Doing therapy or counseling to change intrinsically motivated behavior is a process of reframing: one attempts to change the subject's criteria for himself (his values and priorities) or the labels he puts on his experiences and behavior. (``When a man beats you up because he suspects you're cheating, that doesn't mean he loves you. It means he's an abusive person who doesn't know how to love.'')
One of the ideas in NLP is that our behavior is determined to a large extent not by the raw content of our interactions with the world, but by the way we describe to ourselves the world, and in particular the way we label experiences and the way we label our own behavior.
As an example of changing behavior using an approach very different from operant conditioning, I'm going to quote below an article from my NLP archive <Http://www2.Hawaii.Edu/~lady/archive/>. This is a review of a videotaped session where Leslie Cameron Bandler works with a woman named Paula who wants to change her eating habits. In the beginning of the session, Paula has labeled the experience of not being able to eat as much as she wants as being ``deprived.'' Leslie works, among other things, to change the label on the desired change from ``Eating less than I really want'' to ``Eating more responsibly,'' and to change Paula's criterion from ``Not being deprived'' to ``Taking myself seriously.''
From: Lee Lady
Subject: Making Futures Real (videotape review)
Summary: A videotaped NLP session with Leslie Cameron Bandler
Date: 28 Aug 89 19:51:08
``Making Futures Real'' a videotaped therapy session by Leslie Cameron Bandler available from NLP Comprehensive <Http://www.nlpcomprehensive.com/> (1998: Currently priced at only $50) Reviewed by Lee Lady
This tape shows an NLP session done by Leslie Cameron Bandler with a young woman named Paula. This session was one of twenty-three taped by Cameron Bandler in the spring of 1983 with volunteers chosen from students in an NLP practitioner training. The ground rules for the session were that the client could ask for any change she wanted to make in herself, that the work would be limited to a single session, and that Leslie would not know in advance what change the client would ask for. Out of the twenty-three sessions, this and one other were judged appropriate for publication. (The other one, published under the title ``Lasting Feelings,'' deals with pathological jealousy.)
In answer to Leslie's opening question ``What do you want?'' Paula answers that she wants to lose a considerable amount of weight: ``I want to be able to reach and maintain an appropriate weight of about one hundred and five pounds.'' Although it is barely detectable on the tape, Leslie was actually quite dismayed at Paula's desired outcome, because until then she had never had a good approach to helping clients lose weight. To me it is fasinating to watch this tape knowing that I am seeing Leslie in the process of developing her approach.
The session is about 75 minutes long, and is accompanied by an hour-long taped commentary/analysis. From Leslie Cameron Bandler's analysis of the session (slightly paraphrased):
``Those who work with any sort of substance abuse need to know that it's essential to be able to work covertly... Obviously there's some sort of internal conflict going on.... If you in any way become a manifestation of the client's 'shoulds,' then it's very easy for them to slip over onto the opposing side. You need to be able to remain outside the battle and be effective in leading the client toward having the behavior aligned with their best interests without their knowing how you're doing it.... I want to make sure that whatever conflict is going on is between Paula and Paula rather than between Paula and me.''
In the analysis tape, Leslie identifies nine outcomes that a therapist needs to achieve in order to enable a client to maintain a desired weight. This is not, however, a checklist that Leslie goes down in sequence during the session. Leslie moves make and forth between these various items quickly and smoothly, sometimes working on more than one at the same time. Talking to Paula about commitment naturally leads into making the future be more real for her. This is turn leads to changing Paula's self-concept to be congruent with being thin, and this also relates to the issue of secondary gain.
The nine points are as follows:
1) Eating as a choice variable: Paula identifies Sees Candies as a food she would be unable to resist, and when Leslie has her imagine a box of Sees Candies in front of her, Paula is quite visibly in the grip of the imaginary temptation. Leslie then quickly uses a little slight-of-tongue to create for Paula the experience of flushing a box of Sees Candies down the toilet and to move this experience into Paula's past. (The NLP people call this ``pseudo-orientation in time.'') When Leslie then draws Paula's attention back to the imaginary box of candy in front of her, Paula is amazed that it has lost its power over her, and says to Leslie, ``How did you do that?'' (A year later, I asked Paula if she had ever actually flushed a box of candy down the toilet and she said, ``In my mind, it's as if it had really happened.'')
2) Self-concept congruent with desired weight: Paula mentions that when she had lost weight once before, being thin had made her feel vulnerable and defenseless. But now, she doesn't feel that this will be a problem. Leslie uses a visualization to tie the image of a thinner body to Paula's expectations of her future self as a successful college graduate.
Leslie also asks Paula, ``What are some things you wouldn't do to yourself?'' and Paula mentions several things, included smoking, that she wouldn't do because they would be bad for her. Leslie then moves overeating into this group of detrimental behaviors. The idea is to have Paula's self-concept include the implicit statement ``I am the sort of person who would not overeat, because I don't do things that are harmful to me.''
