A Spiritual Side to Psychotherapy, continued
But before I tell you more about NLP, let me give you a bit of its history. In the early 20th century, physics was on the verge of becoming the first closed science. That is, some physicists, at least, believed that they knew all there was to know about the laws of the universe. Then came atomic physics and quantum mechanics, and we discovered that we really didn’t know very much about the universe, after all.
What we now know is that the universe that we perceive is a fantasy. There may be B in fact, there probably is B a reality out there somewhere, but our only contact with it is through the energy which impinges on our sense organs and the way in which our brains structure that experience. The reality that we live in, on a day‑to‑day basis, is the reality that we construct in our own minds; it is composed of the pictures and sounds and tastes and smells and feelings that are formed in our brains from the sensory information which we receive through our visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory and kinaesthetic senses, plus the language that we use to structure those sensory experiences. We exist, for all time, in both an objective reality and a subjective reality.
Time itself exists for us only as memories of the past and fantasies of the future. The present moment, in which all time is experienced, is infinitely short but constantly shifting, the venturi through which the future pours into the past. The past exists for us only as we recall, in the present, the subjective reality ‑‑ the sensory experiences and the language through which we structured them ‑‑ that existed for us at the time our memories of those past events were created.
Because that experience was entirely subjective, and conditioned by who we were at the time, with whatever strengths and weaknesses we had at that time, it would have been different if we had been different. Fortunately, because the past exists for us only as we experience it in the present, it can become different for us if we can learn to experience it differently. And we can learn to experience it differently by reliving it in memory, with those personal resources that we have now but which we did not have then. This can have a profound effect on the way in which we experience not only our past but our present and future as well. It can, for example, change the way we experience those situations to which we have learned to respond with distress.
Probably the earliest reference to anything like neuro-linguistic programming comes from the field of General Semantics, which was founded by Alfred Korzybski in 1933, with the publishing of his magnum opus, Science and Sanity. His observation that Athe map is not the territory” was intended to remind us not to confuse perception (through which we create our subjective reality) with the objective reality which being perceived.
General semantics later became linguistics and transformational grammar. With a background in linguistics and some training in psychology, Richard Bandler, one of the co‑founders of Neuro-linguistic Programming, had the great good fortune to serve as editor for some of Fitz PerI’s work. In reading the work that he was editing, he began to say to himself, “Hey, I can do this.”
So he began to set up some Gestalt therapy sessions in Santa Cruz, in California, where he lived. These Gestalt sessions attracted the attention of a professor at the University of Santa Cruz by the name of John Grinder. So John and Richard got together, and one of the very first things that they did was to decide that, through this particular modelling process which Richard had been using, they could take and literally recreate anyone’s behaviour. And they were interested, particularly, in modelling excellence, so that anyone could actually do whatever it was that was being modelled.
The first person that they began to study was Virginia Satir who, until her recent death, was the grandmother of family therapy. People would come to her and they would actually get well, as if by magic. Richard and John looked at what Virginia did, and they looked at her book, Conjoint Family Therapy, and they discovered a series of questions that she used to ask. This particular series of questions became the basis for the Meta Model (that is, a model of the client’s model of the world, as reflected in language), which became Richard’s MA. thesis and was later published as The Structure of Magic, Volume I, which became one of the seminal writings in NLP. In it, they noted that, by the questions which she asked, Virginia Satir directed her clients to become more specific about their actual experiences, which served to bring them out of trance.
Now, Richard knew Gregory Bateson through Bateson’s son, with whom he shared an interest in music. And while John and Richard were writing the second volume of The Structure of Magic, Bateson got in touch with them and told them that they should go and talk to Milton Erickson who, until his recent death, was the greatest medical hypnotist of this century. And what they discovered when they talked to Erickson was that he was doing just the opposite of what Satir had been doing.
They had been looking at Satir and had decided that, in order to get results in therapy, what you want to do is gain greater specificity in the client’s representation of the world, so that the client restores the deletions, distortions, and generalizations which interfere with his ability to function effectively in the world. And then they discovered that Erikson was doing just the opposite. He used language patterns which were vague and ambiguous. So they had to make up another model, which they called the Milton Model. At that point they wrote the two volume set, Patterns in the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D.