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Stories that Heal

by Kendall Dowie(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 20 - May 1997

What has all this got to do with health? Well, to start with, your unconscious mind runs most of your day-to-day bodily functions, without you having to be consciously aware of them. Breathing, digesting, to name only two. Just think, wouldn’t it be handy to be able to talk directly to the co-ordinator of your physical being? After all, who can be a greater authority on the health of your body, than your own unconscious mind? Furthermore, that authority is likely to be the best place to find a remedy.

Talking to your unconscious mind is really child’s play. The language of the unconscious is one of story, symbol and metaphor. There is nothing the unconscious mind enjoys more than the space to create and the opportunity to solve problems in the most ingenious and often witty ways. This does not mean that you have to create stories consciously, in fact quite the opposite. This is where your skills of vision and imagination come in, your only conscious input is to let it happen.

The secret is to trust in your ability to enter the realm of your unconscious mind and let it tell you a story. It is often much easier to do this with a second person acting as a guide, but we all have stories just waiting to unfold. In fact, your unconscious mind has probably already got a wealth of stories it would love to share. How many of you, for example hear yourself using phrases like “I’ve been hitting my head against a brick wall!” or “I feel as free as a bird”? These phrases are simply linguistic invitations to a world of endless possibility.

I have worked as a guide with many people with this kind of therapy: sometimes I can see a direct link between the story and the clients presenting problem. The link, however, is not always obvious, but every person I have ever worked with knows when the story is complete. Time and time again clients report to me that although they have no rational explanation as to why things have changed in their life, they undoubtedly have changed and for the better.

To illustrate in more detail the scope and variety of this work, the following are three of my more recent case studies:

The first is some work I am doing with a woman who has a prolapsed womb. We will call her Lynn. On Lynn’s first visit to me, it became apparent that her previous attempts to receive help had left her feeling quite demoralised. She had consulted a top Gynaecologist who had been less than encouraging about her situation and this had only added to her existing beliefs about the severity of her condition.

Often during a first interview I will hear in the client’s language a window for a story, such as “my back is as stiff as a rod”. This time, however, there was no immediate story presenting, so I asked Lynn, “If you were to represent this problem as a landscape, how would it look?”

Lynn immediately saw an image of a dark, deep pit. The pit and surrounding landscape were very barren. The pit’s first response was to grow a grassy verge with some small flowers and trees. The story continued with the pit raising its centre, but Lynn reported that this was not going to achieve the desired result. The pit’s centre lowered again and Lynn reported that she could now see what was needed. The pit in fact needed some structural support in the shape of vertical struts around its walls and circular horizontal connecting rods between the vertical struts. Lynn began to see these structures going in to place and it was time for the end of the session.   

The following week Lynn returned with a completely different outlook on her condition, she had been to see another doctor who had been much more encouraging. He had given some very useful information and inspired her to do the necessary exercises. He had also recommended an acupuncturist colleague whom she had already found very helpful. Lynn’s image had now changed to an intricate network of horizontal and vertical fibres that we continue to work with.

There are instances where the creativity engaged on an internal journey is enough for a total healing to happen. In this case Lynn’s unconscious processing freed her to find a number of alternatives to assist her with the re-strengthening of her womb.

The second case was a woman, we will call her Ann. Ann came to me reporting to be very stressed, so much so that she was experiencing anything beyond her normal routine as totally overwhelming. She reported having some irregular sensations in her heart area, in her words, it was ‘jumping about’ and she had been feeling very depressed.

In the initial interview Ann actually used the word ‘slimy’, to describe her condition. Here was the window: I asked Ann “What kind of slimy?”

This took us into a dark cavern where she was trapped on a stone path by a deep, slimy bog that had a yellowy mist emanating from it. It was dank and lifeless. “What needs to happen?”

The cavern wall replied that she needed to become one with it. Ann did this and became aware that the wall was the underside of a large mountain. The story continued with her expanding and becoming one with the mountain and then floating out and up into the stratosphere where she became one with ‘the ether’. She now noticed how all the plant life on the mountain was being bathed in this ether and appeared more radiant and vibrant in colour. (Internal journeys can often be a bit like the dream state where people can shift scenes without the process feeling abnormal in any way.)

