NLP followup

Chris Jack chris_jack at
Mon Nov 12 19:55:41 GMT 2007

This is a continuation of a discussion from some time ago regarding NLP. As I hadn't done any formal training at the time past having watched various videos, I had offered to post a further view once I had done the practitioner training. I will try to give a balanced view of it all, including what was covered, what was good, and what was bad.
I did the training with Paul McKenna ( - of TV hypnosis fame. What I hadn't realised, until about a week before the training, was that Richard Bandler (one of the co-inventors of NLP) was also one of the teachers. Why I hadn't realised this, given his picture is all over Paul's website is a slight mystery - but I was extremely glad that he was there. There was also a third trainer - Michael Neil ( who I hadn't come across before.
As a generalisation, Paul did more of the hypnosis related material, Richard more of the advanced NLP stuff, and Michael more of the basic theory.
In terms of dealing with common objections and concerns about hypnosis and NLP I think they all did a stirling job. Paul did a wonderful job of describing what hypnosis is and whether hypnosis even exists. I would say it basically comes down to definitions.
What the course described as a trance like state is little more than putting yourself voluntarily into a relaxed state and being open to instruction. It is quite possible that instructions, such as jumping around like a kangaroo which are very much the domain of the stage hypnotist, are then done due to social compliance - and Paul was quite happy to agree with that.
If you ever watch a stage hypnotist - part of the critical stage is in actually selecting the participants in the first place and the language that is used to choose people who are not likely to refuse to comply. Similarly, if you are working on something in yourself that you want to fix and have chosen NLP or hypnosis as the approach, it is going to be counterproductive not to comply with far more sensible suggestions.
So, if you can buy that you could put yourself in a relaxed state and listen to instructions - and take that as your definition of hypnosis, then hypnosis exists.
One of the advantages of learning from Paul, is he had no end of stories from TV shows he had done and high profile people he had worked with. He told a cracker about working with a member of the royal family (and this might be funnier with a Windsor accent...) - normally Paul does hypnotic inductions using words like I and you, but this particular royal insisted on referring to themselves as "one" so Paul had done the injunction that way. "And as one starts to relax, and one starts to focus on the sound of my voice..."
Given the definition of what hypnosis is, the question then is whether complying with some fairly clear instructions when you are already in a relaxed state allows you to change your emotional state and lets you make some long term changes to your attitude about problem areas in your life.
Having done the techniques, I would say the answer is a definite yes - although some people in the room, less than 5% based on a show of hands, were still struggling on the last day of the course. I could also give you a fairly clear explanation of why it is plausible, from a scientific point of view, why/how the techniques work - although Richard et al were much bigger on the approach that they both didn't know why it worked, it didn't matter, and they didn't care.
In terms of some of the criticisms made earlier on this list regarding things like eye movements reflecting whether you are recalling things like images, sounds, or feelings; I would make a few comments. The way this material was presented was done very quickly on the course - in less than half an hour in a 7 day course - which I think reflected the relative importance with which it was held by the presenters. It was not presented as an absolute truth - but a tool that you could calibrate to the person you are talking to (i.e. extra information to help you understand where the other person is coming from). So although a particular eye moment might usually mean a person was, say, recalling an image - some people might look somewhere else, and some people may not have a pattern at all.
This, of course, might appear to be a complete scientific cop out and, to be honest, I haven't spent enough time observing this behaviour in others to offer an opinion. I am also not clear as to how important it really is to know whether someone is using a recalled image or created sound except to the extent that it might give you a clue as to the sort of external dialog you need to make to best contact the other person's internal representations of the world.
Whether you accept this part of NLP or not, and I'm still in the watch this space category myself, it is fairly irrelevant in terms of assessing how useful most of the NLP techiques are. Most of the techniques try to engage as many of the senses as possible, in any case.
If you can buy that remembering vivid internal events can lead to an internal emotional response and there are techniques to take that emotional response and associate it with another experience, then you can basically buy that NLP works. For instance, "Think of a time you felt really loved..." and notice if you can conjure some of the feelings up around that. The course wasn't about voodoo magic rituals, although I believe some people have more difficulties getting in contact with those feelings that others and NLP doesn't necessarily offer the most complete set of tools to do that.
