|Well, that was a lot of fun!|
The OH team seemed like a really nice bunch. Most of them were ex-nurses with OH qualifications, very friendly and chatty. They gave me a broad overview of what they do and the types of work that come their way, and then pretty much handed over to me to present to them, rather than have a back and forth discussion.
I think I did really well. I mean, I waffled in places, probably could have trimmed down some sections and expanded on others, but my heart was in the right place and they commented on the passion with which I spoke on the subject. So I communicated the spirit of what I was talking about, which is the most important thing.
I started off by being sure to let them know that I’d never presented on the subject, that I was quite nervous and that it was quite involved subject matter to explain. I then went on to say that I was there to describe rather than *sell* them anything. In fact I did quite a lot early on to get them onside, and while it was true that I was nervous it was my choice to tell them as opposed to portraying myself as flawless. I have an uncanny ability to appear inscrutable at times.
My definition of NLP was pretty much drawn from Robert Dilt’s rather good website (check out the Encyclopaedia, it’s a fantastic resource). I went into a little exposition on the way NLP suggests that we form our conceptions or models of the world by generalising, deleting and distorting information that is taken in through our five senses. Because of my own particular slant on NLP I spoke about physiology, making the point that we don’t experience the world, we experience the effect that the world has on our bodies, and I also went into a little detail about how experience is coded into posture, boy language, muscle stresses and breathing. So the first section was essentially establishing that human beings are incapable of being anything other than subjective.
I then went on to break down NLP, that it’s not monolithic and that there are many different takes on the ideas, often with different names. I spoke about the major influences behind Bandler, Grinder, Dilts and DeLozier’s thinking, about how they drew from Alfred Korzybski, Gregory Bateson, Noam Chomsky, Virginia Satir, Ivan Pavlov, Milton Erickson, Ernst Haeckel and Fritz Perls (amongst many others). The idea was to contextualise it, something that is hugely missing from a lot of NLP writing and presentation. NLP is often portrayed as new and revolutionary when a huge amount of it is very well established throughout the last hundred years. With this existing material NLP at best took the ideas further and suggested innovative uses, most frequently finessed it and made it easy to learn, and at worst appropriated it and simply rebranded it.
I made all my reservations clear throughout, particularly concerning how access to NLP training is dictated by the size of your wallet and how ethics and best practise are modelled by the trainers but not specifically taught. So many NLPers are virtual automatons possessed by the jargon, refusing to see any flaws, and people rightly find that mentality disturbing and cult-like.
Having defined and contextualised NLP I then gave some examples. I chose specific examples for a very good reason, specifically the wonderful tale of Milton Erickson treating a patient with a condition nicknamed word salad and examples from my experience of working with a girl who was phobic of work (always raises a chuckle, but she was actually terrified of work and would sabotage herself at every turn to avoid getting or keeping a job. The actual work wasn’t the issue – she recently got a first in her degree with the highest mark in the history of her course, achieved through an obsessive amount of late nights/early starts and a keen eye for detail – it was being employed that triggered the phobia).
These examples were chosen as a platform to talk about how verifiable NLP is in terms of clinical trials. I made the point that psychological research and therapy have two extremely different goals. The former seeks to establish broad laws of how people work, the latter is interested in helping and healing one specific person. In effect the therapist has to become as fully conversant as possible with that persons world model in order to make a difference, and reinvent their approach for every person they encounter. The structures and sub-models of NLP are not attempts at describing truth: they are suggested as useful models to try out, to act as if they were true, to be utilised, discarded or adapted in the field. Because essentially NLP was designed by people in the field for people in the field. It wasn’t created with the laboratory in mind.
I spoke a little bit about how clinical tests are conducted, and then went back to the example of Dr Erickson with the patient who had word salad. I asked them what specifically could be proved from that encounter? Erickson effectively had to learn a brand new grammar for English, which involved unlearning how he was used to speaking. I’d say his methods were the equivalent of learning a foreign language for the purpose of speaking to its sole native speaker, like learning French if there were only one other person who spoke it in the world. In other words Erickson’s approach was almost inconceivably imaginative, compassionate, resourceful and kind. And successful, let’s not forget. But what can be proved? How many other people have word salad? We have no idea whether this method, invented for one man, would work on another person. All we can really say is that Erickson and this particular patient worked together for the healing of the latter, and that what they did was successful. Erickson’s presuppositions and beliefs were hugely important in what was done, but ultimately there’s not a great deal you could say was provable about this case.
Then there was my own example of the work-phobia. I started by running a standard NLP-phobia technique, which was successful in the short term and enabled her to painlessly maintain a summer job. However a few months later she came back, and it was pretty clear that she needed something else. The fear was returning, specifically surrounding the end of her course and the idea of getting a full time job. Now that’s a scary thing for anyone, but in the context of the phobia I did a little more digging. With her in a light trance I got her to verbalise what she believed about work, and then track back in her experience to where those beliefs originally came from. The answer was immediate and formed the key to the whole pattern: both her parents were thoroughly stuck and institutionalised into jobs they hated and had given up on their dreams and freedom. It was a powerful learning experience. The girl was hugely free-spirited and thought that by going into employment a part of her would have to die, because that was the example her parents set (in fact her mother had literally said, “You may be carefree now, but just you wait ‘til you get a job. You’ll be in for a shock!”. She was terrified by what she perceived would be the end of her freedom and the loss of her dreams, that her very sense of self would be destroyed. Having found this out the work went onto another footing altogether, the phobia cure technique that originally seemed most appropriate was discarded in favour of totally improvised methods. She’s now finished her course with the aforementioned grades and is enthusiastically job hunting, something previously unheard of for her.
What does this illustrate? You can run a clinical trial on the truth of the Phobia cure technique and it will show that it doesn’t always work. This is because that technique might not be the best means of curing a phobia in individual cases. Ian McDermott uses an example of a woman who wanted to give up smoking. She started smoking in her late forties when her beloved best friend died of lung cancer. She smoked to make herself feel as though her friend were still around. McDermott used a bereavement technique followed by an addiction technique in order to help her give up. Clearly just using the addiction technique would not have been successful in this instance. Flexibility is the key.
Objection-wise things were pretty straightforward. One person asked whether NLP can hurt people, to which I gave the analogy of whether a spade can be used to hurt someone. Of course it can, but that’s at the will of the person using it, not an intrinsic property of the tool. The same person asked what’s to stop someone setting themselves up as a practitioner with practically no training, in effect what quality controls are in place to stop people who are dangerous or quacks. I couldn’t quite believe my response to that, it was totally unprepared and left my mouth before I’d had a chance to engage my filters: I asked her how successful the established safeguards were when it came to Harold Shipman.
Heh. I wish I’d had everyone’s faces on camera at that point, it was like I’d fired a gun in the room. In retrospect it was a cheap shot, but in my defence it wasn’t like I’d rehearsed it in case I needed it. It just kinda came out.
The basic upshot is that they’re happy to act as an advertising channel for me, provided I get a few things in place first (a snappily designed leaflet and some kind of NLP peer group to give at least some kind of accountable framework, both of which shouldn’t be too much hassle to sort). They don’t offer treatments so there’s no real platform to work with them directly, and in the one instant where they might use an NLP practitioner (dealing with the attitudes of disillusionment towards the Police) it was agreed that working for the Constabulary was a conflict of interest that would provoke too extreme a level of resistance. They also gave me a point of contact in the Priory group, as they seemed think that the Marchwood centre might want an NLP practitioner to add to the portfolio of therapies.
So lots of good results and things to follow up on.