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THE RELATIVE EFFECTIVENESS OF TECHNIQUES IN
HYPNOSIS, TIME LINE THERAPYTM, NEURO LINGUISTIC
PROGRAMMING (NLP) IN REDUCING STRESS AND NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
By Dr Kamarul Zaman Ahmad
Faculty of Business & Accountancy
Posted April, 18, 2009
The effectiveness of hypnosis to combat
stress has been well documented. However, there has been no
reported research that compared the relative effectiveness of
hypnosis with dissociative techniques in Neuro Linguistic
Programming (NLP) and another technique known as Time Line TherapyTM.
This experimental research involved 32 test subjects and 32
control group subjects. Results of T-Tests revealed that with the
test group, there were significant reductions in stress levels
after undergoing the procedures compared with before. As expected,
there were no significant changes in the control group.
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The benefits and effectiveness of hypnosis
has been well documented and reported in peer reviewed journals
such as the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental
Hypnosis, the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis and the
Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Sadly
however, there appears to be no reported research that compared
hypnosis with other techniques such as Neuro Linguistic
Programming (NLP) and Time Line TherapyTM
(TLT). On closer inspection one particular technique in NLP
usually referred to as the “dissociative technique”, has
remarkable similarities with hypnosis. Similarly, TLT requires the
subject to go into a hypnotic trance as part of the process. TLT
is however a much more structured process than the dissociative
technique in NLP and hypnosis. The creators of TLT (James and
Woodsmall, 1988) require the therapist to read verbatim from a
script. Furthermore, one must be certified in TLT by either one of
them before being regarded as sufficiently qualified and
authorised to conduct the procedure (James and Woodsmall, 1988).
Thus, it would be interesting to compare the outcomes of a very
structured process i.e. TLT, with a lesser structured process i.e.
NLP, and a relatively unstructured process of progressive muscle
relaxation and mental imagery techniques in hypnosis.
Greenberg and Baron (2000) define stress as
“a complex pattern of emotional states, physiological reactions
and related thoughts in response to external demands.” Examples of
such demands are demands of work assignments and interpersonal
relations between co-workers, spouse and children. Strain is the
accumulated effects of stress expressed as deviations from normal
patterns of behaviour or activity i.e. a consequence to prolonged
exposure to stressful events (Greenberg and Baron 2000).
Stress is a factor of
modern day life. Stress is the second most frequently reported
work-related health problem across Europe, according to the Third
European Survey on Working Conditions (Paoli and Merllie, 2001).
This is because of longer working hours, frequent changes in
culture and structure as well as the loss of lifetime career paths
(Cooper and Locke, 2000). Much has been written about the dangers
of stress. Apart from loss of health, the mistakes or wrong
decisions which employees make under the effect of stress can cost
even more than their loss of health (Treven & Potocan 2005).
Gilboa, Shirom, Fried & Cooper (2008) found in a meta-analytic
study involving 35,265 employees that there are seven work-related
stressors: role ambiguity, role conflict, role overload, job
insecurity, work-family conflict, environmental uncertainty and
situational constraints. All these stressors had a negative
correlation with performance at work. In particular, role
ambiguity and situational constraints had the greatest negative
correlation with performance.
While previous studies in management such as
the above focused on the causes of stress, they failed to look at
the effectiveness of hypnosis in reducing stress. Much has been
written about the effectiveness of hypnosis in medical and
hypnosis journals. For example, hypnosis has been shown to reduce
blood pressure and mild hypertension (Gay, 2007), improve the
immune system of the body (Neuman, 2005; Kiecolt-Glaser, Marucha,
Atkinson and Glaser, 2001; Gruzelier, Smith, Nagy and Henderson,
2001) and even to promote hair growth in those with alopecia
areata i.e. a type of baldness (Willemsen and Vanderlinden, 2008).
