Every person is different, and everyone has a different experience struggling with addiction. The journey to long-term Recovery is a highly individual experience, and some forms of treatment may work better for one person than another. The best treatment programs offer a wide range of therapies and work with patients to find the most effective approach. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a lesser-known form of therapy that many patients find can transform their thinking and improve their Recovery skills.
What Is Neuro-Linguistic Programming?
NLP teaches people to analyze the strategies that lead to success, and apply them in the mission to reach a specific goal. The practice is based on the idea that you can break down behavior into its most basic components to rebuild and replace behaviors such as addiction.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been practiced since the 1970s, when John Grinder, a linguist, and Richard Bandler, a mathematician and information scientist, developed the technique at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The two believed the complexity of human behavior comes from the intersection of neurological processes and language. Their interdisciplinary expertise produced a therapeutic approach that takes into account how humans learn and interpret new information to help change behaviors more effectively.
All humans have a similar neurological structure, and NLP suggests that your linguistic and behavioral patterns are directly linked to that neurological system. The behaviors you perform externally are heavily influenced by internal processing, which is often completely unconscious. NLP can help you analyze the relationship between how you process and how you behave so you can break cycles and support the development of new behaviors.
NLP vs. Hypnosis
Many people express some confusion as to the difference between NLP and hypnosis — potentially due to pre-conceived associations about the term “programming.” In hypnosis, the patient does not stay fully conscious throughout the session, and the goal is to draw out memories and insights the patient couldn’t achieve on their own.
In NLP, however, the patient remains fully conscious and has to work with the therapist to arrive at each conclusion. Over time, NLP equips patients with tools they can use themselves, giving it a strong advantage over hypnosis.
The Core Components of NLP
You’ll notice that the term NLP can easily be split into three different components — neuro, linguistic and programming. Each aspect represents a core concept that a practitioner and patient focus on during counseling.
The neurological component of NLP recognizes that each individual has a unique perception of all the information absorbed through the senses. Sensory or cognitive input is always filtered through a highly personal lens, informed by things like your beliefs, value systems and prior experiences.
That personal lens results in a completely different perception of all information, which explains why two people can have completely different reactions to the same piece of knowledge. For example, a person who loves seafood might be pleased to encounter the smell of grilling salmon. Someone who got sick last time they ate fish may have an immediate negative reaction instead.
This example represents an obvious connection between information processing and resulting behavior, but the processes that drive our unhealthiest habits and result in addiction are often deeply nuanced.
Language plays a crucial role in how you understand and make sense of the world. Every detail you absorb from the world, you relate it to previous information through language. When you step outside and see a blue sky, your internal reaction likely has a linguistic component before you can even open your mouth to comment on it.
You might make automatic associations like “nice day for a picnic” or “now I need sunscreen,” and those associations affect how you communicate. A lot can get lost in translation when you’re trying to communicate about complex topics, and NLP focuses on language to bring better clarity to counseling.
Language has great power even when it’s only internal. Rethinking the language you associate with events or behaviors can be a powerful step in promoting Recovery.
Programming in this context refers to the process of how we learn. All our habits, attitudes and behaviors develop as a result of the inputs we receive and how we think and speak about them. Changing behaviors is a matter of “re-programming” your brain by re-framing key experiences that have led you to develop undesirable habits.
In many cases, the programming aspect of NLP involves examining a mix of large milestone events and smaller interconnected experiences that have brought you where you are today. The idea is that when you can carefully evaluate details, you can change how you react to them. This powerful skill can facilitate real, lasting change when you’re supported by qualified, caring counselors.
The Map Is Not the Territory
A key concept in NLP is that “the map is not the territory.” This shines a spotlight on the idea that no one’s perception can accurately reflect reality. Every person can only see from their own perspective, and true objectivity is not an attainable standard. Your reality is a “map” made up of all your different experiences, and it doesn’t always reflect the truth.
When you work with an NLP counselor, their goal is to get the most accurate understanding of your personal map. Once they become more familiar with your processing mechanisms and the way you learn, they can help you identify your strengths while also facilitating the development of new strategies to replace unproductive ones.
The Meta Model and Outcome Specification
When you realize that your personal map of experience is incomplete, it becomes clear that communicating about deep-seated behaviors like addiction is much easier said than done. Even when you do your best to describe your situation accurately, there are likely to be gaps in your description. Whether you omit a detail the counselor might find crucial, or use descriptors that don’t fully explain your thoughts and feelings, your account is likely incomplete.
When a counselor is operating on distorted or incomplete information, they may end up trying to help you solve the wrong problem. These gaps also increase the need for the counselor to fill in with their own experiences to try to understand how you feel. Both of these outcomes can be a waste of time and lessen the impact of each session.
The Meta Model is a list of questions that help your counselor get the most specific and relevant information possible, to stay on track and keep you involved in the investigation process. The nine questions also help you form a particular plan of action to bring Recovery within your reach.
