This paper is intended to provide an overview of NLP and to suggest its possible relevance and usefulness in the field of music therapy (MT). Grounds for compatibility between the two fields are shown to consist in their common psychological foundations. Suggestions are made for ways in which a knowledge of NLP can assist music therapists in their work with clients. It is assumed the reader has at least a basic understanding of music therapy and wishes to gain a summary overview of NLP. Hence the paper is organized according to NLP categories. Within each section, suggestions are made on how the two fields are related, either by suggesting ways that NLP models and tools and facilitate the work of the music therapist or by showing how music can be a tool for doing NLP interventions
Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP was founded by Grinder and Bandler (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler & DeLozier 1980). They were involved in mathematics and computer programming, with a specialty in systems modeling. They set out to find a way to model human behavior, particularly the behavior patterns that lead to excellence. They also had a background in psychology and linguistics, which figured prominently into their approach. Due to their mathematical orientation, their approach took a natural cognitive turn. They saw the information-processing aspects of human psychology and experience, and discovered some key insights in this connection. Some of the early subjects they studied to develop their modeling theory included The Hypno-therapist Milton Erikson (Bandler & Grinder, 1975a, Grinder & Bandler 1977) and the family therapist Virginia Satir (Bandler & Grinder, 1975b, Grinder & Bandler 1976). Thus, Erikson and Satir indirectly had a significant influence on the development of NLP.
In NLP, the brain is viewed analogously to a computer, or informational processing system.
Typically, information processing systems can be broken down into channels, which are components that can process information somewhat independently and concurrently. The brain, in fact, has five primary channels, corresponding to the five senses. These channels are known as sensory modalities. The primary sensory modalities are Visual (V), Auditory (A), and Kinesthetic (K). Secondary modalities are: Olfactory (O), and Gustatory (G). Within the primary modalities there are the following divisions:
Cognitive studies have supported the claim that these channels operate somewhat independently. For example studies have shown more interference within modalities than across modalities (Bourne, Dominowski, & Loftus 1979).
The subjective significance of the sensory modalities is that they constitute different "representational systems," or different ways of experiencing the world. They also filter information. Each has its own features, operates by its own laws, and can affect our entire world view in a profoundly unique way. The balance of how much we use the various modalities, the patterns of interaction or movement from one modality to another, and the choice of what modalities to use in what situations can affect our experience fundamentally. It can also affect our quality of life and our effectiveness in tasks far more than most people realize. This constitutes a very large area over which we have choice, and therefore control, in our lives. This speaks to one of the most fundamental goals in many therapeutic models, the notion of empowering the client to be more aware of, and have more access to, the client's available choices in life.
The discovery of submodalities of the sensory modalities is a powerful refinement that is at the heart of NLP theory (Bandler & MacDonald, 1988). The sensory modalities have their own internal distinctions that function to a degree as different information channels. Here we'll discuss the auditory channel because it's the most relevant for MT. Auditory submodalities include: loudness, pitch, timbre, rhythmic or temporal pattern, harmonic structure. The use of submodalities can have an enormous effect on shaping our responses. For example, suppose a client has an internal critical voice that is causing stress and undermining his self-esteem. To simply attempt to eliminate the voice may be counterproductive, because the voice may represent a part of himself that he is ignoring. If he removes one avenue of expression, the part may eventually find another outlet, resulting in further stress and possibly other symptoms. Instead, he can merely ask the voice to speak in a softer tone. He may be more receptive to its message when spoken to in this way, thus turning a symptom into a resource. The key to submodalities is to find the ones that have the most effect. This may take some trial and error. One client may be more affected by voice timbre, while another may be more affected by voice loudness.
TOTEs and Strategies are the patterns of how the submodalities are combined and sequenced over time. They are fundamental behavioral building blocks upon which all of our conscious and unconscious behavior is based. A TOTE is an unconscious behavioral sequence (Test-Operate-Test-Exit). TOTEs can be sequenced and nested. This model was first proposed by Miller, Galanter & Pribram (1960). The ˙different steps of a TOTE or sequence of TOTEs may be handled by different representational systems in a pattern known as a strategy. These strategies are the fundamental object of study in NLP.
