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What is NLP?

Updated: Mar 16



“The conscious mind is the goal setter, and

the unconscious mind is the goal getter.”


Neuro- Linguistic Programming or NLP is a name that encompasses the three most influential components involved in producing human experience: Neurology, Language and Programming. It describes the fundamental dynamic between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behaviour (programming).


Neuro: Referring to the mind or brain, particularly regarding how states of mind (and body) affect communication and behaviour. NLP teaches a structural way of viewing mind and body states, developing mental maps that show how things happen and how to change course.


Linguistic: Meaning that our mind and body states are revealed in our language and non-verbal communication. Language is the tool we use to gain access to the inner workings of the mind. Neuro-linguistic programming language patterns teach us how to access unconscious information that would remain vague and unknowable otherwise.


Programming: This refers to the capacity to change our mind and body states. You’ve heard the term living on autopilot, right? To someone trained in NLP, this would mean that you are living according to your programming, which consists of habitual thoughts, feelings, reactions, beliefs, and traditions. Someone trained in Neuro-linguistic programming knows how such programs are structured in the mind and how to access them through conversation (language) so that outdated programs and autopilot behaviours can be changed.


NLP is a pragmatic school of thought – an ‘epistemology’- that addresses the many levels involved in being human. NLP is a multi- dimensional process that involves the development of behavioural competence and flexibility, but also involves strategic thinking and an understanding of the mental and cognitive processes behind behaviour. NLP provides tools and skills for the development of states of individual excellence, but it also establishes a system of empowering beliefs and presuppositions about what human beings are; what communication is and what the process of change is all about. At another level, NLP is about self-discovery, exploring identity and mission. It also provides a framework for understanding and relating to the ‘spiritual’ part of human experience that reaches beyond us as individuals to our family community and global systems. NLP is not only about competence and excellence; it is about wisdom and vision.


History of NLP


NLP dates back to the 1970’s when two American scientists, Richard Bandler and John Grinder met. At the time, John Grinder was Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Richard Bandler was a mathematician, Gestalt therapist and computer expert. Both wanted to further their learning and develop themselves and hence the birth of NLP.


They ultimately decided to find out how experts are capable of outstanding achievements in their fields while others fail. They began to model successful people and recognised the patterns these people used to achieve their desired goals. Gregory Bateson put Grinder and Bandler in touch with his friend Milton Erickson. Grinder and Bandler became mainly famous through the modelling of Dr. Milton Erickson, probably the most important hypnotherapist, Virginia Satir- an exceptional family therapist and Fritz Perls the originator of Gestalt therapy and it was Bateson’s work in communications theory that provided the theoretical underpinnings for NLP as a discipline. The NLP notions of “meta position,” “meta communication,” “meta messages,” and the detection of verbal and non-verbal incongruence, for instance, were derived directly from Bateson’s theories regarding different levels of learning, communication and change.


As a result of this earlier work, Grinder and Bandler formalized their modelling techniques and their own individual contributions under the name “Neuro-Linuistic Programming” to symbolize the relationship between the brain language and the body. The basics of this model has been described in a series of books including ‘Frogs into princes’ (Bandeler and Grinder, 1979), ‘Neuro-linguistic programming Vol.I’ ( Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, DeLozier, 1980) ‘Reframing’ (Bandler & Grinder, 1982) and ‘Using your brain’ (Bandler 1985). Through the years, NLP has developed some very powerful tools and skills for communication and change in a wide range of professional areas including: counselling, psychotherapy, education, health, creativity, law, management, sales, leadership and parenting.


NLP is now in its third decade as a field of study and has evolved considerably since its beginning in the mid 1970’s. Over the years, NLP has literally spread around the world and has touched the lives of millions of people. Since the 19902’s, a new generation of NLP has been developing. This form of NLP addresses generative and systematic applications and focuses on high level issues such as identity, vision and mission.