3) Limits: Paula had a belief that she was not able to set limits for herself, that having limits made her feel deprived. This is where the strongest inner conflict for Paula lies, and changing this is where Leslie's work is most covert. Leslie finds areas in Paula's life where she does in fact set limits, such as in remaining within a financial budget, being a moderate drinker, and having been in a monogamous relationship. After a long discussion on spending money, Leslie then asks ``So what's the difference between how you feel about [setting limits for] food and [for] spending money?'' and Paula answers ``They seem remarkably alike now.'' The crucial thing is that Leslie's gentle questioning has led Paula to make this comparison for herself. A more forceful approach, such as ``So why can't you do the same thing with choosing food that you do with spending money?'' would have verged on the futile ``Aren't you ashamed of yourself?'' approach.
4) Future testing: The essence of a sensible approach to eating is that one's decision on how much and what to eat be based on consideration of the future rather than the present moment. In Leslie's words, ``The internal representation of the future needs to be more compelling than the present temptation.'' For Paula, the future has been much less compelling than the present. (``I've always said that my future isn't really real to me.'') Leslie makes Paula's future more real by utilizing a specific positive upcoming event: her graduation from college a year hence.
5) Any secondary gain ``ecologically'' taken care of: In the past, Paula has used being overweight as a protection against unwanted sexual advances. Leslie verifies that this is no longer a problem. In response to further questionning as to what Paula would have to lose by obtaining her desired weight, she identifies a certain desirable sense of irresponsibility and sponaneity. Leslie then uses the analogy with spending money to show her that she can keep these qualities while still remaining within a caloric budget. (Leslie works from the basis of Paula's own criteria, rather than the more heavy-handed approach of saying, for instance, ``Is that feeling of irresponsibility really worth being fat?'' In NLP one always tries to add to the client's world, rather than taking things away from the client.)
6) Motivation: When Paula says she wants to lose weight, Leslie asks, ``What do you want that for?'' (a canonical NLP question). Paula says, among other things, that having her exterior be an appropriate representation of who she feels she is on the inside would enable her to take herself more seriously. This is very valuable leverage, and throughout the session Leslie keeps making equivalences between desired behaviors and Paula's taking herself seriously.
(This concept of using the client's own values as motivators seems to be quite foreign to many traditionally trained counselors and therapists. Their concept of motivation is to hit the client over the head with the counselor's own values, saying things like: ``Studies have shown that overweight leads to dramatically increased risk of heart attack, etc.'' It totally amazes me how seldom a counselor will ask a client such a simple question as ``What would losing weight do for you?'')
7) Commitment: One can be motivated and still not accomplish anything because one lacks commitment. Leslie needs to find a place in Paula's life where she does in fact have commitment. To do this, Leslie asks, ``What is a major accomplishment that you have achieved in your life?'' This brings out Paula's decision three years ago to return to college, which Leslie then uses not only for teaching Paula how to be committed to losing weight, but also for establishing several other points already mentioned.
Leslie is not satisfied until Paula is able to say that all the feelings and experiences associated with overeating are something that she is unwilling to ever go through again. Paula: ``I mean ... yeah, I don't want that, I don't want to go through that anymore.'' Leslie: ``You don't want to, [but] are you unwilling to? ... It's not about you wanting to say [you're unwilling], it`s about feeling it.'' Leslie has to go on quite a bit more before Paula finally makes a total commitment, saying ``[Overeating is] not worth it'' and ``I deserve better.'' This portion of the session shows that Cameron Bandler is indeed capable of a hard sell when needed.
8) Strategy for food selection: This is of course where most weight counselors put the most energy. But without the other points mentioned, this will have limited effectiveness.
9) Exercise: An integral part of any weight loss program.
At the end of the tape is shown a follow-up session done seven weeks later. Paula states that she has lost at least fifteen pounds (and a couple dress sizes), and one can certainly see a visible improvement. She says ``Undesirable foods have lost their draw now: there's no magnetism any more.'' I knew Paula a year after this, when she was one of the assistants in the NLP training I was taking. At this time she was maintaining her desired weight and said ``Leslie has made it impossible for me to ever overeat again.''
Those who think of NLP as a collection of magic bullets may be a little surprised at this tape. There is very little in the way of techniques. One can see this tape simply as giving a recipe for working with substance abuse, but its greater value is as a lesson in the type of thinking that makes it possible to develop approaches to many different sorts of problems. Most especially one sees the idea of ``isomorphism'': looking for areas where the client already has the needed resources and then moving these resources into the problem context.
To watch this tape is not to see NLP at its most typical, but rather to see the ideal of what an NLP practitioner should strive for. One is seeing an exceptionally talented therapist working in a totally systematic, organized way, where everything that happens -- every gesture, every joke, every aside, every change in voice tone -- is a part of the intervention. At the same time, Leslie is so totally engaged with the client that the session sometimes has the air of an informal conversation between two friends.
Trying to understand learning by studying schooling is rather like trying to understand sexuality by studying bordellos. -- Mary Catherine Bateson, Peripheral Visions