Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is the study of how people create their subjective experience. It is a model about how our brains work (Neuro), about how language interacts with the brain (Linguistic) and about how to use what we know about these to systematically get results we want for ourselves and our clients (Programming). It is often presented as the study of how people who excel at what they do achieve their results but this is to present only one side of the coin. It can also be applied to discover how people who fail to achieve what they want, succeed in what they are doing (i.e. failing to get what they want).
The founders of NLP (John Grinder and Richard Bandler) have said, “We never had the intention of starting a new school of therapy, we wished rather to start a new way of talking about it.” Many NLP skills can be successfully integrated with other forms of therapy.
People who come to therapy are stuck in some way and think they have little or no choice in matters which they consider important. Very often this sense of paralysis is accompanied by pain and a lack of fulfilment. The therapist has two choices in respond ing to their problems; he/she can either change the world or change the client’s experience of the world in some way which empowers the client to relate differently to the world. The first option, if one treats it seriously, is seldom a realistic one and even where it is possible the client often finds that the external changes make little difference to his\her inner experience of life – the same problems persist. How many people do we know who regularly change their external circumstances or their relationships only to find they have the same problem of overwork or their new partner is uncannily like their last one. When a therapist can facilitate a client by enabling him/her to change his/her subjective experience by enriching it to include the choices and possibilities which have eluded their perception until now, then a self-sustaining path to growth and development has begun. Old patterns of behaviour have been broken.
In order to interrupt old patterns and teach new ones, it helps to understand the struc ture of the client’s subjective experience and to understand how people make models of the world. NLP presents the therapist with strategies to enable a client to alter significantly his/her perception and be more open to the possibilities life presents with the option of creating a better or more useful model of reality.
The ultimate NLP skill is modelling. To model someone is to determine what results they can achieve repeatedly, then to extract from their total behaviours the elements that are necessary and sufficient to achieve a similar outcome and to apply those behaviours to achieve that outcome. NLP distinguishes internal and external behaviours. While we can be aware of another person’s external behaviours by observation, NLP provides a detailed technology for detecting and eliciting an individual’s internal behaviours (pictures, sounds and feelings etc. which they use to make internal representations of reality). The sequencing of internal and external behaviours is called a strategy and by copying another person’s strategy we can achieve a similar outcome.
Some readers will be familiar with the best known models for detecting internal pro cessing, the eye accessing cues which tell whether a person is using internal pictures, sounds or feelings when thinking or, more accurately what sequences of sights, sounds or feelings: the predicate cues (verbs, adjectives, adverbs), which also indicate what inter nal representations are being made.
NLP emerged formally when John Grinder and Richard Bandler began to study people who were recognised as outstanding models of bringing about change in others. They were Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls each representing a very dif ferent field of psychotherapy. Erickson had a profound understanding of people and their unconscious processes, Satir made a major contribution to our understanding of clear and open communications and of course Perls was the founder of Gestalt Therapy. Grinder was then Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Bandler was a mathematician, computing student and gestalt therapist. After many months of studying the three psychotherapists in person and on tape the results were presented in books and seminars and the claim is that these ” demonstrate some of the many patterns that therapists of every school have in common.”
Despite its rapid and continuing growth even today a great deal of NLP training reflects what they discovered from these three and one of the basic skills which practitioners are taught is rapport building. Rapport is a word which is often stressed as essential to communication and influencing skills but NLP is unique in detailing the specific steps necessary to establish, check and maintain rapport. Of course it would be ridiculous to suggest that one cannot have rapport without NLP training; people and more especially those who work in caring and counselling professions achieve rapport every day in their communications with others, otherwise there would be very little successful communication or psychotherapy. But what NLP offers is the possibility of creating and maintaining rapport in interactions where for whatever reasons rapport needs conscious effort. Most people look for something in common to talk about in order to establish rapport and while this is a useful way to establish some rapport at the conscious level, powerful rapport is established at the unconscious level. Building rapport is a useful skill in any area of human interaction but it has specific utility in psychotherapy since many clients, when they feel particularly stuck have difficulty in relating to others and the therapist will only on occasions have common interests with the client.