Having identified patterns common to these masters of communication they began to share them with students in workshops and seminars and developed them further. In the meantime, NLP had spread all over the globe and more and more people were using it in numerous areas. In 1972, Richard Bandler transcribes therapy sessions of Fritz Perls. He goes on to lead Gestalt groups himself and John Grinder becomes his Supervisor. In 1975, both develop the Meta Model of Language and publish the first NLP book "The Structure of Magic”. In 1977, from their analysis of the work of Milton Erickson, Bandler and Grinder develop the ‘Milton Model’. In 1980, Bandler, Grinder and Robert Dilts develop the ‘concept of strategies’. With this model, the structure of our thought processes is decoded for the first time. In 1982, they develop the ‘concept of reframing’. This concept makes it possible to contact unconscious parts of our mind which cause undesired behaviour or symptoms of disease. In 1984, Richard Bandler discovers the ‘concept of sub-modalities’, one of the most effective and impressive techniques of NLP. In 1988, Tad James develops the ‘Timeline’, a method especially suitable for healing traumatic experiences of the past. In 1990, Robert Dilts develops the ‘theory of re-imprinting’ and processes for ‘changing restrictive beliefs’.


"Before I leave this world, one thing that I would wish for all the world to know, is that human contact is made by the connection of skin, eyes, and voice tone." - Virginia Satir


The War


The “magicians,” John Grinder and Richard Bandler and first went to war in the late 1970s. We don’t know when the conflict between them began or even why (except for their egos), but they did and the lawsuit between them was settled in 1981. Then a year or two later “The Society of NLP” went bankrupt and that marked the beginning of the end of that first era of NLP. Then in 1981, a lawsuit ended in which Grinder agreed to train in only six American cities for the following ten years, six cities that would be agreed upon by Bandler. Between 1972 and 1981, Bandler and Grinder “realized that the stage was not big enough for both of them” and so decided to go their separate ways in 1978. Undoubtedly there’s a lot more of that story. Perhaps it was over differences in how they thought about NLP; perhaps it was over differences in style. Perhaps it was that each thought they could do better apart from the other one.


Whatever happened behind the scenes, what we know publically is that Bandler and Grinder went separate ways and stopped talking to each other. And as the 1980s saw a wild growth of NLP training centers everywhere and then various Associations around the world and Conferences, both men seem to avoid such as well as contributing any writings to the journals and magazines that rose. Now there is a quotation that accredits to Robert Dilts that went something like this: “NLP was given birth by two mad-men who modelled three wild individualists and who they never stayed around to father the community.”


Contributors of NLP


Leslie Cameron-Bandler

Leslie Cameron-Bandler was in the original Bandler and Grinder research group in Santa Cruz. Leslie is best known as the developer of Meta Programs, a content model in NLP. According to Leslie Cameron-Bandler, “….for ten years I’d been looking for what’s the patterns that tell me about the person and for a long time I thought it was Meta Programmes and then it turned out not to be cause[sic.] they change by context too, so always I’d been looking for what’s the essence, what’s the core, because that’s what I want to be able to touch…”


Judith DeLozier

Judith DeLozier was also in the original NLP research group. She co-developed the new code of NLP with John Grinder and together they wrote “Turtles All the Way Down; Prerequisites to personal genius”. Currently she works with Robert Dilts at Dynamic Learning Center in Santa Cruz, California. DeLozier and Grinder’s new code of NLP is one of the most significant contributions to establishing the field of NLP.


Robert Dilts

Robert has been involved with NLP since meeting John Grinder while a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He co-authored “Neuro-Linguistic Programming Volume 1” along with John Grinder, Richard Bandler, Judith DeLozier and Leslie Cameron-Bandler in 1981.

Since then he has written numerous books on NLP and its applications to health, creativity, education, leadership, business and NLP modelling. He is well known in the NLP community for his Re-Imprinting technique as well as other NLP formats and models. Over the last 20 years Robert has evolved a description of NLP which he calls Systemic NLP. Currently he works with Judith DeLozier and Teresa Epstein at NLP University in Santa Cruz.


Steve and Connirae Andreas

With over 20 years of experience in the discipline of NLP, Steve and his wife Connirae founded NLP Comprehensive, one of the first major NLP training institutes in the USA.

Steve and Connirae edited and published many classic NLP books written by the originators, Richard Bandler and John Grinder. These include: “Frogs into Princes”, “Trance-formations”, “Reframing” and “Using your Brain for a Change”. Later they wrote many other books on NLP including “Virginia Satir, The patterns of her Magic”, “Core Transformation”, “Heart of the Mind” and “Change your Mind and keep the Change”.

