How NLP can help you to overcome anxiety and depression

Jan 22, 2019 | Hypnotherapy Hypnosis and NLP | 0 comments

how nlp can help anxiety depression hypnotherapy in Ely


How NLP can help you to overcome anxiety and depression (including what NLP is and how it can help)

When I first sought help to overcome my own anxiety, I was naturally attracted to the field of NLP, or to give it its full name, ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming.’ It seemed to me to be the way to understand how our brains work and to make changes.

Having experienced NLP with hypnosis with the hypnotherapist I saw to help me take back control over my thoughts and feelings, I was so inspired that I went on to learn all about it and now incorporate it in my sessions to help others to now manage their anxiety.

So I was naturally curious and interested when I came across an Evening Standard article published recently by Samuel Fishwick called ‘How NLP can help you to overcome anxiety and depression.’ As he writes, ‘Neuro-linguistic programming can translate anxiety into new ways of thinking’. Which is certainly true in my own experience of helping people with their anxiety and depression.

These days I rarely specifically refer to NLP with clients unless they know something about it already or ask about it specifically. Rather than point to NLP or another method or approach it works well to simply focus on what someone is currently thinking, feeling and doing and what they would rather be experiencing with particular people, places, times, situations and circumstances.

A while back I decided to further my knowledge of how to help people and completed another very thorough and comprehensive hypnotherapy diploma. Part of that course asked me to write about what NLP is and how certain techniques and ideas from NLP can be applied in therapy. So for all of you out there who want to know more about what NLP is, where it came from and how it can help you to overcome anxiety, depression and more, I’ve included a large part of my answer below.


What is NLP and how can NLP help you to overcome anxiety and depression?

In that Evening Standard article I mentioned, the author writes,

So how exactly does it work? An NLP coach will start by teaching you to recognise the non -verbal cues that your body is responding to. For example, behaviour by forthright colleagues might be making you anxious, or nervous at work — which will in turn be affecting your ability to do your job properly. This is a prime example of a trigger. An NLP coach will help you to understand and modify your behaviour, using language patterns called pacing and leading.”

Certainly that is one example of how NLP can help. I’ve helped many people who find that something someone else is doing, whether that is a manager, colleague, friend, partner or even a stranger, can seemingly trigger feelings of anxiety or frustration or anger. As with all these things, that situation or similar ones can seem to ‘automatically’ make us feel that way and it can become almost like a habit to feel and respond in certain ways to that person or situation.

We are all very much creatures of habit and pattern and tend to act and feel the same way we did in a similar situation, which is often how fears and phobias and anxiety can spread and grow in our lives.

So onto a brief exploration of what Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is and some ideas and techniques from NLP could be used in therapy to help you overcome limitations, make changes and make positive progress towards your goals..

NLP stands for ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ which, as defined by the Association for NLP, is a model that ‘looks at the way in which we think and process our thoughts (Neuro), the language patterns we use (Linguistic) and our behaviours (Programming) and how these interact to have a positive (or negative) effect on us as individuals.’

Bodenhamer & Hall (in The User’s Manual For The Brain), define NLP as ‘The study of excellence. A model of how people structure their experience; the structures of subjective experience; how the person programs their thinking-emoting and behaving in their neurology, mediated by the language and coding they use to process, store and retrieve information.’

Essentially, NLP comprises of the three elements that contribute to the name, namely:

–        Neuro – the nervous system through which experience is received and processed through the five senses.

–        Linguistic – language and non-verbal communication systems through which neural representations are coded, ordered and given meaning.

–        Programming – the ability to organise our communication and neurological systems to achieve specific desired goals and results.

NLP is based on the work of Bandler & Grinder who modelled the work of the therapists Erikson, Satir and Perls and from this developed a range of methods, patterns and techniques that can be used to understand and change thought patterns and behaviours.

Generally, when I describe NLP, I talk about how we take in the world around us through our senses. We give it all meaning through our words in what we think and say, and we develop patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving which mean that we usually respond in the same way in similar situations.

However, whilst many of us hypnotherapists, have found great value in applying NLP techniques to help clients achieve their therapeutic goals, there are also those who question its scientific validity. For example, an article on the British Psychological Society website (’10 of the most widely believed myths in psychology’), states that ‘it is a serious error to think that NLP is grounded in scientific findings in either psychology or neuroscience’ and that ‘NLP is full of false claims that sound scientific-ish’ yet are not backed by evidence.

And hypnotherapist Adam Eason, (‘Is NLP Scientific? The British Psychological Society Don’t Think So’) refers to the lack of direct supporting evidence for NLP (whilst acknowledging that he has found much use in what is offered from the field of NLP) and the view of Richard Bandler, on a BBC interview about NLP, where he says that NLP was not really designed to be effective in the laboratory.


NLP Ideas in Hypnotherapy 

There are many ideas and techniques that fall under the umbrella of NLP and which can be used beneficially within hypnotherapy sessions. One way in which the ideas of NLP can be beneficial in therapy is by adopting the underlying presuppositions of the NLP model. Whilst the NLP presuppositions are not asserted to be facts, they are useful as a guiding philosophy when using NLP techniques.

Bodenhamer and Hall (in The User’s Manual For The Brain) consider the presuppositions to be like the ‘operating system’ by which NLP runs, and which ‘enable the system of processes, technologies, insights and skills to function.’ Thus they become useful as a set of beliefs that are presupposed to be true.

