Monday, 12 June 2017

Tea or Coffee?

The “tea or coffee” bind is a very useful predictor for how well a session may go.  Whilst I use an offer of a hot beverage, any bind of alternative choices will do.

Here is how it works.  When the client arrives I quickly show them in, point out where the toilet is (many have travelled far) and offer “Tea of coffee?”

This is a bind of comparable choice.  I have not asked, “Would you like a drink?” which is a simple “yes or no” question.  The bind is to accepting a drink, and the choice is either tea or coffee.

Here are the possible answers that a person might give.

  1. Tea
  2. Coffee
  3. Neither thanks
  4. No thanks
  5. Oh, I’ll just have a glass of water, please
  6. Do you have herbal tea?
  7. I’ll have whatever you are having

This might sound a bit daft, but the response that is given can be a remarkable predictor on how well the client session is going to go.  The person who accepts either tea or coffee will invariably be co-operative and engaging in the therapeutic process.  This doesn’t mean that they will be easy to “cure”, but certainly will be easy to work with towards that “cure”.

Not everyone drinks tea or coffee, and some, having travelled far and arrived early, may have just come from the café around the corner, but don’t want to reject what is offered.  These are the people who will say something along the lines of, “Oh, I’ll just have a glass of water, thanks.”

Independent thinkers will request an alternative such as “herbal tea.”  Nearly always, these are the clients who come to learn rather than be “therapised”, and will actively ask questions, discuss, argue and apply what they learn to themselves.

The people who say, “Oh, I’ll have whatever you are having” have usually come to be therapised and look to be led and directed in their responses.

The client who rejects the offer outright will nearly always be the “difficult” client.  Difficulties emerge in their response sets along the lines of:
  • Most answers to most questions begin with “I don’t know…”
  • When pressed, the client will just sit there silently, as though in deep inner contemplation, and then eventually look up and ask, “What was the question?”
  • Yes, but…” is a common expression for them
  • What if…” is their preferred style of questioning (“What if…” is a way of generating a counterexample to any generalisation that is created)
  • Any responses that are given tend to be tangential (basically, they don’t answer the question)
  • The client will tend to focus on the performance of their therapists, past and present and offer critical reviews on these performances.  They can be very good at not talking about themselves but preferring to discuss the behaviours of others.
  • The client will expect the therapist to “fix” them without their own active engagement in any process.  This is what my colleague Nick Kemp refers to as “The Magic Wand Mind Set.”

In younger and more naïve times, I would attempt to do “therapy” in the face of all these behaviours.

It rarely went well.  Now, I will actively address these behaviours – address what is happening in the here and now, what is right in front of you.

In my book, “The Rainbow Machine” I give the example of the man with “low self-esteem” who thought he was unlikeable (he was pretty much right about that).  What his previous counsellor had missed, or ignored, this man’s ongoing behaviours, his dress sense, his level of hygiene, his hair cut (all of which were appalling) and instead chose to focus on the therapeutic goal of raising this unfortunate man’s self-esteem.

Try this in your next client session.  Offer tea or coffee.  If the client rejects it, do this.  Say, “It’s not a choice.  Do you want tea or coffee?” and do this dead-pan, don’t be tempted to break the emerging tension.  This is difficult to do at first, as it goes against what so many of us do naturally.  I like to allow the tension to rise a little and watch how the client handles this.

Either the client will acquiesce, or a standoff will emerge.  The standoff takes as long as it takes.  Wherever possible, I like to get the stand off out of the way before the session begins proper.  It makes things much easier that way.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Problem clients

I’ve been thinking about problem clients recently, as it is something I get asked about quite often by fellow therapists, especially those just starting out.  “How do you deal with problem clients?” is a common question so I thought I’d write it up as a blog entry so I have something to refer people to in the future.

The first thing to consider is just what is a problem client.  “Problem to whom, specifically?” is an important consideration point.

We need to differentiate between those clients who, despite all the help they are offered, fail to change, and those clients who are a royal pain-in-the-ass for other reasons.

It is common, especially amongst brief therapists, to view clients who fail to change, or who reject our methods, or argue with us as being a “problem” – i.e. they do not fit into the models of understanding of the therapist and thus not only damage our own fragile ego states, but also bugger up our success rates (or at least the success rates that we claim!)

My advice in these situations is that maybe the therapist ought to change their view on things a little.

Maybe from the client’s point of view, the therapist is a problem therapist, i.e. inexperienced, uncertain, lacking the relevant skill base and so on.

Or maybe, the client simply isn’t going to change, because that is just how they are.  NLPers hate that – “Everyone can be changed!” is something they so often like to claim.  I disagree.  I have met many people that are unlikely, or indeed are unwilling, to change their behaviour despite all the therapy, training and change work in the world.

I don’t see these situations as a problem, it is mainly a function of time.  The majority of people do change over time, clients as well as therapists.  And of course, experience can only be gained with time.  I tend to be very wary of people who like to hold someone’s lack of age and lack of experience against them.  I think it is a way of maintaining a fragile status position over other people.  I know a number of trainers who do this, and it isn’t a nice thing to do.  

Now, I am not talking about the classic, “You are not what we are looking for, we really require someone with more experience, maybe come back in a year or two” type of thing.  But I am talking about the, “You weren’t there back in 1984, you young whipper-snapper, so don’t try and tell me that….” Where the speaker uses the person’s age and experience level as a direct criticism of the person.  Age and experience are a function of time (and effort) and to a large degree are outside of the control of the person, so isn’t something that they can do much about.

For some difficult clients, much of the difficulty may result from simply a lack of experience.  Young, recently affected schizophrenics can have a very hard time in understanding and dealing with their symptoms.  They can become very confused, frightened and helpless quite easily.  Older, more experienced schizophrenics handle things quite differently, primarily owing to their level of experience.  This is true for so many psychological problems and conditions.

Thus, for me, a problem client is not a person who fails to conform to the therapist’s wishes and intents.

Here is a little list of things I see as a problem:

  • Incessant midnight phone calls
  • Mad or abusive text messages/answer phone messages
  • Stalking
  • Turning up on the doorstep outside of appointment times
  • Unwarranted/inappropriate/nuisance complaints
  • Blaming the therapist for their own behaviours, alcohol/drug consumption etc.
  • Threats of violence, threats against property

Given the client group that I tend to work with, and the volume of clients I tend to see, I average one ‘serious’ problem a year and three lesser issues per year also.  These are rarely “serious” in a life-threatening kind of way but can prove very problematic.  Over the years I have developed a number of strategies which prove effective in both minimising the number of problems but also dealing with them when they arrive.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the clients that generate the most problems are the drinkers/alcoholics.

Some will arrive slightly edgy and act as if they are simply looking for a reason to take offence at something I do or say.  I wondered if this was just me – after all, I’m not exactly known for my love-and-light approach to change work – but I have seen exactly the same behaviours in support groups and other change work sessions I have observed.  The pattern though is consistent.  The drinker who behaves in this way is the drinker who is not interested in giving up alcohol, but rather wishes to “control their drinking” - abstinence is not an acceptable outcome for them.  Now, others may well disagree, but personally I think getting a problem drinker to a position of “controlled drinking” is not much different from trying getting a heroin addict to a position of “controlled heroin use.”

Now, at the first point of contact (usually email/’phone) I will put this proposition to the client with the drink problem, and the potential client who rejects this and demands that they get a service which enables them to have “controlled drinking” is not accepted as a client.  I wish them luck and move them on.  This reduced the number of problems significantly.  If I am not connected to the outcome that the client requests and the client is not willing to reconsider their outcome, then clearly it is foolish for me to try and work with them – I am the wrong therapist for them.

Another thing that reduces significantly the number of problems is demanding that the assessment form be filled in correctly.  The forms that get returned to me with only token information in the form of one-word-answers and no real information get rejected.  The client is sent the form back and asked to fill it in fully and correctly.  It interests me how one or two people will refuse to do this and simply either get angry or take an “Oh, I can’t be bothered, forget it” type of attitude.  It is good to know this early on. Those clients do not get an appointment.

And another much less common thing is how many people do not put their address or contact details on the form.  Everything else gets filled in well, but not these parts.  Small detail, but important.  OK, I already have their details because I have sent them the form in the first place, but still, I send the form back asking for the form to be completed.

Most people are happy to comply.  One client responded with, “Why didn’t you do this for me?”  Whilst I don’t wish to `thin slice` here, but when I hear this, I suspect this attitude might extend into other contexts.

Alarm bells also ring when people reject all available appointments that are offered and instead insist on a time or day that is unavailable.  And I must say, I am pretty flexible with my appointment times.  Without an exception, every single time I shifted my schedule to suit a client in this way, I regretted it.  These are the clients who are either late or simply don’t show up, and then expect another appointment.

In the last 18 months, only two clients have failed to show.  Both were people who wanted appointments on evenings where they were not offered and both were clients who I volunteered to see for free.  So, I booked out evenings for people who aren’t paying and then they don’t show up.  Not my preferred thing at all.

