Richie Davidson and the Dalai Lama

‘If we fill our mind with wholesome thoughts and warm hearted emotions, then we can harness neuroplasticity for the good.

But if we’re exposed to adversity and to a lot of negative influences, that can have a deleterious, a negative effect on the brain.”
Richie Davidson Ph.D speaking to the Dalai Lama about emotions effect on the brain.


What exactly is NLP?

NLP is an approach to the analysis and reproduction of excellence. It is a way of modeling and making exceptional behaviors transferrable to others and of changing un-useful or pathological behaviors. In a more technical vein, we could say: NLP is a systematic approach to the observation, analysis and replication of behavior. It provides specific assumptions about the nature of behavior and its organization that allow for the construction of testable models of behavior. Like behaviorism and cognitive psychology it provides no consistent theory of personality but focuses on the description of behavior from the perspective of the client’s subjective experience. Between the observation of the behavior and the final model, procedure or technique, it produces a series of successive approximations of the behavior under study which upon refinement yield a testable model or technique for replicating or altering the behavior . Theoretically, NLP process can best be defined by recently developed parallels with Grounded Theory. The process is driven by heuristics and for the most part it is only the final models that are testable in terms of their ability to replicate or alleviate the target behavior.


Why has it taken so long for R & R to start conducting research?

NLP began as a countercultural effort to find out what works in psychotherapy that was then extended to the study of excellent or expert behaviors. Because the patterns that it described were derived by modeling the behaviors of real people, it began without a testable theory and was based only on observed patterns and whether or not they worked. Those patterns worked so well and because they were so intimately related to the models upon whom they were based, most of the early developers and later students of NLP believed that NLP’s results spoke for themselves and had no need of rigorous scientific testing. Unfortunately, these attitudes and beliefs persisted in the community for many years and still persist among some. It is only recently where there has been a wider interest in NLP and its techniques and the need for NLP-based techniques that can treat real world problems – like PTS – that we have begun to reconsider the real need for controlled evaluation studies of our techniques. Groups like the NLP Research and Recognition Project, the Institute for the Advanced Studies of Health, the British ANLP and the EANLP have all begun to support scientific research into NLP.


What is the research supporting NLP techniques to date?

There is a growing body of research dedicated to research including: an examination of the general efficacy of NLP therapy compared to other modalities from the European Association of NLP, The work of Janet Konefal and her associates at Florida State University validating the general value of NLP in remedying stress and anxiety and their work on the verification of the Eye Accessing Cues, The work of the R and R Project in researching and documenting the neural basis of PTS and the RTM Protocol with their ongoing RCT of the protocol, The British ANLP which has sponsored a Biannual Research Conference and a Research Journal, and others. The recently developed Research and Recognition bibliography and the Clinical Effectiveness of Neurolinguistic Programming book represent good collections of the research done to date.

Why does NLP have such a bad reputation?

There are three main reasons that NLP has received some seriously bad press. During the almost 30 years when NLP failed to do the research and provide the definitions which would have given it a great deal more credibility in the academic community, research that purported to test NLP was completed that for the most part did not understand NLP or test its premises. As a result, there exists a body of published research that gives the general impression that NLP has been discredited. It has not. Because, however, that research persists in the journal archives, it becomes the de facto record of NLP for academics. False though that record may be, until more satisfactory research has been completed, it will continue to stain the perception of NLP for academics.

For a complete review of that misleading research and why it misrepresents NLP, see the article, 35 Years Revisited: Conceptual Errors in Scientific Inquiry, a Case Study. A more accessible introduction can be found here. Another reason for the NLP’s bad reputation springs from its misuse by disreputable salespersons, trainers and others that have mischaracterized its capacities or have used it in an unethical and manipulative manner.

NLP is a powerful technology and that power has been coopted and misrepresented. In many cases it has been presented as a means for seducing purchasers and sexual partners and as another snake-oil, get-rich-quick scheme.

Trainers have often neglected to emphasize the need for practice and thorough grounding in its techniques while offering speed trainings and unconscious skill installations. In general, the bad rap has come not from the field itself but from the unscrupulous uses to which it has been put and the people who have attempted to use it so. The third problem has been the character of its founders. Not long after its arrival on the national stage the field was beset by acrimonious law suits by one person or another claiming ownership over the name and brand. It was also beset by admitted drug use by one of the founders, a murder trial and other problems that detracted from its reputation. Sad though these occurrences may be, they do not detract from the efficacy of the model.

What’s the problem with NLP on WIKIPEDIA?