One such presupposition which is useful for a therapist to hold in mind during work with clients is that ‘The ‘map’ is not the ‘territory’. By this, we mean that ‘what goes on in our head concerning an event does not comprise the event, it only comprises our perception of that event’ (Bodenhamer & Hall).

Thus anything we experience is inevitably filtered through our beliefs, attitudes, memories, experiences and so forth and we then make sense of it and give it meaning. We delete things, distort things and make generalisations which form our subjective reality. And so, for example, two people can have very different internal representations and perceptions of the same event. That’s why I often talk about how our thoughts are not facts; they are just our individual perceptions and so rather than treating them as being definite and ‘set in stone’, it is more useful to remind ourselves, particularly with anxious thoughts, that they are just our habitual ways of thinking and our current perceptions.

This then combines with another useful presupposition of NLP which is that ‘people respond according to their ‘maps’.’ And so we all respond based on the perceptions we have developed.

For example, someone may come for help with low confidence and self-esteem which is creating anxiety and stopping them doing things they would like to do. They may talk about how they do not believe people who give them compliments, how they replay past events in a self-critical way and how they worry what other people think about them. If, without the NLP presuppositions, their statements were considered to be ‘fact’ then there would be little room for helping them to make positive changes.

However, by presupposing that their anxiety and low confidence is based upon their perception of the world and events, it becomes more empowering for them to change those perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. If my client comes to consider that they are confident or good enough or worthy, then their perception of the world and themselves changes along with their emotions, thoughts, behaviours and so on.

Similarly, if someone is having difficulty in a relationship, say with their partner or someone at work, they may start to perceive and interpret all interactions with that person in a negative light. This can then flavour their expectations, attitudes, thoughts, emotions and behaviours and consequently re-enforce the relationship issues. By helping them to change their perception (their map), they can start to take control over their own thoughts and feelings in a more beneficial and progressive way.


NLP Techniques for Anxiety & Fear

The field of NLP also provides many useful techniques that can be utilised within sessions to help you work towards your therapeutic goals.

For example, if you struggle with anxiety, you will be running certain thoughts, feelings and behaviours that create and support those anxious feelings and which inadvertently keep them running in that anxious way. NLP talks about representation systems which are the way in which we code information using our sensory systems (i.e. visual, auditory, kinaesthetic etc.). Often with anxiety, you may be imagining anxious scenarios and then experiencing those unwanted feelings. Or you may be running a sort of anxious inner commentary or thinking to yourself about things going badly or wrong for them in the future.

NLP also discusses submodalities, which are the qualities of our internal representations. And so, continuing with anxiety, you may imagine pictures in your mind of worst case scenarios that are colourful, bright, life size and which you are associated into as if you are right there, in that experience. Vividly imagining an unwelcome scenario as if you are experiencing it right now will generally create the anxious feelings about that event or thing.

And so by making use of the NLP model you can learn how to alter the qualities of those images to reduce the intensity of your anxious feelings – for example, by dissociating from the image so it is as if you are watching yourself on a screen, and then making the image smaller, darker and black and white.

In the same way that a small, dark, silent black and white movie on a tiny TV would not be as compelling as a giant, bright, colourful, loud movie on a cinema screen, so you can alter these qualities to lessen the impact of the imagined scenarios in your mind.

This associating/dissociating principle is also at the heart of the NLP technique called the ‘Fast Phobia Cure’. Rather than someone associating into a traumatic memory and re-experiencing the emotions, this NLP technique utilises the power of dissociation to remove the unwanted emotions from those memories.

I have used this technique successfully with clients with phobias such as dogs, balloons and spiders, as well as to ‘re-code’ other memories which have caused distress to clients (e.g. emotional or physical abuse).

Another NLP technique that can be helpful when working with clients is anchoring. This can be defined as “the process by which any stimulus or representation (external or internal) gets connected to, and so triggers, a response” (Bodenhamer & Hall). As such, it derives from the Pavolvian stimulus-response reaction/conditioning.

Using this you can evoke a strong, positive feeling and linking that feeling to a specific touch (e.g. on a knuckle or two fingers squeezed together), so that, in the future that specific action acts as a sort of trigger to fire off the positive feeling. Within hypnosis, you could recall a time when you felt, for example, totally calm and in control, then intensify that feeling of calm and when that feeling is most intense, give yourself a word or phrase (or maybe an image/symbol) that becomes a cognitive trigger in the future to re-evoke that feeling.

Another example is using the ‘visual squash’ technique. This can be used to overcome an ‘internal conflict’ you are experiencing where one part of you wants one thing and another part wants another. For example, maybe one part of you wants to be motivated and exercise but another part of you just keeps overeating, or perhaps one part of you wants to be brave and confident yet you find yourself sabotaging your plans and going back to avoiding things due to your worry and anxiety.

Of course, the field of NLP, whether you are a fan or it or not, has many, many more approaches, ideas and techniques than I have mentioned here. And as always, therapy is always less about whether you are using NLP, hypnosis, CBT or any other approach and more about taking positive action, learning new skills and making the changes that will help you to achieve your goals, such as overcoming anxiety and depression.

To your success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy and NLP in Ely & Newmarket 


Want to read more about hypnotherapy and NLP? Find more of my articles here: Hypnotherapy, Hypnosis & NLP

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