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An earlier version of these articles was published in The Magic Lamp, Issues 7 - 12
by Philip Harland
Sam is a happily married, hard-working young man in his 30's. Active, ambitious and slightly overweight. He has a compulsion - not for drugs, sex, smoking or gambling, but chocolate. I'm fascinated by this because I like chocolate myself, and I can identify with him enough to know there's a fine line sometimes between liking and craving, and a short step from craving to compulsion. Have you ever wondered how easy it might be to take that step yourself? Sam's addiction started as the sort of petty pattern of occasional craving that touches most of the people I know. As this is such a universal problem I want to try an experiment and share my work with Sam as it happens. I have his permission to do this on the understanding that he will see these articles before they go on the web. As I write we've had our first session and have contracted for half a dozen more. We have no idea what the outcome will be.

Week 1

"Melting in the mouth ..."
Do you have a predilection for certain foods?
One in particular? Go on, what is it?
Condensed sweetened milk? Pickled gherkins?

Would you say you indulged yourself now and again?
Oh, daily? Several times a day?

Sam says he wants to change his eating habits and lose 20 lbs. When we look more closely at this desire, it develops into "To control my compulsive eating." In a conversational version of clean language we clarify what he means ("What kind of 'control'? What do you mean by 'compulsive'?" etc). Then I take him through an Addiction Audit (see footnote), a comprehensive analysis of the attitudes around and influences on the client's addiction - without making any assumptions. I have theories about the systemic structure of dependency, but I shan't impose these. We'll just see if any patterns emerge during the audit that Sam may recognise and elect to find out more about later.

First we look at emotional gain. Sam describes his compulsive eating as "Like filling a garbage can". A fascinating metaphor, but doesn't sound much like a gain to me. However you can never take metaphors for granted. There may well be a latent resource in the garbage that we'll discover later.

We check cultural influences . Sam speaks with feeling about the layout of his local supermarket, where sweets are concentrated near the checkout, a place he has no choice but to linger at while queuing.

He talks about family influences, including an exciting weekend ritual when Daddy - absent for most of the week - would produce a special treat after lunch ("Now who would like a nice bar of chocolate?" ).

We go back to school, where Sam had to have special remedial lessons for dyslexia. He would eat (and was often sick on) whole packets of Hob Nobs as a way of distracting himself at an emotionally difficult time.

We break down the sensory distinctions related to his enjoyment of chocolate: "I want the sensation of sweetness ... I like the crumbling texture ... I enjoy the feeling of it melting in the mouth." You can sense yourself how addictive an indulgence this could become.

We look at Sam's strategies for his compulsive eating and discover an association with rest: when he's working he doesn't notice the need for chocolate; when he stops after two or three hours he does. We find that when he's with friends he's "considerate" and eats moderately, but when he's alone there's "no inhibition".

We consider the issue at all levels of his experience : environment, behaviour, capability ("I can't control it"), beliefs & values ("But I believe I can make it disappear"), identity ("I'm the sort of person who would have to forget I ever liked chocolate" ) and beyond self ("It would be better for human progress if I were healthier.") Somewhere in the information generated by this audit is a clue to the solution Sam wants, which is to rid himself of the compulsion. But where is the clue? In a light trance Sam finds himself going back to school again. He's having a bad feeling now. "Where is that feeling?" I ask. He pulls a face. He says "Oh, I don't want to go down that route." I hesitate. I don't want to lead him, but my experience tells me this may be a good route down which to go. Without prompting he adds, "So I guess I should!"

Next week I plan to ask Sam to identify the positive intention of his compulsion. What is the pay-off he gets from something he doesn't want?

Footnote on the Addiction Audit: Notes by American NLP trainer Sid Jacobson ('Some Important Considerations in Quitting or Controlling Smoking') inspired me to develop this systematic assessment and treatment model applicable to any addiction, compulsion or dependency. It's available for personal use by downloading the Possession and Desire paper - if you make use of the model I ask only that you give me a credit and don't be shy of referring yourself or your clients to me. Please remember that the articles and the audit are copyright material and are not available for anything other than your personal use without the express permission of the copyright holder.

Philip Harland
Photo of Philip Harland Philip Harland is a neurolinguistic psychotherapist with a private practice in London, England. He has written many articles on Clean Language for professional journals and the internet. In 2009 Philip published the first book related to David Grove's last innovations, Emergent Knowledge, 'THE POWER OF SIX: A Six Part Guide to Self Knowledge'. You can order a copy from or

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