What is Trauma, a Phobia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how can you safely overcome it?

22 March, 2011

I have recently been to Samoa with a team of NLP professionals on a voluntary basis, training their health care professionals and emergency services in some basic NLP skills, the key one being the NLP Trauma Process or Phobia Process. We had about 37 professionals on our three day training, and we taught them these skills to help them overcome their own fears or trauma as a result of the Tsunami disaster that hit the island in September 2009, and any other fears or traumas they may need healing, and, importantly, so that they can use the skills to help others - their patients, their clients, their co-workers and / or families and their communities. So the people of Samoa can move on and build their lives again in a healthy way.

You can read much more about our project on our website http://www.traumarecoveryteam.org.nz/.

The NLP Trauma Process is one of the better researched areas of NLP in terms of its effectiveness. The process itself takes about 20-30 minutes from start to finish, yet the success of the process depends on many other detailed factors which influence the success of NLP interventions. There are too many to go into detail here; yet just to be aware that anyone thinking of doing the NLP Trauma Process with themselves or another person needs to be aware that the process itself is only one step in a series of important steps that enable change (Dr Richard Bolstad - in his book RESOLVE).

In this article, I will go through the main "symptoms" or ways in which you can tell if you have been traumatised, developed a phobia or have the symptoms of PTSD, the NLP approach to solving these issues, and how the NLP Trauma Process works.

Firstly, it may seem strange to you, that I am grouping these three - what could be seen as very separate - "disorders" together. And this is one of the key differences between NLP and the traditional psychological or psychiatric approach. Where traditional approaches see these "symptoms" (i.e. fear, panic) of the brain as a "solid thing" that exists inside a person, and labels them as a special kind of "disorder" - sometimes with a fancy name (i.e. Ranidaphobic - fear of frogs) that some one "suffers from" or is "inflicted with" - the NLP approach is very different.

We see these "symptoms" as a series of events that the brain is going through - the connections the brain and the nervous system is making at any given moment - which ends in a certain tangible result for someone (i.e. fear, panic, nightmares and so on). Therefore, there is no solid "thing" that exists inside of you. A phobia doesn't exist as thing you suffer from - it is just a process that occurs in the brain and body that ends in particular (unpleasant) results. When we teach the brain how to do a different process - then we get a different result. When we can teach the brain and nervous system to connect things differently in there - the person can get used to generating different results in the system, which can be favourable - even enjoyable - to the person.

This is not just the NLP perspective on healing trauma, it is a fundamental belief of the NLP model about anything which is labelled as a "disorder" in traditional psychology (depression, insomnia, eating disorders, lack of self-esteem or confidence and so on) do not exist inside the brain somewhere, where a drug can stop them existing, they are processes. And as absolutely nothing is ever static in the Central Nervous System (CNS), that the CNS is in a constant state of communication between the brain and the body, these procsses can be changed, new skills can be taught to the CNS and new processes can start occurring, ending in better results (happiness, restful sleep, healthy eating and weight, positive self-esteem and relationship with self and so on).

The "symptoms" (or current process)

How do you know if your brain and nervous system has become good at doing the process of some of these very unpleasant experiences we know as Trauma, Phobias or PTSD?

Here are some of the common results you will get if you are:

Firstly, mostly (not always with phobias) there would have been some kind of outside "event" that occurred, which you perceived or where involved in. This event could be the kind of event that everyone would agree was a "traumatic" experience i.e. something like seeing your village get swept away by a giant Tsunami, or seeing your family be killed in war. It could also be a fairly "non-eventful" event, i.e. something conceivably harmless like walking into a comic book store, or seeing a bird flying on a beach. Yet, for some reason, at that one moment in time, your brain decides it is going to do something interesting with that seemingly innocuous event:

Your brain could produce the following symptoms (as defined by the DSM IV 309.81 for PTSD):
    repeated, distressing memories or dreams of the eventacting or feeling as if the event were still happeningintense distress when exposed to images or sounds resembling the event (i.e. loud noises)efforts to avoid anything that could remind the person of the eventinability to experience normal range of emotions and interest in lifenot planning as if life had a futuredifficulty concentrating or relaxing (especially sleeping)sudden anger and startle responses
Some of these are more extreme and distressing than others, especially so if they occur over a long period of time with no relief - this can cause the person to develop some other secondary phobias or symptoms and can seriously limit the person's every day life.

The NLP approach (starting a new process)

The distinction between traditional definitions of the symptoms being labelled as a "disorder" that exists inside of you somewhere and the NLP approach of these results ("symptoms") are occuring because your brain and your nervous system are engaged in a particular connection - a process, which is always a continuous steam of communication in your CNS - and therefore one that can be changed, and changed quickly, is a very important distinction.

Richard Bandler, one of the co-developers of NLP, studied large amounts of people who had overcome a phobia or a trauma themselves, naturally. Something they used to produce all the above symptoms for, and are now able to feel completely relaxed about. He wanted to find out - as is the spirit of NLP - exactly which process their brain went through to get the new (sometimes magical) result. He needed to know, because, NLP is about the study of success and using the brain's natural processes to heal itself (people have all the resources they need to succeed).

He discovered that with all these people, there was a consistent and definite shift in how they remembered the event - which caused the new favourable results in their system.

You see, the brain is very complex, and magical (when you know how to use it!) and also, sometimes incredibly simple.

