The early history of neuro-linguistic programming drew on the linguistics theories of Noam Chomsky, particularly transformational grammar. However, Chomsky himself does not practice or recommend NLP. 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.
The meta model was presented in 1975 in two volumes, The Structure of Magic I: A Book About Language and Therapy and The Structure of Magic II: A Book About Communication and Change, in which 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 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 see the meta model is intentionally specific, but the Milton model was described as "artfully vague" and metaphoric – the inverse of the meta model. They say it was used in combination with the meta model as a softener, to induce trance, and to deliver indirect therapeutic suggestion. In addition to the first two models, Bandler, Grinder and a group of students who joined them during the early period of development of NLP, developed concepts that they termed "anchoring", "reframing", "submodalities", "perceptual positions", and "representational systems".
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