Baring Things in Mind (Part One)

brain in handIntroduction

Sorry for being a bit late with this month’s post. I’ve been a bit extra tired lately. Fatigue struck again.

A couple of months ago I spoke about a three stage way of looking at the human brain. You can click here to revisit it. Neuroscientist, Paul MacLean proposed it. It’s all about how the human brain evolved and names the three stages “Lizard”, “Mammalian” and “Neo-cortex”.

I relate it to Nero-Linguistic Programming. It helps keeps things simple. It shows how sensing, behaving and thinking can be understood in an N.L.P. way too.

Having a brain injury does not make us less human, dispossessed of a personality. It may impair our emotional and cognitive qualities in some ways, but so does lack of sleep and a heavy cold. Age and experience too, influence our ability to recall and be skilful.

(In her 80s, my nan confused what she did her day before with what she did in her today. But she clearly remembered my great-nan hanging her “britches” on the washing line the day World War Two was declared. Nan had no brain injury.)knickers

What I’m saying is this: The stuff I’m going to go through now and in the coming couple of months or so can be useful, whatever.

How? First and foremost I’m going to touch base with everything that is tangible – limit my attention to the five senses and what they feed back to us.

Sensory Inventory

A client I counselled some time ago expressed a loss of connection with the world around him – of being “in a bubble ” with his hallucinations. On good days he coped. But even then, it was with a loss of feeling. (This was touch, not just emotional.) And, as always, his memory “wasn’t brilliant”.

He was curious to know why some things stuck in his mind and others didn’t.

We revisited his most recent memory – the one that most seemed real to him. This we did in terms of “Sight”; “Sound”; “Smell”; “Touch” and “Taste”.

A whiteboard helped. I asked the client to place a 1st to 5th value on each of the senses. 1st was the most prized, 5th was the least. Together we then re-wrote the list in his order of preference.

Next we unpicked the memory he had described to me (a pub meal with his family) in relation to his list. Taste was something he appreciated most. He remembered the smell of flowers. The level of sound had made a difference. He had been in the beer garden.  The band that was playing was inside…

This was his sensory inventory.

Doing a sensory inventory in this way can help in more than one way.

  • It can help tell what in particular it is about something that stops it being forgotten so soon. Or remembered for a long time.
  • It can help touch base with what matters most.
  • It can help give ideas about how best to create positive experiences.

N.B: By the way, negative experiences are just as powerful. When it comes to baring things in mind, it’s our bodies and emotions that do the sticking.

For those of you doing A Levels, here is a Youtube snippet I came across that sums it up nicely. If technical gobble-di-gook just confuses you, you can always watch with the sound down. The diagram is clear enough.

Take care for now.


Anchoring for New Memories

Common Problems

The biggest problem after brain injury is with short-term memory loss. Memories are the records of our experience. Lacking memory does not mean we stop experiencing things. But it can mean becoming unaware of our experience. We forget when and where we are and spend our energy on piecing things together and trying to keep track. And then we get tired out.

It’s a bit like being cast adrift on an uncharted sea.

NLP and brain injuty

Without a chart, how might we map our course to our next shore? How can we tell where to go to catch the biggest fish to eat? Not just that, who last had the captain’s log? Where is it supposed to be kept? And where is this captain character, anyway?

The good news is that the chart is not the sea. Though important and useful, it is only the representation of the sea.

What does that mean in the real world? It means that the good news is this: Memories are not experience. Though they give us a sense of space and time and “self” within spacetime, they only represent the past.

We are living in the present. Strengthening our attention on where we are and what’s happening around us improves our skills at making memories. The memory you make now is a memory to recall tomorrow.

Anchoring the N.L.P. Way

Before I talk about “anchoring”, it might help you to watch a short therapy session first.  It lasts 4 minutes. And of course you can go to it again and again, any time you like. Click here to watch the session.

Here is what the therapist does:-

  • Learns from the client the “state” / mood the client wants to be in. (It’s “happy”.)
  • Learns how the client looks when she’s happy.
  • Asks the client to remember a specific time when she felt very happy.

