The Lightning Process is a training programme developed by Dr Phil Parker, PhD from concepts and research from the fields of neuroscience, physiology and psychology.
This article explains the key elements of the programme, along with the references to the relevant research. It explains what happens in the training programme and why it has been designed in this way.
We hope it will help answer questions you may have about what the LP contains, it’s rationale and how it produces the results reported in the evidence base.
This article provides a breakdown of the full LP course content and concepts and mechanisms involved in the intervention. This version is designed for academics and researchers and so is written in that style. A briefer version of this document, designed for those who aren’t involved in academia can be found here.
LP Protocol – a description of the LP. P Parker PhD, 2020
The Lightning Process (LP) is a mind-body training program designed to help individuals to develop conscious influence on their neurological function and affect change in physiological processes (Parker et al., 2018). It teaches practical tools to do this, using discussion, gentle movement and meditation-like techniques. There is a growing evidence base, including an RCT and a Systematic Review (Crawley et al., 2018; Finch, 2010, 2013, 2014; Parker et al., 2018, 2020) reporting its efficacy for improving outcomes in a range of issues such as Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia, as well as a range of emotional and cognitive issues such as anxiety, depression and substance use disorders.
Delivery structure, conceptual grounding and mechanisms
To provide ease of access, the program is delivered via a 4 hr audio home-study program with 1 hr of phone coaching, as preparation for the 3 training seminars (4 hr each) with a registered practitioner, which are delivered face to face or online with 3-8 attendees. It was developed from concepts from Positive Psychology, health education theory, mindfulness, osteopathy, coaching and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and has two phases 1) teaching core concepts and 2) adopting practical tools (Parker et al., 2018).
In phase 1 participants are presented with relevant theory and research to understand how the mind-body connection can be utilised in order to influence physiology (Locher et al., 2017). Particular attention is paid to how language can affect neural pathways (Parker et al., 2018; Richter et al., 2014) and the role that patient activation and empowerment (Hibbard & Greene, 2013; Parker, 2011), chronic stress and response expectancy have on physiology (Kirsch, 2018; Selye, 1978).
In phase 2 participants learn a set of steps to a) detect disempowering language, negative expectancies and changes in physiology (Grossman et al., 2004) b) pause them by employing an interruptive ‘stop’ process (Wise, 2002) and c) make an active choice to employ a set of self-coaching interventions.
The self-coaching includes developing self-compassion (Neff et al., 2007) and a series of questions designed to identify immediate goals and desired physiological states (to replace those identified in step a).
The process is completed by the savouring of memories that recall previous experiences of those goals and states (Bryant et al., 2005) to encourage improved physiology (Speer & Delgado, 2017). To increase the recall this is combined with the use of body movements and voice tone and speed, (Davis et al., 2010; Hamann, 2001) congruent with those memories.
Content the LP
Pre-seminar: audio program and coaching
This section of the training introduces some of the core concepts on language and the evidence for mind-body approaches. It includes exercises for using salutogenic language, increasing self-compassion and developing self-coaching skills.
Identifying if the seminar is likely to be of value for an individual is an important part of this phase. This is achieved primarily through exploration and discussion of their understanding of the rationale for the potential health benefits of mind-body approaches and a readiness to practice the taught tools to achieve change.
Language: Salutogenic, passive and active language and the ‘dû’ verb
The research into how language affects brain pathway activation (i.e. pain words trigger pain processing pathways)(Eck et al., 2011; Richter et al., 2014, 2014) is explored along with exercises to consistently increase the use of salutogenic language.
The dû verb, specific to the LP, is taught in this phase. It provides a practical way for attendees to adopt a number of cognitive shifts. First, it reframes trait or identity statements as automatic behaviours. Second, it recasts the concept of illness as a mutable process rather than a single static un-influenceable event. Third, it encourages a sense that the current illness/issue experience has a temporal dimension (i.e. the possibility it will change). Fourth it provides a shift from a perspective of lack of agency (passive) to one of empowerment (active), especially with respect to health.
To utilisation of an unfamiliar verb is hypothesized to cause an alteration in neural processing, as suggested by Norm theory (Kahneman & Miller, 1986), activating the processing of system 2, and its ability to take a more considered perspective on events (Kahneman, 2011). Additionally, its specific use, rather than the more familiar ‘do’, highlights the unconscious and unintentional, and therefore blame-free nature, of the individual’s involvement in the issue (Parker, 2011).
Neuroplasticity, response expectancy and physiology
The concepts of how expectations and experience shape the structure of the nervous system through neuroplasticity (Fuchs & Flügge, 2014), and alter physiology through response expectancy (Kirsch, 2018) are explored through discussion and exploratory exercises.
The mechanisms of interrupted recovery are explored with reference to increased allostatic load (McEwen, 2000), the General Adaptation Syndrome (Selye, 1978) and the stress/flight/fight response (described as the Physical Emergency Response in the LP to avoid arrogation of the meanings of ‘emotional stress’ and ‘stress’). The potential physiology sequalae of disruptions to these systems are also discussed.
The importance of these two themes is considered in relationship to illness and as a route to recovery (Davidson, 2003; Lutz et al., 2008).
The set of steps (see phase 2) are taught to develop awareness of when to use the tools and to encourage improved physiology. These steps are practiced with coaching support from the trainer and the other participants in a co-operative learning environment.
Participants are provided with an opportunity to ask any final questions before creating a task of their choosing to be completed before the next session. The task is evaluated by the trainer and individual to ensure it is reasonable and attainable. A manual is provided that contains background information to support the training. Written exercises, including a questionnaire to evaluate the participants’ understanding of the content of the session are also provided. Participants are encouraged to discuss what they have learnt with friends and family to help them be able to provide support as needed.
