Kjersti Holst

Lightning Process – What I thought then and what I think now

It was in 2009 that I heard about the Lightning Process. It was with disbelief I saw on television that ME patients could completely recover with a three-day course called LIGHTNING PROCESS.

I considered it a hoax, but then a friend confided in me that she would take the Lightning Process course. She was very positive, and I was swayed by her enthusiasm. And I thought that if I got well, and it had cost me 15,000 NOK (approx € 1,500), the money would not matter. To get well again would be a miracle.

I had spent the same amount of money at the Balder Clinic, and had become very ill for a few years afterwards. I took it for granted that one can’t get worse from a course that only entailed mental exercises. There was no medicine or vitamins going into my body. It said it was a training program: “The Lightning Process ™ (LP) is a training program. Through simple techniques you can change thought patterns and bodily functions. This in turn will affect your state of health”. Oh my! I decided to take the course, I had nothing to lose. If this could give me back health and life, it would be nothing short of amazing and worth every penny.

But it wasn’t easy to get to join such a course, you had to apply for it and meet a number of criteria. I looked through the application form and felt a little skeptical because it was very extensive. You had to have one or more conversations in advance with the coach for the coach to assess whether you were “ready”. It is a prerequisite that you must “be ready” for the course. It says: “If you agree with the statements under ‘Am I ready?’, you may fill out and send us the application form.

We consider that you’re not ready yet if:

You are critical or analytical in relation to the process.
You just want to give it a try and see how it goes.

Among other things, the following was stated in point 6 in the application form: “6. ARE YOU AN ANALYTICAL PERSON? We know that in many contexts it is necessary to analyse and ask questions. However, we have observed that if you use the time on the course to analyse the teaching instead of applying what you learn, you will get little benefit. It’s important that you finish with your critical questions before the course, so that during the course you can be focused on the teaching and your own process of change. If you want to talk more about what this means, check here”.

It’s a bit odd that you have to finish with critical questions BEFORE the course, ie before you know what it entails. Critical questions are often something that comes along when you have new experiences and thoughts. And in my life, critical thoughts and questions have always been a good thing.

But I chose to work in order to get ready, and to put aside what I had previously thought about the sense in being critical of “truths” being pushed upon people. These were completely new thoughts, and they were to form a part of the process of change, and perhaps everything I had thought and believed prevented me from getting well? Such were the thoughts I had now.

Not until now in retrospect I think that being “ready” means that you are open to the brainwashing that LP does. At the time I applied, I was just anxious that I wouldn’t get approved, that I was not open enough to be admitted as a course participant.

My friend, who is more positive and less sceptical than me, was told that she wasn’t “completely ready”. She had to work with herself for a few days to be even more ready.

I realised that I had to answer that I was not at all an analytical person, to pass through the eye of the needle. And I AM an analytical person, but I managed, helped by will and motivation, to suppress everything I felt of skepticism.

I’ve always been good at school, and was a “model student” when required of me. Thus, I did everything that was in the concept, and the first step was to read Phil Parker’s book “An introduction to the Lightning Process”. I read about the plasticity of the brain, about placebo, about patient stories. I visited Phil Parker’s website, clicked on various videos with patient stories where everyone had recovered from ME. It was stated that the course was specifically aimed at those with ME, but that it could also be used for other diseases and conditions.

I called the coach. A very nice lady. She considered me to be “ready”. I was happy. I was admitted to a very exclusive course, an exercise program that I could use in the process of recovery. I was to take full responsibility for my own illness, which I had done already during all the years with ME, so I already had good training in this. No one else had taken any responsibility for my illness.

I asked the coach if it was possible to lie down during the course if you got tired. It seemed to me almost impossible to sit upright for five hours, for three days in a row. She laughed it off a bit, saying that no one had ever had to lie down on her course. I felt the optimism rise. In addition, I was allowed to bring a companion with me, and it felt safe to bring with me a friend I had known for 30 years, and who was also a therapist and could benefit from the course.

Just before the course started, I got the flu. Not ME-flu, but a regular flu with a fever and sore throat. I called the coach and asked if I could come to the next course since I had got ill. She replied: “You are making it really difficult for me now. You were so eager. There aren’t many who have signed up for this course, and if you don’t come, I have to cancel”.

I was completely perplexed. Here I was to take responsibility for my own illness, that I was just DOING ME, and then she put on my shoulders the responsibility for whether or not she would go ahead with the course.

If I didn’t come, I would ruin it for the other participants who then had to postpone the course. As the dutiful and polite person I am, I replied: “I’m coming. Of course”.

