Specifics of NLP technologies in working with negative and traumatic memories (working with internally displaced persons and participants of the Counterterrorist Operation being the primal trauma, while working with helping professions practitioners and volunteers being the secondary trauma)

Oksana Bolotova

Psychologist, International NLP Trainer,



Specifics of NLP technologies in working with negative and traumatic memories (working with internally displaced persons and participants of the Counterterrorist Operation being the primal trauma, while working with helping professions practitioners and volunteers being the secondary trauma)


The experience of using NLP technologies was received within the framework of the training sessions on the First Psychological Aid and the Consequences of Traumatic Events Psychosocial Correction course in 2015-2017 (Three-level Training), and also as a result of personal counseling conducted by the author in 1998-2017.


Beginning from spring 2014, there has been a sharp and considerable increase of the number of people on the territory of Odessa oblast who suffered from negative and traumatic events. About 40000 migrants (according to the statistics of the City Council and volunteer organizations) from the East of Ukraine has come in. Besides, migrants from the Crimea, persons who have gone through the Counterterrorist Operation, volunteers of various public organizations helping both the internally displaced persons and the soldiers of the Counterterrorist Operation have come in. With the assistance of the Odessa oblast Ministry of Emergency Situations, upon the initiative of the municipal and regional institutional structures, public organizations, the Odessa military station, as well as practical psychologists who have the experience of working with negative and traumatic events, a ThreeLevel Education system of training sessions was developed. The 1st Level is the First Psychological Aid training, the 2nd Level is training to teach people to conduct the First Psychological Aid training. The 3rd level is the Psychosocial Correction of Traumatic Events Consequences course designed for 2 and a half months (evening courses format) jointly with the Odessa I. I. Mechnikov National State University.

Specialized NLP techniques were introduced into all the training sessions and the core course, the techniques being those designed to work with negative and traumatic events.


Since July 2015, more than 600 people have been trained. Internally displaced persons, participants of the Counterterrorist Operation, military psychologists, regular servicemen, psychologists, school psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists have been among the participants of the training sessions.


As of today, it is possible to talk about a success in the application of NLP technologies in the area of negative memories correction. Here are a few examples: application of NLP technologies at Cranfield University, UK, to work with negative experiences of air staff in civil aviation (Roberts 2006), application by a psychologist and NLP coach Nadezhda Vladislavova (Russia) of NLP technologies to work with family members of the Kursk submarine personnel and with victims of conflict in Chechnya (Vladislavova, 2012) (Vladislavova, 2013). The experience received in Odessa in the period 2014 – 2017 confirms this.

Technologies of Neuro-linguistic programming are a set of mental steps that are strictly determined for each technology, which are taken by the individual either in regards to internal images of memories or those of representations of expected events (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, DeLozier, 1980), (Dilts, 1976) (O’Connor, Seymour 1990, transl. 1997) (O. Bolotova, 2015). NLP technologies that are employed to work with past experience work with rewriting of memories in long-term memory, particularly, in its section of autobiographical memory (O. Bolotova, 2015). Some definitions of the autobiographical memory phenomenon are going to be important for understanding of effects of NLP techniques that are used to work with negative and traumatic memories (O. Bolotova, 2015). When the individual recalls events, he or she uses visual images (Brewer 1988). In them, he or she sees that which surrounded him or her in the past event. These images are extracted from autobiographical memory. There is an important aspect to visual images of memories from autobiographical memory, namely, that which in studies on autobiographical memory is called perspective. What is meant here is a perspective from which the individual sees and, thus, experiences his or her own remembering. There are two perspectives of experiencing a memory, a visual image in autobiographical memory. There is the First-person perspective (H. J. Rice, D. C. Rubin, 2010). Here, in a visual image of a memory, the individual does not see himself or herself in the field of vision, but sees everything that surrounded him or her and what happened, his or her field of vision matching that of the original situation. Initially, authors of the concept called this position a field (Nigro & Neisser, 1983). Memories of the First Perspective are considered to be much more emotional than those of the Third Perspective (Berntsen & Rubin, 2006), producing more feelings, sensations, and thoughts. Memories of the First Perspective are also called pre-reflexive (Tagini & Raffone, 2009). As for the Third-person perspective (Nigro & Neisser, 1983) (H. J. Rice, D. C. Rubin, 2010), in a visual memory, the individual does not only see that which surrounded him or her but also observes himself or herself from the outside. Memories of the Third Perspective allow one to remember more details, actions, and connections with past experience (Msisaac & Eich, 2002), making it possible to recognize a link with past behavior (Frank & Gilovich, 1989) and to influence evaluation of self-change (Lilly, Eibach, Gilovich, 2005). Memories of the Third Perspective are also called reflexive (Tagini & Raffone, 2009).


