I’ve been involved in learning NLP since 1995, and it has been an interesting way to my own personal growth, as I believe it will be yours. NLP has been associated a great deal with people like Darren Brown in recent years. Recently, on my YouTube page, a viewer asked me if what Darren Brown does is real.
Well, first of all, I’m not Darren Brown, so I can’t tell you. 😀 Secondly, I’m sure Darren Brown does what he does simply to impress an audience. I’m very skeptical he has the ability to create change in pathological clients (which is the domain of clinical psychology) nor will he be able to model organizations effectively (which is the domain of organizational psychology). But I’m very sure he does well for himself as a street magician.
Now… if you are going to ask me to certify you as an NLP Practitioner, please don’t make it be because you want to be like Darren Brown! NLP is not a magic skill, it is a linguistic skill. As with almost all things linguistic, you get a chance to influence people by the very nature of your communication. This is because, communication causes people’s perceptions to change. NLP has modeled ways to shift perceptions (such as the therapeutic process of reframing a person’s beliefs, for instance), but NLP itself is NOT a tool for influence.
NLP is a tool for studying knowledge. If you want to be a master of enhancing your human capital, NLP is the tool to use. It helps to peel away the layers of an expert’s hidden knowledge. In organizational science, it is a common phenomenon for experts to have a problem really expressing what they are doing. An NLP expert, however, will better be able to extract the information from a talented member in order to understand the hidden processes that an expert goes through. This is the art and science of modeling.
I’ve always been amused by some Chinese martial arts movies. It’s bizarre that the student always gets into trouble, is saved by the master who then is mortally wounded, and then just before he dies, transfers all his “internal energy” to his student who is now filled with power, but lacks precise control over his capabilities.
To a great extent, this pretty much sums up what modeling is. You can model the skill, but you also have to model the process, structure and context in order to ensure that your model works well for you. Without practice, you can model a skill but find that it simply goes to waste. Research shows that skills that are not practiced decay as much as 92% within just one year (Arthur, Bennett, Stanuch, & McNelly, 1998).
Here are some sources of modeling literature you can enjoy reading about. Do remember that reading does not mean that you become an expert in it. It merely means that you get to know about something. To transfer it to real life, you need to maximize your practice time.
Modeling With NLP by Robert Dilts.
This book is great in so far as it shows you Robert’s approach to modeling. It’s very ‘clunky’ in the sense that the models he has developed are tabular, boxy and sometimes unappealing to the average reader. To the modeling enthusiast, the book holds a lot of hidden gems for the taking. This is currently the only known modelling source book, and unfortunately, may cause people to think it is the only approach to modeling.
Once you have studied some modeling, you should look at the models that were built as the cornerstones of NLP. One of them is The Structure Of Magic Volume 1, which was rumored to be Bandler’s doctoral thesis. This volume talks a great deal about the structure of language and how we have hidden information under the surface layer. Although it is based on the outmoded model of transformational linguistics, it serves the purpose of creating a model for extracting information from someone. Personally, I think this work deserves a lot more than it is credited for due to its application to many areas of talent development.
Magic In Action – Richard Bandler
After learning the Meta Model in The Structure Of Magic, Vol 1, you will hear things a little differently. In this book, Bandler does therapy. You watch, but hopefully you can figure out what he is really doing in a masterful way. Each interaction with a client is a modeling process, thereby enabling him to be a master therapist by understanding the client’s model of the world, his rules and his approach to living life as is. And of course, once you have this knowledge, you can experiment with shifts in cognitions, utilizing submodalities.
Patterns Of The Hypnotic Techniques Of Milton H. Erickson, Skills For The Future, Strategies Of Genius
These books are basically examples of modeling as applied to geniuses. The first work (Patterns for short) is often defined as the only thing related to NLP. For this reason, most people only think of NLP as persuasion and influence or that NLP is covert hypnosis. In this particular case, hypnosis is the area of modeling as perceived by Bandler and Grinder. The other two works are the study of creativity and the study of selected geniuses by Robert Dilts. By reading these, you understand how the entire process of modeling can be better founded.