Wikipedia is a problem all unto itself. Although the hope of Wikipedia was to produce a fair minded, group sourced resource for information—which it has done in many non-controversial areas–there has grown up within the community a group of pseudo-skeptical gatekeepers who have, by virtue of a long history of editing multiple articles developed what is essentially veto power over the content of many sites. First relying on the false findings of the bad research already mentioned, many have taken over the editorial voice of the NLP Wikipedia sites. This process has been documented in multiple places across the Wikipedia enterprise and has been discussed at length in major publications. NLP in particular has come under the scrutiny of a group of senior editors who appear to have a specific axe to grind against NLP, have accepted the prior research noted above uncritically, or have never considered the actual claims of NLP itself.

In response, NLP has provided their own wiki site.


How does NLP relate to other psychological disciplines?

NLP has strong affinities with the human potentials movement spearheaded by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. It is conceptually related to the cognitive revolution and might be considered Full-Spectrum Cognitive Behavioral Psychology. Moreover, most of the basic principles and ideas of NLP have been thoroughly investigated by mainstream psychologists although their research was not done to support NLP, its findings indicate that the insights of Bandler, Grinder and Pucelik (and others) are solidly supported by many years of experimental research. You can find an introductory review here, and a full analysis of NLP’s theoretical links to CBT here. Here too is a link to an extensive list of supportive scientific articles.

Does NLP have real answers to psychological and psychiatric diagnoses?

NLP has effective interventions for phobias, PTS, anxiety, guilt, shame, indecision, Compulsive behaviors, and multiple psychological difficulties. The answer to this question, under development will frame the paucity of effective therapies with supporting research evidence and emphasize the extent to which NLP approaches provide the, “how”, in addition to the client centered “what” of a sound clinical body of effective mental health treatments.

Many Scientists have criticized NLP because it has no theory. Is this true?

While the discipline began claiming that no theory was possible, it soon became apparent that all of its early models were central figures in humanistic psychology and the human potential movements. As it developed a set of root presuppositions and techniques, it began to become plain that NLP does in fact have a theoretical structure. More recently, it has been suggested that NLP is a species of Grounded Theory which also arose in mid 1970s, even though neither approach was known to the other.

An analysis of how Grounded Theory provides a theoretical foundation for NLP can be found here.

Is there a good bibliography of NLP research to date?

The first resource that we would recommend is the already referenced support database, here. There is also the R and R bibliography, here. Inspiritive’s extensive database can be found here. Although not a bibliography per se, The Clinical Effectiveness of NLP provides a nearly exhaustive review of the evidence to date here. More basic book about NLP include: Stever Robbins provides an excellent list of foundational books about NLP, its applications and sources here. David Gordon and Graham Dawes offer an Expansive NLP reading list here. Amazon has a well-chosen list of 25 books on NLP here. [Back]

Is PTS the only health problem research into NLP will provide important clinical advances with?

No, NLP has developed approaches and protocols for a large array of psychological growth and transformation issues, and these include:

Creating rapport.
Building compelling personal futures.
Creating and evaluating future outcomes.
Fostering creativity using Dilt’s Strategies of Genius.
Curing certain phobias using techniques including collapsing anchors and an alternate version of the RTM protocol.
Developing self-confidence using the as-if frame, circles of excellence and stacking anchors.
The resolution of Eating Disorders, Bulimia and anorexia using the Bulimia Breakthrough Method
Dis-empowering critical voices by modifying the structure of the remembered voice.
Ending compulsions using the compulsion blow-out.
Breaking up behaviorally chained communications provoking fear, anger or frustration.
Resolving allergies for consciously known allergens.
Resolving grief.
Ending shame.
Pain management.
Fostering sound sleep.
Enhancing positive experience by changing their structure, stacking anchors of similar experiences or enhancing their perceived motion and qualities.
Reversing negative feelings by reversing their perceived movement.
Modifying the impact of past events using timeline interventions.
Awakening spiritual experiences using the Wholeness Process
Out-framing negative events with Core Transformations.
Dealing with the spectrum of substance use disorders.
Changing perceptual frames using reframing and Aligning Perceptual positions.
Modeling Excellence


Your Perception Controls Genes

Your genes will adapt to your beliefs.
Behaviour comes from the movement of protein.
The signal causes the protein to move.
The body coordinates the function of the system by controlling the signals to the protein which controls their movement, and that movement is generated into functional things like breathing, digesting, excreting waste matter etc.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 4.02.56 AM

Enucleation: removing the nucleus from a cell.

“When a gene product is needed, a signal from its environment, not an emergent property of the gene itself, activates the expression of that gene.”~ Nijhout -1990

you’re not controlled by genes, you’re controlled by beliefs.
Cells move for either Growth or Protection.

So much protection is used, that you short the growth processes.

