Dr Richard Bolstad is Transformations Principal Trainer

NLP And The Rediscovery Of Happiness

by Dr Richard Bolstad and Margot Hamblett.

This article is about the use of NLP based consulting to end depression. Talking about the use of NLP in the treatment of depression is like putting new wine in old bottles. NLP is the study of excellence, and the term "depression" comes from a study of "sickness" (Psychopathology). As NLP Practitioners, our interest is in finding out how clients achieve, or could achieve, excellence. In that frame, "depression" is a catch-all term for a particular cluster of ways that people can miss excellence (or more simply, how they can miss happiness). Depression is not a thing in itself, but a description of the result of certain processes. Based on the current research, we will describe the metaprograms and strategies which are associated with depression, and then identify the one crucial implication for working to change these. We will suggest NLP processes which are designed to alter the metaprograms and strategies of depression and a framework for coaching the depressed person in the rediscovery of happiness.

A. What Is Depression?

The Epidemic of Depression

In the Psychiatric manual DSM-IV TM (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), a major depressive episode is identified by the person having symptoms such as feeling sad or empty, lack of interest or pleasure, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, inability to think, recurrent thoughts of death, insomnia or hypersomnia, weight loss or gain, and body agitation or slowing down. This is a life-threatening psycho-physiological disorder. Studies show that people who score highly on these indicators of depression have lowered lymphocyte responsiveness and immunoglobulin levels in their blood -ie their immune systems are damaged and they are more likely to get ill (Thayer, 1996, p 30-31).

The rate of depression varies from social group to social group, and from time to time. Carefully adjusted studies (Seligman, 1991, p 64-65) show that the incidence of depression has increased more than tenfold in the last century. This has reached the point where at any given time, 25% of people are at least mildly depressed (Seligman, 1991, p 55). These and other statistics indicate that most "depressions" are a result of experience, not genetics (Yapko, 1992, p 3-4). Alongside this apparent epidemic of depression, has come an epidemic of drug usage to attempt to treat depression. Studies show that even when drug treatment is deemed successful, "relapses" (later recurrences of depression) are more common than when psychotherapy or psychotherapy plus drug treatment is deemed successful (Yapko, 1992, p 4). This strongly suggests that drug treatment by itself is an inappropriate solution (inappropriate in the sense that it leaves the person at a higher risk of recurrence).

Through research, we know a great deal about what kind of outside assistance works with depression, and what kind of "assistance" does not work. We also know that 80% of individuals suffering major depression will "spontaneously" cease to be depressed in between 4-10 months (Yapko, 1992, p 16). People normally find their own way out of depression. This also means that if any type of "assistance" continues for ten months it will seem to have solved the problem in 80% of cases. Genuinely successful strategies for assisting are those that can show benefits in the short term.

Denominalising Depression

Firstly, we will summarise a number of things people can do that, collectively, lead them to feel depressed. By describing these depression strategies using NLP terms, the NLP-based solutions will become rather obvious. This does not mean that ending depression is easy. Most of these solutions have been written down for thousands of years. The challenge is in getting people to actually stop doing the things that don't work, and start doing the things that do. The very thinking styles that cause depression are used by the depressed person to convince themselves that they cannot or should not change. In fact, depression could be defined as the belief that a person cannot or should not change! Professor of Psychology Dr Martin Seligman calls this belief a "permanent, pervasive explanatory style" (1991, p 40-48). He says it is part of the structure of "learned pessimism". It is, as we shall see, the very first thing to challenge in working with the depressed person. It is also the reason why "one person doing therapy on another" is not the appropriate metaphor in helping someone rediscover happiness.

Ericksonian therapist Dr Michael Yapko describes depression as the result of the combination of two things. One is a style of thinking which includes the permanent, pervasive explanatory style. The other is life. We'll have a go at defining these two things. Of course, life is pretty hard to define; in a sense nominalisations don't come any more general than "life". Yapko points out that life is like a giant Rorschach inkblot. It's so undefined that you can read anything into it. By dividing up the story of your life into certain pieces you can prove that events in life always turn out for the best. By dividing them up in another way, the depressed person can prove that events generally turn out for the worst.

