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What is NLP?

To put it simply, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) provides a model of how human beings function and of how to use that model for both remedial and generative change.

We take in information through our senses — we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. We process that information using the same senses and build our individual, constantly updated model of the world which in turn informs our behaviour. As we change our model, so we change our behaviour.

An early definition of NLP was that it is 'the study of the structure of subjective experience'. Richard Bandler has said that NLP is an attitude (of curiosity) and a methodology (of modelling) that leave behind a trail of techniques. John Grinder has been reported as saying that in the early days NLP developed from responses to the question 'How do you do that?' (Bandler and Grinder are the co-developers of NLP.)

NLP's name

The name Neuro-Linguistic Programming is descriptive:

Neuro refers to our neuro-physiology—the functioning of the nervous system within its physiological structure

Linguistic refers to our use of language to communicate—in every form in which people communicate with each other

Programming refers to the patterns evident in thought, sensation and behaviour—people’s own 'programmes'.

NLP offers a framework for better understanding ourselves and other people, individuals and groups. It enables people to develop precise communication skills and  offers a system of empowering beliefs and presuppositions about human behaviour and the process of change. 

NLP is often referred to as the 'study of excellence'. This emanates from the idea that NLP enables us to model people who are 'excellent' at what they do and build models that help us to replicate their behaviour (to the best of our ability). It is important to remember that people can be - and often are - 'excellent' at 'doing' their problem behaviours and the effective practitioner needs to model that 'excellence' too in order to facilitate change. 

NLP history

Neuro-Linguistic Programming originated in the 1970s at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Richard Bandler, a mathematician, and John Grinder, an Associate Professor of Linguistics,  were joined by others who shared a curiosity about exactly how people do what they do. Unlike conventional academics their interest lay in building ‘models’ of human behaviour rather than in developing ‘theories’, the test of a model being whether it is useful rather than whether it is 'true'.

Both Bandler and Grinder were interested in therapy — as were many people in Coastal California in the 70s. In the early days they modelled the gestalt therapist Fritz Perls and the family therapist Virginia Satir and subsequently they modelled doctor and hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Although their first books were directed towards therapists, their interest was in communication and influence and how to bring about behavioural change in any context. 

As their work developed Bandler, Grinder and their students modelled people who were successful in diverse fields including sport, health, education and business. They found that there were similarities in the thinking and behaviour of ‘effective’ people, whatever the context. The ‘difference that makes a difference’ between people who were more and less effective was found to be in the particular ways that each individual processes sensory information and constructs their individual models of the world.




© Jo Cooper 2002-2017. All rights reserved


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