There are essentially four key tasks that are performed with Strategies in NLP: elicitation, utilization, design and installation. These tasks will be explored in more detail later. Although NLP has developed considerably over the years, these fundamentals can be seen to underlie almost of of the subsequent development. Their applicability to music therapy should become evident when they are explored later in this paper.
Time is one of the most important variables in NLP and, of course, is the foundation of musical structure. Our choice of words reflects and influences our relationship to time. For example, to say "I often lose my keys," is different from saying, "I have often lost my keys." the difference is subtle, but it reflects belief systems that may have a noticeable effect. The second way allows for the possibility of change, whereas the first way does not. These kinds of linguistic distinctions can be useful in therapeutic song writing. Also, the relative allocation of our attention to past, present and future is important. Some people are stuck in the past. Asking a client to rewrite a familiar song but change it from past tense to future tense might encourage her to move on with her life emotionally. Also, music-making and musical listening can ground a person in the present moment, which may relieve anxiety. Time is part of the very foundation of musical structure. The list of applications is so varied because any involvement in music enhances our awareness of time. This precise sensitivity to the temporal relationship between events is one of the distinctive aspects of the musical experience.
NLP sees the psyche as being composed of "parts," or relatively autonomous agents that interact. This model comes from the influence of Gestalt Psychology, Gregory Bateson's theories of mind, and Marvin Minsky's theory of "Frames" (which formed the basis for object-oriented computer programming). These parts are not complete minds in themselves, but they have some characteristics of minds, such as goal-directed behavior, personality traits and characteristic behaviors. Often, these parts are composite characters, internalized from significant others in our history.
"Congruence" is an NLP term denoting how well these parts work together toward a common goal. "Incongruence" is characterized by internal parts conflicts which may weaken our energy and sabotage our goals. For instance, a person may be seeking help in overcoming an addiction, but some part of the person sabotages this effort because there is a secondary benefit in the addictive behavior. Recovery may be unconsciously sabotaged by the dissenting part. Negotiating between parts is one way of working out these kinds of problems.
Getting the parts to work together harmoniously for the larger goal of the total self is an integration that supports the person's healing process. Music can help this through its ability to function as a container for conflicting emotions. The simultaneous and integrated expression of bitter/sweet, love/anger, curiosity/caution is possible through music. When parts harmonize together, their sense of unity is enhanced, paving the way for spontaneous new alliances to form within the psyche, thus supporting congruence.
One difficulty with addictions is that the parts tend to be present at different times. This dissociation underscores the pathology and precludes any kind of negotiation. Converting this "sequential incongruity" into a "simultaneous incongruity" can be an important first step, to pave the way for integration. Again, in the case of addiction, it may be that one part wants to the client to fulfill her obligations in a responsible way, while the other part wants her to have fun and be creative. This difference may fuel her binge/abstain cycles unless the two parts can be brought together toward a common goal. She might facilitate the needed integration by writing a song where the lyrics reflect her commitment to being responsible while a wildly erratic rhythm adds fun and creativity.
Perceptual positions are particularly useful for relationship issues. Often it has been said that if we "put ourselves in another's shoes" we can better understand and relate to that person. Three possible perceptual positions are recognized: we can be ourselves, we can be someone else, or we can be a neutral observer. This roughly corresponds to the "I," "you" and "it" linguistic distinctions. However, NLP goes a step further to give principles for well-formedness in perceptual positions. The main key is to be aligned in whatever perceptual position one is taking. So if I am taking another's perspective I must shift all of my major representational systems to that perspective, or the information may become garbled. For instance, If I see the world through another's eyes, but I still have my own feelings in reaction to the situation, I am not aligned in that position. The techniques of GIM, or Guided Imagery with Music (Bonny & Savary 1990) inherently overcome this by seeking an integration between auditory, visual and kinesthetic modalities. Perhaps an adaptation of GIM can be developed to help one more fully explore the world of another. Taking turns playing different instruments or musical roles within an ensemble may allow clients to explore each other's point of view in a playful way.