The trainer reviews the participants’ progress through the completed questionnaires and discussions of their experiences of using the tools. Any areas where they have found it challenging to apply the tools are noted so they can be addressed in the practical exercises that follow.
Neuroplasticity and narrative smoothing
The concept of neuroplasticity is covered in more depth and with reference to their experiences between day one and two. There are discussions and exercises on developing further awareness of opportunities to use the tools. Participants explore reversing narrative smoothing (Burke et al., 1992) and negative and familiarity bias to understand the importance of focusing on change as well as issues.
Further research is presented in relationship to placebo studies, response expectancy and health. Exercises assist the participants to examine their current expectancies concerning change, recovery and speed of progress and apply the steps of the process to update those expectations as appropriate.
Advanced steps of the process
Participants are taught how to ‘savour’ positive memories (Bryant et al., 2005) that recall previous experiences of the goals and states identified in the earlier steps of the process. It is emphasized that combining the recall with the use of body movements and voice tone and speed, (Davis et al., 2010; Hamann, 2001) congruent with those memories, is valuable to encourage improved physiology (Speer & Delgado, 2017).
The trainer explains how unavoidable ‘triggers’ will activate existing unhelpful pathways. Participants role-play how to use those triggers as the stimulus to use the steps of the process to develop new healthier response to challenging situations.
Has similar content to that of day one.
Identical to day two, with any further issues noted so they can be addressed in the practical exercises that follow.
Q and A
Further time is devoted to questions that have arisen.
The final steps of detailed rehearsal and role-play of potentially challenging situations is covered in this section. Issues are addressed including: how to use a cognitive version of the process when a more physical version would be inappropriate; how to apply the tools to non-health issues, including other opinions about participants’ recovery and the nature of their illness; how to healthily manage a return to being well and active.
The follow-up provision is explained
Extensive materials are provided to support the use of the new tools: these include 3 hours of coaching with their practitioner, a downloadable audio programme, regular support videos and access to support groups and forums.
Bryant, F. B., Smart, C. M., & King, S. P. (2005). Using the Past to Enhance the Present: Boosting Happiness Through Positive Reminiscence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6(3), 227–260. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-005-3889-4
Burke, A., Heuer, F., & Reisberg, D. (1992). Remembering emotional events. Memory & Cognition, 20(3), 277–290. https://doi.org/10.3758/bf03199665
Crawley, E., Gaunt, D., Garfield, K., Hollingworth, W., Sterne, J., Beasant, L., Collin, S. M., Mills, N., & Montgomery, A. A. (2018). Clinical and cost-effectiveness of the Lightning Process in addition to specialist medical care for paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome: Randomised controlled trial. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 103, 155–164. https://doi.org/10.1136/archdischild-2017-313375
Davidson, R. J. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564–570. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.PSY.0000077505.67574.E3
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Eck, J., Richter, M., Straube, T., Miltner, W. H., & Weiss, T. (2011). Affective brain regions are activated during the processing of pain-related words in migraine patients. Pain, 152(5), 1104–1113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2011.01.026
Finch, F. (2010). LP Snapshot Survey for clients. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.23107.35366
Finch, F. (2013). Outcomes Measures Study. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.29818.24002
Finch, F. (2014). MS Proof of Concept Study. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.26462.79686
Fuchs, E., & Flügge, G. (2014). Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research. Neural Plasticity, 2014, e541870. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/541870
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-3999(03)00573-7
Hamann, S. (2001). Cognitive and neural mechanisms of emotional memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5(9), 394–400. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01707-1
Hibbard, J. H., & Greene, J. (2013). What the evidence shows about patient activation: Better health outcomes and care experiences; fewer data on costs. Health Affairs, 32(2), 207–214. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2012.1061
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin.
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Kirsch, I. (2018). Response Expectancy and the Placebo Effect. In International Review of Neurobiology (Vol. 138, pp. 81–93). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.irn.2018.01.003
Locher, C., Frey Nascimento, A., Kirsch, I., Kossowsky, J., Meyer, A., & Gaab, J. (2017). Is the rationale more important than deception? A randomized controlled trial of open-label placebo analgesia: PAIN, 158(12), 2320–2328. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001012
Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J., Johnstone, T., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise. PLoS ONE, 3(3), e1897. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0001897
McEwen, B. S. (2000). Allostasis and Allostatic Load: Implications for. Neuropsychopharmacology, 22(2), 108–124. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0893-133X(99)00129-3
Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(1), 139–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2006.03.004
Parker, P. (2011). Dû: Unlock your full potential with a word. Nipton Publishing.
Parker, P, Aston, J., & de Rijk, L. (2020). A Systematic Review of the Evidence Base for the Lightning Process. EXPLORE, S1550830720302330. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2020.07.014
Parker, P., Aston, J., & Finch, F. (2018). Understanding the Lightning Process approach to CFS/ME; a review of the disease process and the approach. Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy, 21(2), 8. https://jep.ro/images/pdf/cuprins_reviste/82_art_2.pdf
Richter, M., Schroeter, C., Puensch, T., Straube, T., Hecht, H., Ritter, A., Miltner, W. H., & Weiss, T. (2014). Pain-related and negative semantic priming enhances perceived pain intensity. Pain Research and Management, 19(2), 69–74. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/425321
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Wise, J. H. (2002). The S.T.O.P. Sign Technique. The Family Journal, 10(4), 433–436. https://doi.org/10.1177/106648002236764