Grounded Theory and NLP


Neuro-Linguistic Programming 

Grounded Theory

by Richard Gray Ph.D

Abstract.  Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is a psychological discipline that emerged in the mid-1970s.  It has often been criticized by academics because it lacked a theoretical base and attempts to evaluate it scientifically have more often than not been poorly constructed and failed (Heap, 1988; Sharpley, 1984, 1987; Witkowski, 2010). The claim by its early developers and many modern practitioners that it is not susceptible to quantitative evaluation, despite its worldwide popularity, has frustrated attempts to have some of its most powerful patterns accepted and made available to the Mental Health community as research-based interventions.  In this paper the parallels between the classical methods of NLP and Grounded Theory are explored and it is suggested that NLP in itself is a parallel development of Grounded Theory which provides it with a strong theoretical base as well as multiple foci for evaluative research on quantitative and non-quantitative levels. Basic principles of NLP as valid foci for research are also enumerated.

Origins of Grounded Theory

Grounded theory arose as a response to the overwhelming impact of quantitative measurement in the field of sociology in America. The developers of Grounded Theory were of the belief that quantitative analysis lost the richness and subtlety in the fine details of personal experience and that a new approach was necessary (Charmaz & Bryant, 2010; Fassinger, 2005;Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Ponterotto, 2005; Oliver, 2010). The original authors, Strauss and Glaser (1967) devised an alternative to standard statistical means of theory testing and creation that was much more amenable to qualitative research. Its popularity grew in nursing, sociology and education but was not applied to psychology until much later.

Grounded theory has since become one of the most popular means of creating and evaluating qualitative theory in psychology and the other fields already mentioned (Oliver, 2010). This approach is designed as a ground-up, recursive system for theory generation. It begins with an object or behavior of interest and through dialogue develops a tentative theory of the nature of that phenomenon. That initial theory-making is held provisionally as the researcher turns back to obtain more detail and more precision with regard to the process underlying the phenomenon. This multiply recursive style is one of the signatures of Grounded Theory. There is an object of interest, the person expressing that behavior is questioned about “how he does that” behavior and a theory based on his responses is generated. As the structure of the experience is more clearly articulated the researcher engages in what is called Theoretical Analysis that is designed to fill in any gaps or misinterpretations that he may have regarding the genesis of the observed behavior. The process continues until the researcher has obtained sufficient systematic information that will allow him or her to fully comprehend the underlying generators of the behavior in question. These causes are not conceived as historical events but as present time internal and external triggers and responses that drive the problem. The ultimate aim of theory-making is to create a clear model of the problem behavior so as to make its resolution possible (Charmaz & Bryant, 2010; Fassinger, 2005; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Goulding, 1999; Ponterotto, 2005; Oliver, 2010).

Origins of Neruo-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) began as a set of techniques to understand and codify the underlying skills of especially effective communicators and therapists by observing and documenting the conscious and unconscious behaviors of these exceptional people in a way that they could be taught to others (Bandler & Grinder, 1974, Grinder & Bandler, 1976).  Over the years, it has evolved into a set of frameworks, processes and protocols that individuals trained in NLP use to help evoke effective behavioral changes in clients, students, patients and others (Spitzer, 1992; Tosey & Mathison, 2009; Grinder & Pucelik, 2012).

The NLP approach to the analysis, modeling, and replication (or modification) of behavior that arose in California in the mid-1970s. The discipline began when one of the it’s early developers (Richard Bandler), while working for Science and Behavior Books, was assigned the task of transcribing the recorded tapes and videos of Frederick Perls (the founder of Gestalt Therapy).  In the course of making those transcriptions, Bandler found that he could, just by imitating, replicate the patterns used by Perls and get the same kinds of therapeutic effects (Grinder & Pucelik, 2012; Spitzer, 1992; Tosey & Mathison, 2009).

Taking these patterns to a friend who was teaching groups in Gestalt therapy (Frank Pucelik), they and the individuals they taught, found that the patterns of language, intonation and challenge used by Perls and modeled by Bandler, were just as effective no matter who performed them. After some time, John Grinder, Professor of Linguistics at UC Santa Cruz, was asked to attend the groups to see whether he could discern specific patterns in what they were doing. He discovered multiple well known patterns from general linguistics and transformational grammar and was able to develop a descriptive calculus for the patterns that emerged. (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, & Delozier, 1980; Grinder & Pucelik, 2012; Tosey & Mathison, 2009).

Early Barriers to NLP Research

The early developers of NLP characterized their approach as a-theoretical and not susceptible to theoretical analysis.  They claimed that they were creating highly individualized models that could not be assessed by the statistical tools that were then central to scientific inquiry. Moreover, it was felt that the averaging of the data of individual experience as identified by NLP, in order to conform to the quantitative model, would obliterate the fine structure that underlay most behaviors, whether positive or negative (Bandler & Grinder, 1979, Tosey & Mathison, 2009, Bostic St. Claire & Grinder, 2001).