NLP author Robert Dilts (1991) points out the existence of a hierarchy of levels of experience. From the bottom up, they are: Environment, Behavior, Capability, Beliefs, Identity and Spirit. The idea is that higher levels are much more likely to affect the lower levels than vice versa. One reason for adopting this multi-tiered view is to better understand a problem by isolating the primary level at which it occurs, and taking action to solve the problem on that same level, as this generally gives the best results. Another reason for adopting this view is for completeness-by making sure to cover all relevant information. A great benefit of music is that it is capable of addressing all six levels, even simultaneously!
The most fundamental level is the environment. The mere presence of music changes the environment. It can transform a dull place into an exciting one. Institutionalized clients in prisons or hospitals can use this to transform their surroundings.
The next level is behavior. Music making and listening are healthy behaviors in themselves, that may lead to other beneficial behaviors. For example, group drumming enhances social connection, which may lead to more cooperative relationships in life in general.
After behavior comes capability. Music can improve our spatial intelligence, physical functioning, cognitive functioning. It may give us new tools for getting in touch with our feelings and communicating with others.
The next level is the level of beliefs. Lyrics can be a powerful way of exploring and altering belief systems. Also, many people have had bad experiences in the past with musical training, and may have limiting beliefs about their musical capabilities, which prevents from them reaping the benefits of music-making. Teaching them to do what they thought they couldn't do may change their attitudes regarding their own capability. it could have a big influence on their confidence as a problem solver, and could provide conceptual tools that could be used to approach other types of problems. One can easily imagine a handicapped person gaining confidence by devising a new instrument or technique that matches their own abilities.
After beliefs comes identity. Our musical choices are often connected to our sense of identity. In fact, this is the primary way music is marketed--by appealing to the consumer's sense of identity. However, this can also be limiting. If we always use music to reinforce our sense of belonging in a particular social group, this may limit our musical choices and hence our potential benefits. Discovering new kinds of music can expand our sense of who we are. And we can choose music that better matches who we want to be, thus facilitating our growth and development, our sense of becoming.
The highest level of all is the level of spirit. This embraces both the interpersonal dimension and our connection with the Divine. Music ties us in to the current that flows throughout the Universe, deepening our experience of life and our sense of purpose. Spirituals can keep us connected to our fundamental faith, and give us the strength to continue through disease, adversity, etc.. Music in palliative care can help assist the individual to contemplate the purpose of his or her life, achieve a sense of closure, and to die with peace and dignity.
The term "chunk size" refers to a person's preferred level of detail, which can vary from specific to general. For a given person, chunk size varies according to task, but some people will tend to prefer a higher or lower chunk size than others. This is not a good or bad judgment, just another variable that ideally should be optimized to its most appropriate level. Small chunkers are good at detail, but can lose the big picture, getting lost in endless minutiae and wasting time. Big chunkers are good at sizing up a situation quickly, but may be at a loss for where to begin making changes. Individuals may also differ in their preferred movements between chunk sizes, with some being "top-down" thinkers, while others are more "bottom-up." Typically, we limit ourselves by our habitual chunk sizes. Merely developing the choice to vary chunk size more can open up new possibilities. With flexibility, we can find the chunk size that works best in the situation.
According to Anne Linden (1994), our ability to maintain healthy boundaries (adequately protective yet permeable) can be helped through flexibility with chunk size. By attending simultaneously to the details as well as the overall sense, we can better appreciate things in context. We are at once aware of both the differences and similarities. Hearing a loved one yelling at us may be disconcerting, but if we also hear the rumbling traffic in the background, feel our own breathing, etc. we can put the loved one's behavior into a context. We realize the behavior is with the other person and need not be completely internalized by us. We can pick and choose which parts we agree/disagree with yet neither get drawn totally into their world view nor reject them completely as a form of preemptive protection.
Chunk size comes up in music in a number of areas. Simply listening to music at various levels of detail can expand our chunking range. For instance, one can listen to an ensemble as a whole, or perhaps just the rhythm section or perhaps just one instrument. Different kinds of music may facilitate different chunking strategies. For example homophonic vs. polyphonic textures may influence a listener's chunking strategies. Focusing primarily on one instrument yet still hearing it in the context of an ensemble may take some practice, but is a valuable perceptual skill.