Neither map IS the territory. Neither is objectively "real". Both are strategies for creating a person's subjective reality. That is, both are forms of self-hypnosis. Stephen Gilligan (1987, p 44-46) explains that the same strategies which can be used to produce therapeutic trance (hypnosis) can be misused to create "symptomatic trances". The depressed person, for example, can negatively hallucinate (ie not notice) loving individuals close by them, and can hallucinate obstacles which no-one else sees. They can numb their body so that touch no longer comforts, and regress themselves so that they relive a painful moment a million times. These are very powerful trance phenomena.

One important thing to understand about life, before we move on to considering the learned pessimism style, is that life is cyclical. That is to say, challenges happen every so often. Rejection, disappointment, loss, and embarrassment do occur in any life. When they do, a person with a "learned pessimism" style of thinking will get depressed. In one of Seligman's studies (1997, p 78-79), he followed a group of 400 school students through several years of their life. Those who started out with a pessimistic style were the ones who, when an event like a divorce happened, were likely to get depressed. The divorce (ie the life event) did not cause this depression by itself, and those with an optimistic style rebounded quickly from such events. What caused depression was the combination of painful life events plus a style of thinking. Because such events happen every so often, the person will appear to have a cyclical mood problem. In fact, it is not depression that is cyclical; it is life. Believing in "the cyclical nature of depression" is part of the permanent pervasive explanatory style of certain psychiatrists (Yapko, 1992, p 124). This style itself is part of the cause of depression.

Metaprograms and Strategies of Depression

In NLP terms (with more widely accepted terminology in brackets), the six key metaprograms and strategies which generate the negative trance of learned pessimism are (from research in Yapko, 1992 and Seligman, 1997):

1. Chunk Up In Problem Situations (Permanent, Pervasive Explanatory Style)
Imagine the situation where a person fails to get a job they apply for. The person with a permanent, pervasive explanatory style might say "No-one would employ me." Or "Why do I always do something wrong?". The person with a temporary, specific explanatory style might say instead "The panel didn't understand how skilled I was in that area." Or "I hadn't allowed myself the time to prepare well enough for the interview." The person who gets depressed uses a permanent pervasive explanatory style dealing with problems. Since they mainly think about problems, this means they specialise in chunking up, and linguistically in the use of universal quantifiers. Note that the aim of therapy is not to have the person believe that "everything" is wonderful. Trying to "cheer up" a depressed person in this way leaves them vulnerable to the same style of thinking that caused their problem. The depressed person frequently chunks up in their goals for therapy as well, setting unrealistic outcomes for permanent, endless happiness (Yapko, 1992, p 11). The aim of successful therapy is to teach the person to make more distinctions about what has happened and what could happen specifically.

2. Associate into Pain, Dissociate from Pleasure (Traumatic response)

The submodality distinctions between the depressed cognitive style and the happy person's cognitive style are enormous. The happy person tends to have their pleasant experiences stored in "impactful" submodalities. The pictures tend to be large, close, and fully associated. On the other hand, their unpleasant experiences are stored with submodalities such as dissociated, small and distant. This means that for the happy person, pleasant memories seem very real, and very significant. The depressed person does it the other way round. For them, the unpleasant experiences are real, and the pleasant ones almost seem like false memories (because the person isn't inside their own body as they recall them). In this way, the depressed person "sees" and "feels" their problems much of the time. Solutions and positive experiences are harder to find, and harder to believe in. This is the first part of the submodality structure behind the permanent, pervasive negative explanatory style. Again, because the depressed person is mainly re-experiencing unpleasant memories, the key change required is to teach them the skill of dissociating from those. Understandably, the depressed person often fears that this is "tampering with reality" (the "reality" of misery, as opposed to the "unreality" of happiness).

3. Temporal Orientation Towards the Past

Temporal orientation is the second part of the submodality structure behind the permanent, pervasive negative explanatory style. Yapko (1992, p 118-121) suggests that it is the key to understanding depression. The depressed person is stuck looking back towards the past. By way of contrast, the anxious person is stuck looking towards the future, and the impulse disordered (eg addicted) person is stuck looking at "now". Mental health involves some degree of flexibility in temporal orientation. The depressed person thinks of their present and future in terms of the past ("I know why I'm unhappy; it's because I never got over my mother's death", "My future is ruined because I'll always suffer from the confusion that I felt during sexual abuse."). Yapko emphasises that psychotherapies which encourage a past temporal orientation are very attractive to the depressed person, but simply encourage them to do more of what they are already doing. Spending the first session of such therapy by discussing the past is a sure way to reinforce the hopelessness of the depressed person. The key to healing is to have them turn around and look towards the future.

