NLP: why the strange name?

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The name NLP, or even Neuro-linguistic Programming, doesn’t easily trip off the tongue.

It’s not a memorable name. So what did they give it that name?

The name was created, supposedly around 1975, 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 explores how our physiology/neurology is involved in everything we do

Linguistic: NLP explores how our non-verbal, and especially our spoken or sub-vocalised verbal language, is involved in everything we do

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

That, at least, was the original master plan for the field of NLP – it would later become

  • a comprehensive and holistic approach to understanding how people function
  • a means of ‘modelling’ or emulating successful functioning
  • a means of systematically facilitating change in how a person does things.

The missing body part!

A great master plan in theory. But very soon mainstream NLP began to become better known for its mental techniques than for its more thorough and holistic potential.

And the ‘body part’ – the ‘neuro’ – sort of got forgotten about.

I first came across NLP in 1979 while studying hypnotherapy and counselling. It fascinated me and matched where I then was with my personal development. 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 also began attending body-work seminars and workshops in the early 80s. These were eye-opening: discovering just how important a role our physiology plays in our entire functioning.

Bodywork journey

My exploration of bodywork in personal change and development spanned about 5 or 6 years until the mid 80’s.

This culminated in participating in a training programme to certify as 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 – and made friends with some wonderfully friendly and engaging people.

Around this time I attended a seminar in London at which most of the participants were NLP-oriented.

Dave Dobson’s workshops

This 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 our Pegasus NLP courses. In fact, I think that I pass on more of what I learned from Dave Dobson 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 they didn’t walk it.

Some of them were attending the current extended NLP certification training – at that time the only UK equivalent to the NLP Practitioner Certification Programme.  However I did not see nor experience much rapport. Nor did I discern much interest, on their part, 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 on the various Touch for Health courses 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 a few 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 a few 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 individual 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 people at the Dave Dobson seminar and a few other NLP workshops 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.

I decided that, instead of jettisoning the wonderful process that is NLP because of how it was being manifested by some, I should do something about making NLP more fun, more human, and more grounded in the physical.

Pegasus NLP began in the early 90s and 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 continued to enthusiastically work with it ever. And it’s possible that other training organisations have been doing the same, quietly and in their own way.

Plus the fun…

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

The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

Most articles on this site originally appeared in The Pegasus NLP Newsletter – which has been published continuously since January 2001.

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