Communication in healing curse or cure?


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NLP was developed in the mid-70s by John Grinder, a Professor at UC Santa Cruz and Richard Bandler, a graduate student. NLP, as most people use the term today, is a set of models of how communication impacts and is impacted by subjective experience. It's more a collection of tools than any overarching theory.

Much of early NLP was based on the work of Virginia Satir, a family therapist; Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy; Gregory Bateson, anthropologist; and Milton Erickson, hypnotist.

      by Peta Heskell

Many years ago, whilst living abroad with an alcoholic partner a dreadful row ensued.  I told him that I hoped he would crash the car and die.  I also added that I hoped he wouldn’t damage my car.   Two days later my partner did crash the car and died.  The car was virtually unharmed.    

My mother had an argument with a builder and hissed at him ‘I hope you die of a heart attack’.  One week later he died – of a heart attack.

Susan got breast cancer.    On the advice of a friend, a kinesiologist, Susan went to the States and worked with an NLP practitioner.   Her breast cancer disappeared.   When she returned to the UK she became pregnant.   Her doctor was horrified.  He said

“You stupid woman, how can you get pregnant – you have cancer?”  

Shortly after the child was born, the cancer resurfaced, all over her body.     Susan’s friend called me in desperation seeking another NLP therapist for Susan.    Two days after seeing the therapist, Susan had a scan.   The cancer had shrunk considerably.  

Were my mother and I  unconsciously using the latent power of hexing?  Was the doctor instrumental in the resurgence of Susan’s cancer? Did the work the therapist did with Susan help her to fight the cancer?  The average Joe in the street would probably dismiss this all as coincidence.    I’m not convinced that coincidence is the only explanation.

After reading Dr Larry Dossey’s book, ‘Be Careful What You Pray For.. You Just Might Get It’ I began to wonder…..

How powerful is thought and the way we transmit it to others?   If, as Dossey meticulously documents, we can influence others with our words and prayers, what lesson is here for the healing professions?    Dossey is a medical doctor.  Most of his experience is based on carefully researched evidence.    

Dossey relates how one patient developed unexpected serious complications after an abdominal operation.  The patient told his nurse that he felt he was going to die.    A consultant psychiatrist was called in and under hypnosis the patient revealed that, whilst under anaesthetic, he had heard someone say ‘This is the worst case I’ve ever seen’.   A medical student had indeed said those words.   The student had only seen one case and had meant his comment as a joke.  The student was summoned to explain his comment and two days later the patient recovered completely.

This is just one of many many examples of what I call ‘medical hexing’.   Richard Bandler, the founder of NLP has had some personal experiences of this form of attack.   A few years ago, Richard was die-agnosed as die-abetic.  When the doctor dispensed his medicine, Richard was [as the US law of informed consent requires] told about the potential side effects.   ‘95% of people who take this become impotent’. To most people this powerful hypnotic suggestion from a doctor would probably be enough to put a serious damper on their love life! Richard refused to accept the suggestion and told the doctor.  ‘I’m one of the 5% who won’t!’

A couple of years ago, Richard’s wife Paula was stricken by a very rare dis-ease.  The doctors told Paula that she may never walk again.  When Richard heard this, he immediately removed his wife from the hospital and proceeded to use all his skills to hypnotically re-programme the hexing Paula had received from her doctors.  Today Paula is fully recovered and has resumed her active life.  Last month she spent an entire day walking round Disneyland.   

As children we are encouraged to believe in the infallibility doctors and teachers.  We learn that the doctor always knows best.   In the same way, across the ocean in Haiti, people are brought up to believe in the infallible power of the witch doctor.   When the bone spins and points to the ‘victim’, the victim dies.   Beliefs are powerful beyond measure.    Doctors hold enormous power.  I believe they can curse or cure someone with their words alone.    If the mind can be led to act out negative suggestions, it stands to reason it can be led in the opposite direction.

What would happen if doctors and practitioners of medicine, complementary or otherwise, could learn to harness alternative skills and powerful language that enhanced the healing process rather than hindered it?

Richard Bandler believes that rather than just using one method, there are many ways to help people recover.  When asked about the usefulness of hypnosis and alternative/complementary methods in conjunction with medical practice he had this to say.

“I don’t care what you do for a living if you communicate with other human beings you are going to be using hypnosis whether you know it or not.  That’s the way in which language works.  Its not a different process, it’s just precision skills because we are not talking about waving a watch back and forth, we are talking about being able to have the kind of control that most of the time is only taught to yogis and monks.  Most people do not spend a lot of time making their brain be in the state that would be best. 

Doctors, they are under constraints in the US. We have informed consent, so they have to tell you everything that could go wrong, instead of telling you about all the things that can go well. 

We are always putting ideas into each others heads and especially when people are scared, frustrated recovery from a lot of things seems to take a long time.   Nurses and doctors could use all the help they can get”

Bandler has a great suggestion to get round ‘informed consent’.   He suggests that doctors can deliver the message with incongruence.  This means that if they were telling someone that a side effect of the drug they are taking is impotence, they could ensure their body language did not back up what they are saying. Common statistics suggest that people will choose to believe the body signals over the words in cases where the two are not giving the same message.   He also suggests when delivering the message they finish by saying very congruently “I am sure this won’t be the case with you!” 