4. Auditory Digital - Kinesthetic Loop (Negative self-talk)

Seligman (1997, p 82-83) points out that people differ in the amount that they pay attention to their internal self talk. Those who attend to auditory digital a lot are called "Ruminators" in cognitive psychology. Rumination in itself (using the auditory digital sense a lot) is not a problem. But combined with a permanent, pervasive explanatory style, this pattern cements depression in place. Seligman says "The expectation of helplessness may arise only rarely, or it may arise all the time. The more you are inclined to ruminate, the more it arises. The more it arises, the more depressed you will be. Brooding, thinking about how bad things will be, starts the sequence. Ruminators get this chain going all the time." In NLP terms, this is an auditory digital-kinesthetic loop. The person feels an uncomfortable feeling (K). They then talk about how permanent that will be and tell themselves off (Ad). They then check how they feel now (K). Not surprisingly, they feel worse. They then talk about that (Ad). This strategy is quite clear in the eye accessing movements of the depressed person. It presents a challenge in the running of NLP processes, because the depressed person tends to talk to themselves about how the process "won't work for them" even as the process is being run.

5. Kinesthetic Shutdown (Psychomotor retardation)

Psychomotor retardation (Yapko, 1992, p 94) refers to the slowing down of motor responses in the depressed person. The depressed person often ensures this slowing of motor responses by avoiding exercise. This sets in place a cycle where lack of exercise increases insomnia, which increases exhaustion which causes a further reduction in exercise. In NLP we understand that state is affected by both internal representations and by physiology. Just ten minutes of brisk walking lifts mood for 60-90 minutes after (Thayer, 1996, p 23-24). The depressed person comes to the NLP consultant in an unresourceful physiology. They may slump down in their chair, may breathe shallowly, and may have barely moved over the last 24 hours. Attempting to work with them in this state is like attempting to work with a drug addict while the addict is high

6. Not at Cause (Lack of a sense of control)

Yapko points out (1992, p 130) that the person who is depressed often does not have a sense of themselves as able to initiate causes of future results. They do not think "If I engage in this behaviour, that consequence is quite likely, whereas if I engage in this other behaviour, this other consequence is quite likely." Instead they tend to think "That behaviour will happen, and I will just suffer the consequences." This is a result of the permanent, pervasive explanatory style in relation to problems, combined with a lack of future orientation. Since sometimes unfortunate things do happen, the depressed person becomes convinced that they "always" will. The global style of thinking means that the depressed person fails to look for more precise distinctions about how they could adjust their behaviour based on the feedback they are getting, in order to reach their goal. They might complain "What's the point in falling in love; men (or women) will always leave you in the end, no matter how hard you try." Attempting to assist the person to change runs up against the same question. "What's the point of us doing NLP processes. I always end up back at the same place."

B. How Do We End Depression?

Clearly, the structure behind depression presents a dilemma for someone wanting to assist the depressed person. Depression is generated by the belief that things can't change. Having the person experience themselves as "at cause" in their life is the first task (and in a sense the only task) in assisting a depressed person. For this reason, often our first comment with the client is to explain that we are not intending to do "psychotherapy" or "counselling" as they have known it. Instead, we plan to be the person's coach or consultant.

The depressed person is hiring us to give them advice and support to put into action a plan that will change their life. This will be a collaborative relationship, in which they will need not only to "help", but also to experimentally follow the advice we give. We have no magic way of solving their problems for them. But if they do the things we suggest, we believe that they will experience change. This is the same deal a consultant in the business setting makes. We often say "NLP doesn't work. You work... NLP just explains how you work, perfectly.". The other side of this is that if we are not hired as a consultant, we accept that. We do not carry on trying to "sell our services".

