Reprocessing & Time Line Therapy

In this section, we will look at Time Line Therapy™ (created by master trainer and genius NLP developer, Tad James) from the perspective of reprocessing. This will show us how reprocessing experiences along the timeline can help people refine their thinking and respond more effectively. We will also draw from cognitive behavioral therapy. This structure can be good for expediting personal growth, processing the little “t” traumas in our lives, or working with more challenging issues. People can become much more successful and at ease from processing a good number of small traumas. First, we’ll run through this process without specific examples. Then we will do the full process for a case example. You’ll notice that this is a summary of Time Line Therapy™ that shows how to integrate reprocessing. If you don’t already know Time Line Therapy ™, I encourage you to learn it in depth. 

Bad Code

A cognitive therapist might call it a dysfunctional or irrational cognition. And EMDR therapist might call it a negative cognition. We like to call it bad code, because this highlights the fact that we make decisions about the world and ourselves when we go through experiences, especially intense, traumatic, or otherwise overwhelming experiences. Most of us have “encoded” some of these experiences in an immature way, because we weren’t ready for them. Unfortunately, these decisions about the world or about ourselves become part of our reality, like water to a fish; unquestioned. Just as a computer doesn’t question the code that runs it, we are driven to some degree by irrational decisions made under duress. The place where these decisions reside is called implicit memory. We call it “sticky memory” because implicit memory is unconscious and unquestioned. It is simply the “truth.” In essence, bad code is the unwise perspective that you get from an experience that you weren’t ready for. If you had been fully ready for the experience, it would already be wisdom and you wouldn’t be in therapy for it.

Good Code

If you learn from an experience, then you have made “good code” out of it. When you reprocess bad code into rational or functional thinking, then you have converted bad code into good code.

Code Triggers

You know about triggers. In this approach, we are talking about triggers of bad code. This can be any situation that bears some similarity to the one that generated the bad code. It may not look like the situation; it need only have similar implications or meaning.

Source Event

As in Time Line Therapy™, reprocessing may have its best impact when we go back to the situation that occurred first in causing you to create the bad code. At the most simple level, you would reprocess the experience using whatever reprocessing tools you felt were most appropriate. You would help your client move from bad code to good code, using whatever cognitive therapy skills where applicable. 

Echo Events

These are things that resemble the source event and that reinforced or compounded the bad code. They are more influential than mere trigger events, because they are more overwhelming or happened at an early enough age to help form and strengthen bad code in important ways.

Future Success

These are what I like to call imaginary memories of the future. That is, future imaginings that help to build the client’s sense of hope, meaning, and ability.

State-Initiated Reprocessing

Sometimes, with reprocessing, this happens as if by magic, with little intervention at a cognitive level. The greatest share of the work might be in helping the client know what and how to target, rather than how to refine their thoughts about it. In other words, the things you do to trigger reprocessing may not need to include cognitive therapy in order to get a profound cognitive shift. It depends on the client and the issue you are working on.


Whatever skills your client needs to learn to enhance relationships, self-care, etc., they are best learned after their source and echo events are reprocessed. This is because trauma and overwhelm cause lasting shut downs of parts of the brain. This affects learning and memory, especially where touchy issues are concerned.

Bad Code

Your client tells you that her relationships are not very satisfying. Somehow, she stands back. She finds herself judging people, even though she doesn’t really feel that she wants to be a judgmental person. It doesn’t feel like a choice so much as a temperament. As you help her clarify things, she realizes that she doesn’t really trust people. You have explained to her that the best bad code examples are the ones that are irrational, and you help her come up with the bad code of her mistrust, which is pretty basic: “I can’t trust anyone.” She sees that it make sense that she would have various ways of keeping her distance from people if she can’t trust them. Judging them helps her maintain that distance and refrain from the risks that trust entails.

Good Code

The earliest memories that she has in connection with not trusting people were from her childhood. She has always been a pretty independent thinker, but her parents were very religious and they judged her thinking, which was anything but doctrinaire. This leads you to think that her good code will have to do with being able to trust her judgement about people, and being able to fully own the fact that she is an adult and no longer under the scrutiny of her parents. As you help her come up with the good code that she would like to take the place of her bad code, it seems too simple to just say, “I can trust people.” After all, she is a skeptical person, and she knows that you can’t trust everyone. Perhaps, you say, it should be something like, “I can trust myself to create meaningful relationships.”  This touches something in her, because it brings her closer to the grief that she has buried regarding the betrayal of her childhood by her very rigid parents. She decides that this is pretty good, and she understands that she can refine this as she goes along. You like this good code, because it represents success and flexibility. 