The mind-body connection, which has received increased attention in recent years, has always been a basic concept in NLP. Our physiology both consciously and unconsciously influences our emotional state and cognitive processes. Simply altering physiology can lead to profound mental and emotional changes. For example a person with depression may find relief in a physical activity, such as swimming or playing a musical instrument. Body posture and breathing can be powerful influences as well. Simply standing more straight, for example, can have an effect. Music-making can support resourceful physiology on a number of levels. Improvements in energy flow, such as respiration and circulation, lymphatic drainage and digestive elimination may commonly occur. Also physically playing an instrument can build up strength and coordination. All of these changes can have corresponding psychological changes. And in today's complex world, many people spend a significant amount of time "in their heads" without a strong awareness of their bodies. Playing an instrument can bring back that body awareness.
Rapport is essential to the successful application of all NLP techniques. Rapport is also crucial in MT, because the therapeutic relationship is held to be an essential part of the practice. One can be enhance rapport by matching certain behavior patterns of the other. It could be voice tone, posture, key words and phrases, certain gestures. The idea is not to mock or manipulate. The idea is to allow oneself to get into the other's world and speak the other's nonverbal language by adjusting one's own behavior to make the two blend more easily. This very idea is at the core of playing music in ensembles. There must be a give and take, which allows all the parties to create sound together that is harmonious and in rhythm. Jazz improvisation involves constantly listening to the expressions of others and spontaneously adjusting one's own expressions to maintain balance and unity. Knowledge of NLP rapport-building tools might give music therapists more resources to work with a more varied clientele, and to be more flexible and more able to respond to unexpected circumstances.
Calibration is the process of observing behavior, particularly nonverbal behavior. There are a great many possible types of behavior to pay attention to, including eye movements, skin color changes, facial lines, posture, and breathing. There are auditory cues in speech, such as pitch, tempo, loudness timbre and speech rhythm. One may also notice the use of key words or phrases. These may be especially significant because of their frequency of use, or their significance may be hinted at by marking out (described later).
Developing acuity to subtle nonverbal cues may assist music therapists in a vital function within the therapeutic context. When doing an assessment, we can observe musical responses on a very subtle level using these techniques. We can also check for evidence of congruence or incongruence, which may reveal internal conflicts or other forms of interference.
Using calibration, we can observe the effects of our communication with more subtlety and we can fine tune the way we communication for maximum rapport and understanding.
Internal states are essentially feeling and emotional states. When these states become conditioned responses to stimuli, the stimuli are called anchors. They can be used to give access to emotional states. "Setting" an anchor means forming the association and "firing" an anchor means recreating the stimulus in order to bring about the response. We can observe emotional responses to see what anchors are currently in effect. Music acts a powerful anchor for emotions. Therefore, it should be useful for just about any NLP interventions requiring anchors. Its ability to rekindle vivid memories of long-past experiences shows this. One way to install new strategies is by anchoring various steps in the strategy and firing the anchors in sequence. We can train our clients to use anchoring for their own benefit, such as listening to a piece of music that normally inspired confidence as they venture into an unfamiliar situation." Collapsing anchors" is a process of setting anchors for two different emotional states and firing them simultaneously to achieve a blending or integration. This technique can be particularly effective if the two anchors are musical and fit together musically.
Marking out is a term that describes how people give nonverbal clues as to what words or phrases are particularly important to attend to. They may blink, they may use a certain tone of voice with certain words, or they may use hand gestures, or other nonverbal actions. This behavior could be important to attend to in many kinds of therapy, regardless of whether music is involved. A music therapist may be particularly attuned to such gestures, as they are very suggestive of musical patterns. One might say they are the behavioral equivalents of rhythmic accents or of any element changes that delineate musical structure. A client may expresses his or her natural sense of rhythm through these gestures, so they could also be clues toward helping the client to compose music. And the specific words that are marked out are often key words that may have particular significance.