Elkins, Jensen and Patterson (2007) reviewed thirteen studies that
investigated the use of hypnosis for the treatment of chronic pain
and found that hypnosis interventions consistently produce
significant decreases in pain. In an experiment that involved
having normal subjects submerge their hands in hot, circulating
water, brain scans showed that the pain signals changed
dramatically depending on what type of hypnotic suggestion they
were given – even though the stimulus stayed the same (Manzer
2003). “When your’re using hypnosis to reduce pain, you’re
actually acting on networks of brain areas that are involved in
the experience of pain.” Smith (2003). An array of mind-body
therapies (e.g. imagery, hypnosis and relaxation) when employed
pre-surgically can improve recovery time and reduce pain following
surgical procedures (Astin, 2004). “We have a lot more control
over our pain than most of us realize” (Manzer 2003). Pain systems
in the brain are bi-directional and can shut off pain reports as
well as receive them. (Smith 2003). Hypnosis has also been used to
manage anxiety and pain associated with colonoscopy for
colorectal-cancer screening among six patients (Elkins, White,
Patel, Marcus, Perfect and Montgomery, 2006). It was found that
fifty women who elected to participate in hypnosis prior to
childbirth took significantly less sedatives and anaesthesia
during labour compared to the fifty-one women in the control group
(VandeVusse, Irland, Berner, Fuller and Adams 2007). Hypnosis has
also been shown to be effective in reducing stress among those
with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Keefer and Keshavarzian, 2007).
It has also been shown to be effective in reducing pain and trauma
among burn patients (Shakibaei, F., Harandi, A.A., Gholamrezaei,
A, Samoei, R. and Salehi, P., 2008), reducing chronic pain in
persons with disabilities (Jensen et al 2008) and suppressing
emotional responsivity (i.e. emotional numbing) during recall of
the distressing memory (Bryant and Fearns, 2007).
Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in combating stress and
its related symptoms. For example, in a meta-analytic review as
early as 1980s it was found that for migraine headaches and
tension headaches, relaxation training was significantly more
effective than medication placebo (Blanchard, Andrasik, Ahles,
1980). 25 out of 25 children (mean age 15) reported a decrease in
headache frequency and/or intensity following the use of hypnosis
(Anbar and Zoughbi, 2008). Hypnosis has been confirmed to be just
as effective in more recent times. Hammond, D.C. (2007) found that
it is effective in the treatment of headaches and migraines,
concluding that it meets the clinical psychology research criteria
for being a well-established and efficacious treatment and is
virtually free of the side effects, risks and adverse reactions
and ongoing expense associated with medication treatment. Hypnosis
has also been used in the treatment of chronic combat-related post
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Abramowitz, Barak, Ben-Avi, and
Knobler (2008). Hypnosis has been shown to be effective in the
treatment of a woman with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
resulting from her experience of having large glass doors collapse
and shatter on top of her at work on two separate occasions
Hypnosis has also been shown to be an
effective therapeutic method when used along with other
procedures. For instance, Kirsch, Guy and Guy (1995) performed a
meta-analysis of 18 studies that indicated that patients who
received cognitive behavioural therapy along with hypnosis for
pain control, weight loss, insomnia, anxiety and high-blood
pressure improved on average, 70% more than did patients who
received cognitive behavioural therapy alone. Cognitive hypnosis
has been shown to reduce depression in 84 volunteers more
effectively than cognitive behaviour therapy (Alladin and Alibhai,
Thus, there is abundant evidence on the value
of hypnosis. However, there no reported studies of the
effectiveness of another technique called Time Line TherapyTM
(TLT) developed by James and Woodsmall (1988) even though it is
taught to thousands of people all over the world. TLT is a
specific process that also involves the use of trance and the
purpose is to remove all negative emotions from all the memories
from the past. In a way, TLT can be viewed as a form of hypnosis
in that it requires the therapist to put the subjects in a trance
state while the intervention work is done. However, Dr James, in
his seminars, has repeatedly emphasised that TLT is a subject in
its own right. One of the reasons is that TLT requires the
therapist to take the subject through a specific series of steps.
Furthermore, what makes TLT different from hypnosis is that TLT
procedures require the therapist to read verbatim from a
prescribed script and not deviate from it. In fact Dr James has
successfully obtained a trademark and regularly enforces it.
Furthermore, anyone wishing to use this technique must first of
all have obtained certification in TLT (at least at the
Practitioner level, if not at the Master Practitioner or Trainer
level) before he/she is authorised to conduct TLT on others. As
mentioned earlier, the TLT process requires the Practitioner/
Trainer to read from a script and adhere to it strictly.
The purpose of TLT is to
systematically remove all major negative emotions attached to all
memories from the past. It does not remove the memories
themselves, just the emotions that are attached to them. It also
does not prevent the subject from feeling those emotions in the
future, for it is not the purpose of TLT to turn people into
zombies. The first two negative emotions that are attended to are
usually anger and sadness. Anger is the first because it is a
stimulant that often causes harm to others. Sadness is next
because it is a depressant as well as an emotion that causes harm
to self (James and Woodsmall, 1988). The process of TLT is
trademarked and the author is not authorised to reproduce the
script or describe the procedure in detail here. Briefly speaking,
TLT requires the subjects to first of all elicit the location and
orientation of their time line, float above it, and remove all the
negative emotions attached to all memories from the past, starting
from the first experience the subject felt that emotion. The
entire process, on average, takes less than fifteen minutes.
