this article, make sure you’ve signed up for the free courses I offer. You can sign up for any of them here.

About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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