Others in the depressed person's life have tried to rescue them from depression. They may have tried to cheer them up, to give them gifts of time and objects, to take the load off their shoulders, to convince them that life is worthwhile, to defend them against those who demand more of them... But one human being cannot make another human being happy. In the end, these attempts only lead to the rescuer getting more resentful, and the depressed person feeling worse. Rescue is a dangerous game, leading to increased risk of suicide as the depressed person seeks ever more frantically to indicate their need for more help, or to prove that the help has not worked. To repeat, one person cannot make another person feel good, even when that one person knows all the tricks of NLP. The depressed person's belief that they need another person to save them is depression. It is not a side effect. Co-operating with it would be keeping them depressed.

In the following section, we will first present a toolbox of NLP techniques to reverse the specific metaprograms and strategies described above. We will then suggest a structure for integrating them. These techniques will be effective when they are used within the consulting context described above. To use them in a rescuing context would be dangerous.

  1. Reframe Anxiety and it's Symptoms
    • Use metamodel questions. The metamodel is a valuable tool for teaching the person to chunk down. Consultants need not only use it themselves. They can show their clients how to challenge their own global thinking. The risk with the use of the metamodel is that many metamodel questions taught in NLP support the depressed person's problem focus. Rather than asking "Would no-one employ you?" it can be an advantage to ask the question focusing on the counter-example "When has there been a time that someone did employ you?". Rather than ask "How specifically does everything go wrong in your life?" it can be more useful to ask "How specifically would something not "go wrong" in your life, if you succeeded?"

      That is, the most useful questions to ask the depressed person are often solution focused. Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and others have developed a model of change called the Solution Focused approach, based on this understanding (Chevalier, 1995). The following categories are examples of their questions, which guide the person to identify what they want and how to get it. Where someone has an "adverse reaction" to the use of NLP change techniques in general, we have used solution focused questions as the full consulting process. As de Shazer reports, this results in 75% success over four to six sessions.
    • Ask for a description of the person's outcome. This is a very standard NLP outcome elicitation. Questions might include:
      "What has to be different as a result of you talking to me?"
      "What do you want to achieve?"
      "What would need to happen for you to feel that this problem was solved?"
      "How will you know that this problem is solved?"
      "When this problem is solved, what will you be doing and feeling instead of what you used to do and feel?"
    • Ask about when the problem doesn't occur (the exceptions). For example:
      "When is a time that you noticed this problem wasn't quite as bad?"
      "What was happening at that time? What were you doing different?"
      If there are no exceptions, then ask about hypothetical exceptions using the "Miracle" question:

      "Suppose one night there is a miracle while you are sleeping, and this problem is solved. Since you are sleeping, you don't know that a miracle has happened or that your problem is solved. What do you suppose you will notice that's different in the morning, that will let you know the problem is solved?"

      After the miracle question, you can ask other followup questions such as:
      "What would other people around you notice was different about you?"
      "What would other people around you do differently then?"

