In its early history neuro-linguistic programming borrowed a few terms from the linguistics theories of Noam Chomsky, particularly transformational grammar. However, Chomsky himself has no association with NLP whatsoever. His original work provides theory and terminology for analyzing language, but was never intended for therapeutic purposes. NLP finds its therapeutic roots by drawing influences from Milton Erickson, a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist; Virginia Satir, a family therapist and Fritz Perls, a gestalt therapist.
According to psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, NLP originated when Richard Bandler, a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was listening to and selecting portions of taped therapy sessions of the late Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls as a project for Robert Spitzer, the publisher of Science and Behavior Books. Bandler said that he recognized particular word and sentence structures which facilitated the acceptance of Perls' therapeutic suggestions. Bandler then approached John Grinder, then a linguistics lecturer. According to Clancy and Yorkshire (1989), Bandler and Grinder say that they studied Perls' utterances on tape and observed a second therapist, Virginia Satir, to produce what they termed the meta model, a model for gathering information and challenging a client's language and underlying thinking.
In 1975, Bandler and Grinder wrote The Structure of Magic I: A Book About Language and Therapy and The Structure of Magic II: A Book About Communication and Change. The authors expressed their belief that the therapeutic "magic" as performed in therapy by Perls and Satir, and by performers in any complex human activity, had a structure that could be learned by others given the appropriate models. They say that implicit in the behaviour of Perls and Satir was the ability to challenge distortion, generalization and deletion in a client's language. According to Grinder, the linguistic aspects of neuro-linguistic programming were based in part on previous work by Grinder using Chomsky's transformational grammar.
Challenging linguistic distortions, specifying generalizations, and recovery of deleted information in the client utterances, the surface structure, was supposed to yield a more complete representation of the underlying deep structure, and to have therapeutic benefit. Bandler and Grinder say that they drew ideas from Gregory Bateson and Alfred Korzybski, particularly about human modeling and ideas associated with their expression "the map is not the territory".
Satir and Bateson each wrote a preface to Bandler and Grinder's The Structure of Magic Volumes I & II. Bateson also introduced the pair to Milton Erickson who became their third model. Erickson also wrote a preface to Bandler and Grinder's two-volume book series based on their observations of Erickson working with clients, Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, Volumes I & II. These volumes also focused on the language patterns and some non-verbal patterns that Bandler and Grinder believed they observed in Erickson. Bandler and Grinder view their meta model as intentionally specific, and the Milton model inversley related and thus "artfully vague" and metaphoric. They say it was used in combination with the meta model as a softener and to induce a so-called "trance" that delivered indirect therapeutic suggestions.
In addition to the first two models, Bandler, Grinder and a group of primarily young non-professional student followers who joined them during the early period of development of NLP, developed concepts that persisted in the model for years such as "anchoring", "reframing", "submodalities", "perceptual positions", and "representational systems". Grinder later distanced himself from this early work, indicating Practitioners of NLP were themselves not even achieving the psychological goals they intended to create in their coached clients and therapeutic patients.
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