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The Effect of NLP on Physical Pain and Trauma:
Part II of II

Publisher: Anchor Point: The Practical Journal of NLP. Reprinted by permission. For subscription information call (801) 534-1022.


In Part I of this article, I focused on the use of NLP processes with pain brought about by specific events or situations. What about the use of NLP with chronic pain where no specific precipitating event can be readily identified? Can NLP be as successful in facilitating pain alleviation in these cases? My experience is that NLP can make a measurable difference.

In fact, the pain does have an origin. If identification of the physical origin remains elusive then the pain, in all likelihood, has a mind/body/spirit connection. Mind/body/spirit is a system. When one part of the system is affected in some way, it only naturally follows that other parts of the system will be touched. The basis may be a belief that was built upon a specific event, or over time through reinforcement of various kinds. The pain becomes a physical manifestation or symptom originating from an underlying belief. The belief may be about Self, Other, or about the world at large. Beliefs can be seen as neural pathways that are paved through selected observation of the world, or through selected events that have been experienced. Once the groove has begun to form, it begins to deepen through, again, selected observations that give the particular pathway validity. The belief finally becomes the path of least resistance that the individual follows relentlessly. This idea can be said in other ways. What you see is what you get; or what you hold in your mind comes true in your experience; or it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The process of forming a belief is the same whether it fulfills or limits the individual. The problem with a limiting belief is that it can become a great chasm wherein the person feels swallowed. This is particularly true with continual physical pain of unknown origin and beliefs that support it. The person's attention is so taken up with the pain that it becomes hard to focus on much other than that specific reality.

The fact of the matter is that there are infinite pathways, or realities, in the world. To borrow an idea from quantum physics, a pathway becomes apparent only when it has been observed. By observing other possible pathways, new beliefs are then given the opportunity to form and develop roots to fulfilling outcomes. NLP can facilitate that process. What NLP does so well is to widen the map of the territory. It is as though the person can peek up over the edge of that chasm and notice how much bigger the world really is.

Rae had experienced Temperomandibular Joint (TMJ) pain for as long as she could remember, stretching back at least to teenage years. TMJ disorder occurs as a result of the muscles used for chewing and the jaw joints failing to work in alignment. Rae described the pain as being like an earache, and sometimes having sore teeth and dizziness. When she came to her NLP session, she rated the pain at 90% severity, 100% being unbearable. She indicated that this pain was present with her most of the time, becoming particularly in the foreground during stressful situations in her current work environment. Rae was also aware that she ground her teeth during sleep at night. She had previously consulted with medical physicians and dentists, but had experienced little relief.

Since the TMJ disorder had been with Rae for a long time, I asked her what was in her awareness about the time when she first noticed the pain. She replied, I don't remember when it began exactly. I just know it was there. I don't have many early memories, but, I remember a lot of tension in the family. I have violent images from childhood.

Let me draw your attention back to Part I of this article when I discussed the connection between language that people use when discussing their symptom, or events surrounding their symptom, and the origin. What is TMJ pain caused by but tension brought on by stress, grinding of the teeth, or misalignment of the jaw joints and muscles? Rae went on to say that she always felt like the responsible one in the family who had to mediate between her parents, and between her parents and her older brother. Another interesting aspect is that she said her brother did not have memories of the kinds of tension being present that she did. She still had frequent contact with her family.

At this point, it was as though I was standing at the shore of a placid lake where some unseen person had thrown a stone into the lake. I could see the rippling effects of the stone that was thrown, and even though I could not see exactly where the stone sunk, I had a pretty clear sense of the location.

My tendency in NLP practice is to use a direct approach, if possible. My initial intention with regard to Rae was to facilitate the Reimprinting process in order to establish additional resources and formative beliefs. What I discovered was that Rae had a part of her that strongly objected to going back to the origin of the symptom. When I attempted to facilitate a guided search, even under hypnosis, Rae was not able to land in what she could identify as any particular event at all. She indicated that this part of her was afraid. Her only experience was a sense of fuzzy geometric forms in her mind's eye. She even said it was like when a baby was just beginning to see, but not able to clearly focus. Given what she said, I suspected she had found the originating event. However, it became an ecology issue for me. If a part of her was so afraid, I wanted to honor that part. In keeping with the NLP tenet of flexibility, I decided to do something else.

Robert Dilts has developed a process he calls Creating A Pathway to Health And Well-being. This process was introduced to me as a diagnostic tool, but I have found it to be so much more that that. Indeed, it specifically identifies limiting beliefs that keep an individual from achieving an outcome so that the practitioner knows where to "tap." At the same time, it provides a very subtle loosening up of the limiting beliefs and empowers the individual with resources previously out of awareness. This is the process I deemed ecologically sound for Rae.

Rae, the purpose of this process is to explore your beliefs related to this particular outcome you want for yourself. We all hold beliefs about possibility, capability, and deserving. This process gauges where you are in relation to these statements. If it's possible in the world, it's possible for me. I have the capabilities to achieve my outcome. I deserve to achieve my outcome. Now, if you could synopsize what it is that you want what would that outcome be?

We took a few moments so that Rae had an opportunity to create a well-formed outcome statement. The outcome she formed was: To be healthy in all ways that support me.

As we are standing here, imagine that over there is a line that runs lengthwise in front of you on the floor. This line represents the times of your life: past, present, and future. It starts when you were born and stretches all the way out to the future. Show me where the present is, and then which directions are for the past and future.

In just a minute, I'm going to ask you to go stand in the present space over there. Then, I'm going to make some statements related to your outcome. I want you to repeat what I say. Okay?

