The Fascinating History of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has become an increasingly popular approach in personal development, communication, and therapy. But where did it come from?

NLP was developed in the early 1970s by John Grinder, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Richard Bandler, an undergraduate psychology student and another undergraduate student, Frank Pucelik. They started by modelling the skills of Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy. Bandler’s intuitive skills in Gestalt therapy were unconscious, so he couldn’t pass them on explicitly to others. The goal was to make the implicit skills explicit so they could be taught.

Grinder was able to achieve similar results to Bandler with clients and identified specific language patterns that Bandler was using unconsciously. Grinder, with his academic background in linguistics, recognised these patterns as belonging to a particular class of language patterns in linguistics, and was able to extend the collection of patterns to include others from the same class. Bandler and Grinder then tested the patterns and formulated the first model of NLP, the Meta Model.

The Meta Model provides a way of obtaining high-quality information from clients by responding to the form of their language. This model has proven useful in contexts such as business consulting, management, and any other context where obtaining high-quality information in human communication is critical.

Bandler and Grinder continued their modelling work and developed the representational system model, the eye accessing cue model, and the Milton model. The representational system model states that we represent our experience in the world with visual images, auditory representations, and sensations. By understanding the processes of how people use their representations, we can help others (and ourselves) create change. The Milton model, a linguistic model of the language patterns used by psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson MD to do therapeutic hypnosis, provides a method for communicating with the unconscious mind.

In the early 1980s, Bandler and NLP developers Connirae and Steve Andreas did significant work on developing the submodality model of NLP. Submodalities are the sensory elements that make up our representations, and this model has become an integral part of NLP.

Recent developments in the field of NLP have seen a major shift in emphasis towards a more balanced relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind, with the advent of the new code of NLP. This reorganisation was spearheaded by the co-creator of NLP, John Grinder, and his partners Judith DeLozier and then Carmen Bostic St Clair in the 1980s and through to the 2020s. Their work resulted in a new code that places an explicit focus on the separation of NLP modelling from NLP applications and recommendations for research methodology, with an emphasis on harnessing the capabilities of the unconscious mind.

One of the key features of the new code of NLP is its recognition of different roles for the conscious and unconscious minds in achieving change. While the conscious mind is responsible for gathering and arranging information for potential change, the unconscious mind provides the resources for implementing that change. Researchers are now recognizing the benefits of this approach, with recent studies published in a leading scientific journal highlighting the importance of the unconscious mind in making major decisions (Dijksterhuis et al, 2006).

Moreover, the new code of NLP places a greater focus on working with the influencer of behaviour: a person’s state of mind. By assisting individuals to achieve states of high performance and resourcefulness, their unconscious mind becomes more able to develop greater range and flexibility in their behaviour. The situation where change is desired becomes part of the process. The development of the new code of NLP has thus opened up exciting new avenues for understanding the workings of the human mind and creating positive change in individuals, organisations and society at large.

In conclusion, the history of NLP is a fascinating one. It started with the simple goal of making implicit skills explicit in the context of psychotherapy and has developed into a comprehensive approach for personal development, communication, management, coaching and therapy. By understanding the different models of NLP and their applications, individuals can achieve success and make meaningful changes in their lives.


Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M. W., Nordgren, L. F., & van Baaren, R. B. (2006). On making the right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311, 1005–1007.

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