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The History of NLP Part 1 – The Origins of NLP

So how did NLP all get started? By accident.

An article by Michael Hall…

Watch Derek Sivers’ entertaining short TED talk on how to start a movement

It was all a combination of some strange coincidences. A young student at Kresge College at the University of California in Santa Cruz needed some extra money and so worked in the stockroom for science and behavior books. And then somewhere after 1970 that led to him being asked to transcribe tapes of Fritz Perls. Now the gift that Richard Bandler had at that time was that of hearing. As a rock star wannabe, he played the guitar and could hear with precision. He found that he could mimic what he heard.

So later Dr. Robert Spitzer would write that he would go into the room where Richard was transcribing the tapes and Richard would speak in the voice, tone, tempo, etc. of Fritz Perls. Dr. Spitzer would sometimes accidentally call him “Fritz.” That got Richard interested in Gestalt psychology and therapy.

On one occasion Richard said that he was house-sitting for a professor, found a book on Gestalt in the library and thought that the idea of hallucinating your mom or dad into a chair and yelling at them about your disappointments was great stand-up comedian stuff. But soon after Fritz died (January 1970) Spitzer asked him to finish transcribing and editing the materials for a book. That became the book, The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy, published in May 1973.

The films and the transcribing gave Richard some experience with Gestalt. And so in the spring of 1972, as a fourth-year student, he was allowed to create his curriculum for a class. That’s when he “taught” a student-directed seminar on Gestalt Therapy. (McClendon, Wild Days, 1989, p. 9). This had to be under the supervision of a professor, and that’s how John Grinder got involved.

What surprised them both was that by merely repeating the Gestalt language patterns, Richard was able to “do Gestalt” and the participants began to experience some tremendous changes in their lives. And that led to the mythical story of their first collaboration: John would analyse the linguistic patterns that Richard was using to make explicit the “magic” of the transformations, and Richard would show John how he was doing what he was doing so he could learn to do it as well.

About the same time, Dr. Spitzer wanted audio tapes made of Virginia Satir. He sent Richard to Canada to record her and then transcribe the tapes. This led to integrating Satir’s language patterns, those of Family Reconstructions with those of the Gestalt awareness, empty-chair, and encounter processes. It began with their use of the “Encounter Group” as they had inherited it from Perls, but because they were not therapists themselves.

And that’s how the adventure began. They happened to meet two people who were leaders in the Human Potential Movement who were excellent in facilitating change and personal development using their separate models and understandings about people. So replicating those patterns and seeking to understand what was going on within the people due to re-languaging and re-patterning, they stumbled on a somewhat theory-free form of therapy.

To this format they now added their attitude. That was another key to what happened. Both men were curious and playful and “Richard had a flair for the bizarre.” They both sorted for differences. Each had a lust for life, a “go for it” attitude, and they were willing to play around so that if something didn’t work, they’d do something different. And it was in that mix that NLP emerged a little bit at a time beginning in 1972 and fully as a model (the Meta-Model) in 1975.


About Michael Hall

Michael Hall is the co-founder and current leader of The Society for Neuro-Semantics (the governance body, with whom we certify).

Michael is also an entrepreneur who lives in the Rocky Mountains of Western Colorado where he had a private therapy practice for many years, operated an NLP Training Center, and from where he began his training in Meta-States and Neuro-Semantics.

Regarding NLP, he studied initially with Richard Bandler in the late 1980s and became a Master Practitioner and Trainer. His notes of Bandler’s trainings eventually became the books “The Spirit of NLP” (1996) and “Becoming More Ferocious as a Presenter” (1997). He worked with Bandler on the Society of NLP and edited two books, “Time For a Change” and “Applied Neuro-Dynamics”.

Dr. Hall’s doctorate is in Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology from Union Institute University in Cincinnati, Ohio. His doctoral dissertation explored the languaging of four psychotherapies (NLP, RET, Reality Therapy, Logotherapy) using the formulations of General Semantics. He addressed the Interdisciplinary International Conference (1995) presenting an integration of NLP and General Semantics.


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