What is NLP, Anyway?

Once upon a time, two guys at UC Santa Cruz asked, “Never mind what therapists say they do, let’s find the very best, see what they actually do, then try it ourselves? If we can get the same results, that’s great. And if we can teach other people to get the same results, we’re done. And it’s 100% practical — no theory, just results.”

These two guys were John Grinder and Richard Bandler, and they studied the most conspicuously successful therapists of the day — gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, family therapist Virginia Satir, and hypnotherapist Milton H. Erickson. Soon they were able to both duplicate some of these therapists’s successes and teach others how to do it. They called the process “modeling” and their new grab bag of techniques neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP.

Why a grab bag? If you test a bunch of things and keep the stuff that works, you end up with a grab bag, not a beautiful theory. In some fields, theories are the gold standard.

I’m an engineer by training, and it’s different in engineering. One maxim of engineering is, “Partial credit will not be given if the bridge falls down.” Everything is about results. Tangible, measurable, repeatable results. “The operation was a success, but the patient died” makes no sense to an engineer.

So does NLP deliver results? Yes. It’s not surprising, because the steps of modeling are all about results — find someone who gets wonderful results, imitate them until you can get the same results, streamline the process until you find what steps really matter, then teach others, and keep refining until your students get the same results as the master. As you’d expect, the process often reveals a hidden simplicity, which the masters often weren’t aware of themselves.

If someone comes in to see me and has a fear of, say, public speaking, I can use one of several different NLP techniques instead of hypnotic techniques, or in addition to them. Some NLP techniques are unrelated to hypnosis meaning that I can help you resolve your problem several times over, with a belt-and-suspenders approach that ought to last forever.

Most NLP techniques involve guided imagination, and the phrase, “Remember a time when you …” comes up over and over. But this isn’t about discovering the cause of your problem (which we often do with hypnosis). It’s all about the issues you’re having here and now.

The mind automatically moves from pain to pleasure when it can, and most NLP techniques teach your mind a new and more pleasant way of reacting to the old stimulus. Unlike desensitization techniques, we don’t bother trying to remove stuff. It’s all about adding choices, because once your unconscious mind really understands that there’s a better choice, it’ll make that one automatically. Suppose you have two cars in the driveway. One is ugly, hard to start, unpleasant to drive, and gets terrible gas mileage, while the other is beautiful, comfortable, is a joy to drive, and gets great mileage. If I give you the keys to the nice car, how often are you going to find yourself behind the wheel of the clunker? Not very often! Problem solved.

If you have an interest in NLP, give me a call. I’m a certified NLP practitioner. These techniques are powerful, especially when you work with a practitioner. I’ve used the techniques on myself, and, as with self-hypnosis, it’s a lot better than nothing, but not the same as working with someone else, since being your own practitioner means you’re trying to be in two different states of mind at the same time, and that’s hard. With two people, it’s faster and more powerful.

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. Robert's publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of reprinted classics, including Hypnotherapy of War Neuroses, which covers treating PTSD in veterans. Robert and his wife Karen sell free-range chicken and eggs at the Corvallis farmers' markets. Robert's hypnotherapy office is in downtown Corvallis.

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