What is NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)?

NLP is a multi-dimensional methodology of communication, personal development and change. It seeks to understand the dynamics and interaction of the human nervous system and mind (neuro), language and communication (linguistic) and the organisation of human thought processes and patterns (programming) to effect positive and beneficial personal change.

If we were to think of the brain as a computer running a large number of ‘programs’ (the brain’s ‘software’), NLP teaches the client to reorganise or re-pattern the way that these ‘programs’ are run to enable dramatic transformations and changes to take place.

The Historical Development of NLP

The development of NLP began in the 1970s when Dr. Richard Bandler & John Grinder set out to understand and model what it was that made the most effective communicators so effective.

Bandler and Grinder believed that therapists were among the most effective communicators as they were able to initiate amazing transformations within their clients apparently just through talking with them. With this in mind, they set about modelling some of the leading therapists of the day, including Fritz Perls (the founder of Gestalt therapy), Virginia Satir (a renowned family therapist) and Milton H. Erickson M.D. (the world’s leading hypnotherapist at that time). In modelling the verbal and non-verbal patterns used by these most elegant and persuasive communicators and proponents of personal change, they identified a variety of patterns that could be used to replicate the astounding results they had observed in the work of these pre-eminent therapists. NLP started out, therefore, as a field to study and model the structure of excellence in communication. This approach to understanding the structure of subjective experience, language and thought processes became known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

The field of NLP has continued to develop and be refined over the last thirty years and is now widely used in many areas of change work and personal development. It is not simply a technology to fix problems but seeks to go far beyond that to facilitate ‘generative’ change i.e. to empower the client to make improvements in all areas of their life.

What can I expect from seeing a therapist or life coach trained in NLP?

A session with an NLP trained therapist or life coach will typically be quite conversational with the practitioner using a range of language skills and strong observational and listening skills to elicit precisely how the client is experiencing ‘reality’ and using transformational and hypnotic communication to help the client change their subjective experience of ‘reality’ to gain new perspectives and become aware of the wide range of possibilities and opportunities that are available.

In contrast to many approaches to therapy, NLP works on an assumption that old experiences or traumas do not have to be relived in order for change to occur. NLP believes that all experience is subjective and that we respond to our internal representation of events, not to the events themselves. Experience has a structure inside our minds so if we change the structure, we change the experience.

As human beings, we are driven by a large number of automatic ‘patterns’ or ‘programs’ that are largely outside of conscious awareness. An NLP practitioner will concentrate less on ‘why’ the client is experiencing the issues or problems they are experiencing and more on ‘how’ the client uses certain ‘patterns’ and ‘programs’ to hold the issue, problem or limiting belief in place.

So, the practitioner will focus on understanding the context of the problem (when/where does it occur… when doesn’t it occur?), the process the client goes through in order to produce the problem (what triggers the problem off… when is everything OK?), and the structure of the problem within the clients mind (does the client criticise themselves inside in a harsh tonality first, get a feeling in the stomach and then perhaps make pictures in their mind of things going wrong?).

In much the same way that Bandler & Grinder modelled excellence, an NLP practitioner will seek to understand the structure of their problem and work with the client to interrupt or spoil the limiting pattern and replace it with something more useful. Also, the client will undoubtedly have experienced many positive and resourceful states that can be accessed and utilised to overwrite the previously held limiting behaviour or belief ‘programs’.

Human beings are the most amazing learning machines so if we can easily learn limiting behaviours then we can equally easily learn more useful behaviours and access more resourceful emotional states. A good example of this is a phobia. People can develop debilitating phobias from a single bad experience. It is this capacity to learn rapidly that is utilised by an NLP practitioner to eliminate the phobia just as quickly as it was originally acquired.

There are a large number of powerful techniques that NLP practitioners use to change the structure of how the client subjectively experiences reality and to facilitate permanent and positive changes.

Hypnosis will often also play a part during sessions with an NLP practitioner. Hypnosis is a powerful way to ensure that learnings are integrated into the subconscious more quickly and permanently than perhaps could be achieved without hypnosis. Even if a formal trance induction does not take place during your sessions, you can be sure that a skilled NLP practitioner is communicating at many different levels to help facilitate change.

What can NLP be used for?

NLP is successfully used to overcome phobias, addictions and depression, reduce anxiety and stress, eliminate limiting beliefs, gain greater control over emotional states, improve communication, enhance performance, achieve goals, and perhaps most importantly, find ways to increase the amount of happiness and joy people have in their lives.


by Paul Reed
NLP Links:

ANLP – information for the public and resources for practitioners.

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