It was early summer, the sun was shining beautifully. My friend picked me up. She had made lunch for us and did everything in order to make this go well. I was most afraid of having to lie down, show how sick I was. The first day, I realised that we were going to be taught, and that I didn’t have to do much. The coach talked about the plasticity of the brain, how to fool the brain, the connection between body and psyche, about placebo, about stress response. She talked about body checking.

It’s supposed to be the case that ME patients check their body, ie check for pain, etc. I didn’t recognise myself at all.

We learned that we DO ME! We got some drawings with well-known examples of optical illusions, exercises that fool the brain. Some of this made sense. There and then. Also when she talked about the brain “remembering” all the years of illness. When she talked about using Lightning Process to create new neurological pathways in the brain, I felt a bit skeptical. How was that possible?

But I was present with an open mind, and the skepticism disappeared when she told us about how sick she had been. For several years she had been bedridden, and then she had traveled to London and taken the course, and after the first day of the course she had managed to walk for several hours in a shopping centre. Amazing. There she stood in front of me, bursting with energy, and she was able to both stand and talk at once, completely effortlessly. I remember thinking that it was a good thing I didn’t have to travel to London, because I was too sick for that, but that I was lucky because the course was only a 20 minute drive from where I lived.

The first day of the course consisted of teaching and just a little “taste” of the training program where we one by one had to stand on the floor, learn to say what we should now be saying for months to come. We learned to move within a “square” on the floor, depending on whether we wanted the life we love or wanted to end up in “the pit”. “The life we love” and “the pit” were two key concepts. Who doesn’t want the life you love? We had all been in the “pit” for a long time!

Today I think I was very naive that I got duped and that I really thought this could make me well again. Now I see that medical doctors are in favour of this concept, that it’s presented within public health institutions, so I’m not alone in being duped. It’s actually quite shocking when there’s no scientific evidence for that the course works. Is there something in that the world wants to be deceived? Is there anything about this patient group being so troublesome that GPs and hospital personnel are relieved to be able to push the ME patients on to a miracle course over three days.

As I understand it, such courses are also arranged by the public health system, but it doesn’t want to pay the expenses. If the medical community has faith in the Lightning Process, well, then one would think they’ll try to get the government to cover the expenses. A paradox.

Back to my participation: At the end of the first day of the course, we learned that we would get the life we love by using the Lightning Process. The course leader asked what we would do after the course day, and I thought I would go home and rest, I was completely exhausted. The other two people on the course were very hesitant about what to do in the afternoon. I knew I HAD to do something other than lie in bed, force myself, so that I had something to bring on day 2 as the good student I’ve always been. I couldn’t just say that I’d done nothing but lying down since yesterday. I got home, rested for a few hours, but I was so geared up by the mood of the course, and on pure willpower I managed to take a walk around the block. It’s an approximately 10 minute leisurely walk that I took while reciting the course’s “mantra” inside me. Admittedly, I was totally exhausted. Then came days 2 and 3.

It was a very nice course. It was a sympathetic coach. Her initial comment on the phone that I made it difficult for her by cancelling, was forgotten. We were three sick people, plus my companion, one in training and the coach. The coach gave everything she had. Impressive. 15 000 NOK for three days of 5 hours isn’t a lot, I thought, if this had been the way towards a life as recovered.

We were not allowed to ask questions, have opposing views or our own thoughts during the course. But I see that as trivial. We were also not allowed to communicate with the other participants to any great extent. The second day we learned the process or the training program in its entirety. In advance, I knew it was a combination of osteopathy, neurolinguistic programming and life coaching. Grand words.

When it came to practice, it turned out to be easy peasy. And that was a good thing, I thought, because it might be used on children and adolescents as well. I was just to stand on the floor and learn the program. Its starting point is to wish for a lot of energy. And you have to use images/metaphors. You start by saying: “I want as much energy as…” and then the coach said we could chose from the best, because we had deserved the best, hadn’t we? So we could wish for as much energy as a leaping tiger, and similar images. And how would we get that much energy? This is where the point really came to.

We were to take ourselves back to a time BEFORE we got sick. We were to rewind our lives back to when we were healthy, and we were to think back on “unpolluted” positive memories, where everything was all good. Then we were to focus on that particular memory, remember all the good things about it, and play it like a “movie” in our mind. We could have several such films in our mind, and go through them from beginning to end, over and over again. This is a large aspect of the Lightning Process.

