How to Structure an NLP Coaching Session

Many students regularly want some guidance on how they might go about structuring an NLP "session" whether for coaching, therapeutic, or hypnotic purposes. I'll answer from the perspective of a coach (though I will say that I believe many of my ideas will apply outside of that context).

Begin with a Pre-Talk!

With a new client I usually offer a pre-talk that prepares them for the session, builds response potential and rapport, and innoculates against undesirable results or perceptions. Good NLP work done elegantly would almost never result in any unwanted result, and only offer positive options for moving forward, and a more positive mindset and perspective. However once in a while, a client's tendencies can enable them to blow things out of proportion or revert to unwanted patterns. E.g., if a client has a tendency to focus on the question "What if it doesn't work?" then likely, it won't. Or it will briefly, but then, revert back. What we focus on determines what we get.

With a pre-existing client doing ongoing coaching, I usually begin by asking for a quick report on what's happened since our last session, how things have gone. I praise them for their progress, correct any misunderstandings, and offer adjusted advice if they need any feedback or fine-tuning. I rarely if ever hear from an ongoing client that my previous advice "didn't work," because of course, any advice previously offered was heavily targeted to their filters, values, beliefs, and current capabilities. But I do periodically hear about new previously-unanticipated situations where their other successes didn't bridge over as easily as they'd wanted to the new contexts -- that's common enough. Also, with pre-existing clients, I check in with their larger/longer-range goals to measure overall progress, check for scope-creep (i.e. how outcomes occasionally drift -- sometimes good, sometimes not), and ensure an appropriate sense of useful movement in the right direction.

Ensure Well-Formed Outcomes

Whether with new or existing clients, after any initial exchanges and a quick review of past activity, then I begin the current session by getting/clarifying desired outcomes not only for the current session but also quickly revisit longer-term or larger scale outcomes. I make sure these are and remain, "well-formed." This refers to ensuring goals & outcomes are expressed in a way that maximizes the likelihood people will actually achieve their desired outcomes. Did you know that how you express your goals can make them more -- or less -- likely to achieve?

Sometimes people set the bar for a session way too high (rare, because we can achieve so much so quickly with NLP, but it does happen -- so only once in a blue moon do I suggest a client reduce his expectations for a session).

Often, NLP clients set the bar WAY too low for a session. They ask to help them resolve an unpleasant conversation. I'd much rather help them resolve that one and every similar one from there on out. So I often ask a client to chunk up or think bigger!

Sometimes people will initially ask for a certain MEANS to an end, and what I want to do first in such situations is, interview my way to the primary desired END, rather than focus only on their chosen means. If they tell you the method they'd want to use to get the final end-result, sometimes that's fine, and sometimes that means/method was chosen from an impoverished view of how to get out of their current problem. The means they suggest is not always the optimal way to help them solve their problem. So said differently, I want to help them get the ENDS, whereas I'm not necessarily invested in using their suggested MEANS to those ENDS.

Never Use Scripts in live NLP Sessions. Be Fully Present, and Design Custom Solutions!

From that point forward, what's done with a client is best handled on a totally unique basis. Here's my view as to why:

In my Linguistic Wizardry course, at the end, during my "Village Council" skills-integration exercises, NLP students are given a first-class lesson in how rich and meaningful human communication is (even when it isn't!). Repetitious rounds of that exercise drill... teach students experientially that you often see, hear, and feel within the first 2-3 sentences out of a client's mouth -- all you'll ever need to know about (a) the structure of someone's problem, and (b) an optimal solution for them. 2-3 sentences!

And, if any NLP Coach/Practitioner isn't seeing, hearing, feeling enough information during those 2-3 sentences to plan out most (most, not all) of a client session... then we probably have to blame the NLP marketplace for allowing training lengths & quality to dwindle significantly over time (& thus NLP consumers, for rewarding those providing shorter certification training providers). Again: The information we need about how a client structures their problem and any of several optimal solutions is usually all conveyed both verbally and nonverbally, in parallel, real-time, within the first 2-3 sentences of their communication.

Without question or doubt, the best advice I can offer is... get skilled at ramping up your sensory acuity and awareness, track client patterns, notice what they're not noticing, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and design a solution to get them from where they are, to where they want to go.  Depending on your methods and your particular discipline, that may involve running them through certain techniques, or teaching them new patterns, helping them build a new habit, using hypnotic communication, creating pattern interrupts, working with their timelines, or other approaches.  But the less "cookie-cutter" your solution, and the more unique and targeted you can be when creating solutions for clients, the better.

Ericksonian Tasking

The simplest interpretation of this is assigning your client some homework.  From a hypnosis or NLP perspective, this goes far beyond assigning homework.  It can be as simple as giving them some follow-up research.  It can however be far more enlightening, unconsciously empowering, and it can help a client lock in changes you've helped them imagine.  I adore the idea of using Ericksonian Tasking, and encourage everyone reading this to make an active study of this art.  Brilliant work. 

I would encourage any student of Ericksonian Tasking to consider this very much an art of pattern matching and creativity.  Blending what conscious behavior or cognitive patterns a client presents, with what unconscious behavior or cognitive patterns a client presents, with some creativity for designing metaphorical tasks that a client won't consciously notice or understand the reason for, yet... over time, helps the client get the desired result.  (I would say that at least some of the testimonials I receive are due to a love of this particular skill.)

I would also say that when you have a plan for the client to use over time after their session, they're more likely to feel that you know what you're doing (and naturally, that would also be true, because you're thinking across the larger scope of the client's process.  This is one form of evidence you're operating from a "generative" solution approach, and not just a "remedial" solution approach.


If a session was done mostly with "conscious" communication, and you know for certain a client has enjoyed the session, then I would say it's fine to ask for responses, conclusions, etc., to help solidify the work that was done.  This helps lock in client certainty that progress was achieved.  I would ensure that I ask questions that are very likely to receive a "yes" response.

If your session was done mostly with unconscious communication, and you know the client will not unpack or draw conclusions from a session until after they go home or go to work, etc., then do not ask for their conclusions or ask them any questions to which the answer could be "no."  This isn't because the work wasn't effective, it's because their unconscious minds may need time to process the work, and you don't want to tip the scales in any negative direction while they're processing.  Most of the time, in such a situation, I would not even ask digital (yes/no) questions.  I would ask vague and open-ended questions they can't answer with yes or no, possibly through conversational postulates.  E.g., "I wonder in how many circumstances or ways you'll find yourself noticing these changes occuring in your life?"  "How easily might you be surprised to find these new approaches just happening naturally for you?"  These are future oriented, positive questions/statements that direct the unconscious mind to start expecting the best results.

Finally I would wrap-up consciously, possible with some time-distortion, possibly with future-pacing, list the homework or  tasks or follow-up steps I may have assigned them, and possibly with some suggestions for what they can do if various things happen for them after the session.  This helps them handle the unknown with greater comfort.

Interested in deeper NLP Session skills?

In 2009, I shelved my Linguistic Wizardry course, after training it 30-some-odd times all around the globe.  And as of 2012, I've received enough requests to bring it back.  :)  Why not join me at my next LW course?