Changing Someone's Life in a Single Session
This article is for NLP practitioners at the start of their career, and also may be of use to more experienced NLP practitioners. It looks at how to create major changes in a single session and covers:
- A "sprint" version of the RESOLVE model of therapy work
- A range of solution focussed questions at each step
- Common obstacles and some ways of clearing them
- Other observations of what works
Of course we know from NLP that change is instant, and it's not changing that takes time. It is not-changing that takes time. And certain steps, followed consistently, create the optimum conditions for someone to change quickly. In fact, the change can happen at each of these steps. Fast reliable changes is what I experienced, and now I'd like to share with you what I learned about making it possible.
"Sprint Version" of Resolve and Specify Models
I used Richard Bolstad's RESOLVE and SPECIFY OUTCOME models as the basis of my sessions.
- Sensory specific
- Positive language
- Choice increasing
- Initiated by self
- First step
- Your resources
Open model of the world
Working without manuals or taking notes, I soon discovered that my unconscious mind created a simple chart which I was mentally checking throughout a session. Not using notes allowed me to more fully concentrate my attention with clients and use sensory acuity more efficiently. Below is the chart of the "Sprint Version" - I was using.
Any session would start with me being in a Resourceful State and with Establishing Rapport - the first steps of the Resolve model. Being a foreign consultant and an assisting trainer, I already had credibility with my clients and most of them were "pre qualified", meaning that they knew about NLP and had trust in it. This allowed us to save time explaining NLP and pre framing change i.e. doing the Pointing Exercise (see Appendix), which most of my clients had already done during their training.
For rapport I would match my client's posture, tone and speed of voice, predicates, gestures and breathing. The session would start without my normal practice of taking contact details so that the Establish Rapport part was trimmed down to a wide smile, a traditional bow and a greeting "Hello [their name in native language]". Their name was all I could say in their language. The rest was up to my interpreter.
"What would you like to change today?"
"What would you like to get out of this session?"
I would ask the second question if my client was not very clear about the first one.
Then they would explain their concerns and I would Reflective Listen to them. This would be a very important step not only for rapport, but especially in acknowledging and validating my client's experience. Sometimes a person had never previously talked to anyone about their challenge or had not had an experience of actually being heard. Just this simple step, not even solution focussed yet, allowed them to accept the change much easier.
"During the session I had the feeling that Julia understood not only what I said but also what I did not express in words. This was the first session that felt so warm." N.Y., Counsellor
"I knew that I was not expressing my feelings freely. I thought it was important to do this in a safe environment. During the session I was able to express my feelings and felt quite relieved." Y.M., Counsellor
"I don't know my outcome. I don't know how it could be."
- "That's right, you don't. This is exactly what we are doing now."
- "Of course you don't know, but if you knew, you know."
"I can't think of/see my outcome until I'm out of this stuckness."
- "Of course you can't, but if you could see it?"
- "Right, so you haven't been able to see it. How would you know that this has changed for you so that you were out of it? What would you see/hear/feel that would let you know you are out?"
Positive Language - "If you don't have that, what will you have INSTEAD?"
In most cases people described problems rather than outcomes, and it was essential to help them “convert” those into positive language by following this simple formula:
- "So, this is want you'd like to change, and if you change that, then what will be there instead?"
- "And if that was not there anymore, what would be there instead?"
- "So, if you didn't feel that, what would you feel then?"
An actual representation of the "desired" state in positive language allows recognition of it after the change happens. It is still possible to "clear the problem" without knowing the "desired" state, but clients would more likely feel confused and not know what to expect.
This is an incredibly important part of the change. So often people know really well what it is they don't want, but they never imagined what it would be like when it's over. This new way of thinking about what they want (rather than don't want) and what it would be like, gives them a completely different perspective, alters the habitual thinking and teaches them to "look outside of stuckness" to see what's on the other side of it.
- "How will you know that you've got it?"
- "What will you see, hear, feel, and say to yourself when you've got it?"
- "What will others notice different about you?"
These questions would create a new experience in the body-mind system, and every new experience would be stored as a body "memory".