I am clear with my clients that if they are late, or fail to show up, I never offer a second appointment.

Both those clients complained about my lack of “caring.”

Two other indicators that I have found prove to be a 100% predictor of a “problem” client. (i.e. problem to me, not to themselves in terms of chronicity).

  1. They arrive bearing a present and I have never met them before.
  2. They reject the offer of tea/coffee/water.

People who arrive bearing presents or songs of praise for me on the first time we meet tend to make me nervous.  A pendulum will swing both ways and at the same speed.  People who buy favour will often withdraw it at the same speed.

Now whilst it isn’t common, some clients will arrive with a present and offer it at the end of the session.  Whilst they are paying a fee, some people will still feel a degree of debt.  So this isn’t the same as people who offer a gift at the beginning – it creates a mutual degree of appreciation and for many will help balance things out. At workshops, it isn’t uncommon for people to arrive with biscuits or cake to add to the refreshments table.  This is a good thing and, I’d just like to add, homemade fruitcake is my favourite.

Thus the client who arrives offering the gift puts me in a position of gratitude to them before we have even started.  It’s an interesting dynamic and from experience isn’t a good one.  It is difficult to maintain an attitude of gratitude and act in a therapeutic manner at the same time.  Gifts offered at the beginning of a session tend to act as a Trojan horse.  Be aware.

This has only happened once in the past two years, and the individual who did so went on to make numerous late night phone calls, abusive text messages, threats against property and unpleasant emails and Facebook messages.

My advice to anyone on the receiving end of such action is to respond only once asking what the problem is.  This gives the person an opportunity to properly record what their grievance is.  For some people there is no reason, they just enjoy being aggrieved – it’s their thing - and so are unable to tell you exactly why they behave in this way.  Cease all further communication and simply record in hard copy where possible all evidence of the abuse.  I keep impeccable records of such actions.

Therapists tell me that they worry about being sued by such individuals – maybe as a therapist they did or said something wrong during the session to provoke such a reaction.  Well, it would make for an interesting court case, don’t you think?

You see, it is like this your Honour, I didn’t like what the therapist said to me, so yes, I threatened him, send abusive messages, harangued and generally acted like an asshole for the past 6 months.  Now, I want you to award me some compensation.”

The other predictor is whether the person accepts the offer of “tea or coffee?” when they arrive.  I’ll save this for another blog entry, but basically, at the first offering the person receives, they reject it.  It tends to set the precedent for how the session will go subsequently.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


I first came across the term “catastrophisation” many years ago in a conversation with a clinical psychologist at Southampton General Hospital. I understood that it is a concept often explored in CBT client work.

Basically, it is making mountains out of molehills. Not an entirely uncommon thing to happen, but it is something that can prove to be rather problematic. Of course, some of these molehills can themselves be rather problematic in the first place, but the process of catastrophisation is rarely helpful on top of this.

In “The Rainbow Machine…” I gave an example in the chapter on Right Man Syndrome of the father who told his son that he had “ruined his life” simply for getting a tattoo. 

The 19-year-son hadn’t really ruined his life; he’d simply got himself tattooed. 

Now, had he got a swastika tattooed on his forehead, shaved his head and joined the local Nazi cabal, then possibly his father may have had a point. But of course, the fellow Nazi’s may not agree with that at all. Some things are just a matter of perspective.

The level of catastrophisation is undoubtedly proportional to the intensity of the feeling the offended party. The stronger the offended party feels about the issue, the greater the level of catastrophe.
Catastrophisation is also a pattern that can be applied to self. 

A while ago I had a client say to me, “I might as well die if I do not pass this exam.” That's a pretty catastrophic reaction she had planned there – fail exam, then die (or apply its nearest equivalent).

She is not alone. I often hear similar phrases uttered by clients, such as:
  • “It’s the end of the world….”
  • “My world came to an end that day.”
  • “Everything collapsed around me.”
  • “My life is a complete shambles.”
  • “My sex life is a disaster.”
  • “It kills me to see her this way.”
  • “It’s destroying everything.”

    And so on.
Much of this phraseology is an expression of the level of emotional intensity the person feels, but I often wonder how much of this emotional intensity is in part due to the story the person is telling themselves about the relevant events.

Now personally, I’ve seen genuine catastrophes. I know what they look like. I am reminded of the horror that was a full laden bus falling off a road and down an incredibly steep and deep ravine in Nepal. Knowing that we were helpless to offer aid to any unlikely survivors and knowing that formal rescue would be several hours away the situation was as bad as it can get. 

Curiously, one of the distressed onlookers uttered out loud, “Why does this always happen to me?” I couldn’t help but think that nothing had actually happened to her, it had happened to those other poor souls lying broken, dead and dying at the bottom of the ravine.

But this wasn’t the story as she experienced it. She evidently was measuring the situation by her emotional reaction to it, and given her choice of word I’m guessing she was no stranger to such events. I did make a mental note not to get back onto the same mini-bus as her though. No point in tempting providence, I say.
I also remember the daily personal catastrophes that I saw when working in Accident and Emergency. 

Most of those people brought into us never expected their day to end the way it did. Fortunately, most people survive and recover, but some die and others live on, but in such a radically changed way that things are never the same for them again. 

I’m thinking here of some of the burns victims, people who lost large portions of their body, serious genital injury, serious facial disfigurement and of course irreversible brain damage. Some are the sole survivor of their family or friends; others survive knowing or believing that they were the cause of their deaths. 

Things change and not always for the better, and some, but not all, never recover any form of meaningful existence or happiness following the catastrophic event, despite all the hope and help and treatment on offer. Their remaining life is one of suffering and their death is one of merciful release. It can be grim, very grim indeed.

I’ve personally seen people living in the slums in India and Africa, foraging as best they can on the municipal rubbish dumps, or selling their bodies on the streets, or finding themselves owned and exploited by gangmasters and organised crime. For so many people, life is an unremitting daily horror.

Helpless to do anything about any of this, the best comfort I offer myself is that at least this is not happening to me; it is happening to someone else. Not an entirely Christian outlook, I must confess, but I do what I can. Which, admittedly, isn’t very much at all.

It is with all this in mind then that I receive the news from some clients that their life is some kind of personal catastrophe when in fact all that is really happening for so many of them is that they don’t feel all that great. The fact that the story they tell is one of catastrophe usually implies helplessness and the need for rescue.

One psychiatric client of mine, a middle-aged lady, had recently embarked on an all new anorexic adventure. Previously she has tried alcoholism, but that hadn't really agreed with her, she'd also tried out self-harm in the form of cutting, but found that much too painful. A subsequent skin infection leading to a dose of cellulitis put an end to that nonsense.

She sat down opposite me and appeared keen to impress me with how ill she was. Thus began the catastrophisation, “What you need to understand,” she told, “is that the anorexia is destroying everyone around me.” 

I nearly choked on my tea as I declared, “Everyone?! Holy shit! Do I need to be afraid?”

She laughed at this and told me that she didn't mean everyone. She meant her family. I started to break this down further.

Why exactly do I need to understand this?” I asked her, which was met with a rather blank look. “You see, you began this by saying, 'What you need to understand is that the anorexia is destroying everyone around you.' Why me?”

The blank look continued.

And you also refer to the anorexia like it is some kind of creature. And I must I say, I have just got to tell you this. The fact that you are not eating very much isn't likely to be destroying anyone at all. Well, you might be getting a bit thinner and saving money on food bills and stuff, but really, destroying people? Give me a break!”

And before she could protest I ushered her back out of the door.

In working with patterns of catastrophisation, a reality check may well be in order. But I have noticed that therapists often catastrophise too. I have lost count of how many inexperienced therapists ask me the classic question, “What if that client went and killed herself?”

I must get asked this question at least once a workshop and also once a month by email. I even had a psychiatrist email me once, who, having read my book emailed me to intimate that she thought that I probably left a trail of corpses everywhere I went.

I think I might have noticed if this was the case. It did leave me wondering what it must be like being a patient in her hospital ward. Tightly bound in cotton wool, “ward policies” and straitjacketed sufficiently with neuroleptics to remove all sense and reason? In some places, no-one flees the cuckoo's nest - too many rules preventing such an action.

When therapists catastrophise, there are two main patterns at play.

1. They significantly overestimate the level of influence they can exert upon people
2. They tend to view people as woefully fragile and rather dependent upon therapy for any form of mental functioning and future.

This leads to an interesting game: Delusions of grandeur. Delusions of grandeur are often thought of as being in the positive, i.e. the person may believe he is the king of the world, a grand duke, Jesus, or some God-like figure and so on. But delusions of grandeur can also be negative, i.e. the depressive who believes, “everything is my fault!”, “everyone hates me”, “they are all out to get me” and so on. It is rather grandiose to assume that people care all that much about them.