Having said that, there is a whole lot more to the technique and
requires someone certified in TLT, before he or she is permitted
to perform the procedure on others.
Another technique examined in this research
is the dissociative technique of Neuro Linguistic Programming
(NLP). NLP is a way of organising and understanding the structure
of subjective experience and is concerned with the ways in which
people process information but not necessarily with the specific
content of that information (Einspruch and Forman, 1985). NLP
evolved from a study of neurology, linguistics, and patterns or
programmes of behaviour (Thomson, Courtney and Dickson, 2002).
Developed in 1975 by Richard Bandler, a mathematician and John
Grinder, a linguist, NLP has been clinically demonstrated as a
powerful technology for engendering change (Bandler and Grinder,
1979; Grinder and Bandler, 1981). Bandler and Grinder developed
skills of modelling that allow one person to identify in a
specific sequence of thoughts and behaviour in one person and
teach that structure to another person (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler,
Cameron-Bandler and DeLozier, 1980). Using this, Bandler and
Grinder were able to ferret out essential patterns used by Milton
Erickson, Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls, and teach them to others.
NLP is therefore often described as a “study of human excellence”
and “the difference that makes a difference” (Andreas and
Faulkner, 1994). According to Bandler and Grinder (1979), NLP can
be used to cure phobias and other unpleasant feeling and/or
responses in less than an hour. However, Sharpley (1984) reports
that the amount of published data supporting NLP as a viable model
for therapeutic change is minimal. This is true until today.
Nevertheless, many skilled NLP trainers have a wealth of clinical
data indicating that this model is highly effective. “Clearly
these practitioners would provide a service to the field by
presenting their data in the literature so they may be critically
evaluated” Einspruch and Forman (1985).
One of the objectives of the research is also
to provide empirical support for Einspruch & Forman (1985). There
have been many previous research (cited in Einspruch & Forman,
1985), that have attempted to debunk NLP. However, Einspruch &
Forman (1985) defended NLP and instead, attacked previous research
stating that such “failed” research used flawed methodologies -
more specifically by using researchers who are not properly
certified as trainers, master practitioners or even practitioners
in NLP. As such, the aforementioned criticised research had
experiments that resulted in the outcomes of the test groups being
no different from the control groups. Einspruch & Forman (1985)
revealed that all of the 39 empirical studies reviewed failed to
provide adequate investigator training. For example, in Dowd and
Hingst’s (1983) study, students who had no experience as
therapists were trained in four 90- minute sessions (i.e. a total
of 6 hours, in contrast to a Practitioner Certification course
that is 130 hours!). This does not provide enough time to develop
mastery of the NLP framework including the vital pre-requisite to
any NLP procedure - establishing rapport. Rapport is not just
about matching representational systems. It is a complex matter
involving matching and mirroring many other aspects such as body
posture, facial expression, breathing etc. Einspruch & Forman
(1985) pointed out that many previous studies such as Appel
(1983), Brockman (1980/1981), Cody (1983), Ellickson (1983), Dorn
(1983), Dowd and Pety (1982), Ehrmantraut (1983), Falzett (1981),
Green (1981), Hammer (1983) and Paxton (1981) did not understand
that NLP requires the cooperation and submission of the respondent
very much like in hypnosis. Furthermore, as Einspruch & Forman
(1985) pointed out, if comparisons are to be made with other
treatment approaches, the therapists using any comparative model,
should be equally proficient. NLP is a complex model requiring
extensive training before a practitioner may legitimately
undertake a study of this nature. One cannot simply attend one or
two workshops, read a book and assume that he or she can
effectively perform NLP therapy any more than this can be assumed
for any other model of therapy (Einspruch & Forman 1985) including
hypnosis and TLT.
