Reverse Meta Model: Presuppositions


Reverse Meta Model: Presuppositions

A reminder:
In NLP the “meta model” is Bandler and Grinder’s name for the wellformedness conditions of the surface structure of the English language. As Bostic and Grinder put it, it is “… designed for the express purpose of challenging the limitations in the mental maps carried by clients who seek professional assistance in changing themselves through the processes of therapy.”  (Whispering In the Wind.)

In Hypnosis we sometimes chose to deliberately violate these wellformedness conditions (“reversing the meta model”) in order to be purposefully and artfully vague.

All sentences require certain things to be presupposed. As an example, the sentence, “The bird landed on the post,” presupposes many things, but clearly it presupposes the existence of a bird and that of a post. It also presupposes that the bird was flying in order for it to land, although there may be other circumstances wherein that could happen.

In a therapeutic context, clients will be presupposing a variety of things that may be part of the reason they need therapy in the first place. It’s really good for the therapist to recognise them and be able to question them when they appear. That’s where the meta model comes into play.

As the therapist, however, you can make good use of presuppositions for good purpose.

In Hypnosis, you can  purposely use  presuppositions to create responsiveness. In the examples below, in order to make sense of the communication, one of the things the client must accept is the Hypnotist’s presupposition of the existence of trance. By the way – there are at least five things presupposed in each sentence that will spring out at you if you stop to look for them. How many can you see?


“As you listen to the sound of my voice you can float down even more deeply into trance.”

“And when your hands finally do touch, you may find that you automatically take a deep breath before you drift all the way down into a very deep trance.”

There is a famous example from the Ericksonian literature I’ll paraphrase here.

A man came in to see Erickson to quit smoking. Erickson looked at him and said, “How surprised will you be when you wake up tomorrow as a non-smoker?” When the man answered, “I’ll be very surprised!” Erickson dismissed him, knowing the therapy was complete. The man, in fact, did successfully quit smoking the next day. How did Erickson know? Because the man didn’t question the presupposition in Erickson’s question. His answer was not “I don’t think that will happen,” his answer was, “I’ll be very surprised (when it does).”

NOTE: The subject of presuppositions is a huge one. I’ll be writing more about them in the near future. For more information and insight, see the article by Robert Dilts on the “Articles” section of our web site,

About Doug O'Brien

Doug O’Brien is a Master Practitioner and Trainer of NLP, and a Certified Hypnotherapist. In 1988, while assisting at NLP and NAC training seminars with Anthony Robbins, Doug achieved the designation of Master Trainer. He now conducts numerous seminars of his own around the globe (specializing in the “Sleight of Mouth” patterns of Robert Dilts, NLP Certification Courses, and Ericksonian Hypnotherapy) and helped found Columbia-Presbyterian’s Department of Complementary Medicine with Dr. Mehmet Oz.

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