The NLP concepts of pacing and leading have rich connections to existing MT theories and practices. The idea is to first match the client in some behavior to establish rapport, then gradually shift in order to lead the client to another behavior. For example if a client is shouting at a therapist, the therapist might start by employing a raised voice herself, then gradually decrease her intensity until the client calms down too. The general rule is: you must pace before you can lead. You must first meet the client in the client's model of the world. The Iso principle and the phenomenon of entrainment are based on this principle. Also in GIM, music is first selected that reflects the clients' current state, but then the compositional development in the music is expected to lead the client to making other connections and have other realizations that might change his state or his interpretation of the problem area. A music therapist could pace a resistant client by mirroring the resistance through toning at a pitch that is dissonant with the client (such as a tritone), then gradually her shifting pitch to become consonant with the client (such as a perfect 5th). Introducing an aggressive client to drumming may provide an outlet for expressing hostility, but then this aggression could be gradually transformed by introducing variations, such as decreasing the intensity.
The Meta Model is a set of linguistic tools derived from Chomsky's Transformational Grammar. All language is an abstract representation of real (sensory) experience that necessarily omits information. This occurs according to certain well-defined principles of deletion, distortion and generalization. The meta model is a set of questions that can recover the lost information. One analyzes the client's actual wording to determine what type of information is missing (meta model violations) and asks specifically for the missing information. For example, if someone says, "We need to fix our relationship," the word "relationship" is a nominalization of the verb "to relate." By freezing a process into a static concept, the client has lost information about the process. The therapist could go after the missing information by asking, "How do you want to relate?" We are looking for an answer that is sensory-based, and grounded in actual real-world behavior and experience. By getting the discussion back onto a procedural track, the chances of finding a real solution are increased. Because the meta model is a linguistic tool, it could be very useful in lyric writing and lyric analysis. Often we reveal our unconscious beliefs and limitations by our choice of wording. If the goal is to reinforce our evolving sense of self and goals through lyrics, we can use the meta model to help us rewrite our lyrics for maximum specificity, clarity and congruence with our actual experience, which is ultimately sensory-based. The unconscious mind is very literal and responds best to sensory-specific language. This also can be aesthetically pleasing as well, because the language of song and poetry tends to be sensory-based.
The milton model is a set of tools for trance induction that are, in a sense, the inverse of the meta model. Whereas the purpose of the meta model is to find the most specific and sensory-based language, the milton model is deliberately vague. This is so as not to interfere with a client's internal state or process during hypnosis. If hypnotic suggestions were too explicit, they might contradict what the person is experiencing, causing resistance and invoking the conscious mind. For example, if a hypnotist said, "When you will awake you will not remember anything about this session," that suggestion could be challenged. If the client does remember anything after the session, that will tend to prove the statement wrong, which could invalidate the entire session in the client's mind. But if the hypnotist said, "Be sure to remember to forget anything you don't need to remember," it gives the client the freedom to chose what to remember and what not to remember. It is also the kind of quizzical statement that is processed more readily by the unconscious mind. Increasing onconscious processing can lead to change because the unconscious mind is so powerful and is often underutilized. The language patterns of the milton model could prove helpful in some instances in music therapy. For the technique of GIM Bonny (1990) emphasizes the individuality of imagery while in an altered state. In a sense, hypnosis is really just heightened rapport (Grinder & Bandler 1981).
Now, having covered much of the basics, we are in a position to look at a comprehensive model of NLP. This model is first explained by (Dilts, et al. 1980). There are four fundamental tasks in NLP.
This is the act of determining what strategy the client is currently using. In theory, each of us tends to use a fixed strategy for a given type of cognitive task, yet the actual form of that strategy will differ from person to person. By eliciting the form of that strategy, we may find parts of the strategy that are inefficient or counterproductive, which will have an effect on the quality of life or effectiveness of the client. This emphasis on form reflects the mathematical background of NLP. Note that the strategy is said to have a particular form even though the actual information content may differ.The well-developed set of tools and techniques for elicitation in NLP can be useful when doing an music therapy assessment. People communicate on many nonverbal levels beyond just actual words. The NLP training sharpens one's awareness of these subtle cues. When we want to observe, for example, the client's reactions to various kind of music, we don't need to rely just on the clients verbal reports and overt behavior. We can notice subtle changes that may occur, such as skin color, muscle tonus and posture. In so far as these changes have meanings, we may begin to decipher the nonverbal language of the individual, and make connections and associations that may not be obvious upon casual observation. If we find, for example, that a given client holds her head in certain way when she is feeling a certain emotion, we can learn to associate that gesture with that state. We can then determine more accurately if an intervention is having the effect we want, or if it would be better to try something else.
