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Mind/Body Talk: NLP Talking Therapies - The Brooklyn Program

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 154 - January 2009

The NHS is spending an extra £33millon on delivering more high intensity, brief, talking therapies to clients. The Neuro-Linguistic Programming models featured at this year's NLP Research Conference at Surrey University illustrated one successful model that may fit the criteria.

The Brooklyn Program operated as an in-house substance use treatment program for the Federal Probation office in Brooklyn, New York between 1997 and 2004. During this time, it treated offenders with little personal direction who had drug addiction and substance misuse disorders.

Participants met in weekly groups for two hours with one or two facilitators for the program's 16 week span.  Clients who completed the program did as well as others who had been referred for standard intensive outpatient treatment, but at a massive saving in treatment costs.

The program is unique because it is non-confrontational and non-directive. Instead of addressing the problem behaviours, the program at first helps participants to learn new skills.

Richard Gray PhD Assistant Professor School of Criminal Justice, Fairleigh Dickinson University, who presented the findings says: "The work does not immediately focus on the problem; instead it emphasizes that participants can learn to enhance their memory, feel better emotionally, gain control over their emotions, choose how and when they want to feel differently and then to design a meaningful future. The initial work was presented as laying a behavioural foundation for later work. It is important that the skills be valued for themselves, not as drug treatment."

There is a behavioural success criteria for each stage of the Program so that participants performance can be gauged. Once they have achieved a feel-good factor they learn coping strategy interventions they can use to curb their own behaviour. Clients are taught NLP skills that focus on giving them more choices on how to behave in stressful situations. Richard Gray adds: Clients are not directed to use these skills with drugs or problem behaviours. They are encouraged rather to learn the skills and to discover how and where they will work best for them."

Intervention was based on awakening in clients a personal identity, giving them practical new skills they could use immediately and asking them to imagine a more highly-valued future.  At times of cravings or feelings of being locked into a cycle of repetitive behaviour, clients had options and other behaviours should they choose to use them.

Many of the basic techniques used in the Brooklyn Program were taken from NLP, a set of therapy tools and strategies developed in the mid-1970s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who modelled the behaviours of therapists such as Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls, renowned for their abilities to modify unwanted or un-useful behaviours in clients.

Anchoring States

Offenders were taught to 'anchor' resourceful states. Most people can remember bad things that happened and replay them on demand. And, with practice, they can also learn to access good memories to use as a confidence building and self-esteem resource.

Richard Gray says: Clients were taught to take memories of real experiences of focused attention: making a good decision, discovering the moment of behavioural consolidation – like when learning to ride a bike, an experience of fun, and an experience of personal competence and to enhance each of these experiences of personal competence, to ecstatic levels. Then they were taught to connect each enhanced state to a distinctive conditioned stimulus so that each would become an internal resource state which clients could access instantly and at will.

Participants were encouraged to practise their anchoring of good states into multiple situations so that they could be generalized and used in other areas of life.  Richard Gray says: "One of the most striking outcomes in the course of the program was the near universal and spontaneous use that people made of anchors for anger management."

People realized they had a reliable means to control their emotions, and they began to use anchors to create choice about how they were feeling in the moment. One offender who had violated paroles for bank robbery because of his cocaine habit, said that he had turned-up where he usually bought his drugs and felt agitated and confused and did not know what to do.  Richard Gray says; "Importantly, he left and went home without buying drugs, and apart from one lapse, he has never taken drugs again.'  Clients did not have to behave instinctively, because they had choices and additional resources which were not available to them before.

Offenders used NLP well-formed outcomes, so they could set future goals and evaluate them in terms of their impact on their current life and the lives of the people around them.

Participants reported an increase in self-esteem and positive feelings, and a high proportion, 30% of those who completed the programme and had random urine analysis testing, were still drug-free after one year.

Further Information

The Brooklyn Project


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About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 


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