Understanding the Fast Phobia Cure

The fast phobia cure is probably the best known NLP technique. For that reason alone, it is worth understanding.
The primary brain structures involved are the amygdala (there are two).

There is a pretty Flash movie on Le Doux's website which explains the basic phobic response.  Le Doux is the leading neurologist on fear. Much of the information in this newsletter comes from his book "The Emotional Brain", mostly via Andy Austin, whose summary I highly recommend.

The basic premise is that there are far more projections from the amygdala to the cerebral cortex than vice versa.

In other words, somebody having a fear response is responding to a very small portion of their whole experience.

As Andy writes, the trick is to keep the amygdala 'happy' whilst rewiring each old phobia-triggering input from the cerebral cortex to this new state in the amygdala.

BUT you can be more precise with phobia cures if you understand a little bit of the neurology involved.

The National Lottery was all the rage 15 years ago. There are 50 different numbers and you choose 6. If you get 4 right, you might win £1,000. If you get 5 right, you might win £10,000. If you get all 6 right, you win the jackpot.

Fears work similarly. They are dependent on multiple inputs. If any critical inputs are missing, the phobic response is reduced 70+%.

Here's the standard NLP Fast Phobia Cure, step for step:

STEP ZERO: Calibrate to phobic response. You need the client to be able to have a phobic response there and then. There is no point doing the Fast Phobia Cure on experience which doesn't make the client phobic.

STEP ONE: Get client to see a black & white image of themselves JUST BEFORE having a phobic response.

You need to pay a lot of attention to the client at this point. If they demonstrate a moderately phobic response at this step, change a different submodality than colour.

See, the amygdala's response will depend upon input from at least one visual association areas including those associated with visual submodalities including colour processing, movement etc.

In most cases, seeing a black & white image of themselves PREVENTS the phobic response being triggered in the client. Neurologically speaking, the amygdala requires a 'colour' input from various visual cortices (V2 & V4) in order to be "phobic".

The client is poised to freak out anyway…

Thanks to television, black & white vs colour is one of those submodalities we usually experience as a digital either-or. It's difficult to start adding colour to that monochrome image. You can do the same with Still vs Moving. If there is a phobic response at this point, I interrupt them and then tell them that the slightly shaky image has a Paused symbol in one corner - and hand them the remote control.

Traditionally, this is done in an imagined theatre - a context where people's imaginations are already primed.

STEP TWO: Get the client to imagine stepping out of themselves and going to a nearby safe place. Traditionally, this is the projection booth in the theatre. Allow them to watch black & white movie.

The client has a choice of watching themselves onscreen in black & white, or watching themselves watching themselves.

Either way, they have now developed choice in how they perceive/represent a situation where they are phobic.

Now we found out a critical submodality in STEP ONE (usually colour). When we lead the client through the representation with the colour input missing, rather than freaking out, the client may even be probably be slightly disappointed at how 'unscary' this step is.

STEP THREE: Step back into self at the end of movie, re-add critical submodality colour and run backwards.

What physiology does the client step into? Full-blown panic? I doubt it. This subconsciously associates the worst part of the experience with a flat emotional response.

The critical submodality is re-added (usually colour) and you then lead the client through seeing/hearing/feeling everything in reverse.

Richard Bandler has said that this step 'blows out the phobia - that once a client has done it, they can't ever run it forwards again.'  I don't know if that's true. Bandler obviously has some understanding of neurology but I've no other reference for this.

Either way, the client goes from the worst part of the problem to nice and calm WITH the critical submodality activated.

I was once giving a public presentation and found a volunteer with a phobia of baked beans

It took about 20 minutes to find some beans (which duly produced screams of terror) and 30 seconds to cure the phobia:

"So, how did you get here today?" Interrupt her fear state.

"Now, if you saw yourself running away from blue baked beans, what would that be like?"

She gave me a puzzled look and said "That would be silly." I anchored the response by touching her elbow. "Not any sillier than seeing yourself running from red baked beans." Touch elbow again.

She looked surprised and said "I guess not." And while she stayed calm, I got the organiser to slowly bring the beans back. "I think I can touch them," she said. She picked one up and threw it at her friend who'd been teasing her with them.

On another note, there's a great quote from Le Doux: "I'm surprised that the drug companies are not knocking at my door to find out how to make drugs that could do more specific things than the drugs that are available."