15277332 scrop

If the Milky Bar Kid

Needs Supporting…..

Systemic Counselling in Industry

By David McNorton

In 1993 I began an extensive counselling training programme for the Occupational Health Nurses at Nestle UK, a large organisation with over twenty factory sites through- out the United Kingdom. What may not be so well known is that Nestle boasts one of the largest and most forward thinking Occupational Health departments in the country employing two full time doctors (several more part time) and over fifty nurses.

The chief medical officer for Nestle has identified counselling as being a core skill for the Occupational Health nurses and has set aside provisions for a six day training course with follow-up and supervision. Because the counselling work I was already providing for Nestle had been very successful, I was asked to design and run this training programme. I was informed that some of the nurses had already received training in more traditional counselling approaches.

From the outset I was determined that the course should reflect the attitude, methodology and skills that I had found so effective in my counselling work and designed a course firmly rooted in the methodology of NLP and John McWhirter’s more recent developments in DBM and Systemic Counselling. Indeed the manual for the course was written by John and produced by Sensory Systems Publications, developed from his manual for the Introduction to Systemic Counselling short course.

I was aware that what we were presenting was new and potentially challenging. At the same time I knew that Nestle were familiar with the model I was going to teach. It had a proven track record outwith and within their company and this provided me with the security to go for it.

The training was designed to present an overall methodology, with skills to gain and maintain rapport, gather information and purposefully assist clients in understanding and modelling out their problems.

The course content would revolve around the use of the Life Grid and the Language Model. I knew that in six days I was not going to produce expert counsellors and so deliberately steered clear of teaching traditional NLP change techniques. What I wanted to assist the nurses to develop and achieve was a more open and responsive attitude towards clients. With considerable excitement I began the first course, for eight nurses, back in May 1993.

Part One

Part One, Day One opened with a brief history of counselling and an overview of the course. I presented the idea that all approaches to counselling had, either implicitly or explicitly, an attitude, a methodology and techniques and that we would spend time on each of these areas.

Much of Day One was devoted to exploring the most useful attitudes in counselling, helping the nurses arrive at an appreciation of the need for an open and curious attitude. This ‘attitude’ could now be encouraged and reinforced throughout the rest of the course.

Day Two covered the basic input – output skills of sensory acuity and rapport before moving onto information gathering on Day Three.

Day Three the participants were invited to work on a limitation of their own and instructed to write a brief statement about their limitation. This limitation was to be related to their ability to maximise their use of counselling skills. The participants were then presented with the Life Grid, the levels of processing and life areas, (e.g. self, family, work, and in groups asked to model out their limitations using the Life Grid. Later we moved on to the Language Model and after being presented with this model, participants were asked to identify the language patterns within their own written account of their limitation.

After Day Three there was a three week break before the next training days. During this time the nurses were asked to write a weekly diary covering how their everyday experience related to the ideas they had explored on the course. They were also assigned a piece of homework similar to the work they had done on Day Three to be sent into me before the course resumed. As much as anything else I was able to use this as feedback on what we would need to spend more time on in the second part of the course.


Part Two

Part Two of the course opened with further development of language skills, (e.g. the skill of ‘questioning”), before exploring further limitations using the Language Model to establish the What, How and Why using the Life Grid to model the structure of the limitations. Participants were then presented with the Well-formed Outcome and Direction procedure which again they used on their limitations. The course closed with an exercise designed to direct the nurses to find creative ways to provide clients with the resources necessary to help achieve their outcome. Outwith the training context, follow-up homework and ongoing supervision was provided.

To date I have run five courses. With each successive training the course develops and I find that I am moving away from specific content and placing an increasing emphasis on the ‘attitude’.

So far feedback has been very encouraging and positive. Whereas previously the nurses often felt stuck and helpless when presented with non medical problems, they now feel they have a ‘direction’ within the counselling situation. For example, many stated how they often feel less need to just dive in and offer ‘pat’ solutions and are now more prepared to explore the problem more fully. Also many of the nurses report that since the training, their work with employees so far indicates that potentially serious problems have often been prevented by their interventions.


Ongoing supervision has proved more difficult. The nurses are located throughout the country making provision for supervision limited. However it is a sign of our success with this counselling training that Nestle considers it worthwhile investing in their nurses and plans to make provision for more adequate supervision in the future.


Our hope now is to gain accreditation for the course through the nurses governing body, the (UKCC), helping to promote the course to other organisations such as the Health Service and, perhaps more importantly, helping to establish Systemic Counselling as a major recent development in the field of counselling.


Personal Profile

David has worked as a freelance counsellor for the past eleven years, working with a wide range of clients. More recently he has specialised in occupational stress. In 1994 he established a counselling network to supply counsellors to industry. Nestle UK Ltd were the first corporate clients of this new network.

David’s interest in counselling dates back to the 1970’s when he trained as a Psychiatric Nurse with the Health Service. Although initially trained as a Rogerian counsellor, he has developed his approach through NLP, and more recently through Systemic Counselling.

Another major area of interest, is the application of NLP and DBM in Sport. He spent a year applying DBM within York City Football Club in their successful 1992/93 season.

David is a Certified Trainer of NLP. He is also the co-ordinator for the Yorkshire NLP Group.

He can be contacted at:  52 Bramble Dene, Woodthorpe, YORK  YO2 2RH