From: L. Michael Hall
Meta Reflections 2010 – #38
August 16, 2010
History of NLP Series #5

An Introduction to the early days of NLP

It all began with the creative collaboration of Bandler and Grinder which apparently occurred in 1973 to 1975.  It was in 1974 that they collaborated on the writing of Structure of Magic I and II (published in 1975) and Patterns of the Hypnotic Patterns of Milton H. Erickson (published in 1975 and 1976).  “What was within the original mix out of which came “Neuro-Lingiustic Programming?”

1) Gestalt Therapy (Perls) and 2) Family Systems Therapy (Satir) as viewed through the theoretical formulations of 3) Transformational Grammar (Chomsky) and 4) the Cognitive Psychology Movement (Miller, Pribram, Gallanter) and 5) the Anthropological and Systems approach of Bateson.

This is the psychology of NLP as well as the philosophy of NLP.   So what became NLP was truly an inter-disciplinary field from the beginning.  Its theoretical and philosophical foundations come from Anthropology, Neurology, Psychology, Physiology, Linguistics (Transformational Grammar), Systems, General Semantics, Cybernetics, and Communication Theory.  Many “NLP Trainers” either don’t know this or don’t communicate this foundation— to the detriment of those entering this field.

Who were the people who started it?  NLP began with a young college student along with an associate professor.  When it all began Richard Bandler was only 21 years old (in 1972) and a student at Kresge College.  Myths have him as a mathematician and a computer science, but he never received any degree mathematics or computer science and such things were not part of the original models.  As a matter of fact, Richard was not a Gestalt therapist, he was not a mathematician, and he was not a computer scientist.  He was in his third or fourth year, it wasn’t until 1973 that he got his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology (not in mathematics or computer science).  His master’s degree was also in Psychology.   And John Grinder was 32 (in 1972), had just completed his doctorate degree (1971) in linguistics, “On Deletion Phenomena in English.”

The Modeling of three experts in therapeutic communication.  Each of these experts had a different model and focus.  Each also had a very different style and yet somehow each was able to facilitate transformational change that struck people as fascinating and amazing.  Perls, Satir, and Erickson were the three original models.  Yet what no book on NLP before 2007 ever noted was that Perls, Satir, and Bateson knew each other and worked together at Esalen as part of the Human Potential Movement (Self-Actualization Psychology, 2008).

1972 Fritz Perls was the first person modeled, but not in person.  He died in January 1970 in Chicago after spending most of 1969 in Canada attempting to establish a Gestalt community there.  There are mythical stories that Bandler has propagated about meeting Perls, but I have not been able to find any evidence of those stories.  What apparently happened was that Richard read and studied various books on Gestalt and then learned the language patterns and voice emphasis from the tapes of Perls so that he was able to replicate those patterns.  He then taught a Gestalt Class in 1973.  Dr. Spitzer later wrote about this:

            “Richard spent day after day wearing ear phones watch watching the films —making certain that the transcription was accurate.  He came out of it talking and acting like Fritz Perls.  I found myself accidently calling him Fritz on several occasions.” (p. 41)

[Spitzer, Robert S. (1992).  Virginia Satir and the Origins of NLP.  Anchor Point.  July, 1992, pp. 40-44]

1973 Virginia Satir was doing a Family System’s Reconstruction and Robert Spitzer sent Richard Bandler to record the program.  Richard apparently picked up on her patterns and processes while sitting in the small recording room.  One story has it that he was listening to Pink Floyd cassettes and Virginia got upset and confronted him.  His response was that “Anyone could do this stuff” and so Virginia challenged him to show what he could do.  When he was able to replicate the patterns, Virginia was surprised and amazed.

“During the summer of ‘73 Richard was asked to record for transcription a seminar Virginia Satir was doing in Cold Harbor, Canada.” [Interview with J. Grinder by Patrick Merlevede, 1999,  NLP World, Volume 5, No. 1, p. 51.]

1974 Gregory Bateson introduced Richard and John to Milton Erickson.  Milton Erickson, a medical doctor (MD) and psychiatrist in Phoenix Arizona who had established the credibility of medical hypnosis, from which Ericksonian Hypnotherapy evolved.  Two books were immediately produced from modeling Erickson, Patterns of the Hypnotic Patterns of Milton H. Erickson.  In NLP, this became known as “the Milton Model.”  It is about the language patterns and processes that comprise the heart of trance.

About the same time that The Structure of Magic books were published, 1975, Bandler got his master’s degree from Lone Mountain College in San Francisco.  If you google “Richard Bandler” there are many websites that provide the following information:

                “Born: February 24, 1950) is the co-inventor (with John Grinder) of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).  Bandler holds a BA (1973) in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), and an MA (1975) in Psychology from Lone Mountain College in San Francisco.  Bandler has no earned doctorate.  There are various (unsubstantiated) reports (on alt.psychology.nlp) that Bandler has been awarded two honorary doctorates though the details of these awards are not specified.”