      "What would it take to pretend that this miracle had happened?"
    • Have the client ask themselves solution focused questions in their daily life. We set this as a standard task for all clients who are depressed. Before they get out of bed in the morning they are to ask themselves "What are three things that I am looking forward to today?" When they go to bed at night they are to ask themselves "What are three things I valued in what happened today?" We have had two cases of depression fully resolved where the only intervention used was to set the person the task of identifying three things they were looking forward to each day. The potency of these questions is extraordinary.
    • The person needs to know that globalised beliefs continue to be a risk even after making changes. To believe "I've done some NLP now, so I'll never feel bad again." Is setting the person up for failure. Use the metamodel to encourage more specific expectation patterns.
  2. Change Submodalities So That The Focus Shifts To Happiness
    • Teach the person to make standard submodality shifts changing their enjoyable experiences into more useful submodalities. After doing two or three examples, suggest that the person generalise this change. This process is part of showing the depressed person how to access resources. It often takes time for the person to find any experiences that they can feel good about, and questions that chunk down will assist this. Trust that no person has had 100% miserable days every day of their life. At some time (even, let's say, in their childhood) this person laughed, felt proud of something they did, and enjoyed experiences. The fact that they can walk, talk to you in a language, and dress themselves proves that. Hypnosis is an excellent situation in which to reaccess such resourceful states (Yapko, 1992, 144-148). Once the person can access resources, change may be swift. We had one woman come to an introductory NLP training and learn the collapsing anchors process. She rang us back nine months later to say that these had been the first nine months in her life where she had not felt depressed. She said she had never sought help before, because her mother had also had a lifetime depression, and the daughter assumed that the problem was genetic. She was ringing us up to arrange a session for her mother.
    • Use the NLP Trauma cure to dissociate the person from traumatic or distressing memories. After doing two or three examples, suggest that the person generalise this change. One elderly woman we worked with had been a Jewish child in Germany in the 1930s. When we ran the trauma cure on two incidents in her childhood, her depression lifted. The next week she reported that she was now sleeping through the night (nightmares had kept her from sleep), had more energy, and was feeling more confident. Her Time Line also changed direction as a result of this intervention, so that the past shifted to being behind her (it had been in the same position as her future). This one process essentially solved her "post-traumatic depression".
    • Continue asking questions that help the person sort for what is going well. At any session after the first contact with the person, ask them what has gone well since you last met or talked. "So what has changed in your life (or in your experience of the situation that was a problem)? No matter how small the changes seem at first, what is different?" Secondly, genuinely congratulate them - "Wow, that's great. How did you do that?" and then thirdly, keep asking "And what else has changed?"
  3. Create A More Flexible Temporal Orientation
    • Continue using the solution focused questions with a future orientation (for example "What are three things that you're looking forward to today?" "What do you want to achieve today?" "What will enable you to achieve that?") These questions teach the person to plan ahead. All gains made in the consulting session can be carefully futurepaced into real life ("Imagine a time in the future, when in the past this would have been a problem, and tell me how it feels different now.").
    • Time Line techniques such as the Time Line Therapy. processes are a great pace and lead in regard to temporal orientation. The process for healing the past begins with the suggestion that the problem needs to be dealt with in there (as the depressed person suspected). But, surprisingly, the person floats into the past and then turns and looks towards the future. This is precisely the reverse of orientation that they have been missing out on before. Time Line Therapy. processes can be used to clear the emotions of anger, sadness and depression from the Time Line.

      Interestingly, we had one case where depression ended after a person cleared only anger from the Time Line. No other interventions were used. The woman rang us back a week later to report that her mood had lifted immediately and remained steady. Intentionally altering the Time Line direction has been an effective one session treatment for at least one client of ours also (where the past Time Line had been in the same place as the future). As noted above, the treatment of depression by other means tends to alter the Time Line direction anyway.