This is one of the functions of our unconscious mind to store memories. In this way we create a "future memory" by fully, with our five senses, associating into an experience that hasn't happened yet. This process has been used by shamans and healers for a long time. Serge Kahili King, the teacher of the Hawaiian shamanism Huna, says:
"... an intensely imagined experience is just as good as the real thing, at least as far as memory-based behaviour is concerned. Hawaiian and other shamans have used this bit of wisdom for untold ages as a tool for healing and self-development. Recently this ancient shamanic understanding has been put to modern use by Olympic athletes, among others, with extremely effective results. By using full sensory imagination in which they perform perfectly every time, the athletes create body memories which make the physical performance easier and better. The same process can be used to train yourself in any skill, state, or condition whatsoever."
Using all senses to set up outcomes creates riveting motivation. It's like dreaming, with a certain dose of reality check.
Practising to set up sensory specific outcomes in this way is like training a muscle in the gym. It is especially useful for people who are not very clear with what they want. Once they started specifying their goals, even smaller ones first, their body-mind system would soon generalise this skill into other areas and into the larger goals which ultimately will strengthen their sense of clarity, direction and purpose in life.
"For a long time I have wanted to restore a relationship with someone, yet was not willing to do something about it. During the session, Julia guided me through the process and let me know how I would feel if the relationship was restored. She also let me understand the purpose of this restoration. When everything was so clear, I made up my mind to take action." Y. H., Social Welfare, Japan
"During the session, Julia helped me correct all my colours so that I could see and experience "What I really want" and "What had been stopping my success"." H. A., Okinawa
Another fascinating thing happened several times after setting the outcome in this way. When I checked how my client felt about their initial concern, they would say: "Well, now that I have this outcome and the future is looking bright, my problem is irrelevant and not worth paying attention to." It was as if suddenly the initial problem deconstructed and disappeared from their focus.
When working with people, it is vital to remember and pay attention to the fact that your client may feel really different about their problem after each of your questions. I found it really valuable to allow for the possibility of spontaneous change at any step, validating any changes and shifts throughout the session and talking to clients as if "the problem is changing".
"After about an hour I was surprised to find that what I thought was a problem seemed like a situation where I was just stepping on the brake. I realized that problems do not actually exist. We create them."D M. S., therapist
Specify Outcome - other steps
Occasionally, to increase motivation, I would ask these two questions, but mostly used them at the end when future pacing:
- "What do you personally need to do to achieve / maintain this?"
- "What is your first step (next steps)?"
The final step - Your Resources to achieve this outcome - proved to be effective when tackling doubts that changes would be possible:
- "Some time in the past you may have had an experience in your life when you did/overcame/achieved something similar. Remember this time now and step right in." (associate into a past time of achieving a goal)
This step by itself is so powerful that several times I skipped an official NLP change process and used it to produce a change. I got my client to remember a time when they achieved something and to step right inside their body in that memory. Then, as they were feeling it fully, to fly inside their outcome and bring all these feelings with them and feel what that feels to be inside the outcome with these feelings of success. Then I asked them to step outside and see themselves in that picture and adjust anything so that it became so attractive and appealing they couldn't wait to get back in and be that person.
"I no longer feel depressed. Instead I feel wonderful. I do not quite understand what happened in me, but I feel like a completely new person." Y. W., student, Japan
"It looks good but I don't believe I can achieve it."
- "What would make it easier to believe you can achieve it?"
- "Remember a time in your life when something didn't seem achievable and yet you've done it and felt great! Step right inside that time and feel it fully (associate in). As you're feeling these resources now, fly out of that memory and into that future picture and into your body and feel how it feels now."
- Clear a limiting decision using Time Line Therapy TM (see Appendix).
I noticed occasionally at trainings, after learning about conscious and unconscious minds, some people would get upset at their conscious mind for "being so controlling or rational". The Specify Outcome model demonstrates the relationship between them.
With our conscious mind we choose an outcome, we decide what it is we want. The conscious mind plays a role of a decision maker. Our unconscious mind gets these instructions and aligns its inherent unlimited potential to achieve it. Another function of the conscious mind is to get feedback and to check whether or not we are on track with our outcome. The unconscious mind aligns our actions in response. For example, if we are hungry we make a decision what to eat. The unconscious mind can simply imagine that we ate and feel full, but the conscious mind will keep tracking whether if happened or not.
