An NLP Model of Personal Strengths

by Richard Bolstad

Why do particular NLP techniques work well with some clients and not with others?

How, specifically, does an NLP Practitioner find ways to apply Milton Erickson's suggestion to "Identify the skills the client uses to generate their symptoms, and utilise these to create the cure"?

An aside from the model of Metaprograms gives us some answers.

Jung's Model of Personality

Before NLP, most models of personality were explanations of the various ways in which human beings were considered to be "Broken". Freud's model lists various personality types, for example; each of them being variations on what he called the "Psychopathology of everyday life".

In developing the metaprograms model of personality, NLP began with one of the few exceptions to this psychopathology approach:Jungian analytic psychology. It was Jung who first coined the terms Thinker, Feeler, Sensor and Intuitor to refer to personality types.

In Jung's model, these terms referred not merely to types, but also to skills for living, which people developed to various extents. He explains (1964, p49) "These four functional types correspond to the obvious means by which consciousness obtains its orientation to experience. Sensation (ie sense perception tells you that something exists; thinking tells you what it is; feeling tells you whether it is agreable or not; and intuition tells you whence it comes and where it is going."

Two Ways Of Using The Distinctions

Tad James and Wyatt Woodsmall (1988, p95-106) describe the Thinker-Feeler and Intuitor-Sensor continua as measures of what percentage of time/energy a person invests in each of the four functions. Their questions ask "Does the person use thinking or feeling more?" and "Does the person use intuiting or sensing more?"

Jung's original model allowed for a second type of question. Just because someone develops their thinking skills doesn't mean they have reduced their feeling skills. The second type of question is "For each skill, how fully has this person developed the skill?" As Jung suggests, every human being benefits by being able to fully use all four faculties. People vary in the extent to which they are skilled in each area.

Using NLP Terminology Instead of Jungian

I find the Jungian categories, as described by James and Woodsmall, immensely useful. I also think they are rather non-specific (chunked up in NLP terms, intuitive in Jungian terms). The ability of NLP to get down to the actual sensory data is something I really value (even in creating this overview).

In NLP terms, I think four important analogues of Jung's skills are the ability to 1) Dissociate (Thinker), and 2) Associate (Feeler) into experiences, and the ability to 3) Chunk up (Intuitor) and 4) Chunk down (Sensor) on those experiences.

These four skills (amongst others!) are essential for living an enjoyable life. They are also necessary prerequisites for all other internal processing, including the processing we call NLP techniques. To experience anchoring, for instance, you need to be able to associate into experiences. To run the phobia cure you need to be able to dissociate. To set a well formed outcome you need to be able to chunk down, and to do the core transformation process you need to be able to chunk up.

When a client comes seeking change, they bring their own personal skills; ones they've developed over a lifetime. Certain upbringings support the development of skills for dissociating; encouraging the person to step out of their experience. Certain upbringings support the development of skills for associating into and fully "living" experiences. Some upbringings nuture both abilities. It's the same for chunking skills.

Designing Interventions to Pace and Lead a Client's Strengths

A client who is excellent at associating will generally be good at anchoring. They've been doing it already (possibly using it to create phobias, but the SKILL is intact). They may or may not have aquired the skill to dissociate that is presupposed in the phobia cure. If I (as Tad James suggests) use collapsing anchors before the phobia cure, or stack a resource anchor first, I'm utilising their strength (pacing) before leading them to new skills.

A client who is excellent at dissociating will generally be good at Time Line Therapy(tm); (see James and Woodsmall 1988). They may find checking the experience at position 4 (in the time line) less convincing, but will change when at position 3 (way up above and before the event ). Someone who "feels" cut off from their experience may appreciate healing their limiting decision (to be cut off) on the time line before coming back and anchoring themselves to a powerful resource state.

It's the same with chunking. The person skilled at chunking down to the thousand details of their day and getting anxious may appreciate setting a sensory specific goal before you do trancework and chunk up to some generalised "change". A client who gets depressed because "everything" is hopeless may find it easier to use parts integration before setting specific goals.

As an NLP Practitioner, you've already discovered that some techniques work better with certain clients. It's not random. Clients have strengths. This four-skill model is one method for "diagnosing" those strengths. Some clients can do everything you suggest easily; that's great -they have all four skills.

