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Practical Uses of NLP, and What Is It About Wheelchairs?

by Nancy Blake(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 208 - August 2013

Just a quick refresher about metaprogrammes, first! You have a friend who shares your enthusiasms (maybe she’s the only one to whom you can admit being a TOWIE* fan). When you tell her your latest craze, she says “that sounds great, it’s just like ……” Then there is your other friend, whose response may be an equally enthusiastic “That sound great, not like that other thing…..”. Your first friend is someone who ‘sorts for similarities’. Your second friend is someone who ‘sorts for differences’. If you wanted to persuade your first friend to come with you on holiday, you would tell her how much the new place was like another place she had liked. If you wanted to persuade your second friend, you would tell her how different the new place was from a place she hadn’t enjoyed. But what about the person we all know, the impossible to persuade, the person who ‘can’t take “yes” for an answer’? Even when you are agreeing with them, they’ll say “but that isn’t what I meant!”. Everything is ‘no’. If you want her to come along, tell her you’d love to have her along but you know she’d hate it.

Nancy Blake article

This may sound flippant, but I am seriously suggesting that when you are dealing with a person who has to disagree, try telling them exactly what it is you know they will disagree with, and see what happens. You are in for a surprise!

Now we’ve covered the usefulness of NLP in dealing with the impossible person, let’s consider the usefulness of NLP in dealing with people who have ME/CFS.

ME/CFS is paradoxical, countercultural. We are supposed to ‘fight’ illnesses, we are supposed to challenge negative beliefs, and we all know that exercise is a really important part of restoring damaged or weakened parts of our body - it’s called rehabilitation.

Reading the stories of people who have ME/CFS, it is surprising how many of the severely ill were dedicated athletes of one form or another before becoming ill.[1] Many persisted as long as they could in the face of the complete muscular wipe-outs, the development of more symptoms, including widespread and acute physical pain. Many were moderately ill until going through physiotherapy involving exercise, at which point they became severely ill. Some have been made much worse just through the kind of exercise tests done by researchers sympathetic to our cause.[2] We really do need to rest. It seems that some of us can accept that if we feel ill and like we need to lie down a lot, that’s what we will do. The general culture hates people like us. We are supposed to take the tablets and carry on, or feel abject and worthless. Did you see that program about a private agency paid to get unemployed disabled people back into jobs? The acronym, in that agency, for their client group was something like WLLB - Whining Lying Lazy Bastards. That, apparently is what our culture really thinks about disability. If I’ve somehow imbibed that cultural attitude, how bad am I going to feel about myself when I wake up one morning and find out that, for no particular visible reason, I have to lie down for half an hour after I’ve walked across the room? On some primitive level in our brains, we seem to share the herd horror of the one who is visibly different, moving in a peculiar way, can’t keep up with the flock - ‘get rid of it, kill it’. It seems it is more highly developed animals, such as elephants, who learn to help their disabled members, slow the pace so they can keep up…  (Current government policies make it appear that we are reverting to the level of lesser forms of life!)

NLP includes a concept called ‘logical levels’. At the lowest level is our environment - which I think includes not only what is around us at the moment, but our life history, and our genetic endowment. These are things which impinge on us, rather than being under conscious control. Then there is ‘behaviour’ - what we do. Right now, I am typing. The next level is how we do what we do - our capabilities - some of which we may have developed, some of which are potential for developing. I am able to play the piano and I do. I would be able to learn Italian, I already know a lot of French and some Spanish. But I haven’t developed that capability. Yet. Then there are two categories which are usually run together, but which I believe are separate. These are Beliefs (what we consider to be true) and Values (what we consider to be important). The sum of all of these can be gathered up into our Identity - who we are. There is a further level, which I call ‘How we are connected to higher values’ - usually called ‘Spiritual’. Here we can find what we believe to be our mission in life.  

Now, NLP, and wheelchairs! If sports are things that I do, but being a psychotherapist is who I am, getting ME/CFS (and having to use a wheelchair sometimes) is going to be quite inconvenient, and there are some things that I won’t be doing any more, or nearly as much. But ‘who I am’ isn’t challenged - given a lifestyle adapted to limiting physical exertion, I can continue to function as a psychotherapist. If, on the other hand, being a physically active, sports-minded person, who always offers others help with physical tasks, is ‘who I am’, then ME/CFS is going to feel as though it has utterly destroyed me.  

An appropriate use of neurolinguistic psychotherapy, then, is not to persuade the person who has ME/CFS that they don’t have a physiological illness (they do, though it is complex). The help needed is first of all to appreciate that clever conservation of muscular exertion - through gadgets, and through modifying activity - can permit a continuation of the essential elements of normal living, and normal employment, and leave a margin of energy needed by the body to establish a pathway towards improvement. Particularly if a person’s sense of identity is challenged by these changes, work must be done to reframe the meanings of these adaptations. Getting into a wheelchair is not a sign of weakness - the wheelchair, along with many other practical gadgets, becomes a ‘weapon’ in the ‘fight’ against ME/CFS. Resting is another such ‘weapon’.

And in my constant efforts to facilitate other people going to heaven, I sometimes use the wheelchair as an actual weapon - if two polite requests to ‘let me by, please’ are ignored, gouging them in the ankles with the footplates (‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I have no idea how that happened!’) will help them to become better people in the future, or at least to pay a bit more attention to people in wheelchairs.

Social morality requires that we judge people, not by race, religion, gender, age or disability, but by who they are - their personality, their individuality. We attempt to rid ourselves of prejudice and stereotyping - so if we find ourselves on the other side of those stereotypes, suddenly making use of a wheelchair - we need to be equally concerned to help others not to make those negative judgements. As we wheel ourselves, or are wheeled around, we owe it to others to sit straight, look the world in the eye, force them to see the person, not the chair. And, should they fail the test we set them, find little ways (“Sorry, do you have a problem seeing someone if they’re in a wheelchair?”) to make them wish they were dead!

*TOWIE – The Only Way is Essex, beautiful, inane, lovable people with lots of fake bits, and small fluffy dogs, on ITV 2. Can’t explain it, you’ll just have to look for yourself.


1. Invest in ME. Lost Voices from a hidden illness. [ed.] Naomi Boulton. 2nd. Mabe : Wild Conversations Press. Collection of interviews with people severely ill with ME and their relatives. ISBN: 978-0-9560266-0-6. 2010.

2. Spotila, Jennie. Exercise Testing and Results. Occupy CFS. [Online] Occupy CFS. Gives a very detailed explanation of the role of reaching/exceeding anaerobic threshold in ME/CFS.  3 July 2012. [Cited: 5 September 2012.]


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About Nancy Blake

Nancy Blake BA CQSW, has worked in mental health settings since 1971. She served as the Chair of the ANLP PCS (now the NLPtCA), as well as on a National Working Party developing postgraduate standards for Psychotherapy (NVQ Level 5), and contributed to the document which led to NLP being accepted as a therapeutic modality by the European Association for Psychotherapy.  She has presented workshops at UKCP Professional Conferences on an NLP approach to working with victims of abuse, and in psychoneuroimmunology.  Recovering from ME since 1986, she is the co-author, with Dr Leslie O Simpson, of the book Ramsay’s Disease (ME) about ME, as well as A Beginner's Guide to ME / CFS (ME/CFS Beginner's Guides). Both titles are available both in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. Nancy was previously enrolled at Lancaster University in a PhD doctoral program; her thesis topic was Conflicting Paradigms of ME/CFS and how the Psychiatric Paradigm creates its Influence in contrast to the Medical Model. She may be contacted via Her books are available to purchase at

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