Understanding and appreciating the role of each helps to feel at ease and maintain rapport between conscious and unconscious minds.
- "What will change as a result of your getting your outcome?"
- "What are the other benefits/advantages?"
- "How does this outcome increase your choice?"
- "Are there any situations/circumstances in which this change wouldn't be OK / you wouldn't want to be affected by this change?"
3) Losses/Other Outcomes
- "Is there anything you will lose?" "What's important about that?"
- "How can you achieve this differently?"
- "What are the other ways to ensure you are [...]?"
- "How are you already doing/being [...] now?"
- "Is there any part of you that wouldn't like this change (ask yourself?)"
Ecology plays crucial part in not-changing. Once the "objections to change" are discovered and new ways of meeting them ecologically are generated, the change is only a moment away. With these 3 sets of questions above I would be checking:
1. What are the benefits of this change? (to build up the positive expectation of their outcome)
2. Contextualisation of the outcome (i.e. a person may set a goal to be more enthusiastic, but they cannot be enthusiastic 24/7, they also need sleep).
3. What will you lose, if anything? (to identify "secondary gain")
In most cases my clients were afraid of losing something as a result of the change:
Protection / Safety -
e.g. "If I stop being angry in these situations, I won't be safe"
An important value of theirs such as being respectful, humble, gentle, etc. -
e.g. "If I assert myself, I won't be respectful"; "If I become very rich, I may become arrogant"
Attention from others
e.g. "If I recover from this condition, I won't get any understanding and sympathy"
A subject for discussion with friends
e.g. "If my life is not difficult, what would I talk to my friend about?"
In addressing these I used open solution focussed questions, such as:
- What are the other ways to ensure you are safe?
- How are you already protecting yourself now?
- How can you be protecting yourself in other ways when this behaviour is let go off?
- In what ways could you get attention from others, once this problem is solved?
"The session also made me realize that my attitude, which caused some misunderstanding, had a purpose of protecting me as a young child. This clarification made me feel so peaceful." Yoshimi H., Social Welfare, Japan
Language patterns connecting two states that are opposing each other:
- How could you be respectful while being assertive?
- In what way can you be humble while being rich?
These are very powerful questions and immediately connect two split experiences so you need to be careful using them. Once I asked someone "How could you be playful while working?" and it did not make sense to them. They started frowning and explained that the word "playful" did not have a useful meaning for them in the work context.
The ecology check would always take a good chunk of the session. I would keep reflecting each of their answers in their exact words weaving them together into a "Conditional Close" statement:
- "So, if you could protect yourself in this way, and you could ensure that you stayed respectful, and if you could discuss other things with your friends, would it be then all right to make this change?"
Each time their precise words were reflected back to them, clients would get immersed in their own internal experience of having and/or being all these things.
Memorising clients' words without writing them down is an invaluable skill in change work. Several years ago I attended a workshop on Clean Language by Sue Knight, an NLP trainer from UK I highly respect, in which she modelled and emphasised the importance of being fully present for your client and training yourself to memorise their words. I cannot emphasise enough how much I benefited from this skill. I believe that this part of rapport building is at least as powerful as visual mirroring and really works as an "Ad mirroring".
Open Model of the World
Normally I would do the Pointing Exercise to demonstrate how NLP can
help to change (i.e. "your body responds to your thinking"). This time
most of my clients already had that experience.
Where necessary, I would explain the Time Line Therapy process by drawing a picture and using the frames from Lynn Timpany's article "Preframing Time Line Processes".
Then I would pre-test the problem:
- Can you do it now? Will you know if/when it changed?"
- Think of it now, you'd know if that changed, wouldn't you?"
- When you think about that old problem now, can you get enough of a sense of that problem, so that you'd know if it changed?"
By answering this question the client accepts the hidden presupposition that change is possible. I have never had anyone say "No" to this question.
I selected a change process by using the Personal Strength Model by Richard Bolstad (see Appendix).
Because my aim was to produce a major/significant transformational experience in one session, I found that two processes generated particularly notable results: Time Line Therapy TM (Tad James) and the Core Outcome process (Connirae Andreas).
