NLP & Depression – Change Your Ruminations
In a 2017 study by Roger Hagen, Norwegian Psychologist, published in ‘Frontier of Psychology’ 2017* (reference below). The study suggests depressed people benefit from realizing they don’t have to ‘worry and ruminate’ on the momentary state they are experiencing. This article identifies similarities between Hagen’s Metacognitive Psychology approach and concepts and processes of Neuro Linguistic Programming.
Note the distinction that NLP Practitioners tend to avoid using medical terms that would indicate a medical diagnosis, like ‘depression.’ ‘Diagnosis,’ ‘treatment,’ and ‘prescription’ are terms reserved to the medical profession. The NLP practitioner would prefer the description of the emotional state ‘sad’ or even ‘severe sadness’ in order to preserve the belief, or ‘presupposition of NLP,’ that ‘people are not broken,’ and further that, ‘everyone has all the resources necessary to achieve any congruently desired outcome.’ Since most people know that depressed just means sad, I will use the terms interchangeably here.
Worry and Rumination
Hagen notes that depressed subjects often compound their depression with ‘cognitive ruminations.’ He says depressed people “think too much.” The study goes on to support my own observation as an NLP Coach, that sad or depressed people tend to experience their immediate thoughts as ‘real’ and routinely check to determine how they feel in particular moments and then they evaluate those thoughts as the ‘truth’ about themselves. An NLP belief is that ‘experience has structure.’ If that is true, then ‘The structure of the experience keeps the pattern in place’ as I would say it as an NLP Coach. These people are stuck in the moment and failing to take on different perspectives that are likely to make new strategies come to light.
A Thought is Just a Thought
Hagen reports that when people with these symptoms simply realize they don’t have to ‘worry and ruminate’ the way they have been, they can change their outlook on life. They can learn that ‘a thought is just a thought’ and that it ‘does not necessarily reflect reality.’ Hagen’s study has shown that this Metacongitive therapy can change the cognitive and physiological landscape for people. He suggests that having subjects think about the problem from a detached point of view can give freedom from the constant evaluation caused by worry and rumination and that patients improved in 80% of people people in the study and the effect continued to a six month check up.
Applying NLP Processes
One of the pillars upon which NLP was originally built was Cognitive Psychology and these results certainly support NLP processes that include the cognitive idea of thinking different thoughts. To build on that, the idea that we can focus on The Magic Number: 7 plus or minus 2 Bits of Information (b.o.i.) is useful in helping people understand they don’t have to be overwhelmed by too much data; they can make changes by shifting focus of their 5-9 b.o.i in any moment and focus elsewhere.
Perceptual Positions & Disassociation
Another useful application of NLP concepts is ‘perceptual positions.’ First Position is looking through one’s own eyes or “SELF’ position. Second Position is looking from the point of view of ‘OTHER.” Human’s have to ability to imagine being another person. The Hagen study suggests a parallel to what an NLP Coach would do with a client. An NLP Practitioners would quickly help a client perceive a momentary feeling produced from another point of view and interrupt the evaluation before the downward spiral begins. The NLP practitioner would work with the client to ‘dissociate’ from being stuck in the present momentary evaluation or ‘rumination’ and ‘re-anchor’ it immediately so as to view it from a detached perspective that is less emotionally based and at the same time keeps a positive future outcome in mind.
Any competent NLP practitioner would ‘wire-in’ or associate positive states and make sure the client could easily move from state to state as appropriate for new strategies to be discovered and experienced in the presence of the coach. The NLP coach would also expect results in a short period of time: typically one to six sessions at most. I can think of a number of other NLP concepts, processes and life-change patterns that may apply to this issue including Expanding Folded Time Patterns(c) or time line processes. Assuming you have previous NLP training, please comment on what other processes you would likely employ with a sad or depressed client.
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Article by Bill Thomason
March 14, 2017
*Reference: Roger Hagen et al. Metacognitive Therapy for Depression in Adults: A Waiting List Randomized Controlled Trial with Six Months Follow-Up, Frontiers in Psychology (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00031
Journal reference: Frontiers in Psychology