Back to Linguistics
Unfortunately, in many cases, when psychologists explore the somewhat misleading claims of the commercial NLP practitioner, they are barking up the wrong tree. Since NLP is not an academic rigor, it fails to support itself from the standpoint of academic literature. However, the fact is many of the elements of NLP are actually supported by research literature not because experiments were done on NLP, but the phenomena that NLP modeled after are in and of themselves predicated on workable science, including the following:-
- Similarity studies. In sociology and social psychology, imitation, rapport building and attraction are part of the basis of NLP’s rapport building process
- Behavioral conditioning. In behavioral psychology, reinforcement theory shows at least some support for NLP’s approach to anchoring.
- EMDR research in cognitions. The now world-famous phenomenon of EMDR for post traumatic stress disorder has been researched widely in the last decade and two of the protocols they use called “Subjective Units Of Disturbance” and “Validity of Cognition” are very similar to NLP’s approach to submodalities. EMDR kicked off in the 1990s. NLP started in 1970s. To read more about this, get access to Francine Shapiro’s main book on EMDR and Carol Forgash’s Healing The Heart Of Trauma.
- Systematic Desensitization. NLP’s approach to phobia cures basically took an age-old concept of behavioral desensitization and exposure therapy, and turned it into a cognitive model for treatment.
- Linguistics. NLP is founded on two linguistic models, the Meta Model and the Milton Model. However, the research is wide open to show power-distance relationships through a process of discourse analysis (see Joan Cutting’s book, Pragmatics and Discourse, 2002), which lends support for the way some people are more influential than others. NLP modeling is similar to the process of cognitive task analysis in the organizational psychology literature (see Kraiger, 2002 and Shalin, Geddes, Bertrim, Szczepkowski, and DuBois, 1999). This approach to modeling is founded upon on the long-time Whorfian hypnothesis of linguistic relativity and another set of theories in General Semantics .
- Unconscious Processing. This is a black box. Bandler believes that we learn unconsciously (do we not?) and has put into place the concept of nested loops (taken from computing science). However, this concept is so far ahead of its time, it’s really hard to determine through science itself. Freud’s concept of the unconscious has been largely accepted, and a lot of research in hypnosis has shown to a great extent the fact that unconscious processing of linguistic commands does appear to be effective in many cases (see the hypnosis body of knowledge, particularly Stephen Lankton, Michael Yapko, Ernest Rossi; you may also find a significant body of knowledge from the Milton Erickson Foundation, one of the national bodies in the USA for certification as a hypnotherapist).
Having studied linguistics and psychology for the last 16 years of my life, I think I have a fairly keen grasp on some of the ideas that supports NLP. Not surprisingly, therefore, many NLP “trainers” or even practitioners of NLP will never be able to explain all this themselves.
Which is one of the reasons why I prefer to be highly selective in my apprenticeship of new NLP practitioners and master practitioners. Unlike the “paper” mills that exist today, I feel that competence is the goal, not certification. After all, we know that certification does not amount to transfer of learning.
Bandler is a thinker and a philosopher. His approach to creativity is unbridled and really uninterested in the research to justify the workings of NLP. The fact is his models of hypnosis had enabled many people to learn hypnosis far more easily than before, showing that modeling is actually a powerful cognitive skill. His modeling of psychotherapeutic techniques has also enabled individuals who have no foundation of clinical psychology or organizational psychology to do magic… some of the time. Granted, there are issues pertaining to the ethics of practice as well as being effective as a real therapist where a proper body of knowledge is required. There’s currently no quality control measure that helps consumers to understand NLP and their trainers well, which itself is one of the problems with NLP. With no strong competency structure, NLP continues to have more of a mysterious backstage reputation than what it actually deserves.
If you are a business owner, a senior manager, a parent, a teacher, a trainer, a leader… or anyone who has to work with people and needs to use skills to maximize your knowledge about others while enhancing your own capabilities to reach expert levels of learning, you probably want to learn NLP.
If you’re out to use NLP to impress others, to collect another certificate, to take a shortcut to a powerful skill instead of being meticulous in your studies, profiting by declaring yourself an NLP trainer without being competent in your own trianing, I’d advise that you step aside.