Victims often think this way too. It is quite understandable of course. The victim may well be quite preoccupied with morbid thoughts of their aggressor, and of course, assume that their aggressor is equally as pre-occupied with thoughts of the victim. But of course, this isn't always the case.

Many therapists think the same way about their clients and patients. Yet so many clients and patients don't give their therapist a second thought in between sessions. “But I never hear from them again,” is a lament I hear so often from therapists when discussing client follow up. 

I have a particular problem when clients call me up on the phone for follow up. I often have to frantically type in their details to pull up the summary to remind me who they are. I have often thought about asking clients to send me a recent photo of themselves along with the assessment form to make my life easier, but think this might be seen as a bit odd. I know I would if I were a potential client.

Here's the game of Delusions of Grandeur. Just do a google search to see it played out on the internet.

  • My whole life is ruined
  • I might as well be dead
  • I'd be better off dead
  • My whole world has collapsed
  • I've reached the end of the road
  • I've wasted my life
  • I have no future
...and so on.

  • Get the life you want
  • You can have unlimited freedom
  • Be the best you can be
  • Apply the law of attraction to change your world
  • Make a world of difference
  • Set yourself free and live the life you choose
  • Have unlimited power
...and so on.

And somewhere in the middle of no-man's land the place I so often find myself in my line of work, I hope there is some reality that I can actually work with.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Dial 419 NLP Nigerian

I’ve just spent a few minutes Googling on the words, “NLP career.”  It is interesting how many training companies are offering their services from the sales angle of `NLP as a new career.”  Nothing new of course, but the question I have is, just how many of these companies are themselves actually making any money?  I think not many.  Not many at all.  Of course, I use the word “company” loosely here as most are only company in name, in actual fact, they are either sole traders or like me, an incorporated limited company for tax and insurance reasons with a staff of one or two family members.

Still, at least once a week I get the email enquiry that takes the form of, “I want to be an NLP practitioner, who should I train with and how do I get clients?”  My heart sinks every time.  How do I explain to the person that they won’t be making themselves self-employed, but that they will most likely become unemployed.  

The difficulty is, that I am one of the few voices that suggests that there is not much of a market or profit in “being an NLP practitioner” as a profession, or as so many NLP companies seem to refer to it, “a career in NLP.”

With so many websites making similar claims, promising a “new and rewarding career” and creating the illusion of their own success (and believe me, for the majority it is an illusion) I can understand why to the naïve observer it may look rather convincing.

To me, all these claims are beginning to sound a lot like the 419 scams.  

Each day, I get up to several dozen emails from Nigerian barristers, lawyers, generals, former ministers and religious leaders who all want to make me rich.  All I need to do is send them my personal details and then later on send them loads of money.  

The themes are consistent and the never ending onslaught of grandiose claims is quite impressive. 

Some person, connected to someone important, has something very important that will change my life.  But what this [somewhat large] number of persistent individuals have managed to do to the long-term prospects of a large African nation is yet to be seen.  I doubt that it will be good.  Not at all. 
I mean, even if a legitimate opportunity arose, I would be very reluctant to be involved.  Wouldn’t you be?  If I were Nigerian or a resident of Nigeria I'd be very concerned indeed.

Now, along with the Nigerian mail, I receive a similar volume of crap from NLP companies. 

The theme is fairly consistent – some person, connected to someone important has something very important that will change my life; great wealth, or great health, or great happiness, or great dreams and so on.  

Basically the message is simple – I’m not aware of it, but actually my life sucks and only through the power of NLP will my life improve.  I can be rich, I can have the future that I could only have dreamed of, I can have better relationships, and I just be better.  And all I need to do is click here or there, and go to this or that webpage, enter my details, watch the free download, send some money and the process will begin.  The 419ers would be proud.  

As someone who used to consider himself an NLPer, I find this very concerning indeed.

Your new career in NLP can begin as long as you remind yourself, “When things get difficult, remember: there is never failure, only feedback.”  With this kind of logic, how can it possibly go wrong?

So here is a fairly random selection from that Google search (all spelling and grammar are as per original):

  •  "When you successfully complete this training you will be Certified as an NLP Practitioner and a Certified NLP Coach."
  • "Think about it -- you don't have 2 weeks or even 28 days to become a certified NLP Practitioner, so do it in just 7 days!!! Become an NLP Coach today!
  • “Make a Difference-Make a Name-Make Money.”
  • “This NLP Practitioner has the ability to transform your life. Once you have completed your NLP Diploma you are qualified to apply for a place on the NLP Practitioner.”
  • “Can I take an NLP Practitioner Training course in just 7 days?  Yes!... Of Course You Can!  NOW Get Four Certifications in ONE! Use these technologies to accelerate your career or begin a new one!”
  • “Discover Skills that will Transform your World Forever! Change Career, be an NLP Coach.”
  • “NLP Practitioner Training is recognised as pre-eminent in the Personal Development field. It can also be the beginning of a very rewarding journey of personal and professional development. Towards the end of the program we cover aspects on setting up an NLP / Coaching practice.”
  • “The course will provide practical experience of how you can use NLP in your personal life or career. You will be able to use the skills learnt to work with others assisting change in their lives be it in a new career as NLP Practitioner or enhancing your present career.”
  • “If you want to develop an NLP based career, or enhance your income by doing NLP work, this course is for you. Many past attendees are enjoying the commercial benefits of taking this training.”
  • “NLP gives you the tools to take on more of the world, and Life Coaching and Hypnotherapy enable you to be a self employed professional.”
  • “What can we do for you? A fantastic new career in hypnotherapy and NLP? How would you like to use hypnotherapy and NLP to help others change their lives in 2010? If you have ever helped someone else, either by giving advice or lending a sympathetic ear, then you know how incredibly rewarding that experience can be. Wouldn’t it be nice to get paid for helping others? With our hypnotherapy training – you can!”
  • “Here is a cost-effective way to launch your new or enhanced career in NLP, working as a Therapist, a Coach, a Life Coach, a Trainer, a Teacher, an NLP Practitioner.”
  • “With NLP Practitioner certification you can develop a new career assisting people to make changes and removing phobias and limiting beliefs) you can also achieve new levels of communication and excellence in your relationships, careers or any other area of your life.”
  • “Begin your new career in Life Coaching or Business Coaching and make a great living helping others succeed using the proven coaching technology of NLP…..”
  • “Coaching has been named one of the top home businesses of the century. You can enjoy the financial rewards and personal fulfillment of owning your own business while making the world a better place.
  • Do you want to learn and embody the skills to create a new life, new beginning and a new career!
  • We can help you develop a whole new career helping others through our comprehensive, prestigious and affordable courses in London
  • If you’re looking for a change in career, or a way to supplement your current income…Including:
    The BIGGEST secret to marketing yourself as an NLP Professional
    Why NLP is growing more quickly than ever, and demand for NLP Professionals is at an all-time high!
    How to turn your passion into your profession and start your own successful NLP business.
    How you can earn a fantastic living as a self-employed full or part-time NLP Professional
    The top five ways that new ‘NLPers’ build their business and the 'trade secrets' of the professionals
    ...And much more about how you can make a very good living from NLP!
  •  "A qualified and motivated NLP Practitioner can easily charge upwards of £200 per client and make in excess of £50,000 per year"
  • “Become a Practicing Professional NLP Coach.
  • You will be able to start a new career that you are passionate about. Discover the wonders of being your own boss. Enjoy and embrace the personal satisfaction in starting and running your own Practice. You will experience unlimited personal success and fulfillment from helping others whilst earning a comfortable living all at the same time.”
  • “At [….] school of NLP you get so much more than a professional qualification as an NLP Coach or Hypnotherapist, you get much needed support in starting your new business or advancing your current career.”
  • “Life Coaching, Hypnotherapy And NLP Careers
  • Are you interested in building a new career for yourself that gives a lot to others as well?”
  • “Become the Best You Can Be Become Qualifed and Build A Successful Business working from home Seriously change your current lifestyle and income level - Help others create a fabulous prosperous lifestyle while being paid abundantly - Are you ready and able? Begin now…”
  • “Looking for a new career as an NLP Trainer?”
  • “Whether you wish to pursue NLP as a new career, or simply integrate NLP into your work and home life, we will support your goals 100%.”

Now, at least one dimwit is going to complain about me.  I know it.  They often do.  “There he goes again, that Austin,” they will say, “he’s slagging off NLP again. Damn him!” 

Well, no.  I’m not actually.  My position has not changed – I still think NLP is one of the most useful skill sets around. 

It is the behaviour of so many of the practitioners and trainrs of NLP to which I refer.

And others will complain along the lines of, “But we run NLP courses and we never tell people to give up their day jobs.”  All I can say to this is great, thanks for that.  Really.  I only wish more did the same.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Map is Not The Territory?

I must be getting old, either that or I am just getting tired. I've seen it happen to relatives and their peers who take up political causes, rage at the television news debates, get angry at the behaviour of the youth and lament for the nostalgia of times gone by. So I think I am definitely getting older. I'm also growing a bit weary.

That said, rant mode is now engaged. Again.

Whilst I know of a number of life coaches who are most excellent, are very successful in life and successful in their field, I'm getting a bit tired of receiving emails from “life coaches” making grandiose claims for their skills at coaching people to be successful, yet they want me to advise them on how to get actual clients.

Unemployed “life coaches”? Gimme a break.

Pardon my skepticism, but I can't help but think that most life coaches are simply people who don't want to work and would rather want to get paid riches by encouraging other people to do the work instead. Unemployed “life coaches” are surely a joke if ever I heard one, and I sincerely hope, merely a passing fad.

I've also seen 20-something-year-old “life coaches” advertising on their websites services for up to £5000 per session (yes, really). How they get the idea that this is realistic is beyond me, and if anyone were to be so foolish as to sign up for such coaching, well, fools and their money will be rapidly parted; although it seems not nearly often enough for most struggling life coaches.

However, one can only wonder what sort of problematic life a person actually has in the first place in order to have £5000 ready to hand over for some “life coaching.” Five grand could actually be quite a good investment though, but a lot depends on just who you are paying it to. I did half an 'O' Level in cookery (I think they called it “Home Economics”) when I was a teenager and have attended a number of business courses. If you need coaching for a restaurant business, you could come to me.

I'll be delighted to help if you pay me five grand. In fact, I'd be really, really delighted. Or you could pay to go and see that rude man from the television who has probably never done a life coaching training in his life. Much of the value comes down to the experience level of the person you pay the money to, not who they did their coaching course with – which is contrary to what every life coach that writes to me seems to believe.

Meanwhile, I'm especially appalled by NLPers on newsgroups who flippantly advise “the fast phobia cure” for other people's clients who may be suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as though the suffering of victims goes no deeper than the quality of the pictures that they make.

Based on a few books and possibly a week long training course, a few self-appointed experts in human excellence profess to understand the situations facing combat veterans, war refugees, torture victims, victims of crime and so forth. So rather than suggesting the newsgroup enquirer refers the client to someone more competent, the advice proffered takes the form of, “just dissociate them” and is cited so commonly as to have almost become a mantra used to relieve the most serious examples of human suffering. Bastards.

The effect that this can have is that it trivialises what is otherwise an excellent tool set for anyone working in the change-work and people-helping professions. I credit the development of “the fast phobia cure” as one of the most important landmarks in psychological therapies. The FPC is a fairly dependable and replicable process that demonstrates unequivocally that mental and personal change is both possible and practicable. It seems strange these days, but it was not so long ago that other self-appointed experts in human psychology suggested that such mental change was not at all possible. Things such as the FPC changed all that of course, and for that, I am truly grateful.

What was innovated and begun by Bandler and Grinder is remarkable and created a massive evolutional leap in the field of improving the experience of being human for so many people who's experience would otherwise have been less than desirable. It created a field that enabled a number of spin-offs, creating new areas of research and development in human communications, psychology, therapies and so on that have benefited significant numbers of people. How wide then the gulf then between the practice and so many of the practitioners. Yet it seems that it is “NLP” that gets slammed by the viewing lay-public, not the practitioners themselves.  This is a real shame.

To be clear - when the local math teacher gets caught dogging in the local car park, no one criticises or blames the field of mathematics.  When someone's complicated mathematical theorum gets disproven, the field of mathematics isn't invalidated, just that particular aspect of it.

So, whilst the technology is one thing, some of the practitioners can be something else entirely.  I do tend to get quite angry with NLPers waxing lyrical on their blogs and Facebook accounts how they are so excited to have “another client to play with – who says change work has to be boring” (genuine quote) and other such appalling and smug condescension, often to the expressed glee of their fellow NLPers. I can only wonder how the naïve client would feel, who upon booking an appointment with someone they naively believe to be a professional, finds that their appointment is being used as an idle boast and status grab on social networking sites.

A similar game exists amongst psychotherapists who compete to gather status by seeing what they believe to be the most serious client group.  Some will fixate on child sexual abuse, others on PTSD, others on personality disorder, multiple personality and so on.   Stories get exchanged about how extreme the "cases" are and the "interesting cases" get brought into the conferences and dislayed to the voyeuristic masses.  It's a strange world like that in psychotherapy.  In nursing, I noticed that pretty much everyone agreed that cardiology was "superior" to elderly care, and general medicine was somewhere between the two, but no one could really agree whether neurosurgery was more or less superior than cardiology.  The pediatric nurses weren't really regarded as nurses, just like midwives.

And talking of social networking sites, why do so many male NLPers, who also use their profiles to try and promote themselves, fill their profiles with endless photos of themselves drinking and being drunk. I've seen a couple who have pictures of themselves rolling what is clearly a marijuana joint and smoking bongs.

It seems that some NLPers have a tendency to measure success by how good they feel and suffer an intolerable need to demonstrate how just great they feel at every opportunity, even if feeling great is artificially induced by chemical means. I wonder if these are the same arseholes who shout in the street on Friday and Saturday nights after the pubs close, advertising their states of mind to anyone who cares to listen. Surely they can contribute to humanity and learn to stay in and express themselves more quietly on blogs instead?

I come from a professional clinical background (nursing), where a professional manner is demanded both in one's working and personal life. Can you imagine a world where nurses, teachers, and surgeons publicly advertise their drinking habits in such a manner and discuss their patients/students on chat forums and social networking sites? It's not just about appearances, it is about trust, and as a discipline, NLP is rapidly losing that trust.  I doubt that this is because of any inherent weakness in the NLP models (plural) themselves but more likely it is as a direct result of the collective behaviours so many self-professed “practitioners” of these models.

In my book, The Rainbow Machine, I gave the example of the appalling woman who demanded that I show her my “peak state” as some kind of proof of my authenticity, as though other people's emotions and positive states are some kind of personal plaything designed to be shown off at gatherings.  I see so many references on forums to “eliciting positive states” and “installing states” and so on that I often question if the writers of such things actually have any idea that real people live in the consensual reality that exists external to the NLPers collective imagination.

Back in the days before I was banned from such forums, I sometimes wrote to such people and asked what actual experience they were writing from. All too often I was told that actually they hadn't any personal experience of such things, but did know enough about them to be advising others. Quite how I can only speculate to imagine. Anyway, I get banned for being such a party pooper and that probably serves me right.  Reality can be a real bitch when it comes to knowing stuff; it just keeps getting in the way of a really good theory.

Rant mode disengaged. For now.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Law of Attraction

There seems to have been a new work ethic lurching about in recent years.  It looks something like this:  "If it seems difficult, or if it seems like hard work, then you are doing it wrong."  

The Law of Attraction people really seized the day with this one - formulate your desire, set your intention and you are good to go, go, go!

As I have mentioned before, the fabric of the universe will bend and mold itself to your will in an effortless fashion that just demonstrates that the One, the Almighty, and the only God is on your side.

You too can be the chosen one if you just open yourself to the universal power and luscious goodness that courses through this abundant universe.

But it might be best to ignore the deformed, the ugly, the deranged, the Africans, the war refugees, the earthquakes and all those damned IEDs blasting good people to pieces.  These are the sort of things that bugger a perfectly good theory.

LOA just attracts the good stuff.  That's right, just the good stuff.

And let's invoke the power of Einstein to support us on this quest, after all, did he not proclaim the universe to be a friendly one?  So, just mention quantum physics, energy and mirror neurons and there we have all the supporting scientific proof, do we not?

Now, I suspect that a lot of this ideology can probably be traced back to the corporate buzz of a few years ago. "Work smarter, not harder" those men in crisp suits and lavender shirts advised us.

It was their desire to decrease costs and decrease expenditures and thus increase the profit margins.  Not a bad idea, but as with all things, when costs are decreased and expenditures reigned in, then the recipients of those former costs and expenditures don't get paid. But might be best to ignore that part of the equation too.  Just focus on the good stuff.  That's right, just the good stuff.

But then the personal development industry got ahold of this blue sky thinking too.  Ever wondered about those corporate lifestyle dropouts who themselves seem so keen to repackage Office Newspeak and sell it back to the wage slaves as a gospel of liberation complete with promises of personal and financial freedom to boot.  Thus what the collared workers listen to during corporate meetings this week will become your rehashed self-development workshop program in a few years time.

But with an added component.

In the personal development game everything must be "effortless", "easy" and "instant".  Overnight success is the name of the game.

So, think outside that box, downshift and clear your mind of the clutter, reach for the sky and fill yourself with blue sky thinking, synergise and catch that low hanging fruit.  It's easy in this game and everyone can be a guru.  It is all about getting what you want, fulfilling your potential, being true to yourself and aligning yourself with the universe.

The thing with this effortless and overnight success concept is that so many, many people are chasing it, and that worries me.  And it worries me greatly.  In the personal development and alphabet therapies, there are so, so many people who have websites that create the illusion of great success and affluence, yet they are in fact broke, getting broker and are anything but successful in that business.

Whilst I understand the advertising and marketing thing, I get it, the effect is that a certain illusion gets created.  No one wants to say, "actually, I have no money and clients so, please, please come and see me."  Of course, such behaviours will not lead to success.

As many therapists and coaches find, the obvious solution to this, of course, is to become a trainer and train other people in the stuff, it passes the buck and passes the burden. Collectively, the effect this has is that so many struggling alphabet therapists and personal development coaches believe that they must be the only ones who are struggling and so what they do to solve this is they attend more trainings; trainings that offer success, effortlessly.

If this is you, you are not the exception to the rule.  I honestly believe that you are the norm.

Go to Companies House and see just how many personal development and training companies have failed to submit tax returns or other financial documents, are struck off, or have gone bust.  You may be surprised at what you find. Read those documents carefully then go back and read their websites carefully.  See if you can spot the mismatch.

Now, back to that "last week's corporate bullshit is next week's instant success training course" thing.

Remember, that all too often, the people promoting such things are usually known as, "former employees" or more realistically, "the unemployed."

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Teaching the Armless to Juggle

One of the tips I offer therapists and clinicians on my Brass Bollocks workshop is that in order to get more clients, some of them may need to reduce and lower their claims for success.  The main issue is that many so clients simply won't and don't believe the claims that are made, even if the claims are in fact accurate.

Let me give you an example.  I am well aware that flashbacks and related problems associated with post traumatic stress disorder may well be cleared up in a single session, sometimes with just a few minutes of work.  So imagine the claim, "PTSD symptoms cleared in under 5 minutes or your money back!"

This might well impress other people trained in NLP and suchlike who understand the possibilities, but to a person who has been tormented over a prolonged period of time by the torture of intrusive imagery, anxiety, fear and nightmares, such a claim not only may seem incredulous, but also may well be quite insulting.

"I've suffered for 20 years and this idiot reckons he can change all that in less than 5 minutes?"

Here's my axiom:  claims of success may well insult the suffering of the affected.

The other thing that happens is often a person with such problems has seen such claims before, numerous times, and may well have invested in all sorts of panaceas, treatments and remedies, all to no avail.

Another problem occurs with "charge by the change" - an admirable ethic that is common to a certain persuasion of NLPer, where the client doesn't pay if the client doesn't get any change.  I tried this for a time many years ago and still offer this occasionally when it comes to simple phobia treatment.

When used as an advertising gimmick, the reason this can put clients off is that to a person who is suffering the pains of emotional and psychological hurt, "change" is often the last thing on their mind.

"Relief" is often more paramount; an easing of the hurt; a reduction in symptoms; a panacea to reduce suffering.  The person may seek care, understanding, empathy and professional expertise with "change"  being the last thing on their mind.  "How can I be expected to change when I feel as bad as I do?"

Something I like to ask therapists on my training courses is this:  how do we measure change?  Is it possible for a person to be sat in front of us at the end of the session reporting that they feel just as bad as they did when they arrived, yet we can measure verifiable change?

Conversely, is it possible to have a smiling client sat in front of us, reporting that they feel infinitely better, but in fact no useful change has occurred?

My experience is that too many therapists spend too much time measuring change simply by asking they client how they feel.  This is not enough.  But anyway, that's for a different day.  Back to those extravagant claims.

A call I had recently went like this.

Caller: "Do you have any experience with aphenphosmphobia?"

I was flummoxed.  "What?" I squeaked.

"Aphenphosmphobia. Do you have any experience with this?"

"No idea," I said, "never heard of it!"

"Well, I am looking for an expert." the caller told me, "Don't you know what it is?" the caller continued after pausing for effect.

I know well the game of "I know something you don't know" and when people try this on me I never ask.  Ever.

"I can't even say it, let alone define it." I told the caller.

"Oh."  The caller said.

"Ever feel like you might have called the wrong person?"  I offered.


I waited.

"Do you think you can help me?"  The caller asked.

"I doubt it," I said.  "All I can ever tell people is that there are no guarantees and that I can only try my best.  But you need to know this - there are some people that I cannot help.  Usually the ones that make my heart sink when I listen to how they tell me about their problems."

The client booked in to see me there and then.

Now I know that most therapists and clinicians won't and don't talk in this way, they are too worried about appearing "professional" and like they are experts.  I gave both those up a long time ago.  I was lucky enough to have screwed up enough times to learn a few lessons in humility.

I often have a big sign at the front of the training room:  "Humility will save you from humiliation."

Many over zealous NLPers would do well to remember this. So would the people who use this quote as their own since they attended my trainings.

Another common problems with those working in personal development is that they are also so damned optimistic.  It is worth knowing that many of those outside of the personal development industry are not quite so positively orientated and can be readily intimidated by all that smug optimism.

Here are two example that I encounter almost weekly from NLPers.  I run a workshop entitled, "Weight Loss - A Neurolinguistic Perspective."

Every sodding week some idiot emails me or calls me to offer me advice.

The advice goes something like this:
"Hi, I'm an NLP master and I wanted to tell you about your workshop title, I think you might find it works better if you didn't call it "weight loss" - that is a negative you know.  I prefer to call my workshops, 'positive slimming', it sounds so much better."
My reply is always the same these days, as I can no longer be bothered to explain.  "I don't care" I tell them.

I don't bother explaining normally. But anyway, for the record, here's why I don't care. That workshop title has enabled me to travel all over the world, the workshops require minimal advertising and ever since I stopped calling it "positive slimming" several years ago, the workshops are always full.  I have an edited online version available of the workshop which is my biggest selling product which continues to gain positive reviews and acclaim.  Really. Buy it here.

The issue here is that it seems to me that only NLPers worry about the positivity frame, "Weight loss" sounds too negative to them because it violates some NLP principle, but to the general public, naive to such nonsense, it is perfectly plausable and familiar.  I have given up reminding NLPers of that other injunctive of NLP, "meeting the client at their model of the world."  This seems to have been forgotten in the quest to be the most positive person of the pack.

The other product that seems to cause difficulty for so many NLPers is my, "Depression - A  Neurolinguistic Perspective."  I am often being told that putting the word, "depression" onto a product with a black depressing cover will put people off.  "Who would want to buy that!?!?" someone scoffed recently.

Well, depressives would buy it for a start, and rather a lot of them too.  (It is now available free on the above link. Why? Because I'm a nice guy and more importantly I want your email so I can sell you stuff.)

Someone even suggested I should call it, "Lessons in Happiness" or something equally positive.

Needless to say, this wannabe "happiness coach" has never seen a paying client in his life and each month slides ever further into debt.

Depression isn't necessarily about an absence of happiness.  Claiming to teach depressives how to be happy is not all that different to offering lessons to the armless on how to juggle.

So, in summary, here is my tip to get more clients.

Make fewer claims and stop being so damned optimistic about your clients before you have even met them.

Try it.  It will change your life for the better, bring you riches beyond the dreams of avarice and make you a better lover.  It will.  Really, I guarantee it.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Cold Callers

Today's idiot phone call.  I get one or two a week.

Ring, ring...

Me: "Good afternoon, Andy Austin, how can I help?"

Caller: "Hello, is that Mister Austin?"

Me: "Yes it is.  How can I help?"

Caller: "You run a plumbing business, is that right?"

Me:  "No, I don't."

Caller: "Oh, you are a roofer, yes?"

Me: "No.  Do you want a plumber, or a roofer?"

Caller:  "But it says here that you are a plumber and run your own business."

Me: "Well, what it says there is possibly wrong, or you have dialled the wrong number.  It happens, you know."

Caller:  "So, you are not a plumber?"

Me:  "No."

Caller:  "Roofer?"

Me:  "Sorry, the answer is still no."

Caller:  "What do you do then?"

Me: "Tell you what.  Let's start with the pleasantries first.  Why don't you tell me who you are and what it is that you want before you start asking me questions about who I am.  After, you called me, remember?"

Caller: "Are you self employed, Mister Austin?"

Me: "Now, I really think we might need to discuss your manners here.  How about telling me who you are?"

Caller:  "I'm calling from Orange, and you have been selected..."

Me:  (interrupting) "I doubt that somehow."

Caller: "You doubt what?"

Me:  "That Orange would employ you to make phone calls such as this."

Caller:  "Excuse me, Mister Austin, why do you say that?"

Me:  "Because if Orange really employs you to make idiot calls to their customers, then I think it is time for me to sell my shares."

Caller:  "Oh, OK Mister Austin, have a nice day."

Call ends.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

NLP, Metaphors, Neurology and Depression

Over the Edge

This was originally posted in September 2011. It wasn't a good year, but had some interesting life lessons occurring throughout.

A business trip in Turkey had a rather surprising turn of events last week.  I started off in Ankara to deliver a Metaphors of Business workshop to a business group there, before flying to Antalya (it didn't go at all well), Laura and I travelled south along the mountain roads to Cirali for a few days break before flying home.