Steve and Connirae have developed a number of NLP processes based on their extensive work with sub modalities. These include the grief and forgiveness patterns and the original modelling and development of mental timelines in NLP.


Michael Hall

Michael Hall is recognized as a leading NLP Trainer and developer of many models, most notably the revolutionary Meta-States model and more recently the Matrix model. In 1996, Michael co-founded with Dr. Bob Bodenhamer Neuro-Semantics as a field of study and as an International Society. Michael Hall studied NLP, originally with Richard Bandler in the late 1980s and became a Master Practitioner and Trainer. The Spirit of NLP (1996) and Becoming More Ferocious as a Presenter were the outcome of notes from Bandler’s trainings. Michael, worked with Bandler on the Society of NLP and edited two books, Time For a Change and Applied Neuro-Dynamics.


Richard Mchugh

Dick came to India as a fellow deacon. He started NLP in India shortly after that. He was ordained to the priesthood in Jamshedpur, India, on March 24, 1960 and this is where my journey in India began. I went on to serve as Vicar and later as pastor at St. Xavier’s Church in Chaibasa, a town in Jharkhand.”


Dick was introduced to the subject in 1980. Before which he returned to the States and served at the St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Church in Woodstock,and received his Ph.D. in Psychology from the Union Institute of Cincinnati.


Dick McHugh had learned the subject under the founders and was closely associated with John Grinder, Richard Bandler, Leslie Cameron-Bandler, Judith DeLozier, Robert Dilts, David Grdon, Michael Lebeau, Scout Lee Gunn and Todd Epstein. Connirae and Steve Andreas, Linda Sommerand Charlotte Bretto were teachers with whom Dick studied NLP. While Steve, John Grinder and Carol Lankton taught him hypnosis. Dick widely taught NLP to India.


Essence of NLP

In essence, all of NLP is founded on two fundamental presuppositions:


1. The map is not the territory

As humans, we can never know the reality. We can only know our perception of reality. We experience and respond to the world around us primarily though our sensory representational systems. It is our ‘neuro-linguistic’ maps of reality that determine how we behave and that give those behaviour meaning, not reality itself. It is generally not reality that limits us or empowers up but rather our map of reality.


2. Life and ‘Mind’ are systemic processes.

The processes that take place within a human being and between human beings and their environment are systematic. Our bodies, our societies, and our universe form ecology of complex systems and sub-systems all of which interact with and mutually influence each other. It is not possible to completely isolate any part of the system from the rest of the system. Such systems are based on certain ‘self-organizing’ principles and naturally seek optimal states of balance or homeostasis.


All of the models and techniques of NLP are based on the combination of these 2 principals. In the belief system of NLP it is not possible for human beings to know objective reality. Wisdom, ethic and ecology do not derive from having the one ‘right’ or ‘correct’ map of the world, because humans are not capable of making one. Rather, the goal is to create the richest map possible that respects the systemic nature and ecology of ourselves and the world we live in. The people who are most effective are the ones who have a map of the world that allows them to perceive the greatest number of available choices and perspectives. NLP is a way of enriching the choices that you have and perceive as available in the world around you. Excellence comes from having many choices. Wisdom comes from having multiple perspectives.


The ethics of NLP

You will note from the above presuppositions that NLP puts value on the individual, irrespective of the behaviour that they may be engaged in at any particular time.

This is a vital belief for a therapist who may be treating a disturbed individual, who engages in self destructive or otherwise negative behaviour.


In fact, valuing the other as an individual is the basis of many ethical and religious systems.

In addition, not only does each individual have a constant positive worth, each and every behaviour has a positive intention. So even when someone does something that could really annoy us, by believing that they have a positive intention we give ourselves permission to think the best and move on without experiencing anger.


Someone cuts you off in traffic, you can get mad, or you can wonder what emergency they are going to, or what other issues they have in their life that make them behave in that way.

NLP teaches us that each individual has their own map or model of the world, which is unique to that individual. In NLP we are taught to respect those maps. So, when we meet another person, we can be respectfully curious about their map of the world, curious about their beliefs and values, curious about how they see things, and what they feel.