Frequently I used two additional pieces in these otherwise standard processes:
- Growing Up A Part
- Spreading Change into the Future Timeline
Growing Up a Part
(used in the Time Line Therapy TM after checking inside the healed event that it feels balanced and emotions have disappeared) -
Step outside that earlier person and ask her/him if they want to evolve forward through time so that they can benefit from your experiences, learnings and wisdom. If they do, imagine them surrounded with the light, love and healing and allow them to evolve forward through time all the way up to your current age, so that they also learn from each of your experiences while enriching each of your experiences with their own energies, qualities and wisdom. When the part has arrived at your current age, invite it to move inside your body, merging with you. Let this new wholeness spread into every organ of your body, every cell, every molecule, every atom, becoming a part of your being so fully that it can radiate right through your body. As it spreads through your body, you can allow it to integrate with the core of your being, enriching your experience of your inner essence.
Spreading Change into the Future Timeline
(used after healing the subsequent events and floating above now looking into the future) -
Create a symbol for these positive qualities you are developing and put it on a card. Now notice that you have a huge deck of cards in your hands all with the same symbol on one side and you don't know what's on the other side (because you don't know yet who you're going to get these qualities from). Float up above now and throw them out across your future Timeline, and see them sparkling like stars falling into your future Timeline lighting it up.
Straight after the process I'd say: "Welcome back. What was your experience like?" and then go to the Post Test.
"In the same way that one suddenly becomes aware that music must have been playing only at the very moment that it is turned off; in the same way I suddenly became aware that "guilt" has been a permanent feature of my entire life, just at that very moment when you helped me heal it during our session. I'm talking about a permanent, underlying feeling of guilt, or obligation, in relation to every woman I had any relationship to for my entire life! This discovery is making an astonishing difference in my life now. I feel so much more relaxed, so much freer, and so much more able to be myself! I am very grateful that you allowed me the time I needed to access that force and focus that energy and love, and pour it into the moment of my birth, until I really felt that I had completely healed that event! A real transformation took place in me at that moment." C.V., Japan
Verify change: "Try and think of that old problem and notice what's different now?"
This question "seals" the change. Occasionally, clients may have doubts that it really happened or would stay.
"I feel OK now but how can I be sure it won’t come back?"
- "Try and feel that same emotion? Try again. Try again. That's right, it changed."
- "What would make it easier for you to believe it's changed now?"
- "That's right, there is no guarantee, and "yes", you could re-create it if you wanted it. It is your brain and you are in charge of it. But why would you spoil such a good change? It's like dragging up a newly planted flower to see how the roots are growing."
"It's kind of upsetting to realise that I had this problem for XX years, and now it took one hour to change it. What about all these years?"
- "Yes, it is a bit like that, isn't it?"
- "So much greater is the joy of you getting it now."
- "And what about all the things that you learned about this issue?"
- "Imagine how you could use your learnings from this experience, and if someone in a similar situation will ask for your advice, you could confidently assure them that it is possible."
"Think of a time in the future, where in the past you would have had that old response, and notice how it is different now. Think one week/ month/ year from now and notice what's different then?"
To finish up the session I'd ask: "How are you feeling now?"
- If they said "Great", I would congratulate them and say "Great work!"
- If they said "Confused", I'd say "That's right. It may appear/feel confusing. It used to be a reliable response and now it's changed. So, be alert to all the other changes that will be happening from now."
There were some sessions after which clients did not feel they achieved much. However most of them reported during next several days that they were experiencing incredible changes in the way they felt about their issue, improvement in their health conditions and well being, reconciliation in relationships, clarity, enthusiasm, and peace. The consistency with which this would happen was amazing.
I believe that the following factors also help in change work:
Believe that change is possible and demonstrate this by all aspects of your behaviour.
Assuming that inherently people are good helps me to help stay away from judgements and assist everyone who comes to reach their goals.
Utilise everything - clients’ words, gestures, behaviours, “resistances”.
- Trust your feelings.