I had many good memories, and one of them was a hike on the mountain plateau Hardangervidda, long before I got sick. I was to remember how much energy I had back then. This was supposed to be a way to train my brain to get “new neurological nerve pathways”, and since body and mind are intertwined, these bright memories would influence my body to recover. Quite amazing!

My memory, my film was like this: I was hiking with good friends in the middle of summer on the Hardangervidda and carried a heavy backpack. The sun was shining for a whole week. I walked and walked, and instead of getting tired, I got more and more energy. That’s what it’s like to be healthy. You often feel it’s hard at the beginning of a tough hike, for instance a ski trip, but then it becomes easier and easier. That’s how it was for me at that time on Hardangervidda.

I had that light feeling in my body when I walked. I remembered the mountain air, everything I could sense, I remembered wide streams with smooth rocks and I remembered how I manoeuvred my body from rock to rock, effortlessly and with great balance. I remembered that I didn’t even notice the heavy backpack, and I remembered smiles and laughter, friendship, togetherness and above all: LOTS OF ENERGY! Which I would now get back.

This was one of my films, I had several that were not necessarily about doing a lot physically, but good memories where I remembered the finest things I could use in the process. I was exhausted after the second course day, but I managed a walk around the block even then. On the third course day, I was completely exhausted, I felt very sick.

And that was really when I was supposed to manage several hours at a shopping center, or at least to feel better than in a long time. I knew that not everyone improved at once, but I had to lie down in the end, on the floor with pillows. It was a bit embarrassing.

There I was on the floor and DID ME! Because now I knew very well, after three days of training, that I did not HAVE ME, but DID ME.

Fortunately I was met with understanding. No one who moralised or was unpleasant. At the end we had to sign that we were recovered.

Yes, we had to sign a form stating that we were recovered. I was weak and lying on the floor. As I was doing ME, and since I actually was completely recovered (I just had to do the process and train my mind and body), I signed.

I have since wondered whether these signatures form the basis for the Lightning Process system to claim that they get people to recover. In that case it’s on very meagre grounds, when I know that I was completely exhausted after three days on the course.

I thought that by doing the process, running films in my mind, I would be able to get my brain to master my body. That was where the connection lay. With new neurological nerve pathways in the brain it would contribute to making my body well again. Uh, it was already well, but I was going to stop doing ME. And for each new walk around the block or for each step, it would once again affect the brain. That is, the mutual connection between brain and body. If this course had made me recover or stopped me from “DOING ME” it would have been the most beautiful miracle in my life ever. Who wants to be so sick?

I would argue that I haven’t had and don’t have a single “gain” from being ill. Some people also claim that you get secondary benefits from being ill. It’s unbelievable what people are saying, in addition to having (NOT doing) a serious physical disease as ME.

This text will be a long one, and I’m writing in such detail, so that those who are interested in the Lightning Process can get an insight into what it is, from someone who has taken the course.

I know that children and adolescents are “forced” though this concept. And I am skeptical that anyone with ME, or other serious physical illnesses, should be taking the course. I would say that it was a nice course, but 15 000 NOK is expensive for three nice days. An even more expensive price is the fact that some (some or many?) actually don’t get well, or at worst deteriorate.

Here’s the continuation and how it went when I was to train on my own. I was optimistic, and I did the process many times a day. Eventually I managed to walk twice around the block. We were also to use colours as motivation, for instance, for an uphill walk.

After some time we got a follow-up call with the coach. I was dreading it, because I had not got much better, and I had been told earlier that this was my responsibility. But she was positive and said I had to be patient.

I asked her if there was a follow-up course, because I felt that three days was too little. I had been seriously ill for almost 20 years, and then everything was put on my shoulders to get better.

They should have informed us at the course among other things that you need a long time to rehabilitate a body that has been lying down for a long time. Including with regards to the joints, but no such information was provided. But then most coaches don’t have any relevant education in health, yet are still allowed to be released onto seriously ill people. Not just allowed, even encouraged to do so.

I got the number of another coach who I called and got an appointment with. I was in doubt whether I did the process right. Maybe this was my fault? I wasn’t particularly better.

But I had decided beforehand that I wouldn’t fall into guilt if the course didn’t work for me. I shouldn’t blame myself. I did the best I could, and as long as you do the best you can, that’s as good as it gets, isn’t it? I couldn’t get any further than the two rounds around the block. It stopped there.