NLP Techniques As Training; A)The Four Skills Combinations

In a sense, every time you use an NLP technique with a client, you help them to develop the skills presupposed by it. In that way, it's not only the specific issue that changes. Your client develops the skills required by the technique; which are simultaneously the skills to live an enjoyable life. NLP techniques are training skills for life.

As Jung noted in his model, people generally utilise a pair of the basic skills. In my model, for example, a person may use skills to associate into a chunked up experience ("Everything feels like this.") which could be used to create euphoria OR "depression". This person may benefit from developing their ability to chunk down and dissociate, using submodality processes and dissociated goal setting.

Someone who uses skills to dissociate in a chunked up way ("Everything I'm conscious of is like this") could have used these skills to create a state of meditation OR "psychosis". They could benefit from taking aboard techniques to chunk down and associate, such as strategy installation and associated goalsetting.

If your client uses skills to associate into chunked down experiences ("These specific details feel like this"), which can be used to generate pleasure or "anxiety disorders", they might benefit from learning how to chunk up and dissociate, with such trance techniques as Time Line Therapy TM.

Lastly, the person who uses skills to dissociate in a chunked down way ("These specific details I'm conscious of in this way") which support planning successful action OR "over-intellectualising" (what in NLP is often called the Ad personality) could benefit from developing the skills of chunking up and associating into life with parts integration, anchoring and trancework.

NLP Techniques As Training: B) The Polarity Swings

Two types of polarity swing can be understood with this model. Firstly, some swings, such as "manic-depressive disorders" can be understood as simple uses of the same skills with different content. Both the "manic" person and the "depressed" person will agree that "everything feels..." something. What neither of them does well may be to chunk down and dissociate.

Secondly, some people develop strengths which focus on two categories "opposed" to each other, rather than two next to each other. This is called incongruity, or "addiction". An addict may appear to oscillate between associating into one experience/part/set of values/behaviour at one time, and dissociating from it totally at another. Neither skill is fully available, so they are unable to successfully dissociate from undesired experiences and associate into chosen experiences (they are, in Isobel Briggs Myers terms "perceivers" rather than "judgers". She calls emphasis of the thinker-feeler skills "Judger" . In our model this would be emphasis on the use of the associate-dissociate skills). Where is the "addict" functioning well then? The other two categories are a better place to start identifying their skills (chunking down to "one step at a time" and chunking up with parts integration).

An NLP Warmup?

Not only can you pace and lead using this model for selecting NLP processes, but also you can design an NLP "warmup" exercise to facilitate your clients' ability to achieve change and to expand their repertoire. This warmup can be given as a between sessions activity and includes.

  1. Stopping at specific predecided times in the day to ask themself "What is this specific situation an example of?... and what is that an example of?" (practise chunking up).
  1. Identifying general trends in their life and asking themself "What is a specific example of this trend?... and what specifically do I see/hear/feel as I recall that example?"
  1. Taking a current situation or a remembered situation (an enjoyable one thanks) and experiencing it from first position (associated), seeing it exactly through their eyes, hearing through their ears, having any internal voice in their throat, and feeling the feelings in their body fully (using overlapping of sensory systems to do so).
  1. Using the same experience , see, hear and otherwise experience it from a "third position" (dissociated), experiencing the "self" as simply another individual in the situation. Remember to have them associate back in after, and enjoy it again!

There's a lot more to understanding the four key skills of chunking up/down and associating/dissociating. You may already have noticed that Chunking up and Associating are essentially "unconscious mind" processes, while Chunking down and Dissociating are "conscious mind" processes. Combining them is the key to multilevel communication. Most of all, I hope you've noticed that this is only a model. The map is not the territory. The aim is to use your ability to identify these strengths in yourself and in your clients, so you can let go of puzzling over their weaknesses, and instead BUILD ON THEIR STRENGTHS. This attitude is crucial to NLP, in my opinion, and the model is only another tool to support it.



Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer who has worked with clients individually and as a trainer of groups since 1990. He can be contacted at PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, Phone/Fax: +64-9-478-4895 E-mail: Website: