Dissolving Ceilings and the six Balloons of Pooh


Sometimes you surprise yourself. Faced with difficult situations and seemingly nowhere to go, somehow you make that intuitive leap and it all works out.

Of course if you’re dedicated follower of fashion, (yes I know another music reference but it’s too obvious to warrant comment), then you’ll be well aware that successful intuition is simply a bespoke combination of trance phenomena and skilful priming, (thanks Trevor), that creates the illusion of a successful leap of faith.

In reality it is fruit born of hard work, preparation and a willingness to put yourself in the firing line, hazarding a guess at a potential solution. Oh yes, and when you get it right you instantly delete or ignore the times when it didn’t quite work out, or indeed failed quite spectacularly in accordance with the philosophy of creativity.

Aside from that, I passed my NLP practitioner exam yesterday. I’m pleased because I dislike failing, (maybe I should see a therapist), but all in all this was a co-incidental byproduct of the Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy course. It had initial appeal, a b.o.g.o.f. deal and such like but it didn’t set my world alight. Apologies to those for whom this is important and I do get it but for me, the NLP movement is too rooted in the Eighties.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, NLP is derived from detailed analysis of some extremely highly skilled therapists and so it delivers some great results for clients. I’ve experienced some of this first hand and I’m not at all dismissive of the techniques NLP has devised. It’s just that, typical of the times, it’s findings were wrapped up and packaged in pseudo science-speak, avoiding peer scrutiny, which was most likely a calculated gesture to seriously annoy any potential scientific approval. Science is all about peer scrutiny, (until it gets into the hands of multi-large conglomerates but then that’s a whole other debate). On top of that, the prime business motivation of the NLP industry seemed to be to generate income, (and in some cases substantial wealth), through training other people to train other people to become NLP trainers. Coming from a highly regulated industry as I do, this looks too much like a tiered selling scheme for my taste, hiding from external scrutiny and become a money-making machine for those who survived into its higher ranks.

It really is a crying shame that this is how the NLP ‘industry’ made, (and still makes), its money because at its core, NLP is about codifying the deep level skills of acknowledged experts in the field of therapy and distilling them down to provide simple, easy access techniques to both understand and help individuals in their quest for self-betterment. I aim to use a core premise of Cognitive Hypnotherapy in that whilst a technique delivers benefit then it forms a legitimate part of the therapeutic process. Until I find that a particular NLP technique doesn’t work, I’ll use it and so far all the techniques have worked a treat.

My mini-rant boils down to this. Any school that elects to call a question a ‘Conversational Postulate’ is setting itself up to be shot down in flurry of fuliguline feathers.

I’m happy to use the techniques because they work and of course I’ll accept the NLP Practitioner Certificate. I did sit the exam after all. It’s not like I’m religious about this or anything, it’s just a gripe and if that philosophy was good enough for Gil Boyne, it’s surely good enough for me.

Mini-rant over. Thanks for listening. Feel free to re-rant at me in the comment box below.

Today was a very good day. I am several steps closer to gaining my Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma. I handed in the diploma as predicted, two days before the deadline and with 16754 words carefully scripted into hopefully meaningful answers and essays. I satiated my hunger for learning and feasted upon that metaphoric pachyderm delivering a substantial electronic tome ready to be assessed and if necessary, criticised. To be fair, I’m expecting a certain degree of feedback. I like to think I’m getting the hang of all this after eight months but I’m not delusional. I remain a relative novice.

As with any highly practical skill, especially if it involves other people, it’s always a good idea to build an element of realism to the training. Today that realism rose up and thwacked me right between the eyes. Gone were those nice gentle follow-the-outline-and-it’ll-work role plays of previous weekends. Today was: “you know all those clients who don’t know the script, the ones who’ll inadvertently lob spanners at your best laid plans? Well today is all about them”.

Why? So that when I meet them for real, I know that I’ve already dealt with them right here, right now (and yes I know young Norm, ex of the Housemartins, has made an appearance before but talent will keep on barging its way in).