NLP actually goes further than this. It tells us that the map is not the territory. That our map is not a reality of the world. Not just other people's map, but our map as well. It tells us that we have no monopoly on being right, and in fact we are by definition wrong, at least to the extent that we think we're right!


Change through NLP

Neuro-linguistic programming causes change by improving one’s understanding of their cognitive and behavioural patterns. It also builds more effective communications between conscious and unconscious mental processes.


Once a person has a better understanding of their personal map of reality, they can analyze what is effective in achieving their goals and what is not. They can then analyze the perspectives of others and assess what leads to their success. NLP is primarily experiential, and therefore the individual has to perform an action in order to actually learn from the experience.


NLP practitioners focus on six logical hierarchies of learning, communication, and change. Each logical level organizes the data below it. Changes made at a lower level influence the higher levels, and vice versa.


The six logical levels, in descending order, are:

  • Purpose and spirituality

  • Identity

  • Beliefs and values

  • Capabilities and skills

  • Behaviours

  • Environment


Techniques Used in NLP

NLP sessions use a variety of eclectic techniques, chosen according to the particular client.

Some of the most common techniques include the following:


  • Anchoring:

Associating an action as a trigger for certain emotional states. For example, the practitioner might help an individual immerse himself or herself in a feeling of confidence, then ask them to do a repetitive action, such as squeezing the forefinger and thumb together. The idea is that this action will later trigger the sense of confidence when pressed on the same spot.


  • Rapport:

The practitioner mirrors some of the client’s unconscious physical actions, creating a quick rapport and using empathy to better guide the client towards their goals. This is generally used in conjunction with other techniques, making them more powerful and effective.


  • Swish pattern:

The client is guided to visualize their regular patterns of behaviour or thought, and adjusts these patterns to lead to a desired outcome.

For example, the client visualizes a feeling such as anxiety, giving it a shape, size, and color. They then monitor it as it spirals in its familiar direction. Once they have a vivid representation of it, they attempt to spiral it in the opposite direction, towards achieving a more useful result and feeling.


  • Visual/kinaesthetic dissociation (VKD):

This technique uses visualization and other strategies to dissociate negative thoughts and feelings with an event. This is often used for treating PTSD. The client visualizes the traumatic event as if it is a movie, viewing it from a safe distance. The client is then led to vividly visualize it ending in a safe place, rather than in the trauma.


  • Association:

Some practitioners use the opposite of the previous technique.

For example, Kathy Welter-Nichols treats bulimia by associating the vomiting process with repulsion. Since bulimic clients generally have no problem with vomiting, she guides them towards having a strong negative reaction towards it.


  • Failure into feedback:

This is a fundamental technique used in conjunction with other strategies. The client learns to see lack of success as feedback rather than failure.


  • Modelling:

It is a tool where one models a successful behaviour and imbibes it into their life. This helps them reach their desired outcome.


What Happens in a NLP Session?

In an NLP therapy session, the therapist works with a person to understand his/her thinking, behaviours, emotional states, and aspirations. They then attempt to outline the person’s map of the world, along with their primary representational system (PRS). Once they have a foundation, they use a variety of techniques to change the way the person thinks, feels, or behaves in certain situations.

Neuro-linguistic programming has a firm foundation in Friz and Laura Perls’ Gestalt therapy. Gestalt therapy asks the individual to focus on the “here and now,” using their current thoughts and feelings, along with their relationship with the therapist, to identify what they’d like to change and to find solutions. Thus, NLP sessions are strongly based in the present, and require the client to work towards change in the session itself.


NLP is best used for:

Proponents of neuro-linguistic programming recommend its use for a number of mental health issues. These include anxieties and phobias, communication issues, PTSD, depression, attention disorders, addictions, schizophrenia, OCD, and borderline personality disorder.

Treatment of anxiety and phobias accounts for the most widespread use of NLP, seeing as it is particularly suited to eliminating negative associations with situations and behaviours.


NLP Levels done by me:

  • Basic Practitioners course

  • Advance Master course

  • Health

  • Tools of spirit

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Anil Thomas NLP & Gestalt
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