How Coaches Can Use NLP with Clients ~ A Case Study


In this article and future ones, I want to explore how a coach, counselor, or therapist can apply NLP and Coach training strategies when working with a client. My plan is to present hypothetical cases and offer a possible approach. Then, perhaps, we can discuss other options.

Jim has a drinking problem. When his fiancée unexpectedly called off their wedding, he was devastated. Since then, he occasionally asked women to go out, but they either declined or ended the relationship after a few dates. Over time, he basically gave up – even though his greatest dream was to be married and have a family.

Six months ago, he agreed to attend a party with a friend. During the evening, he had several drinks and discovered that he was funny, received lots of attention, and talked with a couple of women who seemed interested in him. This success encouraged him to be more social – he even had a dinner date and he also began drinking more often. He is convinced that alcohol allows him to relax and be more natural around women.

Jim is also aware drinking is negatively impacting his life; he missed several days of work, skipped a couple of appointments, and ignored old friends who are genuinely concerned about his change in behavior. So, he came to see me, a therapist certified as an NLP Master Practitioner.

With every client, I like to begin by:

• Building rapport – observing eye cues and predicate phrases as well as matching and mirroring the client’s physical movements and tonality.

• Identifying the positive intent of a behavior.

• Completing the Outcome Specification process and exploring Logical Levels. The information provides me with a clear understanding of what the client wants to achieve and where best to intervene. It also helps me develop a purpose-driven course of action and identify strategies which would be less than helpful.

• Asking Meta Model questions to transform problematic vagueness in thinking.

As we talk, Jim’s eyes move left and right; his predicate phrases include words like “I heard,’ and “they listened,” which leads me to consider that his representational system is primarily auditory. So, I use statements such as “it sounds like learning communication skills would be helpful,” and “I hear sadness in your voice.” I also match the volume and speed of his voice.

Rapport is established quickly.

Jim says the positive intent of drinking is to feel comfortable meeting and dating women. He really wants a girlfriend and ultimately a wife and family.

By asking “How can I help, specifically?” I am deliberately vague so that he will interpret what was said in a way that has meaning for him personally.

During the Outcome Specification process, Jim’s responses are as follows:

1. His goal is to feel comfortable with a woman without needing a drink first.

2. He will know he reached the goal when he does that, regularly.

3. The goal is relevant a) financially – he doesn’t want to lose his job and b) health-wise – he is sure that he will become an alcoholic like his father if he keeps on this path.

4. Jim is reluctant to pursue the goal because he really wants to feel comfortable around a woman. This seems impossible without drinking first. He says his fiancée took away his self-confidence when she left and drinking gives him courage.

5. He has a strong will and wants to stop drinking before it becomes a major problem.

6. Additional resources he wants to have include learning effective communication skills, motivation to stop drinking, self-confidence,and other inner resources.

7. His friends will be pleased. They are concerned. His job will be safe. His health will be good. He sees no risks, other than that he strongly believes he won’t be able to have a relationship with a woman unless he has a drink first.

8. Daily actions he can take: a) practicing communication and socialization skills; maybe role-playing conversations, and b) saying no to alcoholic beverages.

FIRST STEP: determine a plan he can live with and decide whether or not in-patient treatment should be considered.

9. It is definitely worth the effort.

In conducting the Logical Levels exercise, Jim’s responses are as follows:

1. Environment Level – refers to what is around us when the behavior occurs.
Jim: When I am talking to a woman.

2. Behavior Level – refers to what we do.
Jim: I need a drink before I talk to her.

3. Capability Level – refers to what we are able to do.
Jim: I can afford the drinks. I can talk to women easily when I have had a gin and tonic, first.

4. Belief Level – refers to what we think we can or should do.
Jim: The only way I can carry on a conversation with a female is to have a drink first.

5. Identity Level  – refers to what we think we are.
Jim: I am a man who wants to get married and have a family, but was badly wounded when my fiancée called off our wedding and am afraid of getting hurt again.

One option is to intervene at the Environment Level – teaching Jim to limit his drinks and stay away from situations where liquor is available. Instead, I chose to focus on the Belief Level. If his thinking changed to the belief “I really can carry on a conversation with a woman without having a drink first, I just have to learn some new strategies,” he might consider other possibilities.

There are nine Meta Model distinctions. I challenged Jim on four:

• Deletions – an individual selectively pays attention to certain dimensions in our experience while excluding others.
o Jim said, “He can’t do that now; he has to have a drink to relax.”
o I ask “can’t do what?” or “can’t do what with whom?” or “what would happen if he could?

• Cause and effect – the implication that one thing causes or is caused by another.
o Jim sai,d “She took my confidence away.”
o I ask: “How exactly did she do that?” or “How did that one event take away your confidence?”

• Generalizations – an individual’s learned model of an aspect of the world comes to represent the larger category of which the experience is an example.
o Jim said “he knows he will become an alcoholic like his father was.”
o I ask “How do you know that?” or “Why does your father’s alcoholism have to do with you?”

• Mind reading – believing one knows the thoughts, feelings, intentions of others with no basis in reasonable, logical, grounds for interpretation or direct observation.
o Jim said he “talked with a couple of women who seemed interested in him.”
o I ask the question, “How do you know that?”, “Are you sure that is the case?” or “So, they won’t be interested if you haven’t had a drink first?”

Using the Meta Model questions, I clarify Jim’s responses to the Outcome Specification practice and the Logical Levels exercise. This information allows me to obtain a clear understanding of the issues and sets a foundation for determining which strategies will be most effective. We will discuss possible strategies in future articles.