There’s Always An Alternative

When NLP started practitioners usually only got to work with friends, college students, and really tough situations.  Friends because they’re around, and tough challenges because the established practitioners, whatever the field, will usually only give up the ones they’ve given up on.

Oh, and college students because they’re available, work cheap, and will follow almost any instructions if you say “it’s a scientific study.”  Ever wonder to what extent our understanding of humans has been influenced by the partially developed nineteen year old mind?

One of the areas where early practitioners did get referrals was in working with (no one would suggest ‘curing’) cancer patients.  Not just any patients, it was the ones who had been classified as terminal.

So this week’s little story is a very touching example of how a couple of the pioneers in NLP worked with one of those, turning a six week death sentence into 18 months of fulfilling life.  Pretty decent for a couple of short sessions and a story or two.

While recent advances in neuroscience are validating more and more of the models proposed by NLP, this area of the effect of NLP on healing is still one of anecdotal evidence only.

Yet “proven” or not, stories can be pretty compelling, and useful in many ways.  Aside from health and spirit, stories have gotten Presidents elected, cities built, and countries started.   I was once told that Benjamin Franklin considered his greatest invention the word “America” and the story of “Americans.”  Just a story, remember.  Anecdotal evidence is all we have here, too.

These are by Norma and Phil Baretta, the couple I introduced you to last week.  These are from  seminar transcripts, told in their own words.   The first is a very short one adopted from Start Trek.  The second is a longer and more detailed case study of a woman given six weeks to live.

Tom Dotz


There’s Always An Alternative

Norma: I would like to tell you a metaphor that’s straight out of the old Star Trek, the one where we had Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy, Scottie the engineer and in one particular episode, the crew takes a small satellite ship, along with Spock and Scottie, to explore a small planet to see if there’s any life form on the planet.  In landing, they crash, they damage their engines, they lose all their fuel.  They discover much to their dismay that the planet is indeed inhabited by creatures so huge they throw spears the size telephone poles.

Phillip: That’s big.

Norma: Spock deploys the crew members with their phaser guns to keep the monsters away from the ship with his logic.

Phillip: He says to the group, you fire your weapons there it will keep them in abeyance there.  You fire your group of weapons there, it will keep them in abeyance and we can proceed with what we’re doing.  However, these creatures didn’t have the same intellect or logic that Spock did and they began to encroach upon the ship.  So, Spock decided that he’d better go find out what the situation is and he walks in and says to Scottie…

Norma: Mr. Scot, what’s our condition.

Phillip: And Scottie, of course, says “We’re doomed.  We damaged our engines, we lost all our fuel, there’s nothing on this planet that will give us our fuel back into the engines, we’re doomed.”

Norma: Spock raises his eyebrow and says “Mr. Scot, what are our alternatives?”

Phillip: Scottie says “Man, didn’t you hear me? I told you, we’re doomed.  We have no alternatives.”

Norma: The eyebrow goes a little higher and Spock says “Mr. Scot, there’s always an alternative.”  And sure enough they found one.  What they did, was drain the power out of their phasers after Scottie repaired the engine, as he always does, and that power gave them the ability to lift off to safety.  However, for one tiny moment in time and space, they were totally vulnerable, defenseless, but allowing that vulnerability, leaving themselves defenseless, gave them the power to lift off to safety.

Case Report #3A:  Six weeks and Preparing to Live

Norma: We had a cancer patient come in, this is a case from about 15 years ago, and she’s come directly from an internist to whom she went in tears after the oncologist told her: put your affairs in order, you’ve got about six weeks to live.
And, she was devastated.  She said, “Six weeks isn’t long enough.”  And when this woman came in… And the doctor who referred her said to help her to accept that verdict.

Not my job and not (my) belief system either.  So she came in and she’s looking very pink.  Well, I’ve seen cancer patients and when they’re at last stage, they are pretty gray.  This lady was still quite pink.  And she described what the doctor had said to her and he said that the cancer had advanced to the bone and that it was a very rapid type and it would probably be less than six weeks and she’d be gone.

I said to her, “Are you ready to die?”  And she looked first at Phil and then she looked at me and she said “No!”  I said then let’s go for it.  He probably lied to you in other instances too.  So you know, let’s see what happens.  Besides, how can he predict that humans are not very good at making predictions about?  She got a little bit angry, a very good sign. She said yes let’s go for it.  And so, instead of talking about preparing for death, we talked about preparing to live the rest of her life fully and completely.

First thing I asked her was “Is there anything that you always wanted to do that you never had time to do?”  “Oh, yes,” she said.  “I’ve always wanted to learn to play the organ.”  That gives you lots of room for metaphors because organ has so many meanings and you are looking [for ambiguities] when you are working metaphorically with the patient, you’re looking for metaphors that come from them that will have multiple meanings.  Words with a great deal of ambiguity about them give you exactly the kind of tools that you need to construct the metaphor.