NLP also owes considerable intellectual debt to the work of George Miller, Eugene Galanter and Karl Pibram on plans and the Structure of behaviour, the studies of Roger Sperry and Robert Ornstein on the differences between the right and left brain, the rev olutionary contributions of Noam Chomsky to linguistic thought analysis, and the radical ethnology and “thinking about thinking” of Gregory Bateson (contained in such ideas as “what’s the difference that makes the difference?”)
Since the early days NLP has developed along a number of different lines each asso ciated with a prominent developer.
Richard Bandler’s work has developed from the initial discovery that the structure of meaning is related to the sequencing of our internal representation of reality through the senses to the further development that intensity of meaning is related to the refinements connected to each form of sensory intake. What this means is that when you remember a pleasurable experience the degree of pleasure related to the memory is a consequence of the colour, size, brightness and distance of the visual image you have in your mind’s eye. There is a list of submodalities for each system, visual, auditory, kines thetic, olfactory and gustatory.
Robert Dilts, who discovered the NLP eye accessing cues, has concentrated on the processes by which we create our beliefs and specifically those connected to our belief about our health.
Another interesting NLP discovery is that each of us has our personal internal way of coding time (Time Line Therapy & The Basis of Personality by Tad James and Wyatt Woodsmall). Unconsciously we have ways of noticing something as part of our past, present or future. The way we code time has a major impact on our way of responding to it. We can change the way we code it and the way we respond.
Leslie Cameron-Bandler has made contributions to our understanding of emotions and how we can control them, and along with David Gordon and Michael Lebeau she has written some of the most detailed books with regard to reproducing competence.
John Grinder, whose profound knowledge of how language can both imprison and liberate our perceptions has also concentrated on the role of physiology in changing our behaviour and how an individual interacts with his/her culture.
The study of Erickson, Satir and Perls produced among other things a set of presup positions which are recommended to every practitioner, not because they are true, although they may well be, but because a therapist who works from them will be more effective in bringing about change compared to one who does not. An NLP therapist works from the following presuppositions:
1. The map is not the territory. Human experience is filtered through the senses, creating an internal map which is not reality, as much as a representation of it.
2. Everyone lives in their own unique model of the world.
3. People always make the best choice available to them given their unique model of the world and the situation.
4. The meaning of the communication is the response it elicits and not the inten tion.
5. Resistance is a comment about the inflexibility of the communicator. Meeting resistance simply means the communicator must change his/her language, state ments, behaviour in whatever way is necessary to get the desired response.
6. In interactions the person with the most flexibility and variation of behaviour can control the outcome of the interaction – in cybernetics this is known as the Law of Requisite Variety (Ashby).
7. There is no substitute for clean open sensory channels. One will always get the answer to a question in so far as one has the sensory acuity to notice the response one gets.
8. People have all the resources necessary to make any desired changes. (Within physical possibilities and research to date).
9. Individuals have two levels of communication, conscious and unconscious.
10. The positive worth of an individual is held constant while the value and appropriateness of internal and/or external behaviour is questioned.
11. The intention of all behaviour is positive (for the person doing the behaviour) while behaviour may be negative the intention behind it is positive.
12. There are no failures in communication only outcomes. The trained com municator knows that interactions provide feedback, not failure.
13. All distinctions human beings are able to make concerning our internal and external environment and our behaviour can be usefully represented through visual, auditory, kinesthetic and gustatory, and olfactory systems.
14. Rapport is meeting an individual at their model of the world.
15. Mind and body are part of the same cybernetic structure and anything that occurs in one part of the system will affect the other parts.
16. If what you are doing isn’t working – do something different.
To test a presupposition, act as if it were true and notice the results you get.
Aidan Moloney, MA NLP Practitioner (Cert.) May 1991, Centre For Creative Change, 14 Uppr. Clanbrassil Street, Dublin 8. 01-538356/7