What was good about having Richard as a teacher is that he had gone through the dark ages of psychotherapy and psychiatry. He openly and wholehearted criticised people like Freud and things like Gestalt (basically where you imagine yourself talking to a person, such as a parent, whom you have an issue with - and then talk back to yourself from the position of the other person). Some of the criticism was extremely valid, in my opinion, but see below also.
When he talked about examples of problems in his clients that hadn't been sorted out after many years of therapy - and how he sorted the people out in 10 minutes, it had a resonance with some people I have talked to on Saneline. People get stuck on particularly feeling and start thinking they have to find something in their child hood to make the feeling go away - and it's basically all garbage. NLP offers quick, easy techniques for making these things go away. I know because I tried them on myself and observed majors shifts in body language in others.
The extent to which Richard had invented techniques himself - or lifted them from other people - I couldn't tell you. He was quite upfront about the influence of Milton Erickson and Virginia Satir - and Paul backed him up vigourously in the assertion that he had invented timeline therapy (basically doing things like associating positive feelings with getting stuff done in the future, and looking back at yourself from a perspective of 20 years in the future to reach some sort of conclusion about how you are running your life now).
It amuses me how, particularly in the NLP community but also in the broader personal growth world, so many people slag each other off. And there was no shortage of that on this course. Derrin Brown, Tony Robbins, Ross Jeffries and so on - all came in for some manner of critique.
It was fascinating to listen to Richard's stories about the birth of things like sport psychology and the different ways that successful sportsmen conceptualise what they do.
Richard's vision for "fixing" specific sorts of problem and demonstrating it on stage was genuinely fascinating. I had gone on the course expecting to see quick phobia cures - but he also managed to cure someone's tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Paul did a blushing cure with a course participant.
It wasn't simply that they had techniques for doing this, it was also they had the confidence to do it in front of 300 odd people and have so little doubt that it would succeed. It would be like the confidence people on this list would have at writing a perl program to copy a file.
There was also a lot more material on how to model and understand just about any problem that you want to solve in your life and genuinely useful insights for how to break the patterns and get rid of unpleasant feelings. But I don't intend regurgitating the entire course.
I would say it is experiential, like most of psychology - a lot of people could read this stuff in a book and not understand how powerful it can be. You have to do it to best understand it.
That's the good stuff. Now the other stuff.
What Richard didn't mention or explain was that neither Milton Erickson or Virginia Satir liked him and/or what he did with their material and some of the stuff that happened on the course might hint at why that might have been.
Richard alluded to the drug taking going on in the 60s but never mentioned his own cocaine addiction nor how that fit into the broader context of NLP working in the ongoing living of your life. Following the death of his previous wife, he had also gone for a number of years in a perpetually bad mood - telling us we were lucky he had remarried because he was much happier now.
For a course that was big on focussing on happiness, there was a question in my mind about why the physician had not chosen to heal himself.
There was also an incident at the end of the course when autographs were being signed. Richard had asked someone who he had just signed for to move away because he didn't like being crowded. The guy had moved away somewhat, but evidently not enough for Richard's satisfaction. After several requests, Richard stood up - and made as if to fight the guy at which point the guy got the message and so Richard sat down and got on with the signing.
Things cooled down after that - but for someone who liked to imply he was the best hypnotist in the world (and was backed up as such by Paul and Michael) - I felt, at a minimum, he could have been much clearer about stating the distance he wanted the other guy to be at.
There was also more than a slight hint of paranoia and twitchiness about Richard - both things I associate with cocaine abuse - and I have had a certain amount of contact with cocaine (and other drug) addicts over the years.
I find it interesting to compare how people who have done a lot of a particular therapy come across. Richard made explicit criticisms of empathic forms of psychotherapy. And while I would agree that if you wish to do anything with someone suffering from something like catanoia, a prerequisite would be to get them to engage in dialog; and causing them physical pain might therefore be appropriate, this is probably not true in a wider context and I find it hard to believe that a confrontational/mocking approach is going to be as effective with people who fail to acknowledge things due to paranoia.
NLP techniques work best when you have a specific issue that you are aware of and want to work on. One of the major advantages of a lot of the techniques is that they do not require disclosure (e.g. you don't want to talk about being sexually abused, you don't have to). But some problems probably do require disclosure and that requires trust - which implies a safe place to talk.
It was noticable that Richard's approach of slightly ridiculing people's problems led to a certain reticence for course participants to want to go up on stage with him.