      Creating rich images of goals and installing them on the future Time Line is also important. Sometimes the depressed person will report having no future Time Line, and the creation of one sends an important signal to the brain. In one case our colleague worked with a woman told she had only a few weeks to live. He installed a future Time Line as well as doing other NLP interventions. She lived a further three years, and reported that the envisioning of a future Time Line inspired and gave her hope immediately.
  4. Alter The Client's Auditory Digital Strategies
    • Alter the submodalities of the internal voice. Yapko (1992, p 177) reports the use of submodality shifts in the person's self talk, as an effective intervention for depression (eg making the voice like that of Donald Duck). We have worked with one depressed client where the only overt NLP technique used was to have him do an auditory swish. The man reported that he got depressed by hearing his father's voice on the left hand side, telling him that he would never be any good. The swish involved this voice fading away into the distance, as his own voice, powerful and affirming, came in telling him more rational beliefs. Repeating this swish several times solved the problem in the session, which was tested by the consultant (Richard) shouting his father's comments at his left ear. The man explained that he ran the swish himself a few times after the session, and felt that while his depression was still "possible", he had a way to solve it immediately now.
    • Create a new strategy for the auditory digital input. Our colleague, NLP Trainer Lynn Timpany, has developed a comprehensive process for doing this. She calls it The Esteem Generator. Many of our students report that it has enabled them to end depressive processes which have been resilient in the face of other interventions. The Esteem Generator has three steps. Firstly, altering the submodalities of the unsupportive internal voice experimentally first, to loosen the strategy. Secondly, identifying the positive intention of the internal voice and using a sequence such as Core Transformation(?)d2 to deal with the part that has been generating the voice. Thirdly, installing a new strategy which begins with the old triggers for the unsupportive voice, has the person say a key interrupt phrase (like "Think positive!" or "Hey wait!"), has them say something more resourceful to themselves, and then has them congratulate themselves and give themselves a positive feeling about how they changed their thinking. Lynn has the person run through this sequence with every example they can recall, while she chains it on their knuckles.
  5. Create The Physiology Of Happiness
    • Have the person design an exercise program that involves them in at least 15 minutes strenuous movement a day. Thayer (1996, p 191) cites a study where depressed women were given the task of walking briskly 15 minutes a day. Those who completed the task reported elevation of mood, but only 50% completed the task. This emphasises the importance of pacing and leading carefully, and of ensuring the person experiences themselves as "at cause" (see below).
    • Have the person laugh vigorously on a daily basis. One of our colleagues was working with a depressed and suicidal young man. He was discussing the hopelessness of his life in such sombre terms, and for so long, that the situation began to feel absurd to our colleague. She began to laugh uncontrollably. Her client was first shocked, then puzzled. Finally, he joined her in laughing fully. When he stopped, his eyes lit up and he said "Thanks! That's what I needed!" and left. Dr Robert Holden (1993) runs the Laughter Clinic at West Birmingham Health Authority in Britain. He quotes William James' insight that "We don't laugh because we are happy. We are happy because we laugh." Holden sites evidence that laughter boosts immunoglobulin levels, restores energy, lowers blood pressure, massages the heart and reduces stress (1993, p 33-42). 100 laughs a day is the equivalent of 10 minutes jogging.
  6. Keep The Person At Cause
    • Build expectancy of change from the first session. Indirect suggestion does this much more effectively than direct suggestion, or attempting to argue with the person (Yapko, 1992, p 139-142). Setting a time limit on the consulting process gives an important indirect message ("I expect this to be solved in four sessions").You can use paradoxical suggestions such as "You can be just self-critical enough to really want more for yourself(?)fd& the kind of things you can feel really good about." And "Don't entertain, even for a moment, that you could be feeling better sooner than you might expect." Experiential evidence of the possibility of change can be given using an exercise. At our trainings we have people do a visualisation exercise. They turn around and point behind them with their arm, and then come back to the front. Next they imagine themselves going further, and notice what they would see, feel and say to themselves if their body was more flexible and they could turn around further. Then they turn around again and notice how much further they go (Bolstad and Hamblett, 1998, p 81). This exercise is quickly followed up by a discussion about how the person's internal representations determine how they feel and what they achieve.
    • Have the person set and achieve goals. Outcomes for the sessions are set with the person, based on the specific problems they are having, and the specific metaprograms and strategies they are using to create these problems. It is also an important learning for the person to set small and more-than-realistic goals, and have the undeniable experience of achieving them (starting with the exercise described above, and moving on to small daily tasks to be achieved in their own time, and in their usual life environments). For us, assisting a depressed person without the person completing tasks at home would be a contradiction in terms. Clients do not come to us to have their consulting sessions improve. They come to consultants to have their life improve. Tasks, such as identifying three things they are looking forward to each day, are a crucial reminder to the client that the consultant is only a consultant.
    • Reframe experiences based on the presupposition of being at cause. From the very first comment the consultant makes, to the most advanced metaphors and NLP techniques she or he uses, everything said to the depressed person is reframing. This is because the whole notion that change can happen is a radical reframe, which, once truly accepted, heralds the end of depression. The most powerful aid to successful reframing is the consultant's own deeply held belief that the person can change; that indeed they will inevitably change. Life itself is in constant change.
  7. Take Steps To Prevent Suicide
    • This is one place where asking about negative responses is worth the risk. Suicide is obviously serious. It is appropriate to check how far along the track of suicidal thinking a person has gone (from a sense that they would be better off dead > the decision to end their life > suicidal fantasising > concrete preparations for the act). If you find that the person is considering suicide, it is appropriate for you to consider what safety actions you need to take. Consult an experienced person to discuss your decision, which has legal implications.
    • As a consultant, you have a right to ask that during the period of your consulting, the person will stay alive (otherwise your assistance is wasted). Make a "Staying Alive Contract" and check that they are congruently agreeing to this. Interestingly, depressed persons tend to keep such arrangements. The contract will include a method by which they can contact someone in a crisis. Decide whether that person is the consultant, a phone counselling service, or a friend or relative. In the session, rehearse this crisis contact (eg have them actually phone the person). Have them futurepace any possible excuses they might make for not doing this ("What would make you decide not to keep this contract?") and build in reframes to ensure that even that situation leads to them contacting the person.
    • If the client misses a session, has not notified you before, and has been suicidal, contact them to reaffirm the Staying Alive Contract, or plan other interventions such as ringing a phone counselling service.
    • Remind yourself that as a consultant, you cannot ultimately make someone stay alive. The aim of this contract is just to maximise the chances that this will happen.

