Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Bringing you the best of mental health

If you’re going to learn how to be a psychotherapist, you should study psychology and acquaint yourself with all the theories of human behavior. I believe it also helps to read Russian novels and ponder philosophy. You can do worse than have a solid grounding in statistics and research design if only to wade through the malarkey that tries to pass itself off as science. If you’re going to do your psychotherapy in a large organization, you should be able to practice politics. But if you really care about being a good therapist, you need to study magic.

I don’t mean magic as in card tricks or pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Magic has nothing to do with performing the miraculous. A magician pulls off his marvels, not by summoning spirits, but by studying nature.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, as it’s more commonly known, promises to teach you to perform magic. If you go to an NLP conference, you’ll come home with quite a bag of tricks that you’ll try to use the next few times you try to change someone’s mind. You’ll think you can tell whether somebody is lying by watching the way their eyes move. You’ll try out the Fast Phobia Cure. You’ll learn to swish problems right out of sight. A couple of weeks will go by before you realize the only one convinced was you. That NLP presenter taught you a bunch of card tricks while she made your wallet, and self-respect, disappear.

You should have known better. Your first clue should have been the name. Anything that calls itself Neuro-Linguistic Programming is trying to impress you with fancy, scientific-sounding language. If it was advertised as Bamboozling the Brain with Words you might not have gone, but it would have been closer to the truth.

Not all the tricks NLP teaches you are worth the price of admission to those conferences; but the general ideas are compelling. If you’re a reflective eclectic like me, you’ll use them on a daily basis. There are lots of useful NLPisms, called presuppositions, that have guided my work with virtually every client.

The map is not the territory
Everyone walks around with a map of the world inside their head that tells them what their choices are. But no map covers everything. There are always more choices than you know about.

Everyone carries around their own, unique map
How you react to a situation will be based on what you think your choices are. This internal map of choices is created, based on your experiences. However, no one has had all experiences, so no map shows everything. Your map is suited for the world that you have lived in, so it’s different than the map others carry. Also, because things change and the varieties of experiences are endless, your map gets out of date and is not suited for every circumstance.

It’s not reality that limits you; it’s the idea you have of reality
Your map is limited; but the territory and the features on it are infinite. If you want to make better choices, get a better map. Knowing what you want increases your ability to get it. You can’t go anywhere unless it’s on the map. If you want to change someone’s behavior, give them other choices.

Choice is better than no choice
Having only one choice is having no choice at all. If every time you think about using drugs, you have to use them, you have no choice. If you know that you could call someone, or do a dozen pushups, or go for a walk, or wait a few minutes and see if you still feel that way, or go ahead and use drugs, then you have a choice.

Flexibility is power
If doing what you’re doing doesn’t get you what you want, then you have to do something different. Rigid people reject choices; but, being flexible, or willing to change, gives you more options. When you have more options, you make better choices.

Respect other maps as maps like yours
Because your map is imperfect, for all you know, that other person might have a better map. When you’re working off the same map, that’s called rapport. When you establish rapport, then you can give directions to places not on the other person’s map.

Behind every behavior is a positive intention
Everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing when they’re doing it. Their behavior is justified by the map they carry. They’ll never know that they’re wrong until they get a better map. As crazy, criminal, or self-destructive as a behavior may be, it’s always, always aimed at something good. This can sometimes be hard to swallow; but it gives you a means to work with people better than when you say their intentions are evil. When you recognize a positive intention, you have rapport.

You always make the best choice you think is available
You’ll make a bad choice over and over if you think it’s the only choice you have. You could have done better if you had a better map, if you were aware of other options, but you weren’t.

Everything is really connected
Whether we are talking about mind and body, individual and family, or family and culture, you can’t really isolate anything. Everything is affected by everything else. Your map might not show it, but it is. Because everything is connected, a change made in one place will have ramifications everywhere.

You cannot not communicate
Because everything is connected, your thoughts will affect your physiology and leak out nonverbally. Even if you don’t say a word, you’re saying something. Because you cannot not communicate, it’s imperative that you try to communicate as clearly as you can, by speaking the other person’s language.

The meaning of a communication is how it’s received
The message you attempt to communicate will not be the message received because your map is different from the other person’s map. When it comes to communication, the message they receive is the only one that counts. When you try to give directions, orient the other person to places on their own map. In other words, if you want to be understood, speak their language.

There’s no failure, only feedback
You get a better map, or learn to use the better map, by learning from what is called failure. Not only should you not be afraid of failure, you should welcome the information it gives that you.

Like I said, these NLP presuppositions are powerful; but they, themselves, are only a map. Reality is bigger and much more complicated. For instance, there are a lot of people who say they know better, they have a map that shows many choices, but they make the same bad choices over and over.

I think we actually carry more than one map. Just as there could be a road map when you drive, a railroad map when you take the train, and a topographical map when you hike the same territory, I think people possess several internal maps of the worlds they inhabit. Then they get confused over which map to use. There’s a crude, simplified map that can direct you to fight or flight if you think you must decide swiftly, in an emergency. Then there’s the detailed map with so much fine print that you have to take your glasses out to read. Many people make bad choices when they think they’re in an emergency, when they’re not. Similarly, people will be frozen in indecision, weighing all options, when they really have to choose right away. You need a map of your maps that can tell you which one is appropriate.

When you’re a reflective eclectic, like me, you possess many maps. NLP is one, Rogerian Person Centered Therapy, Motivational Enhancement, CBT, DBT, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and Internal Family Systems are others. No one map shows you how to work with every client. I believe you really need to be a reflective eclectic and use more than one map before you can work with everyone.

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