Code Triggers

You have her look back over her timeline and identify some of the more recent events that have triggered her tendency to distance and be judgmental. She realizes that part of the pattern includes her having difficulty expressing her most vulnerable feelings from a powerful place. This results in rarely exposing herself. This has really affected her primary relationship, in particular. You make a mental note that this is an important skill that she will need to learn in order to really make her work with you translate into a better life. You’ll certainly want to have her practice the Vision Communication Protocol from this book.The triggers that she comes up with don’t seem to have much of a theme. As she said before, it’s more like a state of mind that she carries with her into most situations. But she is most judgmental of people she does not know very well, and of people who are making bad judgments, especially if they are inconsiderate toward her. But it isn’t being judgmental that is the problem so much as being preoccupied with judging people and carrying around a feeling of distance from people that is salted with mistrust. 

Source Event

Now you have her go back through her timeline and identify the source event. You might use timeline visualization for this. As she thinks back through her life, she gets to her earliest memory of feeling a lack of trust. She realizes that the ongoing pattern of judgmentality in her own mind is what she absorbed from her parents. She is carrying on the reality that she grew up in. But she is able to remember a harsh interaction with her mother that left a strong impression when she was very young and starting to ask too many questions for her parents’ comfort. This is her earliest memory that has the themes of judgmentality, mistrust, and betrayal. She was precocious and developed abstract thinking that her parents could not understand. As a child seeking the truth, her trust was fundamentally violated. 

Echo Events

Your client sees that there are many situations that came along after this, though none of them had a strong impact. The strongest echo event happened when she was a teenager, and realized how important it was for her to get out on her own. She didn’t just need this for her independence, but for her own sanity. At least it felt that way to her. 

Future Success

She defines future success, so far as this issue is concerned, with being at peace around people, and appreciating her own power and ability to exercise realistic judgment about others. A lot of it is just about accepting the truth that she has good judgment about people. She describes feeling confident and at peace in various situations. She imagines how she would be flexible and not distracted by people who are inconsiderate or quirky.


Knowing all this, you are in a good position to reprocess the source event. You will target this, along with her feelings of judgment, betrayal, and insecurity. As you go, you will bring up the bad code and target that as well. If the process is simple, you will find that the bad code has less and less power, and the good code makes more and more sense at a gut level. Unless you have training and supervised experience in reprocessing and cognitive work, you will want to only do reprocessing with situations that do not involve serious dysfunction, substance abuse, or dissociation. 

Working With The Time Line

An NLP practitioner familiar with Time Line Therapy™ will find countless ways to integrate reprocessing into this work. In fact, they will probably recognize ways that it is already in play and can be enhanced. The visualization of the time line that occurs at the same time as more conscious, verbal processing creates a kind of bilateral stimulus that promotes a reprocessing state. We believe this is a key reason that Time Line Therapy ™ works for so many people. 

From the reprocessing to the timeline work: 

Let’s say that you have directly reprocessed an issue. You may have gotten to it in doing the timeline work, or it may have been a presenting problem. You can do timeline work from this point through means such as sophisticated future pacing. 

From timeline work into reprocessing: 

You can travel back into the timeline to find additional echo events. In Time Line Therapy ™, source and echo events are addressed through means such as bringing in the client’s adult self to contact the child, or imagining resources being in place. An alternative is to directly do reprocessing, and then see what additional timeline methods are necessary. This can greatly expedite timeline work and make it more consistently effective with a broader range of clients. 

More integration with cognitions: 

Now that you know how negative cognitions work in reprocessing, you can integrate this into timeline work. You can identify how a negative (or limiting) cognition has played out through the timeline and recalibrate the timeline as a result of reprocessing that allows the client to fully accept a positive cognition. 

