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Neuro Linguistic Programing – A History




A History of NLP

 

NLP originated in the melting pot that was the University of California in Santa Cruz in the 1970s. Students were encouraged to choose whichever classes they wished, to blend Arts and Sciences subjects and basically to design their own education according to their needs and desires. In addition, students and teachers were accorded basically the same privileges and freedoms which led to close relationships being formed across the campus.

At that time, Richard Bandler, a 20 year old, long haired, chain smoking psychology student was running a gestalt therapy group at the university which was having quite a degree of success. He was also transcribing the therapeutic sessions of Fritz Perls (the father of Gestalt psychology). It’s likely that Bandler was unconsciously using some of the techniques he’d picked up by observing Perl’s work. The problem he faced was that he was unsure of what exactly he was doing that led to his amazing successes in the gestalt group and whilst skilled at achieving these results himself, he was less skilled at teaching others to do what he did.

John Grinder, at this time was the youngest professor of linguistics in the US and was also based at the University. He was approached by Bandler and asked to observe the Gestalt group in order to see if it would be possible to identify the principles underlying what Bandler was doing. Both became friends during this time.

They then began to examine the work of Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir (an eminent family therapist) by analysing their writings, listening to and watching their tape and video recordings and by observing Satir in action. Later, they got to know and became admirers of Gregory Bateson who, in turn, introduced them to the work of Milton Erickson (a brilliant hypnotherapist).

What Grinder noticed was that Bandler (and Perls, Erickson and Satir) were applying certain principles of linguistics / using the same linguistic patterns. They also noticed that Satir spoke to some clients using primarily visual terms, to some using auditory language and to others using kinaesthetically oriented language. Satir had herself been unaware that she was doing this!

From this work, Bandler and Grinder wrote a series of which described the linguistic patterns and aspects of non-verbal communication which were used to successfully influence and help people. Incidentally, this caused Satir a degree of difficulty as Bandler and Grinder were able to point out the very skilful covert things she did with clients to get her results. Once she realized she was doing these covert things, Satir would stop doing them, because ‘manipulation’ was against her principles.

Around the same time, Grinder and Bandler began running a psychology course where they taught their approaches to therapy. This was known (informally by students) as "Dr Grinder’s Mind-Fuck 101" The course was eventually discontinued by the University on the grounds that it constituted unauthorized experimentation on and with human subjects. It continued informally as a series of training seminars (for therapists) which were attended by Robert Dilts, Judith DeLozier (who later married Grinder), Leslie Cameron (who later married Bandler), David Gordon and Steve Gilligan amongst others. John O Stevens and Connierae Andreas took tapes of the Bandler-Grinder sessions and edited them into the brilliant volumes known as "Frogs into Princes" (1979), "Trance-Formations" (1981) and "Reframing" (1982). John O. Stevens later became better known as Steve Andreas when he married Connirae.

Working together and experimenting (with abandon and large doses of creativity) on each other, their friends and occasional passers by, this group began to come up with ideas, insights, and techniques which explained or reproduced the results that people get. It was from this research that field of NLP grew with discoveries such as anchoring, sensory acuity, calibration, reframing, representational systems, and the two Language Models. Many of the personal change techniques such as the New Behavioural Generator and Change Personal History were also discovered here. During this time in the group was involved in extremely adventurous exploration, sometimes being downright irresponsible. There are stories of Bandler and Grinder giving phobias to unsuspecting people in shopping malls, and Gilligan putting waitresses into momentary trances while they were taking his order. Leslie Cameron spent one weekend in deep trance identification with Satir which left her with a totally different, softer voice, her strong Oklahoma accent almost completely gone. It was around this time that Bandler also coined the name Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

The group began touring the States giving demonstrations / running training sessions towards the end of the seventies which soon became packed put due to word of mouth advertising. Bandler and Grinder reportedly would give students impossible exercises to do. Once they told a seminar that one can tell what people are thinking by watching the ways their eyes move, and asked students to discover how to do this. To their surprise, students came up with what are now known as eye accessing cues. In another seminar, a woman claimed that she didn’t have any bad memories. The NLPers asked her some questions to find out how that was possible, and as a result developed the technique called VK Dissociation, which later became the first half of the Fast Phobia / Trauma Cure.

As the seminar tours continued into the early eighties, some splits in the NLP camp began to become evident. On the one hand this may have been due to Bandler’s personality which was quite aggressive and his heavy use of alcohol and cocaine.  On the other it may have been due to friction which arose about "who owned the rights to NLP." Bandler sued Grinder (and others) to maintain proprietary rights to NLP, and lost. In any case, they had parted ways and each began to work on their own ideas from which various types of NLP qualification were developed arising from Practitioner and Master Practitioner Courses.

Since then, NLP has diversified and is being taught using a myriad of approaches. Each student eventually develops their own ‘brand’ of NLP which reflects their training and their beliefs. It’s become a rapidly growing, diversifying and developing body of knowledge and insights which is at best wonderfully creative, life enhancing and incredibly resourceful. At its worst it can be considered manipulative.

To some people this lack of a body of cohesive standards and styles is unacceptable in a ‘discipline’. But then NLP never has been a discipline – it is always been a little anarchic, a little iconoclastic, a little bit ‘off message’ and, perhaps, it’s strength lies in this diverseness and it’s creative potential requires such a healthy ability to not be standardised.

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