information gathering

Gathering Information: The Most Important Part Of A Session

The Structure Of The Present & Desired States

How Do We Know What To Look For In A Session?

The most popular page on my web site (other than the home page) is a page about hypnotic scripts. I don’t recommend professionals use scripts. Scripts are merely a guess at what any individual client’s motivations, needs and criteria are. And guessing is not as good as knowing. So, why do people want scripts?

Two reasons…

  1. Because they don’t know what to say! Why do they not know what to say? Because they don’t have a good model for gathering information from clients!
  2. Because their thinking is issue based rather than structure based. That’s a mistake. One smoking cessation client can be completely different than another. Why? Because the structure of their problem is different!

If you don’t have good information, it’s tough to make good decisions. So, how do you know what to look for, what information is important, which technique to use, what the structure of an individual client’s problem is? It all depends on gathering information accurately.

And why are people lost about what NLP technique to use? They wouldn’t be, if they had a good model for gathering information.

The Most Important Part Of A Session

Let me put it this way…

All you do when you work with a client is based on the information you gather up front. It’s (IMO), the most important part of a session. And let me tell you a little secret…

If you gather information in just the right way, it can actually have a healing effect.

So, What Do You Look For In A Session?

The information I’m after has to do with the structure of people’s problems and the structures of their potential solutions. What do I mean by structure?

Have you ever tried to untie a tangled string or rope? It’s a problem! And if you’re smart, you’ll orient toward learning how the knot is structured. You can pull various areas and see what moves, you can look at it carefully to see which loop goes where, you can turn it this way or that to get a different perspective.

You’re looking for the structure of the knot. If you better understand the structure of the knot, you can better understand how to untie it!

People’s problems can be looked at the same way. Their problems (and their solutions) have a structure. If you learn about their structure, you can learn to dissolve the problem.

One thing that probably won’t get you much useful information is asking how the knot (or problem) formed in the first place. If you ask for that, you’ll probably get the story of how the knot (or problem) was formed.

So, What Makes Up The Structure Of A Problem (And A Solution)?

  • Context
  • Behaviors
  • Internal Representations
  • States
  • Beliefs
  • Criteria
Let’s take a look at those, one by one…


With whom, when where, in what situation? What has to happen for the problem to occur?


What specifically does the client do?

Internal Representations:

What are they thinking? What are the submodalities of the internal imagery, the internal audio?

Internal States:

What are the feelings produced by the internal representations (thoughts).


What beliefs are there about this context?


What is important about it?

Now You Have Much Of The Structure

Get answers to those questions for both the problem and a potential solution, and you’ll have a much better idea of how both are structured. And a better chance of “untying” the problem knot and helping install a solution. In part 2 of this article, I’ll give examples of information gathered in this process and go deeper in to how it’s useful.


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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  1. Excellent framework for hanging out the pieces of what’s happening. Thank you! This is particularly useful for parsing the dynamics of what’s “wrong” which is usually why they come to see you in the first place. It is critical to spend some acute listening time here, in part to acknowledge the client’s situation and more to the point, really home in on what the conflict truly is. It’s not uncommon for a client to seek help for a problem that is really a surface representation of an altogether different issue. If you are too focused on what they first say is wrong, you might miss something important.

    I am even more interested in what’s RIGHT, that is, what are the resources that the client uses day-in and day-out for nearly everything else in their lives. Very often it seems the “key” is lying right there, un-noticed, while a struggle over OTHER resources captures all the attention. For example, I was recently helping someone interested in quitting smoking. Almost randomly (as if!) he mentioned working on a film of his adventures years ago surfing and playing in a band, i.e., doing stuff he REALLY cared (and cares now) about. Now that we know where the treasure is, we are able to put it to use in the present and on into the future. All of a sudden we’re not talking about giving up something, but moving toward more of the things that really matter (in a detailed, visceral way). Big win!

    Thanks again, Keith! Eagerly awaiting Part Dieux.

  2. Good information Keith. Smoothing out “knots” doesn’t have to be difficult, just needs time and patience and a true understanding of their clients needs. I have also found that a client may come to you for one reason but with questions and listening carefully, many a time the conflict they are truly having comes to surface. Thanks for your posts…always enjoy them!

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