As you help the client undo their bad code, you need to know how powerful it is. You can ask the client to tell you, on a scale of one to ten, how true the code seems. You must make sure that the client understands that you are talking about how true it feels. They must not rate it by how logical it is. You are, after all, working with illogical code. But you can do the same with good code. When the client begins working with good code, they will tell you that, although they understand that it is true, it doesn’t “feel” very true. 

When they think of it, something at gut level signals them that they cannot completely accept it on a feeling level. Again, they can help you know where things are by rating its gut level power on a scale of one to ten. 

You can even focus your targeting more effectively by having them target the feeling between this rating and a ten. If they only give it a six, what are the feelings and impressions that are holding it down to that level? Target those for reprocessing. 

Tracking and processing source event power: 

The source event is disturbing in some way or ways. Ask the client what is most disturbing or upsetting about it. That is what you target. To track the power of the source event, ask them to rate those disturbing feelings on a scale of one to ten. When reprocessing is working, the number will go down. As you’ll recall, we have talked about identifying feelings and helping the client cooperate with processes through “economy of speech.” Those elements are very helpful with reprocessing. 

Reprocessing Challenges

Reprocessing is a deep subject, so we really cannot cover every aspect in depth, but we do need to go over some challenges that can come up.

The most common problems that come up are these: 

1) The client does not get a reduction in the power of the source event or bad code. 

2) They do not get an increase in the power of the good code. 

3) Or they may have progressed, but ended up cycling through similar material, showing that they are not really reprocessing it and getting anywhere.

When these problems come up, these are common issues to address:

1) The client needs work which will prepare them to tolerate more advanced work. Clients who carry a painful childhood trauma or dissociation usually need this. Specialized treatment should be recommended. 

2) You need additional training or supervision.

3) The client needs a referral to a specialist

4) You need to improvise with your other NLP skills to address the issues that are challenging the reprocessing.

5) You need a breakthrough concept. This can be a better target, a better formulation of the positive and negative cognitions, or some other way to break out of your current paradigm. 


Introducing Reprocessing

Reprocessing is a very powerful ingredient for bringing out more of the potential in coaching and therapy. It’s very important to understand reprocessing, because it is a key to the success of many therapy techniques, including a lot of NLP processes. In fact, once you understand it, you’ll realize it’s been hiding in plain sight. Reprocessing happens when we take a badly encoded experience (or set of experiences) and re-encode them. As a result, we can be more successful, and less reactive. Symptoms such as panic, anxiety, sleep problems, and compulsive thoughts, are alleviated.

At its simplest, you could say that reprocessing helps us eliminate symptoms and become more successful after overwhelming experiences. 

People naturally turn experience into success, and we naturally regain our balance after an overwhelming experience. We do a lot of that during REM sleep.

It’s a natural process. However, when this does not happen, we can be in serious mental health trouble. When an experience is too overwhelming, our bodies may not be able to encode it properly. Dysregulation of brain functions may result along with poor sleep. This can lead to worsening breakdown into full-blown posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You already know that NLP can help people change how they represent things so that they can experience them and respond successfully. Perhaps the best-known NLP process for doing that with past experiences is Time Line Therapy ™, Source the famous NLP master trainer, Dr. Tad James. Throughout the history of psychotherapy, there were occasional experiences of dramatic reductions in anxiety or trauma symptoms, but it was not until EMDR came along that the field of psychotherapy as a whole came to think of rapid resolution such symptoms as being fairly commonplace, and that took a good number of years to take place even then. There were other techniques that were available prior to EMDR, but they had not gained widespread acceptance. The NLP phobia cure and visual kinesthetic dissociation are examples from NLP. Thought field therapy (TFT) is another, and was an early energy psychology technique. 

Deconstructing reprocessing: 

Once you deconstruct reprocessing, you can find it in other traditions such as religions. Some of the “tech” from Scientology causes reprocessing. If reprocessing happens in a religious experience, the credit is given to the religion (or God) and can be used as an indoctrination tool, and when it happens in energy psychology such as TFT or emotional freedom technique (EFT), energy flow and balance are given the credit. As brain science progresses, scientists are getting a better understanding of how this happens from a physiological perspective. Understanding reprocessing is kind of like knowing the combination to a lock. For a very long time, therapists have worked with processes such as emotional catharsis, visualization and hypnosis, occasionally triggering reprocessing, but not realizing how to go about it systematically for a more consistent result. The goal of this section is to help you not only recognize it, but to tweak the techniques you use so that you can trigger it more effectively. We call this “reprocessing on purpose.” 

