Change Can Happen Easily

April 24th, 2011

Several Brief Stories

[1.] Sitting at the lunch table with my friend Ruth, she happened to mention that she had a bad dream the night before and was very tired. In fact she had a bad dream the night before that, and the night before that. It was the same dream and it had happened every night for perhaps ten years!

I was flabbergasted when I heard this. Each night she had the dream of an airplane falling out of the sky, crashing into the ground, with blood, dead people, flames, carnage. It woke her up in a sweat, making it difficult to go back to sleep for a significant period, and making her tired each morning.

I wanted to know what she had done to try and change this. I recall she had not tried very much. She basically just felt it was her mind’s way of dealing with and processing the day’s events.

Can you imagine the sort of daytime experiences that one would be having that required that sort of processing?! Maybe a soldier in a battle zone would need processing like that. But she was not, nor an ambulance officer nor a nurse in Emergency. It amused me that one would have thought such a night-time experience would be required.

I suggested she try something. [I operate pragmatically so if this did not work, I would try something else.] I explained that there most likely was a ‘part’ inside of her that was making this happen, and that it had a good intention behind its action, even though we may have no idea what the intention is. We don’t need to know, I told her. But if we wanted its help it would pay to be nice to that part and respectful.

I recommended that at night when she was laying in bed she address the part and say something like… “Tom says that I should say ‘Thanks’ to you because he believes you are trying to do something that is helpful for me. But it is disrupting my sleep and making me very tired, so could you please change the way you are trying to help me? Thankyou.”

The following day, she reported a change to her dream. She was aware that the airplane was falling down to the ground as usual. Just as it reached one metre from the ground, the plane did a 90 degree turn, flew out of her view, and then crashed. But because it was out of her view she did not see any carnage; she just knew that it crashed. She did not wake up in the night.

The dreams continued in this more comfortable way, until later we did something else to improve them further.

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[2.] Most people do not like picking up spiders, but Robert had no fear of them. Whenever he found a spider in his house, he would gather it up and put it out in the garden. Although I knew Robert, his partner told me of his frequent nightmares involving spiders. She said that it got resolved when his church minister, who must also have been a pragmatist, directed that instead of taking the spiders out into the garden, Robert kill them.

Bad luck for the spiders, but the nightmares stopped!

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[3.] One evening I was visiting Karen’s house for a meal. Prior to dinner we were sharing our news of the day. She had a very upsetting day. She briefly mentioned her concern, and then said that she didn’t want to talk about it; it was still that upsetting.

Later while she was breast-feeding her newest baby, she mentioned that she was feeling the beginning of mastitis, which is an infection of the milk ducts, and can be extremely painful. [This was something she had experienced 7 times previously, always treated with antibiotics, and so I expect she knew what was ahead for her.]

Being friends I had previously shared some of my life experiences with her, where I had noticed the link between squashing down my emotions and the emergence of physical symptoms very soon after.

So I reminded her of my experiences and suggested that perhaps her beginning mastitis was resulting from her desire not to feel her feelings associated with her worry. And therefore she might very well be able to reverse the mastitis if she was to receive the feelings and stay with them until she could mentally find a satisfactory resolution.

This made sense to her, as she could see that she had decided she didn’t want to think about the matter. She told me she would try what I suggested after dinner when I had gone.

Some days later I got the feedback that she had been successful.

[Recently another friend read the above story. She also had several rounds of mastitis and antibiotics. Her stressor involved the child’s father. She determined that she would heed my advice by staying with her feelings rather than fleeing them. Thus she put an end to her pattern of infections too.]

{NB. If our emotions are signals to attend to important matters, then there are disadvantages of medicating people where the result is that they cannot feel their emotions – no longer do they feel the internal pressure to resolve their stress. Furthermore Ernst Rossi showed, in the extract from “The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing” the value of beginning with the person’s feelings, and using this to achieve a resolution. If we can’t feel, because of medications or from any other cause, we lose an important source of information that can be helpful to solve problems.}

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[4.] Kelly had to undergo major abdominal surgery. She knew that I might be able to use NeuroLinguistic Programming to help her, so we met. I asked her to tell me what outcome she wanted. She wanted help with the pain, post-operatively. (She had previous experience of surgery.) I asked her more specifically what she wanted.

Initially she answered that she wanted to cope with the pain, or have less pain. Such phrasing as this is usually not very satisfactory. This is more a statement of what would not be happening than what she would be experiencing. So I coached her until she was able to state a desired outcome that specified only what she did want.

She detailed what she wanted to feel around her abdomen, namely a cool feeling all over the area of the incision. I had suggested a feeling of ice-water which she rejected, recognizing that it too can be painful. So once she had identified the desired feeling/sensation (also known as a ‘kinaesthetic’ representation), I then asked her to internally create the tone of voice that she wanted to use when talking to herself and others after the operation; and then how she would look. She now had ‘sensory representations’ in the three major sensory systems.

This use of the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic senses creates a destination for her mind. Intrinsically there is also an inner ‘road-map’ of how to get there. Without this her ‘unconscious mind’ is not guided in the optimal way. (By ‘unconscious mind,’ I am referring to the idea that there is a part of us that operates independently, separate from our conscious mind. There is no consensus on its definition, but most people recognise that a part of us organises our dreams, can remember things under hypnosis, that had been forgotten and so on. Some people might equate it with their spirit, or call it their ‘inner self’ or it might be the summation of all their hopes and dreams.)

The outcome statement she settled on did not include the word ‘pain’ at all and therefore neither did the sensory representations of the outcome. The initial phrasing of ‘coping with the pain’ is less than optimal, as it presupposes that she will have pain. This would then automatically be included in the sensory representations, and thus be part of her experience to some extent. (It is important to appreciate that sometimes pain may be very important following surgery, so the person has feedback and will act within appropriate limits, so as to facilitate healing.)

Now she had detailed the outcome, I was expecting to engage in a therapeutic process of negotiating with her unconscious mind to facilitate the outcome. However despite Kelly’s conscious understanding and agreement, there was no agreement by her unconscious and we abandoned doing any of the work we planned, much to her disappointment.

Days later I received a phone-call from her hospital bed, joyously exclaiming her success. While she indeed had a degree of pain, she was amazed at the result. She had felt the coolness before the surgery, and was continuing to feel it, to such an extent that extra blankets had to be brought to her bed. I was delighted for her, but not totally surprised; I have plenty of personal experience that shows the power of setting detailed outcomes as described above.

Final Comments

I wanted to illustrate that change often can happen quickly and perhaps easily. The last experience details the value of specifying one’s outcome, which is invaluable in all forms of therapy. Most often more is then required to achieve it, but at a minimum this step allows the therapist and the client to know what is being aimed for, and when the goal has been achieved.

These experiences might not surprise some people. Upon hearing these tales, some people recount their own similar stories. However in the professional world I inhabit, namely psychiatry, these sorts of ideas do not seem to be prominent. These five experiences simply illustrate the connection between one’s experiences/thoughts and bodily symptoms. Authors on NeuroLinguistic Programming and related areas point out these connections explicitly.

(The End)


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