NLP Techniques

Association and Dissociation

Written by Lee Avery

When attempting to move from an un-resourceful state to a resourceful one it can often be advantageous to move a client from an Associated position to a Disassociated one, and vice versa.

Often this can be easily accomplished by simply asking the client to ‘step out of’ or ‘step into’ their body in their representation. This shift in awareness can lead to insights that would otherwise be missed.

Identifying the Current Position

It can be difficult to identify whether a client is associated within a memory, or disassociated but the clues will be in the language that they use to describe the experience.

Associated language is usually a first person reference, especially when the client describes what they are seeing. Phrases such as ‘caught up’, ‘right in it’, ‘experience’ and ‘feel’ are often used to express an inclusion in the action.

Dissociated language is the language of distance, ‘over there’, ‘on the sidelines’, ‘watching’, ‘viewing’ are all evidence that the client is looking at the experience.

Going beyond language patterns and looking at physical cues, dissociated individuals are likely to be less passionate, and more factual, they will use spacial marking that is at a distance. When referring to themselves they will often point at the representation of themselves that is away from where they are standing. Association leads to greater emotion and spacial marking that is close to themselves if not on them. Self referential statements will lead to pointing to themselves or touching themselves as they relieve the experience.

When to use them

Associated and dissociated memories are useful in different situations and understanding where to use each type is important to ensure that clients move into a more resourceful state. The best use for each state are:

  • Associated – Enjoying a pleasant memory or experience, honing skills, uptime, focus
  • Disassociated – Unpleasant experiences, traumatic memories, learning from the past, understanding an event.

Dissociation is incredibly useful for stepping back from a memory and turing the experience into an opportunity for learning, it allows for a reduction in emotional intensity without a loss of detail and can enable the client to re-enter association whilst retaining the new knowledge/


Here is a simple guide to testing association and dissociation.

  1. Think of a pleasant memory or experience.
  2. Are you associated (you are looking out of your own eyes, or dissociated (watching yourself in the scene) in the experience.
  3. Notice the intensity of the emotional state.
  4. Swap to the opposite state (Associated -> Dissociated / Dissociated -> Associated)
  5. Notice the change, which is better? Can you identify any specifics shifts?
  6. Change back to the original position.


Remember to return your experience back to the original state (unless of course you wish to change the intensity of the event).

About the author

Lee Avery

Professional Therapist, Clinical Hypnosis & NLP Trainer with over 25 years of experience in training new professionals and treating clients. He specialises in Trauma related Psychological health issues. After years of running training classes Lee has decided to publish his training materials online to further the accessibility of NLP and Hypnosis. He is an advocate for Clinical Hypnosis Excellence and is constantly looking to improve the professional standing of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy within the medical community.

He also runs Achieving Greatness a software development company producing mobile apps for the mental health community.

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