Less defensible, was the academic and professional alienation from NLP produced by the Founders insistence on the inability to research and uselessness of researching many of the elements and techniques which were being developed. However, many of these would have easily lent themselves to quantitative measurement. For example, NLP clinical patterns or protocols for the amelioration of phobic responses would have easily lent themselves to clinical outcome studies comparing NLP phobia protocols results to desensitization and flooding paradigms which were well known and being researched at the time. (See, e.g., Clark, Ehlers, Hackmann, McManus, Fennell, Grey, Waddington, & Wild, 2006; Foa, Keane, & Friedman, 2000; Foa & Kozak, 1986; Foa & Meadows, 1997; Foa, Blau, Prout, & Latimer,1977, Gillian & Rachman, 1974; Rachman, 1965).

Processes of Grounded Theory

There are several distinct steps in this process the development of a Grounded Theory that may be used in varying orders at different points in the process. They are:

  • Finding an interesting phenomenon
  • Establishment of rapport with the model
  • Interviewing: Collection of data through interview to define the structure of the phenomenon
  • Analysis: A process of constant comparison with a tentative theory describing the sequencing of the elements of the phenomenon and the data currently arising in the conversation
  • Analysis: A constant dialogue with the model to confirm tentative hypotheses and obtain further information
  • Coding: As a narrative develops categories relevant to the structure of the phenomenon are defined and named (the categories may be developed spontaneously or may come from a predefined list of categories).
  • Multiple levels of theory are derived in a hierarchy of increasing levels of abstraction
  • Theoretical Sampling: With a tentative theory in mind, the interviewer returns to the model with specific questions designed to further elucidate and complete the generative structure of the behavior.
  • Each such level is held tentatively so that it may be changed as other information develops
  • This process continues until the description is saturated. That is, it has enough information to fully describe the phenomenon in this individual as currently manifest
  • At the next level the phenomenon is observed in other people who express it similarly. The data of their narrative is combined with the original narrative to verify and refine the theory under construction
  • A final theory, based upon multiple descriptions of the same phenomenon from different sources, provides validity and the possibility of quantitative analysis of the final theory.

                                (Charmaz & Bryant, 2010; Fassinger, 2005; Oliver, 2012; Ponterotto, 2005).

According to Oliver (2012), Grounded Theory aims

… to develop new theory inductively through a process of concurrent data collection and analysis (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). The researcher immediately analyses and codes incoming data (Glaser, 1978) and, in a process called theoretical sampling, chooses new data sources for their potential to develop emergent analytical insights. Memos written throughout the study capture the researcher’s internal analytic dialogue, prompt reflexivity and become further data for coding and analysis. Early detailed coding of every data line or event is intended to ‘break open the data to consider all possible meanings’ (Corbin and Strauss, 2008, p. 59) and to move the researcher away from her preconceptions. The researcher progressively links codes into higher-level categories or conceptual themes. This conceptual development relies on a process of constant comparative analysis whereby the researcher compares information between and within categories to interrogate how the properties and dimensions of each category vary under different conditions (Glaser and Strauss, 1967).  … The outcome of this progressively abstract analysis is a description of the relationships between conceptual categories and their synthesis into a theory explaining the maximum amount of variation within the issue of concern.

Processes of NLP

The processes of NLP, as described in NLP Wiki: The NLP Encyclopedia (

NLP was initially developed while observing three very effective therapists (Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson) as they worked with clients or groups of clients and asking questions about their work. One of the most important questions was, “What specifically are the things they do that lead to healthy therapeutic changes in their clients?” It was while observing the therapists as they worked (in person when possible and with video and audio tapes and transcripts when not) and documenting their own descriptions of their work that the developers began to notice common patterns in the therapists’ words and phrases, their tone of voice, their speed and rhythm of speaking, their motions, postures, gestures, etc.

As the early developers interviewed and reviewed tapes and transcripts of these therapists talking about their work, they found that they each used ways of thinking and acting that could be described one-step-at-a-time in terms of what they saw, heard and felt during a therapeutic session. They identified very specific patterns of speaking and repeated ways of doing things (strategies) that the therapists regularly used to get the results they wanted. They documented in great detail what the therapists were paying attention to during the session, what was happening with their clients and how the therapists described experiencing the session inside themselves. They found that although each therapist did things in their own way, there were certain linguistic structures and patterns of thought and behavior that were used by all of them. This way of analyzing behavior became known in NLP as ‘modeling:’ observing, investigating and teasing out the essentials of “How do they do that?”