The car picked us up at 6pm and we were looking forward to relaxing by the sea.

Having dozed off a bit, I awoke to discover that the driver had lost control of the car at high speed and we were veering dangerously out of control.  A crash was inevitable and we braced ourselves accordingly.  I think the first impact was as we hit the side of the mountain, the next two came a bit later.

What became immediately obvious was that we were going to go off the side of the cliff.  Absolutely no doubt about that.

Also, I had absolutely no doubt that we were all going to be killed.

 It was a rather strange realisation and not one I care to have again.  I have heard people on the television talk about close calls with certain death, but always figured it was just an expression.  I now know that this isn't necessarily the case and the realisation that one is about to die is a very special experience indeed.

The car left the road and over the edge we went at considerable speed.  Now, from a psychological perspective, what happened next was quite interesting to me.  I was absolutely certain that this would be fatal and two thoughts occured to me.

"Well, at least this will be quick."

An overwhelming sense of disappointment as I thought, "But there was so much more that I had planned to do..."

This second thought was delightfully interrupted by a terrific crash and impact and a showering of broken glass as our freefall descent was rudely interrupted by a small group of trees into which the car landed, wheels down, perpendicular to the angle of the trees. This latter detail meant that deceleration/impact injuries were minimal and that our landing was actually not that bad at all.

We looked at each other briefly noting each others surprise at this fortuitous change of events before struggling out of a broken window to safety.  That was when Laura looked at me and said those horrible words, "I think I'm bleeding" before promptly keeling over.

What happened next was a whirlwind mix of the kindness of strangers, paramedics, blue lights, police cars and ambulances and sirens, CT scans and X-rays, blood tests and specialists with little torches and finally admission to the trauma ward of a central hospital where we got to spend most of the rest of our time in Turkey.

To say all this was a bit of a shock to the system would be quite correct, and the three days spent at the hospital gave us a lot of time to reflect on a few things.  I thought one of those things was worth sharing here.

From age 17, I spent a lot of time working in nursing homes and rest homes.  In part this was to fund myself through my student days, and I also worked periodically doing agency shifts for extra cash after I was qualified.  As a 17 year old, one thing that I noticed was that I was given an awful lot of advise from the older people who were keen that this young man looking after them didn't repeat the same mistakes that they did.  Much of this advice reflected a consistent theme:

- Don't allow social and emotional fears from preventing you from doing what you want to do.

This is advice I have pretty much live by.  It's partly why I have done so much in my life and explored so many different areas of human experience.

What I learned then, and still know to be true now, is that nursing and retirement homes tend to be full of people who know what they would do differently if only they could.

It might seem dramatic, but when you are about to die - either quickly in a car accident, or in a few years from old age, you can get quite a different perspective on what you were so afraid of all that time ago.  It is amazing what suddenly doesn't matter any more.

I'm not talking about bungee jumping or playing with flame throwers or wrestling lions, I mean those things that bring social and emotional risk, those things that challenge our own "comfort zones", the things that challenge those rules we have somehow selected to live by and challenge what we consider to be normal and correct.  Social fear of being different from the way you are supposed to be, that is what I mean.

In my professional life I am regularly asked by NLP practitioners, coaches and therapists for assistance in building their respective practices and helping them to, "put themselves out there."  The most common reason people have for not doing so is fear - fear of being judged, fear of failing, fear of being successful, fear of being wrong, fear of being laughed at and so on.  Of course, the reality is that once one puts themselves "out there" there will be judgement, there will be failures, there will be errors and if you are very lucky, there just might be success.

What most of these fears have in common is humiliation, loss of face and loss of perceived status.

One thing I have learned in my own life is that very little trouble comes from others who themselves are successful, in fact, the amount of support and encourage I receive from my peers is pretty incredible.  No, the majority of judgement and criticism that I receive comes from a small group who share the following characteristics:

  • they don't know me, most have never met me
  • they have never demonstrated anything original on any of their websites (those that have them) and in fact, most of what appears on their blogs appears to be little more than rehashing of my own blog posts and webpages
  • none of them have ever presented any of their apparently acclaimed work in a written format, video, DVD or online presentation
  • they make exceptional claims for their own brilliance and cynically deride and mock others
  • in short, they judge, but make sure that they are unavailable themselves to be judged.

I knew kids at school that behaved this way too.  They hid in tight social groups and could be as nasty to each other as they are to those people outside their groups.  They appeared to feed on each other.

Luckily, most people grow out of that.  Most do, anyway.

One gentleman I knew when I was 17 told me that he wondered how many people limited their lives so that the kids that laughed at them at school wouldn't laugh at them again.  In childhood we meet the bullies and the nay-sayers who teach us to conform to their own restricted ideals.  To survive school, some people change their behaviour in order to receive approval....from bullies, and then they live the rest of their life that way until they get to the nursing home.

I think I was lucky.  My experience of people in nursing homes so keen for me to not live like this affected me in such a positive way early in life.  I am so glad that as we went over the cliff that I did not have a single thought of regret about my life.  I sincerely hope others would the same.

I don't know any of their names, and I doubt that any of them will ever read this, but regardless, I'd like to publicly thank the army of helpers that assisted in our rescue and in the delivery of the excellent aftercare.  We are both still hobbling about a bit but Laura is recovering well and has no lasting damage.

We intend to return to Turkey for another attempt at a holiday in Cirali where we spent our honeymoon three years ago and I will probably request the same driver.  I'm just a bit like that.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Treatment for Chronic Pain

Patient with chronic pain often report that the lack of understanding from professionals about their situation can be a major problem when receiving treatment. In this video I wanted to cover some of the main considerations that IEMT practitioners and clinicians need to have when working with chronic pain. For more on IEMT, please visit:

Filming the Miraculous

The personal development field is awash with grand claims and new hope.  I regularly see advert offering workshops where the attendees will learn to make a six figure annual income from coaching, and therapists claiming life changing work for a mere £10,000.  Everyone of course was trained by the best and has travelled far and wide in search of the arcane and secret knowledge.

A good game of course is to do the following – “I was trained by the best, and here is my testimonial from them that says how great I am…but I don’t really rate them any more. I am better than that these days

Yet for all the claims that are made, I see so little evidence.  I’ve long said, “Don’t claim expertise, demonstrate it” and I see very little of this ever happening.  I often ask the “make a 6 figure income” people to show copies of their bank statements that demonstrate their own success in making 6 figures from coaching.  They never do of course.  I just get accused of trouble making.  I also receive emails demonstrating some innovative use of the English language as my parentage is challenged.

Extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary proof, and to be frank, I don’t see what the problem is asking people to prove what it is that they are claiming to be able to do.

To NLP trainers, therapists, and coaches, who basically portray themselves as some God-like entity that can command the use of words so powerfully that oceans will part, the dead will rise and the universe will adjust itself to conspire in the client’s best interests for ever more.

All I ask is for some of the tiniest piece of evidence.

It shouldn’t be difficult to do – just point a video camera at the next daily miracle and post it onto youtube.

But this is where the excuse machine kicks in.  “Confidentiality” they claim.  “I can’t do that because I need to protect the confidentiality of the client.”  Nonsense, I will claim back.  I honestly believe that most “therapists” will use the “confidentiality” clause to protect themselves, not their clients.  They are embarrassed to be seen on camera.  Why is this, I wonder?

I’ve been filming sessions for years without a problem.  Curiously, when I released the Pragmatics of Change DVD set (one of the recordings is available here for free), the most common question I got asked was, “Did you have the client’s permission to film them?”   The question was often asked with an accusatory tone.  In all cases I reply with the following, “No, we had to use hidden cameras” and sit back and wait.  Clearly, I don’t make friends easily.

When I advertise for filming, I am nearly always over-subscribed with volunteers and I am always grateful to people who do volunteer for filming.  After all, I must be realistic in that such sessions aren’t entirely altruistic and that such work helps me financially, as I sell a finished commercial product from these sessions.

My point here is that in reality people are very willing to have sessions filmed, and most of the time in a modern change work session, the sessions are content free anyway.  Occasionally the sessions stray into areas that would not be appropriate to publish and so we don’t release those.

The other thing I notice is just how many trainers won’t work with genuine clients when they are teaching – they most commonly work with workshop trainees or people already known to them.  Basically, people who know what to do and know what to say, after all, no one wants to “lose face” in front of an audience.  Ahhh…maybe that is what it is.  It is all about saving face, rather than backing up their incredulous claims.

So miracle workers with a Google Adwords account or NLP newsgroup account, here is my request, buy yourself a little video camera and film your next miracle session.  Let’s see you in action.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Believe or Die

I am continually amazed at how much healers, therapists, and personal development gurus attribute to beliefs. It is as if they have found that the act of belief literally shapes the universe, and if your universe isn't shaped right, then you need to change your beliefs and everything will be fine.