Well, after that first session, she went directly to a music store and bought a $7,000 organ and had it delivered the next day and began to take lessons.  Now, luckily she was a lady who could afford to do that and that gave her the impetus to kind of get started and created some hope.  Michael Yapko has recently written a book called The Treatment of Depression with Hypnosis and the first thing that he advocates is you’ve got to give the person hope because they’ve lost it by the time they come in, they’ve lost it and that’s the first thing you want to install is a tiny bit of hope and hope for that to build.

Well, Doris in this case took organ lessons, learned to play the organ.  She’d come in originally in April (given “six weeks to live).  In August, she was a delegate to a convention in Ohio.  On the way home from Ohio, she stopped and visited her family.  And she bought, here’s another good indicator, she bought a series ticket for plays that were coming up in the LA area.  She loved the theater, so she bought the whole series.  Now, that’s an indicator that you’ve installed some hope.

Phillip: Future, future thought.

Norma: And we had done that by talking a great deal about the fact that we like theater and we always buy the series because that guarantees that we’re going to go.  And so the threaded language in there was guarantees you’re going to be around and look forward to it and have some hope.

Phillip: Part of the calendar, and you look forward to that particular day, and you plan for that to occur.  All of that is future thought.

Norma: At that point, the doctor decided that maybe they should try some chemotherapy, you see they had decided not to do anything because it wasn’t going to work anyway.  And so they decided on the chemotherapy, but they told her all the horrible things that will happen.  She’ll be nauseous, she’ll lose her hair, she’ll be sick and debilitated for days after the treatment.

Phillip: We’re talking about embedded commands from one end and they’re embedding commands from another end and it’s sort of a battle to see which ones are going to come out.  They don’t realize what they are doing.  We do.  We feel the effect of it.  They are protecting themselves.

Norma: And it’s the law, the doctor has to explain the bad side and so they don’t tell that to the patient, or some of them don’t.  The ones that study with us now do, but the ones who’ve had no training don’t do that.  In any event, she came in again directly from the doctor in tears saying “You know, I don’t know if I want to go through this because this is going to be horrible.”  I said, “Well, you know, this is a guy that told you that you are going to be dead in June and here we are and we’re in late August.  So you know, he could’ve been wrong about that too.”

Case Report #3B: A Hunger and Thirst for Flourishing

Norma: So, let’s see what we can do.  So here comes a very elegant metaphor that again stems from real life.  If you ask yourself where am I going to get the best metaphors, they are going to be some part of your experience.  So, we told her about the fact that back in 1958, we bought a house in Virginia that was on a third of acre of ground and I think we must have bought when it was dark, because we didn’t ever look at the backyard.

Phillip: Who looks at the back yard?

Norma: And after we put our money down and the house was ours, I took a look at the backyard, this is a third of an acre of ground and it’s like weeds.  I looked at that and I looked at Phil and I said “We could live here forever and we’d never clean up these weeds.”

Phillip: And I said “Don’t worry.”  I said “Science has really given us some wonderful stuff.  Kellogg has put something out called weed and feed and all you do is run this stuff on the ground, the weeds get killed and the grass grows.”

Norma: She sat up and she said, “I know that product and it’s true.  It kills all the weeds and let’s the good stuff flourish.”

Phillip: Very selective in terms of what it deals with.

Norma: Now, in addition to that, we [also] embedded a suggestion that during and immediately after each of the chemo treatments, she would find herself quite hungry and very thirsty.  And we talked a great deal about how thirsty we were.  I hope there is some water here.

Phillip: There’s water here.

Norma: It so happened that there was a volunteer tomato plant growing in front of our offices at that time and it was in August, it was producing beautiful tomatoes and she had noticed one on the way in and as we were talking about being ever so slightly hungry, again she sits bolt upright and she said “A tomato sandwich.”

Phillip: And I remember talking to her about what I’d do when I was a kid, because we grew up in Camden, New Jersey which was the home of Campbell Soup.  In those days there was no big parking area for these trucks that come in off the truck farms and they would line the streets of Camden on their way to Campbell Soup.  Well there wasn’t a teenager boy who did not carry a salt shaker in his back pocket and we’d take nice ripe tomato off the truck and we’d clean it up, salt it and we’d eat our tomatoes.  I talked about how delicious it was and how making tomato sandwiches with mayonnaise on top, on white bread and all of those commands are pictures that I was presenting to her about tomatoes and her stomach gurgled.

Norma: So she was indeed very thirsty and quite hungry and she didn’t experience any nausea and the only thing we didn’t succeed in with her was she did lose her hair, but then she bought a collection of wigs.  Well, this lady wound up living for about 18 months, high quality life.  She died one evening after attending the theater in her sleep at home.  And I think this is a really good example of the kind of bucking the trend and using what we know about language to be able to install a different perspective, which brings us to yet another metaphor.

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