The Mission: To Rescue NLP from the NLP People

by Carl Buchheit

“Belief Blaster!”  “Limitation Annihilator!”  “Fear Destroyer”… these are the names of some typical, conventional “NLP change techniques.”  The grab bag of these “interventions,” which are mainly patterns that help one part of a person to more successfully defeat (annihilate!…crush! ..exterminate!) some other part of the very same person, is what conventional NLP is best known for.  For the most part, this kind of “frat rat” NLP stuff is perceived to be what NLP is, at least by the small part of the world that has even heard of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.  So, may I say this simply: this kind of stuff, especially when offered without context, and with little or no education about the broader experience of being human, is just plain embarrassing.  It’s not that these “techniques” cannot be useful.  For the most part, they actually do work to produce a narrow range of internal processing revisions for which they are intended.  But again, absent context, this stuff is little more than junk.

When NLP was first being uncovered, disclosed, and developed, one of its main selling points was that it would allow someone with no experience working with others to–”magically”–replicate a substantial part of the skill and effectiveness of the eminent thinkers and practitioners who were the first exemplars for Bandler, Grinder, et al.  What this meant was that someone of adequate intelligence could behave like Virginia Satir, talk like Milton Ericson, and think like Gregory Bateson and Alfred Korsybski, without knowing anything about what these people actually knew about.  It was amazing, truly! The distillation and crystallization of that much wisdom and know-how were awesome.

The difficulty comes later.  Here’s an analogy: have you ever driven somewhere new, someplace unfamiliar to you, using only the GPS?  You fly to a new city, rent a car, fire up the GPS, and the procedure it offers allows you to execute brilliantly, going directly where the procedure will take you, arriving in good shape and on time, without ever knowing where you are, really, or what is around you.  Isn’t that strange? I ask people about this all the time. Many people have no trouble with this experience; they want to get where they need to get, and it matters not at all that they do not know where they are or, really, how they got there.

Of course, like most everyone else, I use this super-efficient, more-or-less reliable, GPS-guru approach to go somewhere new all the time. For example, I recently drove a rented car from Philadelphia to visit the battlefield monument in Gettysburg, PA. The “GPS Lady” took me right there efficiently, even exactly into the perfect parking lot.  But I had not looked at a real map before I left, so, although I was where I wanted to be, and hadn’t even been thrown into confusion by all the detours in downtown Gettysburg, I still could not feel where I was, except I was there, but where was that there at?  This became especially annoying through the afternoon, as I encountered more and more references to geography and communities of the surrounding counties that had some role in the unfolding of the three-day battle. So, I could learn that General Longstreet did such and such here, because the exhibit showed me that, but I could not extend my awareness and curiosity to step into what General Meade did when he moved from over there, to someplace that was off the map at the Visitors’ Center. Later, when I got to a big AAA map of Pennsylvania, rather than just the GPS set of instructions within a procedure, I could feel a whole lot more of what I had just been part of experiencing, and, for me, this was a much better feeling.  I could feel the surrounding territory, and I could have created my own procedure for how to get somewhere, a procedure based on my curiosity, rather than on the procedural expertise of the GPS programmers.

For me, this whole subject is about my preference for understanding context, for having adequate information (even if the “procedure” does not ask for more information), and especially about having good access to creative choice instead of pre-programmed procedure, however “expert” the programmers may be, or claim to be.  Imagine doing NLP changework using the “NLP GPS:”  ($129.99 on E-Z Pay!)  Just select the “technique” you want to do, then follow the instructions:  “Make a right turn at the next floor anchor; prepare to ask the Outcome Frame question printed on that card; stop here; ask the question; when the answer is spoken, press Continue to proceed to the next step……etc.” Horrifyingly, this actually is how NLP actually is in most places.  The NLP practitioner is not a really a practitioner; they have almost no original perception or imagination, or uniquely contributing sense of their participation in the longer, wider scope of human unfolding and fulfillment.. They are merely following the GPS’s instructions, trusting the famous name who made the program up, perhaps years before.  They are not Practitioners; they are technicians, following technical procedures, according to specifications.

To me, this is a nightmare.  We do not need more well-trained technicians in this field.  We need technically competent practitioners who live and work with wisdom and heart–with interest in and respect for the complicated business of human experience.  Wisdom and heart can be modeled and taught, and, to some extent, they can even be learned and developed in the presence of good teachers, over time.  But they cannot be learned simply by following the step-by-step, context-less instructions that come from the GPS.

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