Some of the people in the group had obviously not sorted out all their life issues by the final day. Paul did talk about this a bit saying that it wasn't expected and the course was edutainment (doesn't describe it that way on his website though) - being both entertainment (and the stories definitely were entertaining) as well as giving you genuinely useful skills you could take away with you.
On the second day - at the 11am break, I went up to the bar for a diet coke and came across a course participant who was busy downing half a pint of guiness. As this seemed a little early to be doing this and given the nature of the course, I felt a need to talk to him about it.
He had come on the course because of anger problems and had made a suicide attempt. He had been sent on the course by his mother and the cost was a stretch. He was nervous and sweaty and was quite uncomfortable talking about himself. I didn't see him on the course in the second half of the week. I wondered, particularly in light of the edutainment description, whether this was the most appropriate form of treatment for him. You could get 50 hours of one on one counselling for the cost of the course.
Paul was quite upfront about his motivation for getting involved in this sort of work as being fame and fortune - and one of his regrets was not having laughed and loved enough in his life. And this was reflected in my experience of him. He was engaging, very knowledgable, and quite entertaining - but I didn't get a lot of warmth from him.
Richard showed warmth in some of his hypnotic inductions, but in his anecdotes he was constantly portraying himself as superior whilest he disparaged other schools of therapy. His criticisms of Gestalt, for instance, seemed to me to show a marked lack of understanding for what was trying to be achieved.
Michael was very busy trying to be hypo happy person - but did occasionally let the mask slip to show some genuine warmth. Although he kept going on about there being no such thing as failure, I think the focus on getting people to be happy in the course would lead to that conclusion and encourage non-disclosure towards the end of the course - and possibly also discourage more vulnerable people from seeking more help.
NLP is mostly cerebral in trying to get people to feel things - so, if that doesn't work for you, you're stuck in terms of getting the techniques to work. There all whole schools of psychotherapy based around so called energetic exercises which help you to feel more emotions. NLP acts as a useful adjuctant to that, if you haven't been put off by Richard's disparagements.
NLP doesn't deal with the dynamics of interpersonal situations - except to the extent that you make use of your own existing resources. It doesn't give you tools, like Gestalt does, for taking another person's perspective. This ties in with the "happy chappy" aura that NLP people tend to excude - but frequent lack of warmth. I'm not saying that all NLP people lack warmth, but if you compare them to people who have, say, done a lot of Tantra - I think the difference would be readily visible.
Virginia Satir took a humanistic approach to therapy which is quite at odds with what Richard has done with NLP and may be reflective of her problems with his use of her material. In my opinion, Richard's extreme anger at the course participant, was a reflection of his lack of understanding of the importance of empathy. Not that expressing anger can't be therapeutically useful - but be aware that Richard was in jail and up on murder charges at one point in his life; although he was never indicted. I felt the anger was unnecessary - particularly in the context of what the course was trying to achieve.
Having done the 7 day course, and without further assessment, you were grant a certificate of NLP practitioner - which Richard described as not giving you the right to take on clients, but rather to practice in your day to day life. My understanding, though, is that the master practitioner does give you the right to take on clients.
Richard discussed the awarding of NLP practitioner and master practitioner status in the context of him having been criticised in a recent book. He took the view that it was his material and he could give out what certificates he liked. Richard seemed to take a wry pleasure in very quickly dismissing any criticism of him as being based on a lack of understanding of what he did - but without doing a great deal of ruminating on why he was being criticised. Hence I would mention I have done the course and am still criticising him.
I would buy the certification line if otherwise unskilled people didn't feel like it gave them the right to take on clients without a broader perspective on what psychotherapy is trying to achieve, without understandings of alternative approaches to change, without supervision, without significant life experience, and without a broad practical understanding of the sorts of real world issues they are likely to encounter.
Richard talked a bit about some of the people he had chosen not to immediately treat and the risks they would have faced if he had treated them. One guy had a head ache - Richard referred him to a neurologist who found out it was a piece of shrapnel. If he had cured the pain, the guy might have died. The sort of knowledge that is required to distinguish between physical and psychological problems was only barely glossed over on the course.
I'm sure all this is relevant to a Perl list ;-)
Not withstanding the criticism above, I have enrolled on the master practitioner course.
Feel like a local wherever you go.

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