When you freak out (technical term) the brain is doing what it is designed to do. It associates that fear feeling with the stimulus (or event) that caused it. Simple classical conditioning, or, as we call it in NLP, anchoring. Now that these two things are connected in the brain, one will trigger the other. Therefore just a mere mention of the event or a smell, or a noise, will trigger that associated fearful feeling. That's why people go to lengths to avoid anything that may do this, as it is very unpleasant for them.

A phobia or a traumatic response, is when the person gets anchored back into an experience like that, one that was really unpleasant for them. And that's ALL it is. A strong, and rather unfortunate anchor.

Why does your brain do this? Because we are designed to preserve ourselves and survive, which, in the old days when we were hunter gatherers, meant remembering danger, very explicitly, so we can do our best to avoid it next time. When we came up against a tiger, a real life threat, the brain produced fear - adrenaline in the body - so you either could flight (get away fast) or fight the thing that was a danger to you, so you can survive.

The brain wanted to remember that tiger as dangerous, and so associated it with the same fear response, so you could flight or fight again. All you would have to do is think of the tiger, and you'll get the same adrenaline, just to be extra specially sure you can stay safe. That tiger is now stored in the "red alert" place in the brain. This is your anchored response.

Fear was designed to keep you safe and protect you from bad things happening in the future. Nothing more, nothing less. That's why we have it. These days, we have so much stimulus available to us, our brain overuses this ability to keep us safe. That's why it is possible for us to develop some pretty far our or irrational phobias and fears! We know logically that a frog is not going to kill us, yet, if it triggers that innate fear response in our body, it will anchor them together and remember for next time. Here we have a simple "phobia".

And it is the same, no matter what the event or stimulus was. And your brain, if it believes it to be dangerous and wants to protect you from it in the future, will keep reminding you of it again and again (and yes indeed, it overuses this function) in the shape of flashbacks and nightmares and the like.

The important thing, in its attempt to warn you of, and protect you from this discovered danger, is it will have you remembering the event or stimulus in a particular way, to keep you afraid of it.

There are only two ways in which a human brain remembers something. These two different "types" of memory are stored in different areas of the brain:

1) Associated - remembering it vividly as if it was happening now - through your own eyes, life size, bright, full colour, clear, and probably as a running movie. Remembered with strong emotional connection.

2) Dissociated - remembering it as if it was happening to another person - seeing yourself in the picture, from a distance, perhaps smaller than life size, maybe a still image not a movie, and perhaps in dulled down colours and in black and white. Remembered with a vague emotional connection, if any.

As a general rule, people who are enjoying their lives, remember the pleasurable and happy events associated, and the unpleasant and yucky events dissociated. People who are not enjoying their lives, perhaps they are doing depression or living in fear, remember the pleasurable and happy events dissociated (they feel like they happened to someone else) and the bad and unpleasant events associated (living them as if they are happening now). Based on this, the brain comes to expect the future to be the same as the past - which explains why depressed people can keep themselves depressed for a long time, and why we can begin to "live in fear".

Bandler discovered from his research that people who had had a trauma or a phobia or PTSD symptoms had naturally found a way to change the way they remembered the event that had caused the fear. They somehow taught their brain to switch it from associated memory to dissociated memory, meaning they could remember it with little if any emotion.

Their brain still keeps them safe however, as it knows what really is dangerous, and what is just faulty, over-active programming in an attempt at self-preservation.

Bandler designed the NLP Trauma Process by refining what he had learnt from this important research. And this is now the process we take people through to help them overcome their fear symptoms.

How does the NLP Trauma Process work?

The trauma process works by taking the person through the step by step process of re-coding and re-storing their memories - out of the "red alert" place in the brain and into the "neutral" area. We teach their brain to go from associated memory to dissociated memory, in a safe way. We lock that into place, so that each time the brain remembers the event, it remembers it like this. Therefore, we create a new association in the brain, a new anchored response that's actually useful to the person and they can't get anchored back into the old response again.

These changes are always carried out in the context of a therapy session, where all the other steps of therapeutic change are followed. The process itself takes about 20-30 minutes and is tested before and after, and followed up one week later. A session in its completeness may therefore take 1 - 2 hours.

We use the NLP Trauma Process for simple or complex phobias, traumatic events, significant emotional experiences, and for any symptoms of PTSD. I also use it a lot for helping the grief process.

This process has been researched and used all around the world, in war zones and in post-war situations. In the research carried out after 9/11 attacks in New York, its effectiveness after clinical use was 80% effective after 2-4 hours of treatment, compared to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which was effective 32% of the time with 4-5 months of treatment.

To find out much more about where this has been used in the world and to what significant effect click here.

If you know anyone who could benefit from overcoming the symptoms described here, please feel free to forward them this article, and let them know they can get in touch at any time on charlotte@charlottehinksman.com if they have any questions.

With love


http://www.charlottehinksman.com/ for NLP services in Wellington

Coaching & Supervision

Life Coaching is about finding out what is right for you in your life and getting you there. It can be transformative and is not always about 'transformation' ...more


Training is about creating an environment where learning and implementing new skills is easy. We have a personal and professional touch ...more

Leadership Coaching

Leadership Coaching is about ensuring you are continuously developing your toolset, mindset and skillset, in order to deliver the best possible ...more