What if, when faced with what they consider to be terminal cases, doctors were a) able to talk positively to their clients and give them hope and b) willing to refer them to alternative practitioners?       These professions should not be at odds, but should work together to create holistic health care.  Bandler agrees.

So far they[doctors and nurses]  haven’t been able to do everything, when people come to them, a lot of times its very hard to tell even with all the tests what to do.

Acupuncture has been around for 20,000 years and people learned to do it well.  It’s an adjunct to other medicine. I really believe that all these people should start working together.  Doctors should send people to herbalists, really good ones, as an adjunct to the medicine they are taking.  If they don’t talk to each other, then they are not going to know how to put these things together, people are going to end doing it on their own and taking the wrong things.  

Chiropractors do some things that doctors don’t do and if they learned what they could do together they would be able to do even more.  This competition over who’s right and who’s wrong, the answer is none of us are right, because we don’t know everything and how to cure it right away. 

I think you should use  anything you can get that makes it so that it is easier.    When you throw in a little good hypnosis you can get people to stay healthful.  You can get people to do things like remember to take the right pills at the right time”

I have assisted on a number of Bandler’s trainings over the years and I have encountered an ever-increasing number of alternative/complementary practitioners amongst the participants.   I also run a group where I get the opportunity to meet many of these people after their training.    Most of them have discovered that what they learn in these courses can be blended with their own skills to create amazing results.

The use of hypnotic suggestions in aiding recovery and creating hope has enormous potential.   During one training I worked with a respected heart surgeon.   He was really excited at the possibilities of how he could use hypnosis with his patients to allay their fears, increase recovery, create a positive outlook and give them tools for the future.   

Bandler has recently gone back to the roots of  deep trance hypnosis.  He believes that this lies at the core of healing work.

“All of these things [Neuro NLP and Design Human Engineering (DHE)] are grounded and started by the fact that we were doing hypnosis so I’ve come back to doing deep trance and seeing how to get people to respond in a new way. 

This is about using very very deep trance tools to be able to make very pervasive changes across a wide range of behaviour to try and teach people the most important thing, which is to spend more time practising feeling good than they do feeling bad so it becomes a habit.” Richard Bandler July 2000

I believe every one of us has the potential to be a negative hexer or a positively powerful healer.     How many people grow up believing they are ugly, incompetent, or limited because of some powerful hypnotic suggestion implanted carelessly in childhood?  For many people they only have to hear someone say ‘you look unwell, peaky, tired’ to begin to feel unwell, tired or peaky! How many times have you unconsciously acted on post-hypnotic suggestions from people who don’t even know what they are doing?    Even if you think you haven’t, you surely have.  The best hypnotic suggestions are unconsciously absorbed.    You might not even realise it, but people are hexing you all the time.

I recently saw a doctor as a client.   He came to me because he felt his poor communication style was affecting not only his love life but also his work.   This man was a hypnotically powerful communicator.  Unfortunately he communicated negativity, despair and misery.   A little reprogramming helped him realise his potential and change the focus of his hypnotic language!    

Doctors are mainly taught to be great technical healers, and until recently, they received very little training in the art of communication. ‘Bedside manner’ was considered something they either had naturally or they didn’t.    Fortunately this is changing, but not quickly enough, yet.  There are people working, even as I write this, to convince the NHS to embrace NLP and other skills as part of the official medical training curriculum in the UK.   

When we can harness the ability to influence others in a positive way, how much easier and effective will the healing be?  

Bandler has been working on a new set of skills that go beyond NLP to utilise deep trance to affect yourself and others for the better.  He calls this Neuro-Hypnotic Repatterning.   He describes it thus

“Neuro Hypnotic Repatterning is about using the hypnotic process to restructure people at the level of cortical pathways.  Most of the problems and things that people do and bad feelings that they have work automatically but they weren’t there when they were a baby.

These are learned behaviours and when you hypnotically re-pattern someone what you are basically doing is teaching them not to get to what they don’t want to get. Archival memory systems always have to have up-datable memory where you put new information in front of old information. 

So if you teach somebody a new way to respond it makes it so that it is easier because they never get to the bad system.   Everything human beings learnt will always be there but sometimes what you need to do is make a left turn on the cortical pathways and use a new learning”

The potential is there to create a truly holistic healing society, when we pool resources and when healers with one skill learn from or harness the skills of others.     When we come to realise that many of the not so pleasant things that happen to people are the direct result of uninformed and unconscious hypnotic suggestions, we can change this for the better.    We can heal the world when we work in harmony, blending the old and the new.  It’s our choice.

For the exclusive and full transcript of this most recent interview with Richard Bandler, go to

Peta Heskell is a Society of NLP Licensed NLP Trainer and Communication Therapist and can be contacted on 0700 4 354 784 or

© 1993-2008, by Stever Robbins