What is NLP?

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) has two main definitions: while it began as a set of techniques to understand and codify the underlying elements of ‘genius’ by modeling the conscious and unconscious behaviors of brilliant communicators and therapists, over the years, it has evolved into a set of frameworks, processes and protocols (the results of modelling) that qualified NLP Practitioners currently use to help evoke effective behavioral changes in clients.

NLP was initially developed while observing three very effective therapists as they worked with clients or groups of clients and asking questions about their work. One of the most important questions was, “What specifically are the things they do that lead to healthy therapeutic changes in their clients?” It was while observing the therapists as they worked (in person when possible and with video and audio tapes and transcripts when not) and documenting their own descriptions of their work that the developers began to notice common patterns in the therapists’ words and phrases, their tone of voice, their speed and rhythm of speaking, their motions, postures, gestures, etc.

As the early developers interviewed and reviewed tapes and transcripts of these therapists talking about their work, they found that they each used ways of thinking and acting that could be described one-step-at-a-time in terms of what they saw, heard and felt during a therapeutic session. They identified very specific patterns of speaking and repeated ways of doing things (strategies) that the therapists regularly used to get the results they wanted. They documented in great detail what the therapists were paying attention to during the session, what was happening with their clients and how the therapists described experiencing the session inside themselves. They found that although each therapist did things in their own way, there were certain linguistic structures and patterns of thought and behavior that were used by all of them. This way of analyzing behavior became known in NLP as ‘modeling:’ observing, investigating and teasing out the essentials of “How do they do that?”

After they had identified what these therapists did and what they were paying attention to, the developers tested these patterns of thought and behavior (the models). They did this by trying them out themselves and by teaching them to others. They confirmed the models were correct when they could elicit the same kinds of changes in their clients as the original therapists had attained using the same patterns. This was tested over and over again until they confirmed that the models could be learned and used by anyone to achieve the same therapeutic outcomes. As NLP grew and became more sophisticated, other successful individuals in a variety of other fields were observed and modeled in the same way and additional tools and techniques were added. This body of models, strategies, tools and techniques became the field of NLP.

Often described as “the study of subjective experience,” NLP makes it possible for people to quickly and efficiently learn how to think, behave and communicate in order to achieve specific goals. When applied in an educational or teaching setting, NLP provides specific tools to assist the teacher to structure the learning experience in the most effective way possible. Applied in a therapeutic or coaching setting, NLP allows clinicians, therapists and coaches to understand the structure of problem behaviors, thoughts and communications and to create interventions for those problems. Doctors and nurses have used NLP to help patients relax, overcome fear, and to take part in their own healing. In sports, NLP allows athletes to use the same kinds of thoughts and practices that champions use so that they can improve their own games. Musicians, actors, business people and motivational speakers are just a few of the kinds of people that have used the NLP model-building processes described above.

At root NLP is a way of gaining and understanding knowledge that generates models of the way people think about and do things (the structure of their experience) that can be applied in appropriate places where it will work best and in a way that it can be evaluated and tested scientifically. Each pattern and model it describes includes clear step-by-step instructions, and clear ways to test whether the desired result has been achieved. For both the client and the practitioner, the outcomes created by NLP can be tested to make sure they actually work.

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