This is the use of an existing strategy to help a client achieve a desired outcome. The better we know the client's strategies the better we can communicate with the client by packaging information that matches the natural processing sequence the client would find most efficient. For example, If the client seems skeptical that a certain planned intervention has a chance of winning, the information would be more effective if presented in a form that most closely matches the clients "convincer" strategy. Some people are more convinced by the written word than the spoken word. If so, the therapist could bring reprints of medical studies showing where the intervention has worked in the past. Some clients may be more impressed by the therapist's emotional commitment, as evidenced by a spirited presentation. Others may find a more subdued, rational step-by-step argument to be more persuasive. The idea is not to imitate the client's behavior patterns, as this may come off as mocking or manipulative. The idea is to have the flexibility to make subtle adjustments in order to maximize rapport with the client. This is similar to how Jazz musicians spontaneously vary their dynamics, tempo, harmony, etc. in response to other musicians to create the magic of group interplay. This knowledge could be used in discussing various matters with a client, such as treatment goals. Or it could be used to assist a client in writing lyrics that will most effectively motivate himself to make desired changes.
This involves devising a new strategy to achieve an outcome that is difficult or impossible for the client to achieve using existing strategies. Often, our problems in life are not completely intrinsic to the specific content or issues that we are most conscious of. Often, our problems consist more in how we are processing, interpreting or responding to information. After eliciting our clients' strategies, we may discover that some are not "well-formed." For example, if she has a decision strategy with an unclear or insufficient criteria for exit, she may be stuck for a long time without coming to an answer. It is her process for deciding that is keeping her from reaching her decision. Or an inefficient memory strategy can hamper recall regardless of what it is we are trying to remember.We can help our clients greatly by giving them new or improved tools for meeting their needs. One advantage of this approach is that it minimizes the amount of specific information we need to elicit. This respects the client's integrity and privacy, and can also help protect the therapist from merging dangerously into the client's world.Music Therapists do this all the time without necessarily calling it by the same name. For example, we teach our clients how they can use music in new ways to assist in their own grieving process, or to express their feelings about an issue. We can create a bond with our clients and among members of a group which can be healing unto itself, without having to get deeply involved in the specifics of each person's disease, treatment, etc.Also, Western cultures tend to place a high importance on visual information, while undervaluing the importance of sound, the auditory modality. We tolerate noisy environments, we "listen" to music superficially, we walk in oblivion to the sounds around us. The introduction of sound as a significant modality and as a rich canvas for working out personal and emotional issues brings new tools to those who simply never new its power.
Very often, new strategies must be first introduced on a conscious level before they become "automatic" -- rehearsed before they can be committed to memory. In addition, they must be properly contextualized-that is, they must be anchored or linked to their appropriate contexts, so that they will be triggered at the most advantageous times. This is a concern to music therapists, who want to insure that changes made during an MT session will carry over to the client's life in general. NLP provides specific techniques for this, such as a technique called "future pacing," which conditions the client to respond appropriately at a later time. By identifying the desired responses and paying close attention to the client's nonverbal behavior, there are ways to improve our prediction as to whether the new learned behavior will carry over.MT interventions are installations in a sense. Typically, with an installation, we are replacing an old strategy with a new one. This can be challenging, because the old strategy may be deeply ingrained. It therefore must be "interrupted" so that the new strategy can replace the old one. If the new one is better, we can rely on the mind's natural tendency to make the best choice available, and spontaneously choose the new strategy.
There is no way to fully cover such a diverse topic as NLP in such a small space. This paper, therefore, has been merely a survey of some of the most important elements. Much more could be discussed, including NLP's famous interventions, such as six-step reframing (Bandler & Grinder 1982), smart outcomes (Dilts, Epstein & Dilts, 1991), time line analysis (James & Woodsmall 1988) and the fast phobia cure(Linden & Spaulding 1994). All of these techniques use rapport skills and anchoring techniques that can be enhanced through musical experiences, and in some cases music can even be a fundamental component. In addition, these NLP techniques can be adopted by the music therapist to enhance the set of tools available in MT.
It is hoped that this brief introduction will stimulate cooperation between these two fields, both of which could stand to gain from an interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and techniques.
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