All this brings me to awkward spiders and their role-playing counterparts. The counterpart was really good. She played her spanner-lobbing role pretty damn convincingly. As It turned out, she played her role as convincingly as someone who really had experienced the spider as the embodiment of other angst.

So how do you help someone who is playing a phobic role that sits uncomfortably close to their own, whereby they find themselves trapped in the scripted bedroom of their youth whilst fighting off echoes of the shed they couldn’t escape in the reality of their past?

Well, start simple and follow the rules, although to be fair they’re more like guidelines (answers on a postcard or in the comment box below as to from whence that reference derives).

So I started simple and followed the rules. It didn’t work. My semi-skilful probes and re-frames were rebuffed. My co-pilots on my adventure into the unknown were partially flummoxed and they’d read the script! I was entirely unsure where to go. As my client appeared to have broken the rules and associated into the metaphor, finding herself actually being in the room with the spider rather than remaining detached, above looking down, I asked her to ‘float back up to a comfortable distance and look down at the imaginary scene from above’. She just bumped gently on the ceiling. (Of the imaginary room, not the training room that is. That would involve inventing an anti-gravity trance and I don’t think Quest have worked that one out yet).

As she couldn’t get out of the room I wondered whether she could move through the ceiling. As it turned out, all you need is a working knowledge of Inception to solve the conundrum and as it was her dream but with me in control, I got her to dissolve the ceiling.  It worked a treat and up she came. Game over. Or so I thought.

Equally Inception inspired, she found that her dream within a dream, (alright, trance within a trance, but the metaphor still works), weighted her down and dragged her across into the nightmare of her real life arachnophobia. Down she came, sinking firmly back towards that trauma-shed of the past duly filled, as narrative causality demands, with the spider guarding the shed-door and preventing her exit. Always one to accept a challenge, I proposed that we work through this one too. Most important was to keep her dissociated and away from the first hand emotion of that initial fear-generating arachnid. From somewhere in my past, a fair while away as I now sit in my fifties, I dragged up inspiration from Pooh, that master of oddball problem solving.

It seems that all you need to escape a spider filled shed trap is half a dozen Pooh balloons, those ones used by that bear of little brain whilst disguised as a cloud and hunting for hunny in the hunny tree. Safely elevated, my role-playing colleague was able to work through her first encounter and, touch wood, (albeit that that can be the beginning of superstition and a potential OCD), she reported feeling more relaxed about our eight legged friends. Time will tell.

I suppose the upshot of all this is that what seems to matter is finding a path where it’s possible to work the problem, utilising whatever resources you and your client may have to hand, wherever they may come from. And when you’re backed into a corner, trust in those sparks of inspiration , those leaps of imagination which let you slide a metaphoric solution into view. In trance or in dreams, reality and memory are plastic.

And if I live by this, I can’t help but wonder whether my future will contain blockbuster science fiction films or more clients holding Pooh balloons. What do you think?

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Obvious Really
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

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3 thoughts on “Dissolving Ceilings and the six Balloons of Pooh

  1. The success of the “NLP industry” is in my view based on a need for it (the old supply and demand of economics) Many people were searching for something but not sure what in how to illicit change in themselves and others.
    Richard Bandler the most notorious of the NLP masters has made “boat loads of cash” along with McKenna and Co. The great thing that they have done is get thousands of people to think in a ways that perhaps they hadn’t thought of before or hadn’t realised they could.
    One of the reasons I bleeive that Bandler and CO did not want to go down the traditional rote was that their methods were poo pooed by the established strands of therapy and their results were not open to to be peer reviewed for that reason it has somewhat of a pseudo science reputation.

    • Hi Edd,
      good comment, thanks for taking the time.
      I do get it, really. I just find it hard to reconcile the hard sell eighties greed-is-good profit motive with any underlying degree of altruism in the NLP heirarchy.
      That said, for me personally, the core of NLP is what it can do for an individual. The fact that it’s fundamentals derive from seriously good therapists mean it has highly beneficial application with therapy clients.
      All the best
      Tony

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