I keep reading how good beliefs can heal and bad beliefs can cause cancer and bad AIDS, they may inhibit recovery, cause poverty and shape your destiny.  Belief is where the action is, not cold hard reality.

Churches got rich and cashed in on peddling belief for years, some still do, but for many God got boring. Beliefs needed to be organised and systematised and the emergent doctrines were just too limiting. And besides, God simply wasn’t scientific enough and He lacked sufficient antiquity.

In the self-help industry, the training manual became the new bible, quantum physics became the new gospel, “what’s in it for me?” became the new lament and “I deeply and completely accept myself” became the new affirmation. Future saints line up to await beatification and in a field where false prophets abound, the ever faithful squabble amongst themselves whilst praying for confirmation.

To those that demand evidence of this new faith, they point to the placebo response, to quantum physics, to Einstein, to the Tao, to Buddhism and all manner of miraculous proofs.  You just need to believe, they say.

If you suffer, then it is your fault. If you get ill and die then you had limiting beliefs.  You must have faith or you will be damned.  There are hope and redemption to be found in the sacraments; the joss sticks, the flower remedies, the filtered water and the herbal teas.  Penance and forgiveness can be found by the correct observance of the rituals; the tapping, the whoop whoop, the happy clapping and the attitude, and of course the search for those elusive toxins. There is only one law and that is the attraction. It keeps things simple.

Now, I wonder what these poor fools believed in order to demise in such an appalling manner:
"The participants had fasted for 36 hours as part of a personal and spiritual quest in the wilderness, then ate a breakfast buffet Thursday morning. After various seminars, they entered the sweat lodge lightly dressed at 3 p.m.
Two hours later, a woman dialled 911 to say that two people, whom Waugh identified as 38-year old New Yorker Kirby Brown and 40-year-old James Shore of Milwaukee, did not have a pulse and weren't breathing.
According to a family spokesperson, Brown was an avid surfer and hiker who was "in top shape," before the mysterious sweat lodge death.... 
...Sheriff's Lt. David Rhodes said authorities were checking whether there was a lag time between the first signs of medical distress and the emergency call...."

At the root of this is a self-help industry that promotes "me, me, me, me, me, me!"  - no matter how dysfunctional you feel, you are special, you are important, you are worthy and you will be accepted and loved – at the price of the entrance fee. Pay the fee and you will be admitted entry into the mysterious sanctum, get others to sign up and pay the fee, then you can come again at a discount.

Sign up as an assistant and you can come again and again for free in an orgy of hope, happiness and adulation. A shepherd leading the flock, a fisher for men, the person serving the Kool-Aid.

The industry promises that yes, you can be rich! Yes, you can have the life you choose! Yes, you can break free of life's burdens! Yes, you can be free! Yes, you can heal yourself and learn to heal others!

You are special, you are valuable and the universe revolves around you, you, you!

This soft and malleable universe will bend to your will, mold to fit your beliefs and will adjust itself to suit your aspirations. The universe is weak, but the attraction is strong and God lost the monopoly on omnipotence.

The thing is... so much of it is all smoke and mirrors. Scratch beneath the surface of this industry and you will find stories of drug addiction, bankruptcy and personal disasters – not rags to riches style, nor bad man made good type of thing, but self promoted success gurus who themselves are broke and claiming unemployment benefits; personal development coaches and mind control experts who take psychiatric drugs or cocaine or are alcohol dependent; business consultants who have never consulted and trainers who themselves are unemployed and struggling, divorced relationship coaches who rely on hookers, life coaches who are so dysfunctional they have no life to speak of, and on and on and on.

All this lies behind the veil of self-proclaimed success and fine promises of hope, affluence and secrets, the veil of illusion of opulence, happiness and brilliance, but it is a lie, designed to get that cash from the naive punters hoping for a better life for themselves.

The medicine show never went away. The snake oil just got repackaged, refined and much, much, more expensive.

As a skeptic and rationalist, I am not surprised at how much spite gets aimed in my direction.  I am a disbeliever and in the self-help business the refusal to believe is tantamount to heresy. It is a betrayal and such heresy is not at all tolerated well.

“We want action taken,” they write on their forums, “what makes you so special?” they ask in their emails. It's all about being special.

It is time to start blowing the whistle on the industry that I find myself flirting with on a regular basis. The romance died out long ago, I saw the man behind the curtain. He was bloated, he had serious personal issues but he had a good agent.

Know this: this is an industry that lies to you.

Not by accident either, but in a cynical and deliberate manner designed to exploit and cash in on the desperation and unhappiness of people who want a better life.

What I know, what I have seen, is that all the positive thinking and all the self-belief in the world doesn't make a single bit of difference to so many of these people, or possibly to you.  Many of these gurus are as dysfunctional today as they were yesterday, and I don't see that changing at all, at all.  In fact, it seems to be getting worse.  All that "self-development" and "Me! Me! Me! Me!" seems to reduce people's income, career prospects, familial relationships, friendships and so on.  It gets ugly.

I'll tell you more in a future blog entry, beginning with the personal development industry obsession with "status."

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Monday, 17 April 2017

Saddle Up The Unicorn

Grab that coaching book and a copy of The Secret, sit cross legged for a moment and give a little ommm. Pack your bags and saddle up your unicorn, we are going back to Jericho. It’s a whole new trip and you are all invited.

Sitting in front of a bookshelf whilst you talk about “my journey” is so yesterday and old fashioned. Facebook status updates about your happy clients will no longer pass muster. There’s a new trick in town. It’s an old trick made new. Rediscovered maybe, but never lost.

The medicine show died a slow death along with its gullible patients, but the gurus will always live on. At first, the new young things scene adopted their gurus and their gods. They paid them money, hung out with them, had their photos taken for all to see. Who you trained with, when you trained with them, your relationship with the God-like trainer was all so important, but alas that is no more.

The passage of time has rendered the old Gods so passé. Their message has been assimilated into the culture, so now is the time to express contempt for the new kids finding their message for the first time and who cite their message as new. We reject the old, forever on with the new. There are new gods in town and they no longer sit in front of bookshelves and talk about their journey.

These days these new gurus and gods in town talk about other people’s journeys, offering guidance and wisdom as they struggle to maintain their beatific state in front of the camera. They do offer up their experience, express their vulnerability, try to be open. Vulnerability is the new secret code. Expressing past mistakes and regrets is the new way of maintaining focus on the self, whilst imagining and pretending to be guiding others.

Mysticism is the new model, bringing the light into the darkness, bringing the darkness into the light of reason. The universe speaks to us, and we need to hear it’s message. Not just for us, but for all of humanity. We are the messengers, the intermediate, the messiah to whom the universe communicates the truth. And it is Truth that we now speak.

The debts that are forever mounting up, the failed relationships, the bankruptcy, the poor health. These are not signs of failure but instead are demonstrations to ourselves of the sacrifice that we are willing to make to dedicate ourselves to the truth. We suffer to take away the pain of others, we take the sin away from mankind. We didn’t ask for it to be easy, but you must know how we suffer so, but we won’t mention the current debt or letter from the tax man. Our worldly concerns and chronic unemployment are not your concern. But we will teach you how to be wealthy, happy and sane. Your devotion, loyalty, and money is all we ask.

Come and be in my company, we can sit silently and meditate. I can teach you magick and connect you to the orgasmic moment of creation. I will talk of Hermeticism, tantra, yantra, yoga, Yarker and Crowley. We can share of ourselves, give a little of us to each other, imagine we have changed the world by changing a little piece of ourselves. There is no suffering, there is only beauty. You just need to look and see, we will help you remove the blinkers that blind you.

We will raise the temple. There are no techniques, processes or therapies. Just Truth, Love and Hope. The new holy trinity that will cure all of mankind’s ills, if you all would only watch our youtube videos and talk to us via Skype for a small fee so that we may plan our next trip.

Workshop Survival Kit

I sold these back in 2010, if there is enough demand I'll restock them (please use the comments section to declare an interest or request a custom made badge).  Previously, the first badge on the list sold out completely the first day they went on sale.

The Training Workshop Survival Kit!
Badges for seminar/training/workshop attendees:
  • "Fuck off, I Don't Want a Hug!"
  • "I Attend Workshops."
  • "I Have Trained More Than you Have."
  • "I Am One Of The In-Crowd."
  • "Smug, Pious and Proud."
  • "7-Day Expert."
  • "...and who did YOU train with, Hmmm?"
  • "I deeply and completely accept myself, now fuck off!"
  • "Training Workshop Junkie."
  • "Wannabe Guru."
  • "I Talk Others Walk."
These will be available from The Fresh Brain Company, priced at £8.40 for a selection of any five badges. Others will be added soon.