After they had identified what these therapists did and what they were paying attention to, the developers tested these patterns of thought and behavior (the models). They did this by trying them out themselves and by teaching them to others. They confirmed the models were correct when they could elicit the same kinds of changes in their clients as the original therapists had attained using the same patterns. This was tested over and over again until they confirmed that the models could be learned and used by anyone to achieve the same therapeutic outcomes. As NLP grew and became more sophisticated, other successful individuals in a variety of other fields were observed and modeled in the same way and additional tools and techniques were added. This body of models, strategies, tools and techniques became the field of NLP.

Often described as “the study of subjective experience,” NLP makes it possible for people to quickly and efficiently learn how to think, behave and communicate in order to achieve specific goals. When applied in an educational or teaching setting, NLP provides specific tools to assist the teacher to structure the learning experience in the most effective way possible. Applied in a therapeutic or coaching setting, NLP allows clinicians, therapists and coaches to understand the structure of problem behaviors, thoughts and communications and to create interventions for those problems. Doctors and nurses have used NLP to help patients relax, overcome fear, and to take part in their own healing. In sports, NLP allows athletes to use the same kinds of thoughts and practices that champions use so that they can improve their own games. Musicians, actors, business people and motivational speakers are just a few of the kinds of people that have used the NLP model-building processes described above.

Evidence-based NLP

In 1975, the first systematization of these patterns was published as the Structure of Magic (Bandler & Grinder, 1975). This made explicit the ideas that, according to NLP, people experience the world in terms of personal maps, not objective reality itself (Bateson, 1963; Korzybski, 1934) and that those maps are:

  • Distinct from any real world and specific to each individual;
  • Structured in terms of sensory representational systems: the visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory (VAKOG) and verbal information channels through which experience enters consciousness;
  • That these personal maps can be understood in terms of how neurology and surface expressions (speech, writing and other forms of communication) delete, distort and generalize ‘objective’ reality;
  • That those expressions appear in communications as patterns, already well known to linguistics that may be challenged in order to open the client to a fresh experience of reality, not bound by excessively defective maps.

In subsequent years, these early formulations continued to develop to produce a set of presuppositions about thought, communication and motivation and the underlying cognitive structures that support them.

The approach was described as the creation of provisional models which might themselves be revised.  This suggests a process of successive approximation to the description of any behavior or the design of any intervention. True to their model, the early developers found that some of their original ideas (primary representational systems and the hope of a universal calculus of behavior) were not valid or too difficult to realize and were abandoned. So there arose some apparent contradictions between the original texts and later formulations that have made no end of trouble for the field. One of these concepts was that every person interprets the world through one primary representational system (PRS).  The idea was quickly dropped and by 1980 had been completely abandoned by Bandler and Grinder and many of the original contributors (Steve Andreas, personal communication, 2010; Bostic St. Clair & Grinder, 2001; Druckman & Swets, 1988; Grinder & Pucelik, 2012).

This was the continuing pattern of the field’s development: patterns or regularities in behavior would be noticed and tested for their validity in the context of individual therapy, self-development, or pure subjective experiment. When the observation held, and could be observed in multiple exemplars, it was incorporated as a pattern; if it did not, it was rejected.  Eye accessing cues, though still controversial, were observed as an identifiable tendency in hundreds of people and so was adopted as one of the standard patterns. It was, however, never a fundamental postulate of the field, but one of many patterns that were deemed useful (Dilts & Delozier, 2000; Grinder & Pucelik, 2012).

From time to time the patterns observed by the early developers resonated with well-established concepts from mainline psychology (and other fields) and in those cases, the pattern and, often, its name was incorporated into the field.  There is reason to believe that the idea that the ‘map is not the territory’ was taken from Korzybski via Gregory Bateson and was incorporated as an apt way of describing the observation and a citation from a well-respected source–but not as a general endorsement of Korzybski (Bateson, 1972; Bostic St. Clare & Grinder, 2001; Grinder & Pucelik, 2012; Korzybski, 1994; Tosey & Mathison, 2009). Similarly, the Test, Operate, Test Exit (T.O.T.E.) model was adopted with little change from the work of Miller, Galanter, & Pribram (1960). This is widely acknowledged throughout the field and appears as early as Dilts, Grinder, Bandler and Delozier’s 1980 classic, NLP Volume I: The Structure of Subjective Experience. This model of how feedback shapes behavior, perception and modeling itself, though implicit in the field already, was a perfect match for much of NLP praxis. So, despite having created its own distinctive modeling methodology, NLP adopted the TOTE heuristic as it matched their practice and understanding so well. As a general practice, NLP both adopted, and cast off various elements insofar as they were found to be either useful or unnecessary to their ultimate aims.  According to Bostic St. Clare and Grinder (2001) the ultimate criterion for any construct was its utility; did it make the model work better; did it provide better results; did it make the results more easily transferable?

