The following article was originally posted in February, 1990. ------------------------------------------------------------------
NLP has developed many marvelous techniques. A therapist (or changeworker) who has newly learned one of these interventions sometimes brings to mind Mark Twain's aphorism: ``If you walk around carrying a hammer, an awful lot of things look like nails.'' In particular, although some of my teachers were almost condescending about Six Step Reframing, with certain clients I found it so effective that I never even thought of using anything else with them. I also found that the most basic submodality patterns -- the Fast Phobia/Trauma Cure, the Compulsion Blow-out, and the Swish Pattern -- can handle a very wide range of problems.
There are times, however, when one is working with a subject and somehow no stock intervention really seems appropriate. At these times, a little more insight is needed about just where a change needs to be made in order to give the client what he wants. At these times, it is useful to think of subjective experience as having structure. The seven categories I am about to give represent one way of structuring subjective experience. At the time I was taught them (1984) they were fairly new. I'm sure that by now people have devised lots of variations on them, and maybe some NLP people use something completely different. In any case, I found them useful.
The categories are: 1) Context. 2) Cause-effect beliefs. 3) Criteria. 4) Complex equivalences. 5) Inner state. 6) Cognition. 7) Overt behavior.
1) Context. I.e. the context of the problem behavior. Sometimes this is all that needs to be changed. In other words, the problem behavior is actually fine, if one can simply find the appropriate context for it and if the client can do it only in that context. A favorite question in NLP classes is ``When would this behavior [i.e. the 'problem'] be useful?''
2) Cause-effect. In listening to people talk about problems, I am often very aware of strongly held inappropriate cause-effect beliefs. A person says ``I don't want to do X because ...'' and the reason given is highly implausible. My attention is especially aroused when someone has a lot of intensity to his belief and clings to it even in the face of contradictory evidence.
On the other hand, clients sometimes lack important cause-effect beliefs. Such as a person who says ``People don't like me'' without having a real awareness of the cause-effect connection between his own behavior and the way people respond to him. (For purposes of enhancing self-esteem, it is useful to teach clients that people respond not to who we are but to what we do.)
3) Criteria. Criteria are the things a person is trying to satisfy in a given context. For instance, in looking for a relationship one's criteria might include things like physical beauty, intelligence, charm, and sensitivity.
Especially important are those criteria which are cross-contextual, for these are an essential part of the person's self-concept. These are what we often call refer to as a person's values or priorities.
It is extremely important to be aware of a client's criteria. Any outcome you attempt to give him will be unsatisfactory if it is not in accord with his own criteria. Furthermore, the client's criteria can be powerful leverage for the therapist.
In the videotape ``Making Futures Real,'' Leslie Cameron Bandler never talks to the client about how losing weight can increase her life expectancy, because there has been no indication that longevity is a powerful criterion for this client. Instead she keeps asking questions of the form ``And if you were to do X, would that in an example of taking yourself seriously?'' because she knows that taking herself seriously is very important to this particular client.
Once you know how to listen, you will recognize that people constantly tell you their criteria without even realizing it. Questions to elicit criteria are: ``What's important about X?'' or ``What sort of person would [not] do X?'' or, one of the most basic NLP questions: ``What do you want X for?''
4) Complex equivalences. These have to do with the fact that we all speak different languages even though we use the same words. It's all very well to know that ``love'' is one of the client's highly valued criteria, but what he means by ``love'' may be very different from what I mean. In fact, the most appropriate intervention for his problem may be to change his complex equivalence for ``love.''
Examples of questions to elicit complex equivalences would be ``What does it mean for someone to love another person?'' or ``How do you know when someone loves you?''
Therapists often seem successful in changing complex equivalences by sheer force of authority. (``My therapist explained to me that when you try to possess someone, and use him for your own needs, that's not love. Love is when...'') The approach given in my NLP training was called redirection, also known as the simple reframe, or ``one line'' reframe (or ``slight of mouth''). Undoubtedly this was in part because my teacher, Cameron Bandler, is one of the great masters of the one-liner in therapy. Just as in stand-up comedy, in order to have impact with a one-liner one needs to have a very good sense of timing, and to be very sensitive to the client's response so that one can see whether the redirection ``goes in'' or not.
5) Cognition. NLP is above all cognitive. Both the verbal and non-verbal aspects of cognition are the arenas for many interventions. The formal structure of the client's cognition is generally given more attention than the content. As regards verbal patterns, my own teachers were especially interested in modal operators: such words as ``should,'' ``must,'' ``can,'' ``want to,'' ``would like to.'' From the beginning, NLP has had the idea that changing the way a client talks to himself can result in powerful changes.
When a client says ``I keep thinking of my ex-girl friend,'' I want to know ``What do you mean by think? Is it a matter of talking to yourself about her, or are there particular pictures of her that go through your mind?'' If there are pictures, I am likely to be less interested in the content of the pictures than in things like ``How big are these pictures? Are they bright or dark? Are they in color or black or white? Are they moving or like still photos?'' NLP uses the term ``submodalities'' to refer to this sort of distinction.
6) Inner state. Or one might say emotion, except that often people don't think of states such as anticipation or curiosity or impatience as being emotions. The old anchoring techniques in NLP -- techniques with names like Anchor Collapsing, Change History, and the Generative Chain -- mostly work by changing the client's inner state in a given context. More precisely, one identifies the resource state (confidence, feeling loved, playfulness, whatever) that the client needs in the problem context and then trains the client to automatically have that state available in that context.
7) Overt behavior. This is the area that traditional counseling often addresses, saying things to the client like ``Maybe it would be a good idea if you were to ...'' Every counselor has the experience of giving obviously useful advice in this way and having the client stubbornly refuse to adapt the recommended behavior. This is an indication that the key to the problem is in some category other than overt behavior.
In NLP, the belief is that the most effective way of teaching a client a new overt behavior is to have him visualize himself doing it. He may find this difficult, and so as an initial step one can have him visualize somebody else doing it. This is what I did with my friend who wanted to be more resourceful in approaching customers in a retail shop. She had said, ``I wish I could be more like Nancy.'' So I had her visualize Nancy approaching customers, and then had her change her mental movie by replacing Nancy with herself. At the same time, I used an anchor to give her positive feelings such as confidence while she was doing the visualization. The whole piece of work probably took about half an hour, and she reported back that it was fantastically successful. And the nice thing was that I as the changeworker didn't have to know a damn thing about how to sell.
It is my opinion that most problems which on the face of it seem to have to do with overt behavior actually lie mostly in one of the other categories. Assertiveness training would be an example of this. It is my opinion that most clients for assertiveness training actually already know a quite adequate range of behaviors for being assertive, and in fact many of them have already used some of these behaviors a few times in their life. What prevents people from being assertive is not that they don't know what to do but that they don't feel comfortable about doing it. In other words, the real problem lies in the Inner State category. It seems to me that with NLP techniques one should be able to teach someone to be assertive in one or two sessions. (But then there's the subsidiary question of whether being assertive is really the most ``ecological'' way for a person to get his needs met. I myself prefer to try to be so likable that people generally want to give me what I need.)
It is a poor sort of skepticism which merely delights in challenging those claims which conflict with one's own belief system. --Bogus quote