Behind the name ‘Neurolinguistic Programming’ which, according to legend, came about as a student prank, hides a very well founded and complex psychological discipline. Neurolinguistic Programming, or NLP in short, started off as an academic project, an investigation into the speech patterns of three well known psychotherapists: the originator of conversational hypnosis Milton Erickson, the renowned family therapist Virginia Satir and the father of Gestalt therapy Fritz Perls. The investigators were two psychology students and one psycholinguist at University of California Santa Cruz in 1970s. They adopted a very original approach: they attempted to discover and describe the linguistic patterns or algorithms inherent in the therapeutic approaches of the great therapists, so that they can then be learnt and applied by others. The possible applications of this innovative discipline which they labelled Neurolinguistic Programming were many: therapeutic, coaching, self-development, business, etc, etc.
However, like many other things in life, NLP was not spared from ego- and profit-driven inter-personal conflicts. Soon after a brilliant start, the approach quickly fell into disrepute with the rest of the academic community; the money-making focus adopted by many trainers and practitioners meant that the discipline of NLP became poorly regulated and over the years it became associated with permatanned finger-clicking ‘I’ll make you rich overnight’ snakeskin oil salesmen types.
Such lack of professional standards exposed the whole discipline to mockery of the psychological community, with many psychologists dismissing it as ‘pseudoscience’. And yet in reality, if we look past all the gimmicks and unsupported claims, at its core NLP is just another cognitive approach – and a very effective one at that!
Many psychological approaches rest on the assumption that all behaviour has a structure which can be identified, learned and, if necessary, altered. From studying these patterns, the founders of NLP asserted that it is possible to establish models from which excellence could be achieved – literally creating ‘recipes for success’.
NLP provides the means to manage the mind effectively so that we can think, act and hold beliefs that allow us to perform to our best abilities.
Over the recent years, the relationship between the academic and psychotherapeutic community on one hand and NLP on the other has slowly starting to shift. Psychotherapeutic and coaching circles have gradually started to open up and explore the possibilities offered by NLP – a few higher education institutions in UK and abroad have even started offering NLP diploma and degree programmes.
This change in attitude of the academic community has been complemented by the work of a minority of conscientious NLP trainers who are less concerned by profit than by providing high quality education. By providing quality educational programmes, having high expectations from their students and not issuing certificates lightly, NLP trainers should ensure that high professional standards are maintained by all who possess a certificate with their signature on it. There are also collaborative efforts, with NLPers and psychologists working together to develop effective coaching and therapeutic methods and programmes.
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is recognised as an effective means for enhancing performance and fulfilling the potential in many areas of life, including work, education, sports and personal development. NLP-based tools are used by a variety of therapists to help their clients deal more effectively with psychological issues, including fears and phobias, weight management, smoking cessations and other issues which are often related to stress.
Neuro refers to our nervous system and how we think. By becoming aware of our thinking patterns we can gain an understanding of how they influence our results.
Linguistic refers to how we use language, both verbal and non-verbal, and how that affects us. By learning to use our language effectively we can change our thinking and master the ability to communicate.
Programming refers to the strategies we run throughout our lives in the form of habitual programmes. By gaining an understanding of these strategies, we can either change them, keep them or improve them to enhance our potential.