Although there are some more recent research
such as Ashok & Santhakumar (2002) that have showed the benefits
of using NLP at work, there is no such experimental research that
simultaneously investigated in a single study, the effectiveness
of using hypnosis, TLT and NLP as a means of reducing stress and
negative emotions. Thus, the first and main objective of this
research is to find out about the relative effectiveness of
selected techniques in these three fields in reducing stress and
negative emotions. The results of the test groups were compared
with a control group. The second objective of this study is to
address the issues raised in Einspruch & Forman (1985) - namely
about the lack of qualification and experience of researchers
conducting experiments. The researcher in the current study is a
certified trainer of hypnosis, TLT and NLPHyHY. It is worthwhile
to point out that while Einspruch & Forman (1985) defended NLP,
they themselves failed to conduct experiments to show the
contrary. No one else has done so until today, and this justifies
this research to be done. The researcher is not only a
Practitioner and Master Practitioner, but also a certified trainer
of hypnosis, TLT and NLP attached with the American Board of
Hypnosis, the TLT Association and the American Board of NLP
respectively. The researcher has over two years of related
experience since graduating as a Trainer. He also holds a PhD
pertaining to Psychology and has over seven years of post-doctoral
Respondents in the test group were
participants of the same seminar/workshop entitled “Empower
yourself Through NLP, TLT and Hypnosis” but from two separate
sessions. Both sessions were identical and were conducted
personally by the researcher. The participants also consented to
participating in this research.
The intensity of stress and negative emotions
were measured using numerical scales from one to ten – ten being
the most intense and one being the total absence of such feelings.
Similar scales were used for hypnosis, NLP and TLT procedures.
The session started on the morning of the
first day with hypnosis. Participants were required to indicate
their current stress levels (from one to ten) prior to the
activity. Then, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) techniques
were taught to the participants along with mental imagery of
pleasant surroundings. Participants were invited to imagine
themselves floating on a cool stream in a pleasant forest and
finally landing on a beautiful beach by the sea. The process was
accompanied by the relevant sounds of nature played on a sound
system. During this time the participants were asked to gauge
their level of stress/relaxation. Then, the participants were
gradually brought back to full consciousness. Immediately
therafter, the participants were again asked to indicate their
scores on the questionnaire – one score for how relaxed they felt
during the hypnotic procedure and the other regarding how they
felt after they were brought back to full consciousness.
NLP session was conducted during the afternoon of the first day.
The participants were asked to remember an unresolved event that
they still felt stressed about. They were asked to remember it
vividly and associate themselves into the memory i.e. see through
the first person view. They were asked to indicate their level of
stress when associating into the memory. Then, they were taught
the dissociative technique i.e. see through the third person view.
Then, they were asked to change the “submodalities” of the mental
picture i.e. by changing it from colour to black and white, reduce
the clarity and size and gradually push the picture further and
further away from them. After that, the participants were told to
record their score about how stressed they felt about the event.
The TLT session was
conducted during most of the second day. During the morning, the
researcher explained the theory, basis and techniques in TLT.
Then, the procedures were done during the afternoon as follows:
participants were required to first of all recall one event in
which they felt the most anger which was responsible for them
feeling stressed. They were asked to record the level of the
emotional intensity of anger. Subsequently participants were
taught the process of TLT and a group induction was performed on
them to release the anger on all events from the past including
the most significant event. Respondents were then asked to record
the level of emotional intensity of anger after the TLT process.
The same was repeated for the negative emotion of sadness which
was also responsible for them feeling stressed.
The control group
comprised of part-time Master of Business Administration students
at a University who were all working people and of roughly the
same age group and job level as the test groups. Coincidentally,
the test groups also had some students from the same course at the
same university. Thus, in terms of demographics, they are similar.
Respondents in the control group recorded their stress levels and
intensity of negative emotions once, then a second time twenty
minutes later. They were not taught any of the techniques
Demonstration of Getting Rid of Negative Emotions...Click
Table 1: Gender of Test
The mean age of the
participants in the test group was 38 years, i.e. ranging from 22
to 61. The age range was not so wide in the control group i.e. 28
to 47 years, but the mean age was similar to the test group. In
terms of racial composition, there were 17 Malays, 14 Chinese and
1 Indian in the test groups. There were also 17 Malays, 14 Chinese
and 1 Indian in the control group.
Table 2: Race of Test Group
For the test groups, paired sample t-tests
were performed using SPSS to assess the changes in intensity
levels of emotions before and after the participating in the
techniques in hypnosis, TLT and NLP. There were significant
reductions in intensity levels for all three techniques. As
expected no such change was recorded among the control group. The
average score for the participants in the test group before being
taught the hypnotic techniques was 5.56. The average score during
was 3.53. T-test showed that the differences were significant at
the 0.01 level. Participants reported being very relaxed during
the progressive relaxation and mental imagery exercises. The
average score of the participants after hypnosis was 3.06. T-tests
showed that there were no significant differences in the scores
during, compared with after the hypnotic induction, indicating
that the relaxing effects of hypnotism continued to work even
after the participants came out of trance.
