One of the benefits of going through NLP training (at least in my case) is that one begins to recognize that one's subjective experience is not an environmental variable. Most people think of their feelings and the pictures that flash through their minds and the words that go through their heads as being things that just happen, or perhaps are caused by externals (``She makes me mad'' or ``It makes me happy when X happens'').
One of the most popular pieces of wisdom among current therapists is that ``Nobody can make anybody else feel anything. Nobody can make you mad -- it's up to you whether you get mad or not.'' Taken literally, this is bullshit -- of course we all influence each other's emotions. If you don't believe it, just try punching someone in the nose. Nonetheless, it's what my NLP teachers would call a ``useful lie'' -- sure, externals affect our emotions, but accepting the belief that we have the responsibility for our own emotions is much more useful to us in having a satisfying life than acting out of the belief that the external world creates our emotions for us.
Just telling people, though, in a sincere tone of voice, to take responsibility for their own emotions isn't very effective, although it seems to be what a lot of therapists do. What one needs is to find ways of actually giving people the experience of creating their own emotions.
One of the skills that was emphasized in my NLP training was ``elicitation'' -- eliciting a desired inner state in another person. Doing this is necessary for a number of NLP techniques. Suppose for instance that a client wants to learn to respond differently in a particular situation where now he falls to pieces, or becomes angry, or has some other undesired response. And suppose that after I ask him some questions, he and I discover that a good resource for him to have in that situation would be curiosity. Now what I need to do is to (mentally) put him into the situation that he has been unable to cope with and then have him become curious. The traditional way to do this in NLP is by use of an ``anchor'' -- I elicit curiosity in my client and then develop a conditioned response so that when I touch him on the wrist, for instance, that curiosity will remanifest itself, even if faintly. Then I have him imagine being in the problem situation and use my ``anchor.''
But in working with people over the phone I found that I couldn't very easily use anchoring techniques. And I also found that often I didn't really need them. If the resource that a caller needed to deal with a particular situation was ``to feel like I'm in control,'' for instance, then I would first elicit that feeling of being in control (``Is there some sort of situation you deal with now where you really feel in control? ... Can you remember at this moment what that feels like, to really be in control?'') and then instruct the caller to move that resource into the problem context: ``Now I want you to keep remembering what it feels like to really be in control, and while you still have that feeling I want you to imagine picking up the phone and calling your ex-wife.''
The important thing is for me to actually take the caller through the experience in his imagination while I'm talking to him. What usually doesn't work is simply giving the caller instructions on what to do in the future. (``Now the next time you have to call your ex-wife, I want you to first take some time to remember what it's like to feel really in control.'') Taking a client through a new behavior in his imagination is what NLP calls ``future pacing'' and to me (for what it's worth) this is one of the main distinctions between counseling and therapy. Counseling is telling people what to do, therapy is teaching them to actually do it without even having to think about it.
For some reason, it took me a long time doing this with clients -- identifying the resource someone needed in a particular context, finding out where that person already had that resource in their life, and then moving the resource into the problem area -- before it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with myself. I realized that I have had, at one time or another in my life, all the emotional states that exist. I know what they're like, I can remember what it was like to be in that state, and I can put myself in that state simply by remembering the time when I had that emotion and letting myself ``move back into'' that emotion. It's what a method actor does, but I don't need to be nearly as good at it as an actor. I can, at least sometimes, choose an emotional state instead of having it that the world causes my emotions.
When I had to make a phone call to a woman to had once rejected me in a very painful way, the feelings of depression, anger, and hurt that I had felt at the time of the rejection came back to me. But instead of calling her while I was feeling that way, I took some time to remind myself of what it feels like to really care about someone else and to put my attention on the other person's feelings, and what it feels like to be flirtatious, and the feelings I have when I can really make a woman laugh. And then I made my phone call. And we would up having a great conversation, with me flirting with her and making her laugh and being really concerned about the things that were happening in her life, and before I hung up she said ``Be sure and send me your address when you get to San Francisco, because I want to look you up when I visit there.'' And that happened because I'd realized I had a choice about what emotional state to be in when I called her.