Reprocessing in the field: 

Reprocessing can be done in a very stripped-down way, using its most core elements. EFT is a self-help technique that fits this description. Reprocessing can also be done through a much richer, well-rounded psychotherapy process. EMDR fits this description. And, finally, Reprocessing can be achieved as part of a process that is not as focused on reprocessing. This happens when you are doing a process with a client, and you sequence it in such a way as to trigger reprocessing as part of the process. Sometimes, experiences hit us in such a way as to trigger reprocessing. Sometimes, it just takes time for us to heal from an experience enough to start feeling like our old selves. Most likely, though, reprocessing on purpose would have helped to restore us faster and perhaps with more wisdom as well. 

Turf wars: 

We should point out why you haven’t heard more about it. First, many developers of techniques have come about it intuitively, and don’t fully, consciously realize that they are using it. Of course, this is not a new kind of observation. From the beginnings of NLP, modelers were able to show therapists technical aspects of their work that the therapists were not conscious of. Milton Erickson famously said that he did not consciously understand a lot of what he did. Virginia Satir did not realize how much she depended on mirroring to establish rapport. Similarly, many technique developers focus your attention on other elements of the technique, and fail to give credit to the reprocessing aspect. Yet another is that many developers are tempted to draw a moat around their techniques, name the technique, and “own” it without recognizing what it has in common with other methods that get similar results. 

What’s it Like? 

Reprocessing doesn’t necessarily feel like something is happening, even when you’re wide-awake. The best way to know if you have experienced it is if your symptoms go away and you find yourself responding to trigger situations in a balanced way. Otherwise, what would be the point? 

Sometimes, the material being re-processed is intense, and the person experiences an emotional catharsis. Some people are convinced that they met a deceased person and it was profoundly healing. Others experience it under hypnosis. If you know what to look for, you might notice that your thinking is more fluid. Many people experiencing reprocessing are able to see connections between their experiences and their issues more easily. They may feel the emotional charge of an issue dissipate. The therapist may direct their attention to what is going on so that the experience has more validity for them. More importantly, tracking the before and after is important. During the assessment, collect information such as the frequency and situations of panic attacks or whatever the symptoms are. 

Think Physiology

NLP is known for thinking about physiology. Usually, when NLP tells you to look at a person’s physiology, it is telling you to get clues about their state, their congruence, and their unconscious. Since the beginnings of NLP, we know a great deal more about the nervous system and what causes people to become dysfunctional. This a very important area of knowledge to add to our skills. This is not just for academic interest, or for convincing clients of anything. Along with our burgeoning knowledge of neurophysiology, we are also refining and even developing techniques based on this knowledge. We are able to assess the effectiveness of techniques now by how well they “switch on” brain regions that have shut down. This is not only very persuasive data; it also allows researchers another avenue for vetting therapy methods that is less costly than extensive assessments of functioning over time (although, ultimately, functioning and feeling good are the bottom line factors). So I’d like you to consider a few brain regions that get affected by trauma, and how a person is affected by these shut downs:

• Memory problems resulting from shrinkage of the hippocampus. 

• Problems with forethought and problem solving resulting from reduction in frontal lobe functioning and excessive limbic system reactivity. 

• Reduced medial prefrontal cortex response means there is less control of fear responses with the prefrontal cortex exerting less control over the amygdala. This can also mean less efficient thinking and intrusive memories.

• Excessive activation of the brain that interferes with REM sleep resulting from hormonal and other effects upon the adrenal-pituitary axis. REM sleep is essential for brain integrity. Without this, there is loss of coordination, reactions, anger control, mental clarity, and, eventually, life itself.

Traumatized people tend to tell their story in a chronological order. They don’t tend to have it put together in terms of the big picture or in terms of philosophical meaning. When they do, it tends to be in a crude and troubling way. They can be very boring, because they have to work through stories step by step, without the aid of the big picture. These brain issues are the cause of this kind of problem.But after successful treatment, brain scans show that the affected brain areas are switched on or toned down, depending on the imbalance. The resulting behavior, life successes, and ability to communicate that we see from people treated successfully are priceless.