Then I got a follow-up appointment, a double class for 1 200 NOK. That was also a sympathetic coach. We went through the whole process again. I lined up in the square, and we practiced and practiced, and I thought that I had probably been doing the process right until then, but the coach thought I had done the process too few times a day, and that I had to do it with more empathy.

If I was at a shopping centre, I had to do the process even though people would think I was acting strangely if I bent my body in eagerness and passion while doing the process. “You shouldn’t do the process 30 times a day, but a hundred or more”.

Oh my, I thought. How am I supposed to do that, and in addition use my body actively, when I can barely manage to move?

Then the double class was over, the coach said: “I’m sure I’d be able to make you go for a walk in the woods”. I was completely shocked and in disbelief. There I sat and wondered how I would manage the car ride home, and he talked about going for a walk with me. Maybe he noticed my face – the expression of disbelief.

I managed to get in the car. Sigmund drove me home and I immediately fell asleep in the car and felt very ill until the next day. Then it was just to try even harder than before. I did the process with passion and even more times a day. Just as coach number 2 had said. I went for walks around the block. Day after day. After two-three months it was full stop. I was a lot sicker. I had not been so ill for several years. I had to stay lying down.

I put away the CD that went through the process, and which I had listened to several times a day. I couldn’t read the next book by Phil Parker. It was over. I don’t know why I deteriorated so much. I believe it was because I over exercised. On my scale that means exercising more than my body could cope with.

I was concerned with only one thing: How long would it take before I was back to where I was BEFORE the Lightning Process course? I was lucky. Very Lucky. It only took a few weeks, until I had rested up to where I was previously. Although I’m still very ill, it’s a huge difference for me to be able to write on a computer, be a little social, have a little energy, compared with not being able to do anything, as things were in the period after I had done the Lightning Process training program.

Later on I’ve heard of people who deteriorated for years after a Lightning Process course. I’ve also heard of people who have improved and even some that recovered with Lightning Process. That’s great. I’m happy for everyone who gets healthy, and of course I have a strong hope for ME sufferers to recover, and get extra happy when I hear about a person with ME who has recovered.

ME is a serious disease with many and painful symptoms. And I’m glad that the disease has got a lot of media coverage lately, and that there’s now hope of a medicine which can free ME patients of symptoms! It’s good to see doctors realise that this is a severe physical disease.

It’s not because I have a prejudice against psychological illness, but because it’s wrong to consider ME as a psychosomatic disorder. You can end up as guinea pigs for dubious courses such as Lightning Process.

This is my story. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t have any problem with skilful people earning money. It didn’t cost me a penny. I have a kind husband who paid for me. I’m thinking of those who don’t have anyone to pay for them, and who are on benefit. 15 000 NOK is a lot of money on a disability benefit.

I strongly wish that the public health system in Norway is skeptical, as in will warn against such courses, and take into account that it doesn’t work for many, and that many deteriorate.

I use the word “many” because I don’t have any exact number or statistic for who the Lightning Process didn’t work for, or who deteriorated from it.

I look at it this way: ONE person deteriorating from Lightning Process is one person too many! There is no doubt that Lightning Process can involve a health risk, and I would think that GPs and institutions appreciate hearing the stories from us who have taken the course.

I’m pretty confident that the success rate the course leaders at Lightning Process operate with is wrong. I encourage those who run Lightning Process courses to provide scientific documentation of what percentage the course works for, and what is the basis for such a number. It’s about honesty and integrity. As is required in serious science. And there are no documented positive results for the Lightning Process. It’s all about faith, not knowledge. The whole concept is on thin ice ethically. You don’t gamble with people’s lives and health.

It’s been two years since I took the Lightning Process course, and in the time that followed I thought I was one of the few it didn’t work for. I never felt guilty, and I knew I had done the process right, but it didn’t do me any good health wise.

Today, two years later, I’ve realised that there are several others who had some sort of crash after the course. This blog post is meant to tell my story. I can neither advice nor discourage people from taking the course, since I only manage my own personal truth and experience. I also want to emphasise that the two coaches I met were sympathetic. They wanted to get me well and my course leader was really good. I don’t doubt that she had been very ill and that she now wanted to help others to achieve what she had done.

Finally: I have ME, I don’t do ME. I take responsibility for my life and for my illness. I think life is fantastic within the framework set by the disease. Everyone has limitations in their lives, in one way or another. The important thing is to enjoy the good moments. We only get this one life!

And if anyone doing Lightning Process should read this blog post: I am not in the pit! I love life! (even if I’m sick). By the way, the Norwegian health authorities should keep their distance from this course!
(This story was first published in a blog post in 2011)