Neuro-Linguistic Programming is an approach to psychotherapy and organizational change that is focused on the subjectivity of human experience. It was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, along with Gregory Bateson at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the 1970s. At first, it was a study of how excellent psychotherapists were achieving their impressive results. However, it quickly grew into a field and methodology of its own. It is based on the concept of modeling the key aspects of others behaviors and approaches to excellence.
In the 1980s, Bandler and Grinder had a falling out. There were lawsuits regarding the trademark of NLP and this ushered in a time of fragmented and haphazard development of the field by many individuals. Some were ethical in their development, but many were opportunistic in nature. During the 1990s some attempts were made to put Neuro-Linguistic Programming on a more regulated footing. The UK took the lead in this effort and continues to be one of the few countries with official certification and licensing guidelines for NLP practitioners.
The initial studies that eventually led to the field of NLP were done in the early 1970s out of trying to understand how excellent psychotherapists achieved results. Dr. John Grinder observed the Gestalt workshops that Richard Bandler was conducting at UCSC and using his knowledge of transformational grammar, collaborated on several works based on exceptional psychotherapists. His linguistic model became known as the meta model and eventually became the core model of an entirely new field.
The development of the meta model caught the attention of anthropologist Gregory Bateson who became a major influence on the early intellectual foundations of the field. Bateson introduced Bandler and Grinder to Milton Erickson, a psychotherapist genius. After working with Erickson and developing a set of patterns they observed him utilize, they developed what became known as the Milton model. They used this as the basis for workshops and seminars under the subject title of “Neuro-linguistic programming.” These workshops and seminars became increasingly popular with psychotherapists. Their popularity quickly carried over to business managers, sales professionals, and new age practitioners.
In 1980 the partnership of Grinder and Bandler abruptly ended. This began a long series of lawsuits based on copyrights, trademarks, and intellectual property. For awhile, all of Bandler and Grinder’s books, considered the foundations of the field, were out of print. In July of 1996 Bandler filed a lawsuit against Grinder claiming sole ownership of NLP and the sole right to use the term under trademark. Bandler also claimed damages against each defendant of no less than $10,000,000 per individual. In February 2000 the US Superior Court found against Bandler.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming has continued to be developed by many different people in multiple different directions. Partly due to the legal battles and splintered nation of the discipline in the 1990s, NLP lacks a defining and regulating structure. Many people jumped on the opportunity to become practitioners in this field and NLP acquired a reputation of being “the next big thing.” Dubious models and practices developed that focused more on profit, marketability or New Age appeal. At the same time, the training methods and requirements also became fragmented. Some trainers emerged that all focused on different aspects of NLP and therefore there is vastly different duration, quality, and credibility currently in the market.
Drs. Bandler and Grinder have since resolved some of their differences and now recognize each other as co-creators and co-founds of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. National regulatory and certification bodies have begun to be founded as well and the reputation of NLP is improving within psychological and psychotherapy disciplines.