Described by practitioners as ‘the art and science of excellence’, NLP (‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’) is a series of psycho-therapeutic techniques developed in the 1970s. The term NLP was first coined in 1976 by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the co-creators of the system. Bandler was then a psychology student at the University of California, USA, while Grinder was Assistant Professor of Linguistics, specializing in Chomskyian transformational grammar.

In creating their system the pair studied the work of Fritz Perls, originator of Gestalt therapy, Virginia Satir, famous family therapist, Milton Erickson, the renowned hypnotherapist and the insights of British anthropologist Gregory Bateson. They isolated a code of effective communication skills used by successful therapists and developed a series of applications using cognitive behavioural techniques and drawing on ideas from humanistic psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. Their key proposals were outlined in The Structure of Magic Volumes I and II

NLP is based on the theory that life experiences condition the way humans perceive their worlds and that changing perceptual habits can correspondingly change thought and emotion patterns. The techniques make use of the sensory faculties as core representation systems for human thought and experience, with the aim of changing the ‘submodalities’ or qualities of sensory memories and the ‘metaprograms’ or filters of perception. Sensory acuity is prioritized in NLP, as the ability to analyse and imitate non-verbal behaviour is used as a means to enhance communication. Practitioners of NLP work either on a one-to-one basis or with groups, explaining and demonstrating techniques, sometimes using hypnotic or trance states during sessions.

NLP has grown rapidly since the 1970s, particularly in the Western hemisphere, having gained a strong foothold in the fields of business, education, therapy, and communication. It has also been developed and applied for particular uses, for example in curing problems such as stammering and phobias. It is a growth industry in the USA and the UK, where the largest associations of practitioners and the greatest number of consultancies have been formed. Influential practitioners run seminars in a number of trademarked NLP techniques such as ‘Persuasion Engineering’, ‘Neuro-Hypnotic Patterning’ and ‘Business Magick’. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, NLP also has a significant presence in South Africa, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.

NLP forms part of the Human Potential Movement and can be classed as a mainstream psychological and therapeutic tool; for example, it is grouped along with Personal Construct Psychology in the ‘Experiential Constructivists’ branch of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. It has also been presented and promoted in the ‘psychic fringe’ of hypnotism shows and psychic performances. It is difficult to locate NLP in relation to other New Religious Movements (see New Religious Movement), as it has become established within the largely secular fields of consumer sales and management training. Hence it is rarely seen as an explicitly spiritual venture, although the enhancement of personal power can easily be divinized and harnessed to the aims of business.

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