Overcoming addiction with Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)

How is Neurolinguistic Programming or NLP applied to the treatment of substance abuse and addiction? Contributor Dr. Janice Walton explains here.

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Neurolinguistic Programming for addiction

When talking about treatment for individuals who are struggling with addiction issues, we know that the same treatment does not work for every individual. With that in mind, I would like to suggest a method which may not be as popular as others but is a viable option as part of a comprehensive approach to the problem.

More here on Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) as an alternative in the treatment of addiction and substance abuse. Then, we invite your questions about NLP at the end.

What is Neurolinguistic Programming?

Neurolinguistic Programming, or NLP, is based on concepts and models developed by some of the greatest minds in the world of psychotherapy like Milton Erickson, Gregory Bateson, and Virginia Satir. This method examines the fundamental dynamics between the mind (neuro) and language (linguistic); as well as, how their interaction affects the body and behavior (programming). It targets how people:

  • communicate externally and internally
  • process, store, and recall information
  • alter their communication to achieve the results and goals they want

NLP practitioners believe human beings have an extraordinary capacity for flexibility and there is nothing that happens mentally or spiritually they cannot learn to handle. So, the task is to examine how an individual formulates his or her thoughts and, then, how to change them.

How is Neurolinguistic Programming used in addiction treatment?

NLP can be used by a counselor working with a client experiencing addiction issues, by families with a loved one overly involved with substances, or by an individual abusing drug. We will explore how a counselor can use three well-known NLP strategies: Building Rrapport, Meta Models, and Outcome Specification.

1. Building Rapport

Generally speaking, when people are like each other, they like each other – this is the foundation of Building Rapport. It also stands to reason that when working with a client, a good relationship must be in place for change to occur. Violet Oaklander, author of the book Windows to our Children, taught that if therapy isn’t progressing, the client/counselor relationship must be re-established.  Only then, will the counseling move forward.

While the most typical way of creating rapport is through sharing common experiences, there are other ways, as well.  The NLP techniques of matching and mirroring can further any connection. For example:

  • Matching modality – When a counselor knows whether the client’s primary information processing system is auditory, visual, or kinesthetic; it is possible to communicate in ways that he or she hears, sees, and feels understood.
  • Matching physiology-When a counselor replicates the hand movements or posture of a client, an unconscious message is sent that they are alike.
  • Matching voice and language – When a counselor matches the tone, volume, tempo, or specific words of the client, rapport is reinforced.

2. Meta Model

A basic principle of the Meta Model is that people are in pain because their representation of the world is impoverished. So, the goal of NLP is to connect a client with the world in ways which give richer choices and challenges limitations in thinking.

When counseling a client who presents with addiction issues, two factors play a role in clearly understanding the problem. As the client talks about his or her situation, the verbal description typically deletes a great deal of information. Words tend to briefly summarize a complex and detailed experience providing a short outline rather than a total picture.

When gathering information, a counselor tends to draw on his or her personal history; to understand what the client is saying and to determine what further information needs to be gathered. There can be a tendency to distort information and add details which were neither mentioned nor considered by the client.  If information is not gathered properly; the wrong problem may be solved.

The Meta Model is a set of questions which allows the counselor to gather information specific to the client’s experience and to gain a fuller representation of his or her perceptions.  Errors can include:

Deletions – Paying selective attention to certain dimension of an experience while excluding others. For example, focusing on the negative and forgetting the positive aspects of a situation.

Distortions – Shifts in one’s experience of sensory data.  For example, making a part of an experience less important than another part of it.

Generalizations – Elements of a person’s model of an aspect of the world represents the larger category of which the experience is. For example, the person who drinks too much once, thinking he or she will always drink too much.

Mind reading – A person knows the thoughts, feelings, intentions, imaginings, and motivations of another.  For example, the woman expects her partner to know that she wants to be taken out to dinner on her birthday.

Modal Operators – Words which dictate or imply what is possible, right or necessary; such as, “must”, “should”, or “can’t.” For example, a person thinks he shouldn’t be drinking or says she can’t stop drinking.

3. Outcome Specification

In NLP, the process of clarifying goals and desires is called Outcome Specification. However, factors like distortions, generalizations, and mind reading may make clarifying those goals difficult. Many clients remain unclear about what they really want.  So, the following nine-question summary helps clarify the goal and their dedication to it:

  1. What do you want?
  2. How will you know when you have it? What will be evidence of success?
  3. Where will the goal be relevant and/or irrelevant?
  4. What stops you from pursuing the goal wholeheartedly?
  5. What personal resources that you already possess can you draw up on to help you achieve this goal?
  6. What additional resources will you need in order to achieve the goal?
  7. How might the pursuit of the goal affect important people in your life? Is there any risk associated with achieving this goal?
  8. What are daily actions you will need to take in order to achieve your goal? What is the first step?
  9. Given everything you have considered to this point, is achieving the goal worth it?

CASE STUDY of NLP in addiction treatment

Sophia’s presenting problem is a growing reliance on prescription drugs. As an addictions counselor, my first task is to build rapport with her by matching experience, voice and language. After assuring Sophia that I can help with her problem, I employ Meta model questions to gain a clear understanding of the issues from her viewpoint – exploring deletions, musts, distortions and other linguistic patterns she relies onto support her continued use. The questions may include:

  1. According to whom or what?
  2. How would that occur?
  3. What if you didn’t?
  4. What happens if you could?

After we have a clear picture of her perception of the issues, then, I can conduct the Outcome Specification exercise, identifying the importance, resources, and risks.

Sophie responds as follows:

Goal: Stop using prescription drugs, which really no longer needs, within the next two months.
Evidence: She will no longer reach for the bottle of pills every couple of hours.
Relevant: In every aspect of her life. Pill-taking is getting in the way.
Stops: a) previous knee surgery which causes legitimate pain from time to time, b) the good feeling she experiences when she uses them, and c) her using friends.
Personal resources: a) the willingness to stop, and b) her ability to stop smoking a couple of years ago.
Additional resources needed: a) family support, and b) alternatives to manage the pain
Risks: a) irritability, b) the rebound effect, and c) loss of friends
Steps: Begin taking fewer pills daily until she has weaned herself from them
First step: Making an appoint with her physician who will oversee the process

She is scared, but wants to proceed.

Once the outcome is established, then we can begin to do the work using various NLP techniques such as dissociation, anchoring, and the swish pattern. These techniques and others will be more fully explored in future articles.

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About the author
Dr. Walton has a doctorate in Psychology and is a licensed Marriage Family Therapist. After following traditional counseling approaches for years, she became interested in neurolinguistic programming and how those techniques can be used with individuals whose lives are affected by addiction. To this end, she joined the staff of the iNLP Center and has recently developed a course for professionals entitled "NLP for Addictions". All courses offered by the Center can be viewed at: http://inlpcenter.org/; the link to Dr. Walton's website is: http://www.tlcorner.com/.
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