As you are standing in the present now, take a moment to notice what it's like. Notice your bodily sensations, the sounds around you, any internal dialogue and pictures you may be experiencing in your mind's eye. Here in this moment your outcome is to be healthy in all ways that support you, isn't it? I'm going to make some statements and you can repeat them.

 It's possible for me to be healthy in all ways that support me. Rae began to say the sentence, but stumbled over a couple of the words.

Okay, Rae. Step off your timeline now and step into this space over here. It seems as though there's some doubt about the possibility of your outcome, or some question. This becomes the space of questioning. Just ask inside now what this doubt or question is.

Rae said that she had been living with the pain so long and she had tried many things and nothing had really worked. She didn't see how it was possible to be healthy in that way.

I am beginning to notice that NLP predisposes practitioners to think and act in a manner similar to shamans. We often lead clients into altered states where they have a different awareness. We use whatever works to change their beliefs about their current reality. We make meaningful connections between events in order for the clients to gain their outcomes.

About two years prior to this session, Rae had come for an NLP session because of nightmares. She had had nightmares several times a week for years, the kind where she would wake up in a cold sweat or literally wake in a start. Needless to say, she had not had healthy sleep patterns because of the nightmares. I used Six-Step Reframe with her and she had not had but a couple of nightmares since that time.

Remember when you came to me a few years ago about the nightmares? You didn't think it was possible then to be able to sleep the way you are now, did you? You know now that it's possible, don't you? It can be the same for being healthy in the ways that you want. Just as during that time, you found other ways of doing things, you can do that here, too. We've only just begun. Just imagine that the NLP work has already begun and that the whole question of possibility has been answered. You don't know how. Yet, just that it has been answered. Okay? Now, leave that question about possibility here in this space and step back in the present knowing that that question is answered.

Now again. It is possible for me to be healthy in all ways that support me. Rae was able to say the statement congruently. In the Pathways process, this is what the practitioner is calibrating in order to take the next step. When there is the least incongruence in speech, facial expression, or body posture, the practitioner moves the client from the timeline to the space of question.

 I have the capabilities to be healthy in all ways that support me. Rae choked up on this one and I moved her to a space of question once more. This was a different space on the floor than the previous one. Again, I asked her to go inside and ask that part of her that objected to the statement what question it had. The part's objection turned out to be about lack of self-confidence.

So, this part doesn't know if it is able to get to the outcome you want. Think about where you are now in your career. Did you have any idea a couple of years ago that you would doing what you're doing now and be so effective? If you look back over time, there is other evidence that you have the capabilities necessary to get you where you want to go, even though you didn't realize it then. So, just as with that other question that came up, you can imagine that through these processes and otherwise that you already have a full realization of all your capabilities. And that these capabilities will serve you in achieving your outcome of being healthy. So, leave that question that's been answered here and step back into the present. Rae was then able to say the statement congruently.

The next piece then. I deserve to be healthy in all ways that support me. Rae had no problems here.

Here we are in the present. Take a step now into the future. You've already begun stepping toward your goal. Notice what it's like here knowing that you are already going for what you want. What's different here? Rae became aware of some music that had been lightly playing in the background. She was also already starting to stand taller. It is not unusual for people to notice their surroundings as brighter in their visual field, feel movement in their body, or have other awarenesses previously blocked.

Here in the future now having started the process. It's possible for me to be healthy in all ways that support me. I have the capabilities to be healthy in all ways that support me. I deserve to be healthy in all ways that support me. Rae had an objection to the capabilities statement that was a variation of the other objection that she was able to lay to rest and continue.

The practitioner facilitates the client through another step in the future along the process of having the outcome completely, having the client repeat the belief statements and handling any objections. The next step takes the client into the future time of fully having the outcome. The process is the same as the previous steps with some additional pieces added.

Turn now and look back to where you've been and all the things you did to get here and having health in the way you want it. Over there parts of you had questions and doubts, but those were laid to rest. You took all those steps to get here. Walk back through those times now experiencing them once again.

Once she was again in the present space, I spoke to her again. You have other experiences, other resources in your past that you may not even realize yet that can assist you even more in achieving your outcome. Walk back into the past now and notice those resources. Experience the events or people that helped enhance them once again. Go all the way back. As Rae experienced these memories, I anchored each one. Robert Dilts calls this phase of the process the treasure hunt, which seems truly appropriate.

So, it's as though you've gathered up all these resources and have a full awareness of them. Turn now and begin to walk along your timeline from this spot in the past bringing all these resources with you. You see, they are gifts for your future. Begin to walk from this point now, to the present, and then all the way into the future knowing that these resources are within you.

Immediately after completing the Pathways process, Rae reported feeling no pain at all. In a report after two months, she indicated that the TMJ pain was at a 15-20% rating, very different from 90% . She said she often had to realize that there was an absence of any pain at all. In this one session, NLP was able to contribute toward significant pain relief. This case study also shows that there are infinite pathways for NLP practitioners to take. The direct approach may not always be the best one. I term Pathways as having an indirect approach. Yet, in its subtlety, it opens tremendous possibilities for clients while empowering them through their own resources.

This two-part article has focused on NLP processes and pain. In my estimation, the same tenets and processes can be used to address almost any health challenge. Marlo Morgan talks about her experiences with Aboriginal beliefs: Healing has absolutely nothing to do with time. Both healing and disease take place in an instant. Just as in one instant a cell can suddenly become abnormal, so in an instant can neurology be altered to allow the healing to begin. NLP provides an opportunity for change.


Note on follow-up: The case studies described here took place in 1995. Today, both Demitri's osteoarthritis pain and Rae's TMJ pain continue to be minimal or non-existent after 5 years.

 ©1995 Carla Woody. All rights reserved

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