Why is it called NLP?

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NLP: Why the strange name?

The name Neuro-linguistic Programming was created around 45 years ago in an attempt to provide a comprehensive title for the huge body of knowledge that NLP was already becoming.  The name is explained:

Neuro: NLP examines how our physiology/neurology is involved in everything we do

Linguistic: NLP explores how language is involved in everything we do – and this may be spoken or subvocalised

Programming: NLP identifies the mind-body ‘programmes’ or recipes or strategies which we use to do everything we do.

That was the original master plan for the field of NLP – it would become

a comprehensive description of how people function

a means of ‘modelling’ or emulating successful behaviour

a straightforward of helping people (including ourselves) change thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.

The missing body part!

A great master plan in theory. But very soon mainstream NLP began to become known for its mental tricks rather than its more thorough and holistic potential. And the body part – the ‘neuro’ – sort overlooked.

I first came across NLP towards the end of 1979 while studying hypnotherapy and counselling. It fascinated me and really suited where I then was with my personal development so, as I gradually began to use my hypnotherapy therapy and counselling skills, I began introducing some very basic NLP, too.

However, as part of ongoing personal development journey I began attending body-work seminars and workshops in the early 80s and it was a real eye-opener to discover just how important is the role that our physiology plays in our functioning.

Bodywork journey

I’d spent a couple of weeks training to be a Touch for Health Instructor. (Touch for Health is a lay form of Applied Kinesiology). At the training I’d had a great time, learned lots, become quite skilled and learned a lot about me through my body.

Then in the early 80’s I attended a seminar in London at which most of the participants were NLP-trained.

Dave Dobson’s workshops

The seminar featured the wise and wonderful (and no longer with us) Dave Dobson and was great. (So great, in fact, that I still use material from it. In fact, I think that I pass on more of what I learned from Dave then than from any other trainer I have encountered.)

And yet this was the point at which I was initially turned off NLP. Because of the other participants. Dave Dobson exhibited warmth, friendliness, humour and a deep interest in other people. Most of the participants did not. They knew lots – and they said so. They talked a good talk – but didn’t walk it.

Some of them were attending the current extended training – at that time the UK equivalent to the NLP Practitioner Certification Programme. However they didn’t seem to do much Rapport. Nor demonstrate much interest in other people – apart from their continuously trying to analyse people according to representational systems, body language, congruence versus incongruence, etc.


The contrast between this rather analytical, intellectual and humourless bunch and the people I had made friends with at the Touch for Health course was marked. And it caused me to question whether or not to continue with NLP.

The questioning and wondering went on for about a year and a half.

It was a very valuable period.

I explored some fascinating routes to personal change (and made some important personal breakthroughs) including Applied Kinesiology, Educational Kinesiology, Clinical Kinesiology, the work of Dr. Sheldon Deal, Neo-Reichian bodywork, and the very interesting field of Bioenergetics.

But bits of NLP kept creeping into what I was doing in these areas too, almost as if my unconscious mind was reminding me that I couldn’t just drop NLP. And then a few things occurred to me.

A dilemma

I was now at a crossroads. I’d been using NLP for some years, was sold on it and had experience of how it could produce results in my own life and with people who came to my stress management classes and counselling sessions.

However I did not feel completely at ease with it – and mixing with the ‘bodywork people’ highlighted why.

They were different to the ‘NLP people’ – for the most part they came across as warmer, friendlier, more genuine, more humorous and…. more human. And as a result of this recognition I almost decided to part company with the world of NLP.

But as I began meeting and chatting with more NLPers I recognised that the majority of people at the Dave Dobson seminar and a few others that I’d attended were just a majority – not everyone in NLP at the time was like this. They were simply reflecting what and how they had learned. This did not mean NLP had to be like this.

This decided things for me.  Instead of jettisoning a wonderful process because of how it was being used by some how about making NLP more fun, more human, and more grounded in the physical!

When Pegasus NLP began in the early 90s we gradually started making our style of NLP more experiential and multi-sensory through the use of play, fun, challenges, and physical involvement. In 1999 we began introducing outdoor physical activities, including the High and Low Ropes. The result is our Practitioner Certification Programme which seamlessly integrates these elements.

The ‘Neuro’ in NLP

For us a very important aspect of NLP was being reactivated: the ‘neuro’ part of the name ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’. John Grinder had started it, Scout Cloud Lee and her team have been enthusiastically working with it ever since. And no doubt other training organisations had been doing the same, quietly and in their own way.

The fun…

We also found that engaging in physical activities with other people made the workshops and training more fun, more humorous, and enabled people to break through a lot of the heavy-serious adult patterns that they had become trapped in.

By Reg Connolly, Director of Training, Pegasus NLP