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.
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.
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.
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.
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.