Evidence for NLP Grounded Theory

There are many striking similarities between the development of NLP and the process of “doing” Grounded Theory. The initial focus of NLP was on the phenomenon of therapeutic change (it’s initial substantive area). The developers established rapport with the therapists when they were available and collected data about their specific interventions using face-to-face interviews and direct observation, and recordings and transcripts when the therapists were unavailable enabling them to define the structure of the phenomenon. Drawing especially on the linguistics background of John Grinder, the developers analyzed and coded elements of the phenomenon, developed and continued to saturate categories and test them in multiple settings and with multiple individuals for effectiveness and validity. Through ongoing analysis, continuing data collection, coding and documentation, a tentative set of theories were developed. With each tentative theory, the developers returned with specific questions designed to further elucidate the structure of the behaviors and provide relational evidence between codes. Once the phenomenon was fully described in each of the three therapists studied, it was taught to multiple individuals in order to observe and gather additional data to verify and refine the theory. The end result was first published as the Structure of Magic: A Book about Language & Therapy (Bandler & Grinder, 1975). This remarkable book along with its successor (The Structure of Magic II, A Book about Communication and Change, Grinder & Bandler, 1976) offered a final theory based upon multiple descriptions of the same phenomenon from different sources and formed the basis for future applications to a wide variety of human behaviors.

Although it is has often been characterized as having no theory, NLP’s underlying modeling methodology bears a nearly one to one relationship to some of the modern interpretations of Grounded Theory (Charmaz & Bryant, 2010; Fassinger, 2005; Oliver, 2010; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). However, because that perspective had not yet gained currency as a psychological approach, Grinder and Bandler could honestly claim that there was no theoretical base and that there was no research approach that could adequately define and test NLP. In this paper, we set forth the proposition that Grounded Theory is an approach that describes the theoretical approach basis of NLP and the methodology that emerges in the field. The perspective of Grounded Theory (GT) is described more completely below.

On a different level, NLP has developed a set of fundamental principles and definitions that lie close to the heart of the modeling perspective.  These are:

  • All behavior can be understood in terms of interconnected and often repeating chains of sensory perception and expression (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory –VAKOG). Those sensory experiences are subjectively modified by submodalities, the modulators of intensity and valence (size, distance, locus, intensity, complexity, movement, focus and others).
  • These patterns generally operate below the level of consciousness.
  • When these patterns are made conscious, the structure of the experience (not its content) can be modified to change the quality of the experience.
  • Much of the business of making such patterns conscious occurs in the context of interviews that include the elements of rapport (see below) and challenges to the structure of the client’s description using the meta-model (see below).
  • There is a body of presuppositions that frame NLP interventions which, while not crucial for the change agent to believe, can be held provisionally to frame the process.

The basic presuppositions of NLP were developed over several years, beginning with the idea that the map is not the territory. The first several assumptions operationalize a truly client-centered orientation.  Most of the ideas can be traced back to Rogers (1951) and Maslow, as well as Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson and Alfred Korzybski (Andreas, 2008; Bandler & Grinder, 1979; Hall, 2010; IASH & Delozier, 2010; Wake, 2009; Wake, Gray, & Bourke, 2012). Among these presuppositions are:

1.The meaning of communication is determined by the listener’s understanding.  The therapist is responsible for insuring that both he and his client understand each other.

2.If what you are doing doesn’t work, do something different.  NLP assumes a level of flexibility by the therapist that allows for multiple approaches to any problem.

3.The map is not the territory. This tells us that neither our understanding of the world nor our client’s is an actual match for the world itself.  It is our job to ensure that we have asked enough questions so that the clients’ and our own world-views are accurately represented in the two way process of communication.

4.Every behavior has a positive intention. This means that behavior has meaning and perhaps survival value from the client’s perspective; however aberrant, perverse or irrational it may be to us; understanding from the client’s perspective is crucial.

5.Every behavior is meaningful in some context. Once we have understood the original context of the behavior, or how the client finds place for it subjectively, we have a better hope of making therapeutic progress.

Other assumptions, and those most relevant to modeling, include the ideas that:

1.Any human can learn to do what any other human has learned to do. This assumes a structural similarity and a conservation of biological and neurological functioning across persons, races and, ultimately, species.

2.People are, for the most part, not broken. That is to say that apart from actual genetic or certain physical disabilities, patterns of excellence as well as neurotic patterns are learned behaviors that can be taught to or restructured for anyone.

3.Options are better than no options. The assumption here is that most problems are stuck states that arise from an inability to conceive of other possibilities or to act upon them.

