NLP - neuro-linguistic programming
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|NLP is described as the "Science of Positive Thinking".||NLP as change practice|
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) operates at several logical levels: as a therapy or self-therapy practice (for which training courses and popular books are widely available) and as a modelling process.
At one level, NLP is a form of brief psychotherapy, consisting of a set of techniques that resolve mental problems by altering brain patterns (whatever that means). NLP can be contrasted to psychoanalysis, which resolves mental problems by understanding (recollecting, interpreting, bringing to consciousness) their original causes. NLP is sometimes claimed as the science of positive thinking. The person (alone, or with the help of a therapist) makes positive mental images of a desired future state, and builds the mental strengths and stratagems to achieve this state.
Thus NLP is about changing the present situation, in the most elegant way possible, without bothering to analyse the past. A part of the client's personality is altered to make it more useful, without worrying what event (perhaps in one's distant childhood) caused this part to exist in its present form. This approach can be adopted with organizational change as well.
Some of the things NLP practitioners claim to be able to achieve include:
NLP can be regarded as a sophisticated version of Pavlovian conditioning.
Pavlov trained his dog to salivate at the sound of a bell, and it has been
found that human beings can be conditioned in much the same way.
But Pavlovian conditioning requires a positive stimulus. You can train
a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell, you can even train it to salivate
when the bell stops, but you cannot train it to salivate at the complete
absence of a bell.
One of the precepts of NLP is that all behaviour patterns have a positive function. This includes the way you react to things, the way you think. For example, a phobic response probably has a protective function. Most phobias have a rational core, but are extended irrationally. For example, it is rational to be afraid of large, hostile and rabid dogs. Most people would be nervous in the company of a pit bull terrier that hadnít eaten for two day. But someone who has a phobia of dogs may get the same physical symptoms of fear from seeing a small, tame dog asleep, or even a photograph of a dog.
A traditional therapy for phobias is desensitization, which tries to eliminate the phobic response. The trouble with this as therapy is that it provides nothing to put in the place of the phobia; the person is not helped to learn new ways of responding to dogs. "If you do systematic desensitization, and you donít replace the Ďnegativeí behavioural pattern with something positive, it takes a long time, because the person will fight. Itís their only defence. Thatís why it takes six months, because a person has to randomly put something else in its place." [Bandler & Grinder]
The NLP phobia cure doesnít remove all fear of all dogs, making it impossible for a person to display proper caution in the presence of a dangerous dog. NLP aims to provide the person with a choice of responses. The person learns to recognize the contexts in which the phobic response (or perhaps a less exaggerated version of it) remains appropriate, and acquires new alternative responses for those contexts where the phobic response is not appropriate. This is a strategy of replacing.
It is a curious fact that hypnotism seems to work. One suggested explanation for this is that hypnotism is a mode of communication that manages to by-pass the Left Brain (conscious) and communicate directly with the Right Brain (unconscious).
One technique of hypnotism is to embed positive suggestions within negative sentences. Thus the sentence "Given your background, I doubt whether you will believe that this will work in your particular case." will be heard by the Left Brain as a negative statement. But the Right Brain ignores all the syntactic complications, hears the embedded suggestion "Believe that this will work", and sometimes obeys. (The more complications in the sentence the better, because it reduces the chances that the clever Left Brain will detect what is going on, and intervene to protect the innocent Right Brain from being ordered around by the hypnotist.)
As we have already seen, most people inadvertently use this technique to disastrous effect. They say "Donít worry." to their parents, and "Donít be clumsy" to their children, and wonder how come their parents worry more than ever, and their children get clumsier than ever. Hypnotists explain this by pointing out that the Right Brain is following the positive suggestion, not the negative envelope.
Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, based on careful observation and modelling of the therapeutic practices of the hypnotist Milton Erikson and the family therapist Virginia Satir. There are strong links to the thinking of Gregory Bateson and his associates (which included Haley and Watzlawick).
Richard Bandler & John Grinder, Frogs into Princes: Neurolinguistic Programming (Moab Utah, Real People Press, 1979)
Richard Bandler & John Grinder, Reframing: NLP and the transformation of meaning (Moab Utah: Real People Press, 1982)
Jay Haley, Uncommon Therapy: The psychiatric techniques of Milton H Erikson MD (2nd ed, New York: W.W.Norton, 1986)
Paul Watzlawick, The Language of Change (New York, Basic Books,
Page last updated on August 1st, 2003
Copyright © 2001-3, Richard Veryard