Neuro-linguistic programming: mind games

Sacramento life coach has an alternative approach to psychotherapy

Joyce Wallach: coaching the game of your life.

Joyce Wallach: coaching the game of your life.

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What’s it take to “coach” someone to a better life? Is a life coach basically a therapist sans couch, barking guidance from life’s sidelines, providing cheers and orange slices for goals achieved?

Investigating Sacramento’s life-coach scene led to Joyce Wallach, a corporate lawyer-turned-life-coach, also trained in neuro-linguistic programming. Developed in the 1970s, NLP is an alternative approach to psychotherapy that uses language, imagination and the body to change beliefs and thought patterns. Wallach combines NLP and coaching to help clients with everything from weight loss to vocation and relationships.

My first one-hour session took place at Wallach’s Land Park home. We set intentions as coach and client, and then she outlined the process: Identify the negative, draw out the positive, reframe and reimprint. I started with some prominent negative thoughts.

“Most of us have a negative voice in our head,” Wallach explained. In order to “remodel the critical voice,” NLP teaches that “there’s a positive intent and purpose behind every behavior.” The process begins with locating the voice and discovering its origin—usually a parent, teacher or childhood experience. Wallach and I stood side by side facing a blank lavender wall. As I mentally repeated my key negative thoughts, I seemed to hear them in the rear right side of my head.

“OK, now turn and face me. I’m gonna hold on to that for you.” Wallach mimed grabbing the critical voice. “Now run all the way to the end of the hall, turn around and see where my hand is. Give me your reaction of who that is.” I followed her instructions, but faltered in my response. She advised listening to my gut instinct, which said it was my dad.

“Imagine you can still see the Keleigh who’s standing here, and fill that spot with light and love,” Wallach directed. She asked a string of questions designed to extract the positive intent behind my dad’s original messages. “He didn’t want me to fail. He wanted to protect me,” I conceded.

Next, we addressed a core “limiting belief,” in my case the feeling that “I’ll always be alone because I’m not enough.” Wallach explained that “97 percent of limiting beliefs are formed by the time we’re 7 years old.” She walked me through a “reframing” process to reveal the positive intent, asking, “What benefit have you derived from holding on to this belief?” Then I “installed” a “real belief statement” as replacement: “I can be myself and be loved.” But it wasn’t enough just to say the new mantra; I had to make it reflexive through repetition. I also incorporated hand gestures, syllabic emphasis and tonal inflections.

With 15 minutes left, Wallach guided me through a “reimprinting” process. I allowed the feeling of my old limiting belief to focalize in my stomach, placing my right hand over it as an anchor. “Take a step back on the timeline, so you’re getting younger. Let your unconscious guide you,” she said. I followed the feeling all the way back to the womb.

Looking up at the lavender wall as if it were a movie screen, I “saw” my mother at 28, pregnant, worried about having a fourth child. Wallach asked me what personal resources she needed at the time. Then I saw myself at a moment in life when I possessed those qualities—self-awareness, confidence and faith in life. After mentally conveying the necessary resources to my mother, I watched images of my life play across the lavender screen, growing from infant to present self. Finally, Wallach directed me to sprinkle these positive resources throughout my future, so that they’d be available at all times.

I left the coaching session buoyant and energetic. The following week, we had a follow-up by phone, where Wallach asked strategic questions to increase clarity on specific issues. She suggested I set immediate goals. “The client really does all the work,” she concluded, giving an enthusiastic send-off.

“We are what we think,” the Buddha stated. True—and Wallach demonstrated that thought can be a path to self-liberation.