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The NLP Fast Phobia Cure

NLP phobia cure

This technique, originally developed by NLP cofounder Richard Bandler, is useful for phobias and for taking the emotional charge out of upsetting memories. Here’s how I used it with clients and taught it to my NLP students – including one important innovation from the ‘classic’ NLP technique which I have found makes it more user-friendly, quicker, and more likely to succeed.

  1. Frame the phobia response as a “one-trial” learning (something that the client’s unconscious mind learned to do in just one go) and congratulate the client on their unconscious mind’s ability to learn quickly (with the implication that the unconscious mind can learn a different response to the phobia stimulus equally quickly).
  2. Elicit a time after the first occurrence of the phobia when the client was completely safe and secure. Anchor the feelings of safety and security – and/or induce a deeply relaxed state.
  3. Have the client imagine themselves looking at a blank TV screen with a video attached. Have them float out of their body and “behind themselves”. Tell them that they are in control of the video (you can give them a “remote” to use – you could use an old remote with the batteries taken out) and can change any of the qualities of the picture. Anchor this feeling of control and double-dissociation.
  4. Have them run a video of the fearful situation (the causal event of the phobia, if they can remember it) in black and white, all the way through to the time of comfort and safety. Use the dissociation anchor if needed. Freeze-frame on a still picture of the client safe and secure. Have them rate the fear on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is the worst.
  5. Have the client step into the freeze-frame. Fire the security anchor. Have them run the video in reverse, in colour, seeing it through their own eyes, very quickly, so they are back before it started in about a second and a half. Re-run this step (backwards) several times. When they have finished, get them to break state by physically getting up, taking several deep breaths, and moving around.
  6. Check. Have them re-rate the fear on the 0-10 scale. If it’s more than 2, repeat the entire process, making sure they do each step thoroughly.
  7. Test in the real world (cautiously).

So what makes this ‘rewind’ technique work?

Just to point up the innovation (which I came across originally in a booklet published by the Human Givens Institute). Traditionally in NLP the technique has involved an imagined cinema, having the client float up into the projection booth to double-dissociate. Advantages of doing it with a video instead are:

  • Even a big TV screen is smaller and less likely to overwhelm the client than a cinema screen.
  • Most clients will have seen a video rewinding – fewer will have seen a film running backwards.
  • Most clients can relate to using a video remote control – few will have operated a film projector.

Alternate names for the process and related techniques include V/K Dissociation, the Rewind Technique, the Visual-Kinesthetic Dissociation Protocol, and Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories (RTM). Here’s a useful history of research into the method, including including links through to descriptions of its various incarnations.

Let’s examine the crucial factors that make this technique work:

  1. Dissociation. Just calling up the memory and re-experiencing it would most likely trigger the ‘amygdala hijack‘ response, so the ‘abreaction’ in the therapy session would become another significant emotional event linked associated with the trauma response, and might event deepen it.

    Viewing the traumatic event on the screen from a distance means the client is ‘dissociated’ from it, rather than ‘associated’ inside it. Distance and dissociation are submodalities that for the vast majority of people makes the feelings associated with any memory less intense, almost like they were watching the event happening to someone else.

    In this technique, we increase the dissociation (and reduction of the trauma response) even more by having the client watch ‘themselves’ watching the event on screen. This is known as ‘double dissociation’.

    Running the ‘video’ of the event in black and white is another submodality shift that tends to reduce the emotional impact of a memory.
  2. Relaxation, and anchoring feelings of safety. If a person is full of anxiety, it doesn’t take much to get them to panic – just like a bucket of water that’s already full will overflow if you add one more drop.

    Relaxation empties the ‘bucket’ of anxiety and so raises the threshold for triggering the ‘amygdala hijack’, giving us more time to head it off if we see it coming.

    Setting up an anchor for feelings of safety gives the therapist a ‘bailout’ they can activate if they see the client nevertheless getting close to the threshold of a trauma response.
  3. Scrambling‘ the memory by running it backwards. The client’s brain will have run through the sequence of events in the traumatic memory over and over again, getting faster each time as neural pathways establish and strengthen.

    The sequence of events ends up at the trauma response every time, so each time the client replays that memory, the association and (conscious or unconscious) expectation of ending up at the trauma response gets stronger.

    Having them run that memory backwards very quickly ‘scrambles’ that sequence. Do it enough times and the sequence of rewinding rapidly back to the beginning, then moving forwards (in dissociated, less intense black and white) to end up at a place of safety, will become conditioned in and replace the original traumatic memory sequence.

All of which gets the client to the point where their brains have put the event in context, and reframed it as something less serious that they don’t have to have a traumatic response to, without having to discuss the content of the memory at all.

It’s worth noting that proper research into this technique (the RTM version of it) is reporting success – with one study (the first replication study) showing 73% of subjects having complete remission from all PTSD symptoms after 6 months. Here’s the research so far from the Research and Recognition Project. Other studies at Kings College London are ongoing.

Are you a therapist using V/K Dissociation (or one of its variations) successfully? Has this intervention helped you as a client? Let us know in the comments.

© 2021, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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