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Sensory Systems in NLP


Using a sensory framework is the hallmark of NLP.  It’s proposed that all of our experiences – inner as well as outer – can be described in terms of the senses. The understanding of the sensory language of people can be very effective in the creation and maintenance of rapport. Most therapists do this unconsciously whether they follow an NLP model of therapy or not.


Our experiences of the outside world are mediated through the five senses (e = external):

Ve         –        visual (seeing)

         Ae       –        auditory (hearing)

         Ke      –        kinaesthetic (touching)

         Oe       –        olfactory (smelling)

         Ge      –        gustatory (tasting)

This framework can also be applied to our inner experiences as we represent (i.e., re-present) the world to ourselves (i= internal):

Vi       -        visual images, pictures/movies in our mind’s eye

         Ai       -        soundtrack associated with the movie, the mind’s ear, self-talk (Ad)

         Ki                 inner feelings, muscle sense, balance, “gut” feelings

         Oi       -        remembered/imagined smells

         Gi       -        remembered/imagined tastes

Inner experiences frequently refer to the past and future.  For example, worrying is associated with playing through anxious scenarios anticipated for the future; nostalgia with romantic scenarios from the past. Internal kinaesthetic may more closely reflect the present, albeit often as a reaction to past or future scenarios brought into the here and now.

Another distinction when it comes to inner experiences is between memory and imagination – whether the experience is remembered (r) or constructed (c), whether it originally passed through the sensory channels (r) or is made up (c). This leads to the following notation system commonly used in NLP (which mainly addresses the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic senses).

Vr     -        seeing a situation just as you saw it at the time

                   -        common visual items stored in memory

         Vc     -        making up something in your mind’s eye

         Ar     -        hearing a situation just as you heard it at the time

                   -        common sounds stored in memory, rehearsed conversations, “tape loops”

         Ac       -           constructing speech, imagined sounds

         Kr     -        feeling just as you did during a situation

                     -        common feelings stored in memory

         Kc     -        imagined feelings


Another NLP idea is that many of us have a distinct preference for one of the senses. It’s as if we have a “primary [or preferred] representational system” (PRS) and can be categorised to a significant degree as visual, auditory or kinaesthetic. One way of finding out PRS is by tuning into the type of language a person uses. Note the following statements indicating the three main sensory systems.

V       -        “I look forward to being offered a new perspective.”

-        “I need to focus on a bright future”

-        “I take a dim view of that”

-        “Let’s look at the big picture”

-        “We seem to see eye to eye

A       -        “Something just clicks

-        “We seem to be in tune

-        “Got you loud and clear

-        “That rings a bell

                     -        “We need to discuss this”

K      -        “I’m under pressure and off balance

-        “We need a solid understanding”

-        “I’d like to bounce a few rough ideas off you”

-        “Things have been weighing heavily on my mind”

-        “Let’s get in touch with those comfortable feelings

Ascertaining PRS can be useful in establishing and maintaining rapport. The overall message is that:

Focusing on (V) / tuning into (A) / getting a feel for (K) the person being looked at (V) /      spoken to (A) / contacted (K) and mirroring (V) / echoing (A) / fitting in with (K) their       communication style can be enlightening (V) / harmonising (A) / heartening (K)  and   enhances (V) / amplifies (A) / intensifies (K) interpersonal effectiveness.

Shaun Brookhouse

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