1. What Do You Want?
This crucial question seems simple to answer, but you’d be surprised how much there is to consider. Your answer and the language you use to frame it will give you and your counselor a jumping-off point for exploring what Recovery looks and feels like to you. It’s a question that you’ll likely discuss throughout your treatment, and you may find the answer changes and becomes more specific through the course of your treatment.
2. How Will You Know When You’ve Achieved It?
It’s one thing to know what you want, but achieving it requires careful thought and planning. Recovery is a long-term state of being, not a one-time achievement, so it’s important to set measurable goals to ensure you know what success looks like.
3. Where Will the Goal Be Relevant?
Claiming sobriety will clearly have a significant impact on every part of your life, but examining the extent of that impact can be a powerful motivator during therapy. How will Recovery improve your work, social and emotional life?
4. What Is Stopping You From Pursuing the Goal?
This question is often one of the most difficult to address. Exploring what’s holding you back from fully engaging in treatment can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to develop sustained motivation. This is one of the areas where language can be a significant barrier, as you may not start out with the ability to accurately vocalize your internal processes.
5. What Personal Resources Can You Draw On?
Taking stock of all your Recovery resources helps create a mental image of your support network. A key element of NLP is improving the accuracy of your personal map, and it’s very common for patients to underestimate their available resources.
6. What Additional Resources Are Needed?
Your counselor can help you evaluate what further resources will improve your coping skills and allow you to feel well-supported during Recovery.
7. Are There Any Risks to Achieving This Goal?
This may seem like a trick question when it comes to Recovery, but the process of answering it often reveals hidden hang-ups that could be impacting your ability to heal and move forward in your journey to long-term sobriety.
8. What Daily Actions Do You Need to Take?
NLP is known for its actionable format, and this question is as straightforward as you could want. Breaking actions down into small daily portions makes them more approachable. Your therapist can suggest routines that you can integrate into your long-term plan.
9. Is Achieving the Goal Worth It to You?
You wouldn’t be in treatment if you did not believe it was worth it. Purposely exploring your motivations, however, reinforces them and helps you use them to your advantage in treatment and beyond.
Not every therapist will ask all these questions verbatim. They might mix and match or use similar questions, depending on what they believe will benefit you the most. In the hands of a capable counselor, the Meta Model becomes an exceptionally powerful tool. The benefits of NLP come from the collaborative relationship between you and your therapist.
General Benefits of NLP
Neuro-Linguistic Programming is such an effective therapeutic framework that it’s often used in general self-help and life coaching. People in high-stress careers often find that NLP is well-suited as a part of professional therapy.
Some of the things NLP can help you achieve include:
- Reduced stress: A lot of stress comes from not being able to predict or address your changing emotional states. NLP increases your self-awareness and decreases the impact of anxiety on your behavior.
- Increased confidence: NLP can help you understand and control your decision-making process, leading to increased confidence over time. Every good decision you make reinforces the next, and NLP helps strengthen that relationship.
- Improved communication: You’d be hard-pressed to find a situation that couldn’t be improved by better communication. NLP’s focus on clarity and interpretation leaves you with the skills to get your point across and understand others more thoroughly.
These three benefits encompass a host of smaller advantages NLP can give you in life. Here are some of the more granular benefits:
- Better manage emotional states
- Resolve internal conflicts
- Take control of thoughts and actions
- Eliminate procrastination
- Remove limiting beliefs
- Access internal resources
- Reduce emotional volatility
In short, NLP can help you develop the skills you need to maximize your happiness and mental health.
How NLP Can Help Addiction
The substantial benefits of Neuro-Linguistic Programming for addiction stem from emotional strength. Addiction can make you feel helpless, and that feeling of hopelessness can undermine the steps you take toward Recovery. NLP helps you build resilience so you don’t get whiplash from the emotional roller coaster.
Dual diagnosis is common with addiction. A co-occurring psychological or psychiatric disorder complicates treatment. NLP is a versatile framework you can apply to almost any problem in life, and that includes dual diagnosis.
Addiction involves complex emotional reactions. NLP helps break down each behavior into digestible pieces so you can address the root cause and form a step-by-step plan to cement change. NLP can be applied in any treatment program, at any stage. Some people prefer to start with more traditional forms of counseling before transitioning to the NLP framework, and others prefer to start with the more formalized structure right away.
Our team at 7 Summit Pathways understands the gravity of your choice to start treatment for addiction, and we have developed an addiction Recovery model that respects and celebrates your desire for change. Through our array of holistic therapies, we treat the mind, body and spirit.
We serve people with a variety of different addictions and always take a patient-centric approach. From detoxification to aftercare, 7 Summit Pathways provides an unparalleled level of individualization. We are proud to offer a 5-to-1 care model in which no single specialist works with more than five residents at a time. Whether you are ready to try NLP or a different form of therapy, your specialist will get to know you well enough to provide world-class care.
If you’re ready to take the first step on your path to recovery, 7 Summit Pathways is ready to help. Fill out our contact form or call (800) 719-8115 to get answers to your questions about our facilities and treatment options. With the right support and medically-based treatment methods, you can reach your Recovery goals.