4.The person with the most options in a given circumstance controls the circumstance. Adapted from Ashby’s (1956) Law of Requisite Variety, this suggests that for any situation, the person who is more flexible, who can see more possibilities, has a specific advantage over other competitors.

5.Any behavior, if broken into small enough chunks, can be taught to anyone.

6.Most behaviors can be analyzed into a sequence of sensory elements. These are the Visual, Auditory Kinesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory elements of sensory perception. The analysis typically includes how these elements are sequenced and distorted in subjective experience.

In addition to these pre-suppositions, there are a number of tools aimed at providing more accurate definitions of the details to improve communication. Many of these were developed and refined by a second generation of experts in the field of NLP who, over thirty years, have significantly extended and defined the tools beyond the original materials.

One of the original NLP tools is the meta-model of language. This language tool uses standard models of linguistic well-formedness to determine whether and to what extent conscious formulations have been distorted from their initial sensory (non-verbal) representations. It also helps therapists and modelers to help recover relevant aspects and distortions of that information (Bandler & Grinder, 1975; Bostic St. Clare & Grinder, 2001; Dilts et al., 1980; Grinder & Pucelik, 2012; Lewis & Pucelik, 1990).  [see also, for example, Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, Cambridge, Mass., 1965; Lakoff, “Presupposition and semantic well-formedness” in Semantics: An Interdisciplinary Reader in Philosophy, Linguistics and Psychology, Steinberg & Jakobovits, ED., Cambirdge Univ. Press, NY, 1971.]

In alignment with the therapeutic tenets of American Psychologist, Carl Rogers (1951), rapport skills, stand out as an important tool in NLP. Rapport can be established by matching breathing, posture, language patterns, tempo, and through other means. In NLP, Rapport refers to the ability to consciously enter unconscious synchrony with another person and to lead them in a new direction; it does not imply personal disclosure. While not foundational to NLP it is a strategy that arises directly from some of NLP’s basic postulates (Andreas & Andreas, 1989; Bandler & Grinder, 1979; Dilts et al., 1980; Lewis & Pucelik, 1990).

Another such tool is involves understanding the effects of submodality differences in personal perception and their usefulness in changing perception.  As previously noted, submodalities are the dimensions of experience that code for intensity and valence. Generally, for all senses, they include size, distance, locus, intensity, complexity, movement, focus and others. Each sensory modality has certain submodalities that are specific to that sense.  Examples of the effects of submodality differences that have been observed and documented in hundreds of individuals include:  Something that is large and looming, is usually perceived as more important than something small and moving away.  Something in full color is perceived as more present than something in black and white.  Perceptions from within the body, associated, are felt to be more important than things perceived from outside the body, disassociated. Stereophonic sounds are perceived as being more real than mono-dimensional sounds.  Submodalities are fundamental to NLP (Andreas & Andreas, 1989; Bandler & Grinder, 1979; Dilts et al., 1980). Although not directly adopted from his writings, these elements with the VAKOG are nearly identical to Titchner’s view of the basic structures of mental experience (Titchner, 1908; James, 1950).

Previously, mention was made of Miller, Galanter and Pribram’s T.O.T.E. model. This may be compared to a loop structure in computer programming. The recursive loop cycles though a certain sequence of actions over and over until a certain criterion is reached. When the criterion is reached, the loop ends. On the most basic level, we see this same pattern in the TOTE model. TOTE is an acronym, it refers to Test, Operate, Test, Exit and is derived from a seminal publication in cognitive linguistics by Miller, Galanter and Pribram (1960), Plans and the Structure of Behavior. 

These authors set forth the idea that behaviors in complex systems that have no defined end (like do-this-N-times-and-stop) need to have some guiding process that allows them to know what to do and when to stop doing it. This means that behaviors in living organisms can be usefully compared to a computer program that sets a criterion, operates on the data, and tests to see whether the criterion has been met. If the criterion has not been met, the program loops through again.  If the criterion has been met, the program ends.

In the language of NLP we begin with an outcome. The first test in the Test-Operate-Test-Exit TOTE strategy is the comparison of our present state to a desired state—an outcome.  If they fail to match, we perform some operation in hope of changing percepts, behaviors or the world in the direction of our stated outcome. The second test in the algorithm again compares the (newly-revised) present state to the outcome.  If the outcome criteria have been met, the process ends; we exit the process.  If, however, the outcome has not been met, we loop back through the test-operate procedure until it does (Dilts, 1983; Dilts & Delozier, 2000; Dilts, Grinder, Bandler & Delozier, 1980; Wake, 2010).