The moral of the story: 

Whenever you assess a client, think physiology. You’ll have a much better idea of what you’re dealing with. It is not enough to just think in terms of behavior and thoughts to wave your magic wand of NLP over. Many of the clients that NLP practitioners give up on or consider to be poor participants are those who most need help because of brain shut downs. We must not give up on or judge people whose brains are not functioning properly. These people need us to have the proper skills, or the integrity to refer them to the appropriate specialists.

Active Ingredients of Reprocessing

Once you know the active ingredients of reprocessing, you’ll begin to recognize it in various NLP techniques and elsewhere. 


Targeting means focusing awareness on something. In reprocessing, this may be a memory, thought, physical feeling, or emotion. Depending on how in-depth the reprocessing work is, an extensive assessment may have preceded this first step into reprocessing. In psychotherapy, many clients will need to do preliminary work in order to tolerate the work. This is most likely to be true for people with dissociation or serious childhood trauma histories. In EFT, this happens during the initial set up.

The State Shift

Once the person is focused on their issue, they experience a shift into a more relaxed and positive state. This can be accomplished in various ways. In EFT, the person taps acupuncture points and does eye movement patterns while maintaining the targeting. For more challenging cases, there can be added complications that challenge getting to this more positive state. For these people, a stripped down version will not typically be sufficient. However, people have used EFT for some surprisingly difficult problems. 

Alternating bilateral stimulus: 

One of the ways to help a state shift take place is to use a bilateral stimulus such as EMDR’s eye movement (also used in EFT and TFT), sound or touch. Basically, it directs attention from side to side. 

Mindfulness or distraction: 

Cultivating mindfulness, in which the client is able to just notice without feeling like they have to do anything, can help them shift into the positive state. EMDR therapists use language such as, “Follow the light back and forth… go with that… where does that take you?” In EFT, the client is occupied with tapping and a more complicated eye movement pattern that occupies their mind. 

Cognitive Work 

For many problems, working on thought patterns seems to be optional. For a psychotherapist, this is a little hard to swallow. But it appears that our states can affect our thoughts as much as our thoughts can affect our thoughts. It is remarkable to see how much thought patterns can change after a process as simple as EFT. However, it can be very productive to do cognitive work in the course of reprocessing. In EMDR, the client is helped to find the negative cognition that represents their poorly encoded experience. For example, the client may realize that they have been carrying around the feeling and unconscious belief that they are helpless, because of how they felt in a traumatic situation. They are also helped to create a positive cognition that represents recovery from the negative one. 

That might be, “I am an adult now, and the bad person is gone.” The transition into the positive cognition may be as simple as noticing how much more true it feels as various targets (such as traumatic memories and the negative beliefs themselves) are targeted and reprocessed. 

Body Scan and Future Pacing

In some reprocessing, including EMDR, it is typical to have the person scan their body with their mind so that they can fully experience what it is like to have a positive state. Also, this may help them find additional imbalances to reprocess. Future pacing is a way to project into the future how the new thought patterns and feelings will manifest. This can help to reinforce a more confident and masterful identity, as well as help the client create more meaningful goals. 

Recovery (Longer-Term Status)

This is the most neglected phases of reprocessing in the methods that I’m familiar with. It is very important to remember that many clients have endured physical problems as a result of PTSD, drug abuse, head injuries, and other problems with medical consequences. Consider sleep issues. If the person is not able to sleep effectively, they will not be able to fully recover, and may relapse into symptoms. A person can sleep eight hours a night without sleeping effectively. Because of traumatic material that is to triggering, they may not make it through enough REM sleep. That’s because REM sleep is where we try to reprocess that material naturally. If we were always able to do that, we might not need these reprocessing techniques.

Sleep normalization is a high priority.

Other physical areas may be medication stabilization and monitoring, coping with medication side effects, and cognitive rehabilitation that helps restore the client’s ability to think effectively as they recover from brain injury. Brain injury may be caused by poor sleep, sleep apnea, strokes (even so-called “silent strokes” that may go undiagnosed), and seemingly slight impacts to the head. The need for cognitive rehabilitation is currently one of the biggest gaps in mental health care.