A Model For Consulting

The successful use of NLP-based consulting has a logical sequencing to it, described by us as the RESOLVE model (Bolstad and Hamblett, 1998, p 106-108). Let's start at the end. The aim of consulting is that change is installed (futurepaced) into the persons actual life. This is made possible by the person verifying that change has indeed succeeded in the session. NLP change techniques succeed once the client's model of the world allows for the possibility of change. The client's model will be more able to allow fully for the possibility of change once they know what they want to achieve. The systematic setting of goals occurs easiest in the safe atmosphere of rapport has been established. And a healthy rapport is based on the consultant feeling resourceful and being clear about their role. The natural sequence in which the tasks of consulting emerge is thus:

Resourceful state for the consultant
Establish rapport
Specify the outcome
Open up the client's model of the world
Lead the client to change using change techniques
Verify to the client's conscious mind that the change has occurred
Exit the process, using futurepacing

In assisting someone to end depression, this model suggests the following sequence of tasks. Like every real life situation, the actual course of consulting will fail to precisely follow the path of our map. Maps, nonetheless, are a useful guide.

  1. Resourceful State
    Establish a collaborative, consultative relationship rather than a rescuing relationship.
  2. Establish Rapport
    Acknowledge the person's pain.
    Assess and pace metaprograms (esp Towards-Away From, Time Orientation, Optimistic-Pessimistic Attributional Style, Chunking level, Association-Dissociation).
  3. Specify Outcomes
    Set a time limited consulting contract with outcomes.
    Build expectancy of change, and explain the need for tasking.
    Assess the need for a Staying Alive Contract
  4. Open Up The Client's Model Of The World
    Demonstrate the power of internal representations (eg Pointing Exercise)
    Teach presuppositions of NLP, and reframe based on these.
    Metamodel chunked up descriptions back to sensory specific data, and reframe.
    Give tasks to rehearse future orientation and positive attributional style:
    • Identify 3 things you're looking forward to and associate into them, each morning.
    • Identify 3 things you appreciate about your day, each evening.

    Use Solution focused questions
  5. Leading To Desired State
    Pace and lead to more motivated state nonverbally.
    Time Line Therapy for all major emotions, plus "depression"
    Trauma cure for precipitating events (esp early in life)
    Rehearse new strategies; eg Esteem Generator to break AdDK Loops
    Submodality shifts to store positive memories in powerful submodalities
    Reaccess resourceful states
    Place goals in the future Time Line
    Plan a daily exercise routine and laughter sessions
  6. Verify Change
    Teach the person to search for and celebrate the differences in their life
  7. Exit: Futurepace
    Teach person to limit their generalisation (especially that past=future) and teach them to expect the unexpected.
    Define success in achievable terms.
    Discuss ending of sessions clearly.


Depression is the result of the combination of life experiences and a style of thinking which is called learned pessimism. The steps an NLP consultant and their client take to change this style, and thus to enable the client to enjoy life again, include:

  1. Use solution focused questions and metamodel questions to help the person move from global thinking to specifics, and clarify their outcomes.
  2. Use NLP submodality processes to dissociate from traumatic memories, and associate into enjoyable experiences, sorting their ongoing experiences for happiness.
  3. Orient temporally towards the future, using goalsetting and Time Line changes to let go of the past and move forward.
  4. Alter auditory digital strategies so that the person's internal voice supports them and meets it's own higher positive intention.
  5. Exercise and laugh on a daily basis, to create the physiology of happiness.
  6. Use a collaborative, consultative relationship, indirect suggestions and consistent reframing to help the person experience themselves as "at cause" in their life.
  7. Check the need for a Staying Alive Contract, and arrange the specifics of what the person would do in a crisis situation.


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: learn@transformations.net.nz Website: http://www.transformations.net.nz