So 1975 is the date usually given for the beginning of NLP.  That was the date of the publication of the original books that brought together the original discoveries of the language patterns of Perls and Satir.  Now one story that I heard in the late 1980s was that the University of Southern California at Santa Cruz wanted to grant Bandler recognition for his co-creation of the new model but that he had not finished his thesis, so Grinder wrote it for him.  But apparently that’s not accurate, his master’s degree wasn’t granted from that university, but from Lone Mountain College in San Francisco.  There must be a story behind that, but I don’t know that one.

What was NLP called before it was called NLP?   I don’t know.  Rodger C. Bailey (1991) says that Bandler and Grinder “came up with the name [NLP] in 1977.” [Anchor Point, Is It Time to Restructure NLP?, Oct. 1991, p. 20].  I had not noticed that before, but when I flipped through The Structure of Magic volumes, it does not appear to be there.  The only terminology used there was “The Meta-Model of Language in Therapy.”  Isabelle David, Montreal Canada, tells the story of Richard and John up at the log cabin in the mountains, after many hours and a bottle of California wine asking themselves, “What the hell are we going to call this?”  And they decided on Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

I heard a different story from Richard in 1989.  He told about being pulled over on the highway by a policeman and being asked, “Who are you?  What do you do?”  And Richard, looking in the back seat of his car saw a book on Linguistics, one on Neurology, and one on Computer Programming, so he said, “I’m a Neuro-Linguistic Programmer.”   Of course, many, many years before all of this, Alfred Korzybski (1933) wrote about “neuro-linguistic” and “neuro-semantic” training and processes and in fact, Korzybski traveled the United States in the 1940s doing “Neuro-Linguistic Training.”  So who knows the real story.  Given that “the map is not the territory” came from Korzybski who constantly used the term Neuro-Linguistic, I would put my money on him being the original source.

1976 Robert Dilts wrote his first papers on what was later titled, “Roots of Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (later published under that title by Meta Publications, 1983).

1977 NLP Taught for the first time as “NLP.”    Richard and Leslie were married that year and then divorced in 1980.  This was the year also that Leslie founded “The Society of NLP” over which the lawsuits in 1981 and 1996-2000 were about.

1978: David Gordon, a psychotherapist, took the basic NLP models and wrote the book Therapeutic Metaphors.  1978 also was the year that Bandler and Grinder ended their collaboration.  Bateson moved to Esalen as the scholar-in-residence and died in 1980.  This year also Richard and John commissioned Robert Dilts to write NLP Volume I.  Robert had written a paper, “NLP: A New Psychotherapy.” (McClendon, p. 103).  Steve Johns left Gestalt therapy and entered NLP and become Steve Andreas (his mother Barry Stevens, owned Real People Press, a devotee of Fritz Perls).

1979: Daniel Goleman visited Bandler and Grinder and wrote an article in Psychology Today, “The People who Read People.”  In this year Leslie Cameron Bandler developed the first curriculum of NLP for the first Practitioner and Master Practitioner courses in 1979 and the first Trainers course was 1980.  Rodger Bailey says that within the original curriculum a dilemma was introduced.

“The modeling technologies and the psycho-therapeutic models were mashed together into a single, undifferentiated curriculum.  People did not learn that Strategy Elicitation is a modeling technology and that V-K Disassociation is a psycho-therapeutic model.” (P. 21, Anchor Point, Oct. 1991).

During these early years of the 1970s John formed Grinder, DeLozier and Associates and Richard had his company, Not Limited.  From The Wild Days of NLP, we learn that Leslie joined with Michael Labeau and David Gordon, Robert Dilts; Terry McClendon joined with Robert Dilts; and Frank Pucelik created a partnership with Byron Lewis. 

In an Interview with David Gordon, Patrick Merlevede writes in NLP World about 1978-1979:

“First Institute in San Francisco, called DOTAR (Division of Training and Research) ... situated in a converted church which they used as a seminar room.  Leslie Cameron was the director of the Institute, Robert Dilts the director of research, and David the director of training.  They worked together, basically every day, creating the field, including the first practitioner and master practitioner programs, but also working with private clients.  Richard and John mainly acted as patriarchs. ... The DOTAR period was probably the most productive in the NLP field.  It went on until 1982.” (p. 63). [Merlevede, Patrick E. (2000). Volume 7, No. 1.  The Story of David [Gordon].  pp. 61-64]

So the 1970s were indeed invigorating years for NLP as it was first launched!

2010 Copyright by L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. and Bobby G. Bodenhamer All rights reserved.