Memories of the First Perspective and the Third Perspective have essential differences, some being extremely important for the follow-up work with negative and traumatic memories employing NLP techniques. All NLP technologies can be classified into two groups: Associative Techniques and Dissociative Techniques. Associative technologies employ associative memories. Association in NLP is a state of being absorbed in the experience during which the individual sees the event with his or her own eyes, perceiving with all sensory organs (O’Connor, Seymour 1990, transl. 1997). A characteristic feature of this type of memories is that in the memory, the individual sees everything that happened to him or her with his or her own eyes but does not see himself or herself. This definition fully agrees with those of the First-person Perspective, or pre-reflexive type of memories of autobiographical memory (Nigro & Neisser, 1983) (Tagini & Raffone, 2009). Performance of associative techniques in NLP is connected with experiencing real negative emotions. This makes their action a limited circle of problems where the level of emotional experience is negative but is not capable of leading to re-traumatizing in its repeated experience (O. Bolotova, 2015). Dissociative technologies employ dissociated memories. Dissociated means unenclosed in the experience, considering and hearing the situation from the outside (O’Connor, Seymour 1990, transl. 1997). A characteristic feature of this type of memories is that in the memory, the individual sees everything that happened to him or her and, at the same time, observes himself or herself from the outside. This fully agrees with the definitions of the Third-person Perspective, or a reflexive type of memories of autobiographical memory (Nigro & Neisser 1983) (Tagini & Raffone, 2009).


At the same time, one needs to remember that in NLP technologies, it is necessary to rewrite a negative memory, i.e. to model a new, safer and less traumatic solution of a negative/traumatic situation (Warren, Meir, Tesher, O’Hanlon, Ghiraldini, Innerfield, 2006) (O’Connor, Seymour 1990, transl. 1997). If, in working with negative/traumatic memories, we are to use only technologies which employ dissociated memories (those of the First Perspective, reflexive memories) or contain procedures that make it possible to transform associative memories (those of the First Perspective, pre-reflexive memories) into reflexive (memories of the Third Perspective), it is going to allow us to quickly bring down the emotional tension of the remembering and to provide an opportunity for a soberer analysis of the event that was taking place. This, in turn, will bring about the understanding of more adaptive steps that could be made (Ο. Bolotova, 2015). When more adaptive steps for negative/traumatic remembering arise, the remembering is no longer such negative/traumatic for the individual, its significance decreasing (O. Bolotova, 2015). That is why in working with negative/traumatic memories (both with the primal trauma and the secondary trauma) it is only the technologies that employ in their steps transition from pre-reflexive to reflexive memory that can be used (O. Bolotova, 2015). The transition from pre-reflexive to reflexive memory is described in NLP by the Triple description (Grinder, DeLozier, 1995, transl. 2005) (O’Connor, Seymour, 1990, transl. 1997). This being said, the 1st and the 3rd perception positions in the Triple description correspond to the 1st and the 3rd Perspectives in the work which gave rise to the development of the research on perspectives within autobiographical memory conducted by Nigro, Georgia; Neisser, Ulric (October 1983). “Point of view in personal memories”. Cognitive Psychology No. 15:467-482. This model provides an opportunity to turn a pre-reflexive memory into a reflexive. A newly created reflexive memory can be modeled and rewritten afresh by means of the anchoring model (a change of conditioned reflexes) (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, DeLozier, 1980), (Dilts, 1976) (O’Connor, Seymour 1990, transl. 1997) and the Bringing in Resources technology developed on the basis of it (authored by Oksana Bolotova). After the modeling is completed, a reflexive memory can be activated as associative as well (the First Perspective, pre-reflexive memory), but now filled with new modeled emotions.


The Bringing in Resources technology was chosen as the main one to work with individuals who experienced negative and traumatic events, because the internal structure of the technique too, bringing down the emotions of remembering and providing an opportunity to model more adaptive ways of behavior for a particular situation, makes it possible to decrease the general significance of the memory and so to give a chance to the individual to plan changes in his or her new life. The following technology was used: a negative/traumatic memory which was originally associated (the first perspective, pre-reflexive memory) was reconstructed in the experience of an individual into a dissociated one (the third perspective, reflexive memory). This immediately provided an opportunity to bring down the level of emotions in the memory. Placed in such a position, the individual began considering his or her dissociated image (the image in the third perspective) and receiving all the advantages of such an approach to considering the memory: a more objective analysis of the situation, a possible connection with past events, and ideas about self-correcting. From the position of the Third perspective (dissociation) a correction was conducted, modeling an event by means of the anchoring technique (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, DeLozier, 1980), (Dilts, 1976), (O’Connor, Seymour 1990, transl. 1997), (O. Bolotova, 2015). When the newly modeled visual image began producing within the individual undergoing the procedure a positive emotion from the third perspective (dissociation), the image was reconstructed from the third perspective into the first perspective again. But having now become associated (having returned to the first perspective) with the modeled image, the individual, in association (the first perspective), began experiencing positive emotions and having a plan for dealing with a similar situation in the future (O. Bolotova, 2015). In most cases use of NLP techniques with the transition from negative associative remembering to dissociative remembering and the subsequent modeling of an internal image of the remembering provided opportunities of changing the condition of those participating in the training sessions, of bringing down anxiety, and of making it possible to find new ways-out from negative situations. At the same time, using the Dissociated memory (the Third Perspective, reflexive memory) facilitates working on the memory and makes it less painful, which is very helpful and appealing to the participants. Moreover, having attended one training session, the participants invite their friends suffering from negative memories in order to teach them to correct the negative memories. In addition, sometimes they come several times in order to work through some memory with the coach or to consolidate the material. This increases inflow of people to the training sessions on a continual basis.




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