If you feel confused, trust this feeling and honestly ask your client to clarify things for you. I used to think, if I was feeling confused, that I must not have understood my client. I learned the value of confronting my clients with what seems inconsistent or incongruent to me, i.e. "Could I please check, you are saying that you are OK with it, and at the same time you are frowning." or "Could I please clarify with you, just 5 minutes ago you said that you feel like this most of the time, and now you say that it only happened twice."
When I work I imagine that every client is connected with the Source of Energy and Love (I see it as a stream of white energy surrounding them and connecting to the sky above and the earth below). By doing so, in energy terms I affirm their own connection with the Source, i.e. their spiritual freedom and autonomy; and in NLP terms I believe my clients have all the resources they need. This helps me to stay clear in terms of the problem ownership and know where my client is and where I am. It also helps to stay discerned regardless of how "hard or devastating" someone's problem may appear to me.
Change can happen at any of these steps so it's useful to be alert to and validate any shifts that occur and frame them as changes. With each step I am "stacking the deck" so that change becomes inevitable.
Of course, I still see great value in having more than one session. And also now I can confidently say that a single session change is possible and can be achieved consistently.
Summary - "Sprint Version" of Resolve and Specify Models
What do you want changed? (reflective listen)
If you don't have that, what will you have? (positive language)
How will you know you've got it? (sensory specific language VAKOG)
What will you gain?
What will you lose?
When is it not OK?
Pre Test / Open Model of the World
Explain NLP (if needed)
Pre-frame change process
Pre-test "Can you do it now? Will you know if it changed?"
Change work process
Post Test / Verify Change
Try and think of that old problem and notice how it’s/what is different now?
Think of a future time, where in the past you would have had that old response, and notice how it is different now? Think 1 week/month/year from now and notice what's different then?
"This summer, I had the privilege to attend NLP sessions in Japan by Julia Kurusheva, as her interpreter, and I was able to witness the dedication and mastery with which Julia conducted her sessions, accompanying her clients in their journey with so much caring love until a tremendous shift occurred and they reached their goal and were transformed in a single session. I also had a session as a client for chronic migraines and haven't had a single one since then!" Christine de Larroche-Kodama, teacher and therapist, Tokyo
I'd like to finish by saying how incredibly rewarding it was for me to have worked with these many unique extraordinary individuals; how moved and inspired I was by the power and courage of their spirit. At times I was so excited to hear my client's positive learnings that I thought of writing "The Book of Positive Learnings"!
And I am learning every time I help someone change, not only how to be a better change agent, but most importantly, more central than any skills, how to live and love.
With admiration of human spirit,
Auckland, New Zealand, September 2007
Get your client stand with their feet slightly apart. Ask them to bring their left arm straight up in front so it's parallel with the floor. Emphasise the importance of keeping their feet in the same place throughout the exercise. Now say: "Keeping your feet still, turn your body to the left, pointing with the finger as far as you can turn, until it gets tight. Notice, by the point on the wall, how far round you are pointing. Now turn back to the front. Close your eyes and make a picture of yourself turning again, but this time going much further. What would you be looking at if you went 30 centimetres further? Sense what it would feel like to be that much more supple and turn that far easily. Also, what would you say to yourself if you could do that easily. Would you be surprised? Now open your eyes, and, using that same arm, physically turn again to the left, and see how far you go now."
Check how much further your client has turned and mark it with the words "That's right". Explain the difference as due to programming the brain to achieve: - The same process we call 'goal setting'. When people don't achieve in life, it's not 'laziness'. It's just a lack of adequate, compelling goals. "When you turned the second time, you had given your unconscious mind (the part of your mind which runs your body) a set of instructions: by making pictures of your goal, feeling what that goal would feel like, and listening to my voice and your own internal voice talking about the goal. These "internal representations" (internal pictures, sounds and feelings) are treated by the unconscious mind as if they are real."
Personal Strengths Model
- Connirae and Tamara Andreas, "Core Transformation: Reaching the Wellspring Within", Real People Press 1994
- Lynn Timpany, "Preframing Time Line Processes", www.lynntimpany.co.nz
- "Mastering Success" @ Transformations International Consulting & Training, 2005
- "RESOLVE A New Model of Therapy" by Dr Richard Bolstad, 2002
- Serge Kahili King, "Urban Shaman", 1990