(Note: If she had a brain injury, this would most likely be a long-term memory from long ago. But you know that.)

Next the therapist:-

  • Gets the client to put her attention into her body and almost relive the original experience.
  • Asks the client to choose a knuckle the therapist can touch. (It is the knuckle she anchors the client’s happy feeling to.)
  • She keeps her finger on that knuckle. She encourages the client to relive the memory again – to see what she saw, hear what she heard, feel again her own laughter throughout every fibre of her body.
  • The therapist takes her finger from the client’s knuckle, asks the client to choose another happy memory.laughing

As soon as the client has choosen, the therapist:-

  • Holds her finger on the knuckle again and repeats the process with the client.
  • Brings the client’s attention back to the present.
  • Chats and, now and again, touches the client’s knuckle.

Each time the client feels her therapist touch that chosen knuckle, she laughs. Her happy state is anchored.

Tool Box

Okay, so how can anchoring help make new memories? By paying attention to your body’s sensations in what you’re doing now. Use the help of a friend, carer, coleague. If only one thing today makes you chuckle or want to scream, take note of how your whole body feels in that moment. Make sure you give that feeling a label.

That label is important. It’s job is to link you to the anchor you choose and to the experience that is tomorrow’s memory.

Anchoring might not be your thing. Then again, it might prove a big help. Feel free to share how well it goes after three or more practices.

Take care. More next month.

Belly of the Beast

January is gone. Have we all forgotten our New Year resolutions? Perhaps you’re keeping to what you’ve promised yourself by keeping a written, daily note. Or maybe you’ve another way of prompting scenes and events to come back to you.

This month I am again highlighting Neuro-Linguistic Programming (N.L.P). Specifically how this model of psychotherapy works on the whole person. In fact more than that. I’m giving you a way of looking at how our species came to work the way it does, in body and mind.

This way of looking at our brain was developed by physician and neuroscientist, Paul McLean. He called it the “Triune brain”. It’s not part of N.L.P. itself. But it does help give an understanding of how Neuro-Lingiuistic Programming works.

(Evolution)NLP Feb01

Lizard = The earliest of three forms of brain that would evolve into ours. It operates simply – by its gut reactions to things. When the desert heat affects it, it can move faster. When it feels hungry, that hunger makes it hunt. In fact it lives totally by its gut reactions . It does not question why the sun is hot.

Mammalian (Limbic) = A miPuppy loved-stage representation of our brain’s evolution. Mammals are the group of animals that developed levels of social awareness… Still, not necessarily self awareness. But in their packs, dogs and wolves know one another’s scent and rank. Perhaps this is the beginning of culture.

Neo-Cortex = The outer, most recently evolved layer of the Human brain. It’s evolution allows us to wonder at the world around us and say thingNLP Feb03s like: “Perhaps this is the beginning of culture.” It allows us to, as the saying goes: “Have the world at out fingertips.” Its business is to anticipate consequences – imagine cause and effect, manipulate nature and invent things that suit our needs and wants.

(What It All Means)

Note: N.L.P. is not a science. It is a way of looking at the brain based on science.

Note: The science this here post (“Belly of the Beast”) is based on is the work of Paul McLean. (If you’re a student, trainer or just plain interested, you may like to click here.)

  • Our brain evolved three main capabilities over time – 1) basic stimulus and reaction, to 2) sociability, to 3) thoughtfulness.
  • Basic stimulus and reaction deals with reality in the here-and-now. Pure and simple.
  • Sociability added a level of sophistication. As well as react, mammals respond to one another to get and give what one another need to survive.
  • The Neo-Cortex does not deal with the real world. It creates memories of the past, learns from them, and plans future outcomes that do not yet exist.
  • Our Human brain is made of all the above – 1), 2) and 3). They all communicate and work together as a whole.

Next month: The issues and difficulties of brain injury and how N.L.P. could assist you in your ambitions.