The average score for the
participants in the test group before being taught the NLP
dissociation technique was 7.72. The reason why this score was
high was probably because the participants were told to associate
into the memory first and give a score for the intensity of the
emotions. Subsequently, they were taught the dissociative
technique. The average score in terms of intensity of the emotions
after doing the dissociative technique was 3.25. T-tests showed
that the differences were significant at the 0.01 level.
In relation to TLT, the
average score of the participants for anger before being taught
the technique was 6. The average score after was 1.28. T-tests
showed that the differences were significant at the 0.01 level.
Twenty five out of the thirty two participants managed to
completely remove all of their anger from their past within twenty
minutes – some were able to do so in less than ten minutes.
Seven of the participants were not able to remove anger entirely
from their past in the TLT group induction, although for all of
them, the reduction was significant.
In relation to TLT, the average score of the
participants for sadness before being taught the technique was
6.5. The average score after was 1.72. T-tests showed that the
differences were significant at the 0.01 level. Twenty three out
of the thirty two participants managed to completely remove all of
their sadness from their past in the twenty minute process – some
were able to do so in less than ten minutes. However, the
remaining nine participants were not able to remove sadness
entirely from their past in the TLT group induction, although, for
all of them, the reduction was significant.
Table 3: Test group mean
measurement taken before the procedure
Measurement taken during the procedure
Measurement taken within 5 minutes after the procedure
Comparing the different techniques, it can be seen that the
average score of the participants after the procedure, were lower
for TLT compared with hypnosis and NLP. In fact James and
Woodsmall (1988) prescribes that in TLT, negative emotions are to
be completely removed from the past. As mentioned earlier, many of
the participants were able to remove their anger and sadness
completely from the past. For the rest, they were not able to do
so. A follow-up group interview was done on these people and the
common reason cited was that they preferred a one-on-one session
rather than a group induction and that there is one major event
that they are not able to resolve.
As expected, no significant changes in the
scores of the control group were recorded. The average scores for
the control group were as follows:
Table 4: Control group scores
Second measurement taken 20 minutes later
This study compared the relative
effectiveness of hypnosis with techniques in two other separate
but related fields – TLT and NLP. The sample consisted of 32
individuals in the test groups and 32 individuals in the control
group. Measurements were taken before and after each of the
procedure. The absence of changes in the control group in this
study and the fact that there were significant reduction in stress
levels and intensity of negative emotions in the test groups
suggest that it is the techniques in hypnosis, TLT and NLP that
are effective and are responsible for these changes.
However, some finer distinctions can be made here. For instance,
hypnosis can be useful to get people to relax their mind and body.
On the other hand, TLT is effective in removing specific negative
emotions attached to all memories from the past, thus reducing or
eliminating stress caused by these memories. The NLP dissociative
technique is useful to take the “sting” or stress caused by
painful memories from the past simply by changing the
submodalities or the characteristics of the mental picture. Thus,
although each of these techniques can be used to reduce stress
generally, the way in which each of these techniques operate is
different. Therefore, the practical implication to practicing
hypnotherapists is that other techniques such as TLT and NLP can
be employed along with hypnosis. Consequently, TLT and NLP should
be viewed as complimentary rather than competing models with
Another interesting issue raised in this
research is that some participants have reported preference for
one-to-one sessions rather than group sessions. This was certainly
true for TLT and hypnosis. Some participants commented that both
processes took too long and their mind wandered. Others said that
they wanted to take a longer time. Thus, the group sessions could
not accommodate the different preferences of individuals.
Actually, one of the participants who was not able to remove
sadness at all during the procedure was subsequently able to
remove them entirely when she signed up for the practitioner
certification course and repeated the procedure, but on a
The limitation of this study is the lack of
randomization of the test groups – most of them were self-selected
as most of them chose to attend the seminar wherein the research
was conducted. They were probably the most hypnotizable. However,
10 out of 32 of the participants in the test group (i.e. roughly
one third) were not self-selected as they were directed by their
superior to attend. Perhaps future research can compare the scores
of those who were self-selected and those who were directed by
their superiors to attend the seminar. Another limitation is that
this study is cross-sectional, and there is no way of knowing
whether the reductions in the levels of stress and negative
emotions were permanent or temporary. Future research should take
the form of a longitudinal study. Measurements can be taken in
one, three, six months, and one year into the future. Also, groups
that have taken refresher courses conducted by the researcher can
also be compared with groups that have not. Also test groups
consisting of people from different countries and cultures all
over the world can be compared. In fact, this is the next research
project contemplated by the researcher.
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