Other products I am considering adding to the range include:
  • Branded spittle wipes to deal with the moist trauma of all those group hugs and air kisses.
  • A big shitty stick to beat off those fellow attendees stuck at the "How specifically?" phase.
  • "The Whoopee Glee" (TM).  Set to automatic mode, The Whoopee Glee (TM) emits enthusiastic whoops of joy at variable random intervals.  
  • The NLP Laughtastic 6000 (TM). Similar to the Whoopee Glee, this item is calibrated automatically to be able to emit the right type of laugh to fit in with the in-crowd in any live training situation.
  • "The Grinnatron Joy Mask" (TM).  The Grinnatron Joy Mask (TM) can be worn safely for up to 24 hours in a single session.  Now it is possible to grin all day without risk of facial injury or being asked about your limiting beliefs.
  • The Self Catheterisation Kit.  Useful for those workshops where the trainer gets a bit too carried away and forgets that the mortals need to do normal things like take bathroom breaks.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Just a small prick

One residential care environment that I worked in specialised in a particular method of annoying the insane.  It used the "are you sure?" method.  For those unfamiliar with this method it goes something like this.

Staff:  "Hi John, how are you feeling today?  Have you been feeling anxious?"
Patient: "I'm fine thanks."
Staff:  "Are you sure?" (spoken with a tone that suggests superior knowledge)

I saw the same routine occurring with the daily enquiry of, "any suicidal thoughts today?" The patient would deny suicidal thinking and the staff with the same tonality would ask, "are you sure?"

Here's another example.

Staff:  "Did you have breakfast this morning?"
Patient: "Yes."
Staff: "Are you sure?" (with that same tone as before)

It took me a little while to work out just what going on in that place, because it seemed to me that pretty much all of the staff used the same pattern; it was as if everyone was reading the same script.

I'd have hated to be a patient there, it all seemed so demeaning and really rather unproductive.  But I doubt any of it was intentionally so, because staff tend to adopt each others patterns and this often occurs in close-knit working environments.

In hospitals for example, cliche phrases, mannerisms and expressions emerge amongst groups of staff and these can differ from department to department and hospital to hospital.  For example, anyone that has received an injection in a UK hospital is likely to have heard the nurse say, "Sharp scratch!" as the injection is delivered.  It's what nurses say, it is part of the culture.  Personally I always preferred the, "you will just feel a slight prick" gag, but that is a different story.  Another common expression is the "...for me..." tag when asking patients to do something, as in, "stand up for me," "take a deep breath for me," "squeeze this for me" and so on.  Although this was more common on the elderly care units.

The adoption of these little cliches is in part the adoption of the local culture and this often happens without conscious thought or consideration.  It is almost Pavlovian in nature. For example, non-NLPers should watch out: Never say, "I am sure" to an NLPer.  They will nearly always fire back the Bandlerism of, "Are you sure enough to be unsure?"  NLPers can be strange like that.  I once bet a nursing colleague that she couldn't go through a day without saying, "sharp scratch!"  She took the bet and promptly lost it about 15 minutes later.  As Pavlov found, some conditioned responses can be very hard to extinguish without sufficient counter-stimulus.

People adopt cliches and mannerisms that shape the perceived role in which they operate.  For example, saying, "Sharp scratch" fulfilled the need to say something and was acceptable to the peer group.  It fitted in.  My line about feeling a slight prick, which oddly was always acceptable with doctors but almost never with nurses, simply didn't fit in with the language of the peer group.  I learned early in life that, for so many people, fitting in is more important than anything else.  It is frightening sometimes to not fit in.

Hierarchy emerges within groups and the person who best knows how to use the language peculiar to his group is the person who can garner the most status from the group.

Most institutions possess their own language.  The armed forces each possess their own linguistic pecularities, prisons have their own language and currencies and most major professions and institutions also adopt their own expressions and terminology, not least of all, the medical profession.  In medicine, the language used can sound foreign, or like some kind of weird code.

For example, "upon admission the patient was cyanotic, SOB and with pyrexia of 42 degrees" translates as he was blue, couldn't breathe and was pretty hot.  Every part of the body has a name and that name means something to doctors and related professionals.  The words, "he had a heart attack" doesn't actually mean very much from a medical point of view since there are so many variables of what actually constitutes a "heart attack."

All these variables have a name or a medical description that immediately translates meaningfully to those who understand the language.  Given the complexity of what is involved and the size of the subject, it surprises me not one bit that medical training takes so long and requires so much intense study and experience.

NLP has its own peculiar set of words and phrases.  My favorite and one that I like to never miss an opportunity to use is, "kinesthetic transderivational search."  This isn't a term I hear often from NLPers, but is readily understandable to the initiated and rather bewildering to everyone else.  Much like the medical terminology, many (but not all) of these terms are useful in communicating concepts and ideas, such as "a submodality swish" versus a "content swish" and other referential terms such as, "eye accessing cues", "presuppositions", "double binds", "submodalities" and "pacing and leading" function the same way.

So, we have these two type of linguistic cliches - those that enable us to fit in, and those that enable us to understand.  I've never been too much of a fan of the former but must admit to being a bit of a fan of the latter.  I urge NLPers to watch out for the former, these "fitting in" cliches such as the "are you sure?" and the "are you sure enough to be unsure?" examples. Unfortunately, all too often, excessive demonstrations of "fitting in" tend to negate demonstrations of understanding to those outside of the peer group.

Now, it must be said that I didn't exactly fit in at the mental health unit from which I drew the "are you sure" examples, and an inverse relationship between how much my patients trusted me and how much my colleagues didn't trust me became apparent.  The staff tended to think that I didn't "get it" whilst my patients tended to disagree and suggested that I did "get it"; my employment at that unit was never going to last long, that much was agreed by everyone.

In the handover meetings between shifts, the reason for the "are you sure?" nonsense became clear.

The acting unit manager was an unusual individual in that she radically changed her appearance and identity so that she became sexually androgynous on the day she was "made up" to manager level and she would grill the staff about their handover reports.  It seems a bit bizarre now when writing this, but basically, she'd demand that the staff "check" what they wrote by asking the patients if they were sure.  Pettiness was taken to new extremes as in the following example:

Staff: "...and this morning John had a good breakfast before taking his medications..."
Androgyne: "What do you mean, he had a good breakfast?" (spoken with a slight tone of contempt)
Staff: "Well, he had cereal and toast."
Androgyne: "Which cereal?" (again, spoken with that same contemptuous tone)
Staff: "Ummm...not sure..."
Androgyne: "Well, go and ask him."

Yes dear reader, it really did get that petty.

That member of staff would then have to leave the office and go and ask the patient what cereal he had for breakfast whilst the rest of us waited.  I guess many people have been unlucky enough to meet managers like this, androgynes or not.  They don't actually have to do too much to create significant levels of stress in employees.  They also have the following effect.

Those that understand the necessary rituals and ceremonies that keep the manager happy will garner status with her, those that don't end up ostracised by the group.  Over time, the group becomes self-selecting and those who play the game will stay, those that don't will leave, and so a shared and delusional mindset emerges amongst the group.

It can become quite cult-like and it can be really quite unsettling; it is the Emporer's New Clothes all over again, only without the humour and nudity.

I have observed that many NLPers fail to model effectively and simply imitate instead.  I have lost count of how many people I have experienced doing a spontaneous impression of Milton Erickson, not based on their own experience of Erickson (via available audio-visual material) but rather based on a famous trainers' impression of him.  Meanwhile, I have noticed that NLPers no longer imagine things, instead they "hallucinate"; they no longer seem to have opinions, they have "maps"; they don't learn things, they "model" things and "install strategies."  Here are some other examples I experience far too often for comfort:

Me:  "Hi!"
Them:  "Very Hi!"

Me: "How you doing?"
Them: "I'm GREEAT!!  What about you?"
Me:  "Err...fine thanks."
Them: "Just fine?  You should be feeling GREEAT!"

Me: "I don't like that."
Them: "Don't like it how, specifically?"

For too many NLPers, being an NLPer depends upon using all the cliches, mannerisms and attitudes that they observe the rest of the NLP herd using and make attempts at garnering status within the "NLP Community."

Sadly, this can have the effect of distancing them from their own existing community who worry that their loved one has joined some kind of mind control cult.  People that behave in these ways do not always come across as especially functional human beings and I cannot help but wonder if there is a degree of a cargo cult mindset meeting The Field of Dreams - "build it and they will come" - as if the NLPer only need use the right words and parrot what they have heard other NLPers say then life success, happiness, wealth and status is as good as theirs.

Experience goes far deeper than the mere use of the right words.  Remember this before you find yourself abducted and deprogrammed by well-meaning people who "care."

NLP provides a great set of tools for building great states and mindsets, and there are as many states and mindsets as there are people. The emperor wore no clothes, an interesting choice and not one that I would necessarily choose for myself. Be grateful for that. But imagine if the crowd all chose the emulate the emperor, the sight might not be a such a pretty one; depending on where you are stood in the crowd, I guess.

As I see an increased uniformity amongst NLPers striving to reach that elusive but correct NLP mindset this is something that all-too-often tends to get forgotten.