After the earth moves. 

Thoughts from the chaos zone for NLP practitioners.

Sunday 6th March 2011

By Lynn Timpany

Richmond, Christchurch


I am awake, 4.23am.  I realise that I haven't felt an earthquake all night… that worries me.  I wonder if the faultline is building up pressure and there will be a big one.  I tell myself this is ridiculous. That it takes a few thousand years not a few hours.  I feel better, but remember that I didn't put the radio on to recharge and if there's an earthquake I won't be able to hear the radio, again. So I get up to plug it in, and check that the torch is where I thought it was.  Like most the people left in the central city area, I find it tricky to sleep.  I wonder how to believe that it won't happen again, possibly even worse.  All of this seems perfectly rational not anxious. I wonder if I'm traumatised,  I don't think so… but as I'm considering that, I have a flashback to seeing my street, a fast flowing river.  It isn't much less scary going backwards at high speed!     I think, stuff it, if I'm not sleeping I may as well do something constructive, like sort my brain out and then write a small article.


After doing a stack of sessions with people since the recent events the most prevalent word was "uncertainty".  We don't know if/when another one will happen.  Since the earthquakes started back in September I have done only a few traditional trauma cures.  The structure of the problems much more frequently generalised anxiety, and also unpleasant conditioned kinaesthetic responses anchored to kinaesthetic triggers.(like trucks going past on the street.)  There will of course be those directly effected by the carnage in the central city, but that will be a tiny percentage of those we are likely to encounter doing our NLP sessions.    


Any outcome about feeling safe and secure is likely to be problematic, as there's just too much ecology around the reality of the recent experiences and ongoing aftershocks. For many here in ChCh, right now, the idea of feeling safe and secure seems a bit delusional.  In the process of writing this there has been around 10 aftershocks, one bad enough to send me under the table, and to throw some of the things off the shelves, that I only put back yesterday. 


So, in sessions it's really important to fully address the ecological concerns around any anxiety, with effective meta-level outcomes.

So, as well as the obvious VK dissociation  process, these are the kinds of things I've been doing a lot of with clients effected by the earthquakes:


Bridging outcomes:  Goals about responding to the current situation in a way that is satisfying. 

            "Ideally, how would you like to be able to respond to this uncertainty?" 

            "How would you need to respond to feel really pleased about how you had coped with this awful situation?"

In a couple of cases asking the values of the current time bridging outcome. 

            "Whats important to you about how you deal with this?" 


Collapsing Anchors:  Especially any kinaesthetic triggers for anxiety.



Useful core questions:  Most people having problems, and also most people getting prepared, are asking "What if..." questions.   Again, deal with the ecology of being prepared, and then teach about core questions and help the client pick a good one, and write it down on a card for them, or tattoo it on them, or something that get's them practising.  A "how" or "what" question.


Core question, or the prevailing question in the mind, unconscious most of the time, is a huge filter of information.  Changing the question changes the information, which changes the state.  For example: one client was constantly asking herself 'what if there's an earthquake now…' She was incredibly anxious.  She had been driving, and started to worry if there was an earthquake that stopped her car, then she didn't have her cellphone and wouldn't be able to arrange someone to pick up her kids etc. Now, to you that may seem like far fetched thinking, but the reality is it happened to a stack of people last week, when their cars ended up in crevasses or stuck in liquifaction.  I assisted her choose a new question.  "What's my next appropriate relaxed step forward?"  It takes a fair bit of rehearsal to install a new core question, by repetition, and it's well worth while.


Peripheral vision.  Teach clients how to relax using peripheral vision.  Tell them to teach everyone else they know, especially children. This is by far the easiest way to relax without butting up against ecological concerns.  It's very fast and very effective.


Strategies for dealing with 'stuff'.  

Another common response is over-whelm, or generalised stress.  These people need a really good strategy for prioritising and chunking down to a manageable step.  A strategy will usually work much better if it also includes a great core question as one of the steps. (It could also include peripheral vision as one of the steps.)

For example:

Trigger→Core question→Imagine the small first step/check that it feels ok→do it!

(Possible core question to identify the first step of the most important priority)


Strategies for dealing with aftershocks.

There are lots of people struggling with aftershocks.  Having a strategy for a resourceful response helps.  (Even a wee plan really helps.  For example count to 3, taking breaths, if it's still moving, duck for cover.  ) 

However you do it, support people to have some kind of plan/strategy for how they prefer to respond to the ongoing aftershocks and future pace it.  Many people are also worried about 20th March, when there is another full moon perigee which may be a high risk time.  Future pacing their preferred responses to these concerns is important.


I hope that these thoughts help practitioners to feel confident working with earthquake effected clients, even if it's not a usual 'trauma process' type scenario.  As Christchurch resident, thank you so much for your help.