Until then, best wishes for now. This is Sean signing off.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Welcome to 2018! And to this here blog if you’re newly come to it.

NLP and brain injutyI am thinking that maybe 2017 was the year your brain was injured. I can only imagine how that might be for you. Confusion, fear, a sense of confinement, bereavement, anger – the rise and fall of a whole ocean of emotions. I wish you strength, perseverance, and all the support you need. Including from me – where, when and how I can.

Maybe 2017 was a year of achieving little goals. Sometimes, the first goal is finding a goal. Is “goal” the right word? For some “ambition” or “sense of direction” says it better. It depends how you experience yourself. The most meaningful word or phrase? The one that keeps it real.

Why little goals, small successes? Small successes are more probably achieved sooner than big ones. And let’s face it, a big success, when you look at it, is really a collection of small ones.

If I seem to have started straying off track I promise I haven’t. This month’s post is an introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP’s co-inventors are Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who got their heads together in the 1970s to see if they could scientifically study the mechanics and psychology of successful people.

I’ll deal with each of the three parts of the “NLP” name in turn.


This first part implies the biological science of the nervous system, and therefore the brain, doesn’t it? The truth is that NLP is a set of theories. Modelled on our brain’s evolution and function as science currently understands it, but still a set of theories. It is not a science in the same way as brain surgery. Or neuropsychology.

It was developed from social studies into how successful people behave and communicate.


Language – the use of words. I’ve been using a bit of wordplay above. I’ll recap.

Is “goal” the right word? For some “ambition” or “sense of direction” says it better. It depends how you experience yourself. The most meaningful word or phrase? The one that keeps it real.

The word, “goal” goes with something clearly identified. What about times we cannot think what to aim for?  Or when we don’t yet want to? Sometimes we only have a rough idea of where to aim, and that’s enough: “Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it,” you might say.

Some of you may be thinking: “Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it”? What utter nonsense! Some of you may be thinking it makes perfect sense. (And I bet some of you are already remembering the Sex Pistols.)


In a nutshell: Brain (together with all the other sensory systems) = Computer. Belief & Behaviour = Routines and Sub-routines. Language = Machine Code. Therapy = Reprogramming.

Yes, Whovians and Trekkies, we are talking cybermen and borg… Symbolically speaking, that is.

And on that point, I shall leave you. In February’s post we’ll explore our cyberman / borg insides through the NLP lens.

Meanwhile, click here to see and hear Bandler’s own definition of NLP.

Take care, everyone.




Bubble Bursting


I have an apology to make. Last time I said I’d write a post about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Something has knocked me off that particular track for now. Something came up at the end of November, urging me to get something out of my system first. It stands in the way of everything else until I stop trying to dismiss it. So sorry about this change of subject.

The subject is this…

(Second-Guessing Prejudice)

Not all of you will be aware that as a counsellor I am required to have counselling supervision. My supervisor I see is trained to help me monitor my own skills, knowledge and performance for my clients. She helps me do my job well.

Recently, I ended a term of couple counselling. My clients were kind enough to allow me to add their praise to my testimonial page. Happy clients. Fantastic.

As great as their gratitude is, it again raises the question of institutional “bubbles”: Closed systems, wilfully deaf and blind to more than one approach. Why is it people wanting counselling get automatically and inconsiderately syphoned down the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy funnel?

The answer is that, unlike other approaches, C.B.T. in the UK is done more to a formula. This means it has more easily produced statistics. It is true, C.B.T. works for a good number of people. But not for all. I myself don’t get on with how it’s taught and administered.

(As I write, I’m seeing a hard, rigid and cold, sausage making machine. Beside it is a squidgy, shape changing organism. An image I’ve had many times before.)

Here was my confusion as I told it to my supervisor:

  1. I am aware of a number of people who’d benefit more from person-centred counselling than C.B.T.
  2. Am I just being bitter for being outside the System’s “bubble”? Bitter for having my service overlooked or judged ineffective by the System?
  3. Is there a real element of prejudice towards my brain injury, my service, or both? Or is past life experience around my brain injury making me just think there is?

