The only bit of advice you’ll ever need for dealing with client problems

This posting is designed to be useful for therapists, specifically NLP-trained ones, but might also be helpful to therapists working in other modes, coaches, and even management consultants.

I occasionally dip into forums for NLP therapists and trainers on Facebook and elsewhere. The most common type of post I see there is along these lines: “I’m not quite sure what to do with this client – can you help? ” They then go on to give a very brief description of the client and their presenting issue, and the techniques (it’s always techniques) that they’ve tried so far that haven’t worked.

Then other forum members will make suggestions about what the therapist could do to help this client that they’ve never seen, on the basis of the therapist’s one-paragraph description which is all the information they have to go on.

Now I’m not claiming to be a super-therapist (especially these days when I do much more corporate training and facilitation), and I have sometimes had clients in the past where I eventually ran out of ideas for what to do to help them.

*BUT* I believe the therapist could only be asking this type of question if either

a) they are looking at the problem rather than the person, and believe there are specific techniques which they can always use for each type of problem, or

b) they have a favourite technique which they apply to every client as a matter of course.

Incidentally, I heard that when John Grinder used to have his NLP students work with a ‘guest client’ as part of their assessment, he would have found out their favourite technique, and/or the one they were best at, and told them they could use any intervention *except* that one. I used to think this was a bit harsh (clearly I was looking at it from the student’s short-term point of view) – now I think it’s a great idea that encourages flexibility.

So – and at the risk of telling well-trained NLP practitioners what they should know already – here is the answer I would give to any ‘What should I do with this problem/client?’ type question. It’s the only bit of advice you will ever need for dealing with client problems, if you choose to put it into practice. Please take as read the usual conditions for effective therapy such as maintaining yourself in a positive state, rapport, unconditional positive regard, and having the client’s best interests at heart.

Step 1: elicit their strategy for having the problem – find out how they are doing it, step by step.

Step 2: apply whatever interventions are suggested by the client’s strategy, at the point in the strategy where they will have the most positive effect for the least effort and disruption.

If you have done Step 1 properly, it will be obvious what interventions to use and where to apply them.

I’m not saying this will always be easy. For exceptionally complex or ‘well-defended’ cases, it may take a few sessions before the client is ready to open up enough to allow you to discover the strategy. But it is, in principle, that simple.

What do you think? Leave a comment below…

© 2012 – 2019, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. Alun

    Excellent advice, Andy.

    And you could have added ‘NLP forums can be a bigger time-suck for the new Practitioner than Facebook and questions to them almost invariably result in (often well-meaning but) conflicting advice and reguarly involve a heated argument with one of the protagonists being compared to the Nazis.’

    An excellent application of NLP is on your NLP. Use the tools to refine your tools. Richard and John did.

    1. Andy Smith

      Thanks Alun!

  2. Andy Smith

    Luckily for me, the internet had only just got going when I started as an NLP Practitioner. I never spent much time on NLP forums (or indeed any other kind) – possibly influenced by a review of the alt.psychology.nlp forum which read (in full) ‘Manipulative, self-serving bastards’.

    To be fair to the NLP community, I think the people who spend a lot of time on NLP forums are more like people who spend a lot of time on forums in general than they are like the rest of the NLP folks, who tend to be intelligent, thoughtful and kind. It would probably be unfair to say that’s because the ones who aren’t on forums all the time have lives 😉

  3. Bev Holden

    Just the inspiration I needed today Andy, thank you.

    Not dealing with the kind of scenario you describe here exactly but I am helping a team work on their effectiveness and have been jotting down ideas for the next steps we could pursue.

    Strategy elicitation could be a great approach for them at this point, it will give them an opportunity to see exactly where they could focus their efforts to experience new and different results. Thanks for providing today’s light bulb moment – I’ll be working on how to make this work in the live session!

    Can’t comment on NLP Forums as I tend not to dabble – does this mean I have a life?

    1. Andy Smith

      Yes it does 🙂

  4. Bev Holden

    How did I manage to include a link to our homepage in my reply? I notice there’s a checked box but I didn’t do it on purpose. How clever! Where else can I make it do that????

  5. Andy Smith

    It’s because I have the ‘CommentLuv’ plugin installed – it automatically includes a link to your most recent blog post.

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