The story then moved to a valley, surrounded by snow capped mountains; a little way up the hill was a chalet with a huge integral garage. The door of the garage was wide open, Ann’s word was actually ‘gaping’ and on further inspection the door seemed unable to be closed.

“Ask the chalet ‘What needs to happen?’“

The response was to bring the ether down into the chalet. The chalet and garage disintegrated leaving Ann standing in the foundations. The foundations’ response was a huge 5—6 ft wide crystal which rose out from the ground and a new house constructed itself around it.

The final part of the story took place in the basement where Ann reported that the left hand side of her picture was completely blacked out. The darkness responded by illuminating the walls with a magnificent array of tiny coloured crystals that reflected light throughout the entire basement. The story was complete with the arrival of a large lion to act as guardian of the crystals.

As a result of this journey, Ann reported an immediate lifting of her depression which has not returned, as well as a greatly settled heart.

The third story takes us away from the health of the body, into the health of a business. A young, self-employed stock market trader, who we’ll call Mike, recently came to see me. He arrived saying that he was currently unhappy with the way he had been trading. Mike felt he had lost his sharpness, so much so that he was having to bid in 5 lots only. This was causing him a great internal dilemma, he wanted to minimise his risks, but also wanted the freedom to play the market. The consequence was, he would lose his control, bid with more than he could afford, and often, end up losing.

I asked Mike what kind of sharpness he wanted. He was actually a little surprised with his answer, but described a picture of a sea bird with great elegance and precision, swooping down, diving and coming out with a huge fish; “And if you were to see yourself as that bird now, how would it look?”

His picture was one of a bird perched on a net covering an enclosure within the ocean that held all the fish within it. The size of the net spaces were such that the bird could only get peckings of fish, never enough to have a full meal. On conversing with the net it seemed that it did not trust the bird not to take too many fish, if given the chance. It also turned out, that although the bird longed to dive for fish, it had been a while since he had done so, and, in fact, the net was acting in a protective capacity for the bird as well as the fish. It was apparent that a relationship between the bird and the net needed to develop.

On his third session Mike reported he had devised himself a new strategy of working the market where he allowed himself to bid with progressively higher lots only as he reached the profit targets he had set. This was working well and he had had a good week’s trading. His comment on this new strategy was, “It is such a remarkably simple solution I cannot think why I have not thought of this before!”

I know nothing of how the stock market works, but Mike does, and that’s what matters. We continue to work with his net, bird and fish, as Mike’s work is netting him more and more profit!

From these three examples you can see just how easy it is to find stories from the words people use. These stories can be used for healing or as explorations in how to move forward in a business or a relationship. They are always an arena for the unconscious mind to communicate directly with the conscious mind.

In my experience, much of NLP is about tapping the resources of the unconscious mind. When I first started working with stories I had some reservations about their appropriateness in certain contexts or with some people. However, I have found with time that the results clients have reported from their inner journeys have been so wide reaching, profound and permanent that I have been inspired to continuously extend the scope and range of their application.

To date I have used stories with the health of people’s bodies, relationships and businesses. There have also been a number of people who have made new career decisions and/ or explored their life purpose. I am interested in extending this work even further, so suggestions are welcome. As a final comment I would like to say that one of the nicest things about working with people in this way is the unlimited creativity that everyone seems to be able to generate. The stories are always fascinating and I find it an honour and a pleasure to be present with the ingenious workings of people’s unconscious minds.


Therapeutic Metaphor, David Gordon. Meta Publications, California, 1978.
Metaphor: Implications and Applications, Ed. Jeffrey S Mio & Albert N Katz. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Inc., 1996.


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About Kendall Dowie

Kendall Dowie works for “Realisation”, a company offering NLP training based in York. She also sees clients on a one-to-one basis at her home in Hemel Hempstead. She can be contacted on 01442 63561.

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