How many of you with your own brain injuries ask number 3 every day? I’d be interested to know.

Together we reflected on the unique gifts my cerebral palsy allows me to bring to clients. And what makes research studies good studies.

(How reliable are statistics?)

Last Christmas I was at a dinner party. One of the guests, learning that I’m a counsellor, vented their anger. Months earlier, my fellow guest had seen their G.P. about their anxiety. He’d referred them to a “counsellor” who had just provided tick boxes and homework to do.

I was told the therapist had not really wanted to listen. Instead the therapist wanted them to persevere with the homework. This had made things worse. In the end, my fellow guest had written and said what the therapist had wanted to hear.  Better to get away and not be seen as a failure.

The therapist had ticked their case a success.

It was not the first time I’d heard this kind of story. Such recorded, so-called “successes” muddy the waters. Let’s not forget that some outcomes truly are successful. However, cases like the one above make the statistics questionable. It is healthier to burst the bubble and be open.

Click here to learn what Judith Beck, the daughter of C.B.T.’s originator has to say on the subject. I’ve run on too long.



Tying Things Together

Hello everyone. I hope you had a chance to click the links last month. If not all of them, do have a look at the Occupational Therapy video. It’s fun to watch.

Group Holding Together

How do you like this month’s title picture? Looks a bit like a brain cell, I thought. Not just that, all the coloured threads come together as the background professions come together.

Part 3: In Practice

The bare bones of CRT is a set of activities. Activities designed to help injured brains practice finding their own way from one point to another: A) answer / solution unknown, to B) answer / solution known.

Here is an example – one you can do at home:

  • Take a pack of playing cards.Tying Things Together Pt 3a
  • Look at each card in turn.
  • See or feel what it is.
  • If it has an “N” in its name, like “Queen” or “Nine of Diamonds”, or any other name with an “N”, place it face up on your left.
  • Place cards without an “N” face down on your right.

You might think playing this game is enough to re-knit connections. It isn’t.

The flesh around CRT’s bare bones is the therapeutic relationship between therapist and patient / client.

Activities + Relationship = Knowing.

We practitioners have this term, “Metacognitive skills”. There’s an old saying that goes: “Wisest is he who knows he does not know.” Metacognition is basically the neural knitting that gives us this self awareness.

Did you do the card game? Scroll up and have another read if it’s helpful.

If you’re with someone wanting to have the first go, they might be happy having you say things as they have their turn. Things like: “I see you’re hesitating”; “you seem to be asking yourself something”; “I’m curious that you went straight to that pile”; “I don’t mind stopping if you’ve changed yours”.

If you’re on your own, no one will hear you describe out loud to yourself what you are doing as you do it. I’ve had clients help themselves – one card in their hand, spelling its name out loud, telling their hand which pile to put the card on.

Therapy is mostly done in groups. Sessions are run at clinics or organisations like Headway. Like-minded group members can share experiences. Worksheets can be worked on by the group together. Some find working alone better. And that’s okay too.

Some excellent self help books have been published. For example, Speechmark Books have published exercise books and workbooks for use by therapists, support workers, carers, family members or the injured person themselves.

Having someone as a so-called “soundboard” is good – someone to review your solutions with and discuss your experience that went into making them.

I’ve a view – nothing clinically proven – just my own picture of fibre optic brainways and personality illuminations. What I’m about to say to you, whether you’re the one with or without a brain injury, is important.

It’s this: NEVER push; ALWAYS nudge. Go with your flow more and mind how you go.

Be like Olivia Newton-John playing Goldilocks. Settle for the challenge that’s just right. Experience how well you feel while doing what you’re doing. Get physical by listening to your body talk.

Seriously. Your brain’s personality, and your personality’s brain need to get on together to go on together.

Next month, a few paragraphs on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. (“Hurrah!”) Until then the Society for Cognitive Rehabilitation website is worth a visit.