Which Way do Feelings Spin? Posted: 21 May 2015 11:42 AM PDT
I have just posted a 9-minute demonstration to YouTube
of the Spinning Feelings process, excerpted from my online streaming PTSD training.
I learned this process from Nick Kemp some six years ago...
...who credits Richard Bandler for discovering that feelings spin, and that reversing this spin is a powerful intervention for resolving anxiety and other strong feelings. After exploring the internal visual and auditory experience of clients’ experience that generated feelings, Nick modified Bandler’s process in several ways.
In this particular example, Joan became anxious in any situation in which she felt alone and potentially helpless. Joan’s feelings of anxiety began in the right side of her neck, went down the right side of her body, then clenched in her stomach and went on to her groin. This is the path of the feeling. Then I asked her to notice the shape and color of the feeling, and finally, “Which way does the feeling spin as it goes along this path?” She responded with a gesture, which is much less ambiguous than a verbal “clockwise” or “counter-clockwise,” since that depends on which way the clock is facing.
Then the intervention is to “Put yourself in that situation that elicits the feeling, and reverse the direction of spin, change the color to a color you like better, and add sparkles to it, and find out what happens.” Joan’s feelings immediately changed to relaxation and comfort. Then we tested this change in her imagination in several contexts, there was an “in vivo” test the next morning when her car wouldn’t start, and again a few days later when she drove home alone across the desert.
Follow-up a year and a half later confirmed that the change was intact, despite a number of significant life challenges that previously would have made her anxious.
In a video that has been recently posted on YouTube, Bandler works with two women with anxiety in a 50-minute session.
He uses a lot of hypnosis, and a wide variety of interventions; one of which is his version of the Spinning Feelings process that is markedly different from Nick Kemp’s version in two important ways:
Bandler assumes that the feeling has to circle back on itself in a closed loop.
When he speaks of spinning, he means spinning along the path of the loop, in contrast to spinning around a path that is not a loop.
Here is a verbatim transcript of Bandler’s elicitation from Lynn, starting at 6:20:
Bandler: Notice where in your body you begin to feel the fear. . . . Where does it start?
Lynn: It starts in my arms and across my shoulders.
Bandler: It starts in your arms and shoulders, and then where does it go?
Lynn: Um, my head.
Bandler: It goes up to your head; and then?
Lynn: My vision starts to go.
Bandler: Your vision starts to blur?
Lynn: Yeah, and my legs start to go.
Bandler: And your legs start to— And when you say “go,” they don’t actually leave.
Lynn: They start to go like jelly.
Bandler: “Start to go like jelly.” And then does it just disappear, or does it circle back on itself?
Lynn: It just stays there—
Bandler: It can’t just stay there; nerves habituate.
Lynn: —until I actually slow down or stop [driving 30 mph].
Bandler: If you have a feeling in a nerve, if it just stays in one place, then the nerve can’t feel; it has to circle somehow.
Bandler then repeats his assertion that the feeling has to circle four more times (for a total of six times) until finally at 9:02 Lynn gestures in a circle out from her chest, down and in at her stomach. This gesture is quite different from the sequence she provided earlier: neck and shoulders, up to her head and eyes, and finally legs.
I have elicited the path of a feeling of anxiety in many clients, but without assuming that the feeling goes in a circle, and not one of them spontaneously reported that it went in a closed loop. It seems likely to me that Bandler’s finding that the feeling goes in a loop is installation, rather than elicitation. Perhaps a few people have anxious feelings that go in a closed loop, but it is certainly not common if you don’t assume it.
Bandler’s intervention with Lynn is also quite different, starting at 15:02: “I want you to close your eyes, and I want you to see the speedometer coming up, only as it does, I want you to take the very feeling that you have, the one that goes like this (gesturing in a vertical circle in front of him) and as you notice the feeling beginning to spin, I want you just in your imagination for a moment, pull it outside of yourself, flip it upside down, and pull it back in, so that it spins in the opposite direction.”
This is a very different intervention than the modification that I learned from Nick Kemp.
The direction of spin will only reverse if the flip is in the left/right plane; if the flip is in the plane of the loop, it will continue to spin in the same direction. So Bandler’s instruction is ambiguous; depending on the client’s understanding of “flip it upside down” the spin might not reverse—though “spins in the opposite direction” is clear and might overcome the ambiguity.
Despite all the many other interventions that Bandler made in the 50-minute session, including a lot of hypnosis, it is not evident to me that either woman got a useful change. Bandler did ask Joy to say hello to a cameraman, but it is not clear to me that this was an adequate test of her fear of going up to someone and talking to them. “Hello” is only the beginning of talking to someone. Other than that, there was no testing in imagination, and no follow-up information was provided. Even if we assume that these women did get resolution of their fear, there is no way to determine which of the many interventions during the 50-minute session made that possible.
A somewhat similar method, “dynamic spin release”...
...developed independently by Tim and Kris Hallbom in 2008, also presupposes that the feeling moves somehow—sometimes from one place to another, sometimes spinning in one place—and reversing the direction of spin is a key part of their way of working, which varies considerably from one client to the next.
In this particular demonstration their intervention also involves a lot of hypnosis and other processes that are mixed with content: transforming it into a gesture with the hands, taking the feeling out of the body, pushing it away, suggesting that the problem state explode, a healing gift is going to appear, open up the gift, have it fly around the universe with angel wings, (The client showed up that day wearing a Levi jacket with gigantic angel wings embroidered on the back. Kris asked her why she had angel wings sewn on the back of her jacket, and she replied, “Oh, these are my angel wings and they take me wherever I go.” This is a utilization of that information.) collecting healing energy from the universe, reach out with your hands and bring all those healing resources back into your body, etc. The woman’s nonverbal shifts indicate that she got a change, and follow-up reports a profound change in a particularly traumatic history, but again it isn’t possible to know which of the many interventions were responsible for the change.
When I learned the method from Nick, it was also embedded in a lot of hypnosis and other interventions, which is fine in client work — You may as well give it all you’ve got, particularly if you don’t have a specific process that you know will work. However, I wanted to find out how much could be done with reversing the spinning feelings alone, so I stripped it down to its bare essentials, sometimes even leaving out the change of color and the sparkles, to verify that the spinning is the essential change. Changing the color and adding sparkles amplify the intensity of the change, but are not essential. (In another video demonstration
I deliberately left out the sparkles, because the client reported that the feeling of anxiety was like “fireworks,” and I didn’t want the intervention to include anything that was similar to the fireworks in the problem state.)
In the streamlined process I use there is only the presupposition that the feeling starts somewhere and goes somewhere else, that it has a shape and color and spin — and the unstated implication that reversing the spin and color will reverse the kind of feeling generated. The result is a very rapid and effective method that is easy to learn and teach to others. And since it stands alone, you can easily confirm that it works even when it isn’t augmented by other interventions.
Since I don’t see clients on a regular basis, I have little opportunity to try out the different ways of spinning feelings described in this post (and demonstrated in the videos). I invite readers to experiment with these different ways of eliciting the movement of a troubling feeling and intervening, and I would be very interested in hearing what you discover.
Related resources from Steve Andreas:
The PTSD Training – a complete online course in effective methods for resolving the many aspects of Complex PTSD.
Releasing PTSD: The Client sessions – a complete demonstration of working with a client with PTSD.