Article by Dr.L.Michael Hall and Mr Shawn Dwyer  ~

Morpheus asked Neo when they first met, “Do you want to know what it is?”
Neo answered with a question, “What is the Matrix?”  The question here is, “What is NLP?”  Now some NLP people seem to have a challenge about defining and describing what it is. I suppose that’s because as a meta-discipline, it can be applied to so many things. And yet, what it can be applied to is not the same thing as what it is. Identity is not the same thing as application.

A Communication Model

In terms of defining NLP, it is a communication model. How do I know that?Well, look at the title of the original books. The two volumes of The Structure of Magic is titled, A Book about Communication and Change. And in those two volumes, the authors present “A Meta-Model of Language in
Therapy.” Next, look at all of the communication models of NLP-

           The list of 12 linguistic distinctions (from Transformational Grammar) and questions to enable a person get a fuller and deeper representation of the person’s experience is the Meta-Model.

           The list of the sensory representation systems and their distinctions that comprise the language of the mind.

           The list of non-linguistic processes (calibrating, pacing, etc.) for communicating.

           The list of meta-program distinctions of perceptual filters that influence communication.

           The list of state or trance inducing linguistic and non-linguistic forms, hence hypnotic communication.

           The list of communication guidelines such as “The meaning of your communication is the response you receive.”


It’s a Communication Model! And the original design was to look at how the expert communicators in therapy (Perls, Satir, Erickson) communicated which resulted in effective therapeutic change. Later, others were modeled for communication expertise in business, medicine, leadership, etc. The originators also used and quoted the Satir Categories of Communication, they started with the linguistic formulations from Transformational Grammar and a little bit from General Semantics.

In April (2017) when I was in London for the NLP Conference, we conducted a short meeting for the NLP Leadership Summit and at the heart of the conversation this year was membership as well as what is accepted as “Neuro-Linguistic Programming.” One person suggested several new age techniques around “energy.” That’s when co-founder Frank Pucelik spoke up to correct that mis-understanding.

Not Everything Is NLP

 “I remember what we did at the beginning and a lot of it was surely not NLP. We studied these things (new age techniques and things from Esalen) to try to find interesting patterns, to increase our observation skills, or to find out if there was any truth claims in these strange systems, and sometimes just for fun to see if we could do them. We studied many things including but not limited to, Psychodrama, Re-evaluation Co-counseling, Art therapy, stage hypnosis, Castaneda (Don Juan, etc.), Bio Feedback, Sensory Deprivation (Isolation tanks), Massage Therapy, Reading Auras, Gestalt, TA (Transactional Analysis), Rogerian Therapy, Earth Coincidence Control Office (John Lilly), Dolphin Communication Patterns (Bateson) , Encounter Group Processes, Sensitivity T Groups, Past Lives, Occult Belief Systems, Pavlov, and many more. But we never considered any
of these systems to be NLP. We based NLP on all the processes that are known to be NLP/Meta today. The Meta-Model, Rep. Systems, Systematic Use of Negations, Calibrations, Major Beliefs, Anchoring, Pacing and Leading, The Milton Model, Satirs’ Conjoint Family Systems, Brain Hemisphere Functions, and the rest.”

The Study of Subjective Experience

Those were “the wild days of NLP” and in those wild days, while the founders explored lots of things, that in itself did not turn those things into NLP.
Later Robert Dilts along with the originators put together the first Volume of NLP and sub-titled the book, The Study of the Structure of Subjective Experience (1980). That’s because the elements of communication
(linguistics, sensory systems, non-linguistic responses, etc.) are simultaneously the components of experience. And if they are the components of experience- then we can use the very tools of communication to model the structure of any and every experience. That’s why NLP, as a Communication Model, grew and expanded by the process of modeling.

Components of Experience

Isn’t that fantastic!? The components of experience- then we can use the very tools of communication to model the structure of any and every experience. Did you catch the connection? The variables by which communication works (an experience) are the very variables (structure) of all experiences. That’s why and how the NLP model gives us the tools for modeling the structure (form, patterning) of experiences.

What is it? Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a Communication Model.

It describes how we are patterned (programmed) in and by the communication processes within neurology and linguistics. And yes, it can be applied to anything “human,” especially any and every human experience. But it is not everything. It is not therapy, counseling, psychology, or hypnosis- even though it arose from those disciplines. It is not persuasion, sales, management, leadership, or even coaching. Although obviously as a communication model, it will have lots of practical usefulness in these fields. Nor is NLP any of the many kinds of sci-fi “energy” programs that are touted under the name of NLP. 

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