Prerequisites for an effective Swish

Christina Hall is one of the founding owners of the Society of NLP and has been an NLP trainer since the early 1980s. She was working with Richard Bandler, the co-originator of NLP, as a blend of executive assistant and associate trainer. She also had a life partner called Peter, who played a central role in the development of the Swish.

Teaching and Learning the Swish

Christina’s story is not well known in the NLP community. Most people learn the Standard Swish first, as a stand-alone format. They learn to use the Distance Swish separately to accommodate subjects who find it difficult to use the Standard Swish. At most, students may be told to ask which format a subject prefers and use that. The frame is generally restricted to presenting a pre-packaged format of a standard or distance swish so that students can follow the recipe and get a result. In this impoverished model, students are not given the whole pattern, nor are they invited to begin the process with a submodality elicitation to establish their individual subjects’ own analogue driver submodalities.

In order to learn the Swish effectively and safely with ecology for the subject, there are some essential frames and prerequisite skills and knowledge.

Prerequisite skills and knowledge

  • Students should be competent in rapport, sensory acuity, calibration, and the use of visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic representational systems.
  • Students should be familiar with eliciting submodalities and submodality changes in visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic representational systems.
  • Students should routinely check for ecology in all their work; that is ensure that any changes they propose to facilitate fit with the subject’s values, lifestyle, choices, and relationships.
  • Students should be competent in routinely applying first, third, and second positions to facilitate high-quality information gathering and support their calibration of subjects’ responses to questions and instructions.
  • Students should be able to elicit subjects’ outcomes and intentions for having the changes they want.
  • Students should be able to elicit sensory-specific information from subjects about their normally unconscious thinking processes.

“In order to learn the Swish there are some essential frames and prerequisite skills and knowledge”


  • The Swish is a submodality change process and therefore has no inherent ecology. You will need to provide an ecology frame and ecology checks throughout the process.
  • There is no information gathering process to establish outcomes, intentions and possible consequences of making a change using the Swish. You will need to gather sufficient information to ensure that the subject creates an ecological outcome that fits into a suitable intention frame.
  • The Swish works to stop unwanted behaviour in its tracks by creating a different representation and state. You will need to establish that any intentions the subject has for continuing the unwanted behaviour are incorporated into the change or satisfied by other means.
  • The Swish has no requirement for engaging the subject’s unconscious mind in the choice or creation of change. You will need to elicit engagement with the subject’s unconscious mind to approve and ratify their choices and possibly to contribute intentions and choices for the change.
  • The Swish is a process model.
  • It uses two analogue driver submodalities to reduce the present state representation while simultaneously using two analogue driver submodalities to bring in the desired state representation. Examples of analogue driver submodalities include, but are not limited to analogue shifts:
    • top to bottom,
    • icy cold to steaming hot,
    • dark to very bright,
    • barely discernible to heavy pressure,
    • nearly silent to very loud,
    • distant and barely there to close and very obvious,
    • from tiny to occupying all available space,
    • left to right.
  • The Swish can be performed using the same representational system for the present and desired state representations or two different representational systems, one each for the present and desired state representations. Alternatively, it can be done using driver submodalities from two different representational systems for the present and/or desired state representations. On each occasion, use the combination that you have discovered fits best for the subject in front of you.
  • The present state representation is always associated and requires content which can only be present and is always present when the unwanted act is about to take place.
  • An associated representation is life-like. It is as if you were there, in the scene, seeing, hearing, and feeling live action.
  • The desired state representation is always clearly discernible and dissociated to keep it slightly in the future, therefore drawing the subject towards it.
  • A dissociated representation is like seeing an image with yourself in the image, hearing sound through a window, and feeling yourself as an observer, not as a participant. It is like watching and listening to yourself in a video, seeing a photograph of yourself, or hearing your voice recorded.
  • Every Swish is a Designer Swish. People have their own driver submodalities, and some of these are analogue. Different people use different sublimates to make meaning of their experience. Therefore, any submodality intervention requires eliciting that subject’s submodality applications before creating the change process.

When I teach the Swish, I use the frames above. I tell Christina’s story to provide the history and illustrate that the so-called Standard Swish is Peter’s Designer Swish. For teaching purposes, the visual system is graphically illustrative. Most people can see and shift their internal images with some facility, so I find a demonstration subject who can comfortably perform a Swish using visual submodalities.

I gather information from the subject and engage their unconscious resources until they know what they want to change (problem), what they want instead (outcome), and what having that would do for them (intention). I also establish what keeping the problem does for them (intention for doing it). The intentions we use may be intentions for intentions to make sure they are well formed and attractive to the subject.

A well formed intention is:

  • Self-initiated: I want to be X, have, do, or experience, not I want to have X done to me by others or I want to be.
  • Phrased in the positive; I want to be, have, do or experience, not I don’t want to experience.
  • For oneself; I want to be X, have, do or experience X, not I want someone else to be, do, have, or experience.

It is acceptable to keep exploring higher levels of intention until the subject spontaneously offers one that is well-formed and attractive to them. That may be three or four levels up from the outcome. Even an ill-formed and unpleasing intention has a higher intention, which might be more useful.

The information gathering usually identifies potential changes to be made to set the subject up for the best quality results from the Swish. Given that the Swish only changes the desire to perform specific acts, additional work is often needed to safeguard the ecology and intentions associated with the desired change. When this is done, I give the subject frames for the Swish (using visual submodalities if possible for the first demonstration) and elicit the subject’s analogue driver submodalities for use in the process. At this stage, I would be ready to run the process, but for the reader, there are other questions to address first.

Creating a Designer Swish is one of the topics in the 10970NAT Graduate Certificate in Neuro-Linguistic Programming curriculum, the postgraduate qualification in NLP.

Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer

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