As it appears in NLP, the model usually specifies that testing happens in the sensory modality most relevant to the issue.  A carpenter hammering nails might use sight or feel—a hammer hitting a nail off-center feels very different from one that has hit the nail correctly (Dilts et al., 1980; Dilts & Delozier, 2000). While it can be used to describe simple behaviors, like hitting a nail with a hammer, and it can also be used to build complex hierarchical models of much more complex behaviors.  If we imagine that a basic TOTE can be used to assemble a set of rudimentary skills that are necessary to a larger task, we can imagine that increasingly larger and larger more complex tasks can become unified wholes using the same model.

The process of NLP modeling, whether in a therapeutic context or as used to make some skill transferrable, begins with the identification of a target behavior.  The outcome is to be able to replicate the behavior and this is often expressed; ‘Can you teach me how to do that?’ Whether the aim is therapeutic or transformational, the core idea is to find the patterns that directly give rise to the behavior. As with Grounded Theory, context is a crucial piece of information: When does this behavior occur or when is it appropriate?

The process continues with the client providing the best description his/her current state that they can.  The practitioner, in response, encourages the client to be more and more specific as to the sequence of sensory and motor elements, using the meta-model (a series of linguistic patterns that allow him/her to challenge unspecified, ill-specified  or skipped steps thereby enabling more detailed analysis of the elements). Questions will also target the submodality structure of the various perceptions: was the picture big or small, close or far away, moving or still? Was the sound source small or large, where did the voice come from, was it loud or soft, what was the tonality, whose voice was it, and so on for the other senses. Engaging in conversation about the process, the modeler, continuously checks his understanding with the client to determine whether she has gotten it right and to discover where there may be gaps or misinterpretations, and the process continues as a dialogue. In addition to the above, the client’s mood, intent and any immediate precursors to the behavior must should be identified.

There are variants of the modeling procedure so that if the model individual being modeled has written books or produced recordings, as with Grounded Theory, they may be used to inform the process. In some cases, notably Bandler’s (Grinder & Pucelik, 2012) modeling of Perls (who was by then dead), and Dilts’ modeling of the thinking patterns of some of the great geniuses of our time (1995) the enterprise may continue without access to the living model.  There are some objections to this approach, (Bostic St. Clair & Grinder, 2001; Hall, 2001). Nevertheless the practice is affirmed by other writers.

In the NLP modeling process described here, there is a recursive dynamic, that seeks structural information, tests its validity, seeks missing information, integrates it into a growing provisional model and proceeds until the description is sufficiently accurate that the behavior becomes replicable or there is enough information about a non-useful response so that the pattern can be modified and tested for its effect on the problem. When used on the level of an individual treatment or skill model, the process is completed when the description is sufficiently complete so that an intervention or skill/behavior transfer is possible (Bostic St. Clare & Grinder, 2001; Dilts, 1998).

In some cases, notably, the RTM-V/KD protocol, rapport patterns and the NLP Spelling strategy, the patterns elicited from multiple individuals may be aggregated to create a technique of general utility. These kinds of interventions, which have essentially been validated by their successful application to multiple similar cases [citations], can be subjected to standard qualitative evaluations. The less formal techniques, individualized treatments for depression, anxiety, OCD, and others may be evaluated by aggregating patient satisfaction responses (On a scale of one to ten, how well was your outcome met?) and may be enhanced by pre and post testing where an appropriate symptom scale is presented. See the section Basis for Evaluative Research at the end of this article for a complete description of this topic.

Case study—example

Let us start by looking at the standard clinical approach to depression. A client comes in and complains of being depressed.  Any competent psychologist or clinician begins to probe in order to determine the nature of the depression. Is it clinical, sub-clinical, event related, post-partum, or something else? An effort is made to diagnose the nature of the complaint in accordance with an acceptable DSM Five or ICD-10 category.  In so-doing the clinician explores with the client the dimensions of the condition.  Unfortunately, in modern psychiatry and clinical psychology, most of these analyses stop when an appropriate category is identified at which point either an appropriate course of medication is provide or a fairly routinized course of therapy is prescribed, with or without medication.

NLP, on the other hand, begins with a similar probing but does not necessarily assume that the diagnostic category is the essential end point of the process. NLP reimagines pathology in terms of client-specific maps and patterns of affect and behavior that can be changed. Those patterns are often idiosyncratic and but their details must can be discovered for each individual.

Having determined the nature of the complaint, NLP next explores the client’s outcome potential client outcomes: What do they want to accomplish? What do they want to change? This process provides the desired state that will be used to test the effectiveness of the treatment (the Test portions of the TOTE model). Next, the therapist focuses on the structure of the problem: How do you do that? How do you “become” depressed (what is the structure)? When do you know it is time for this to happen (what is the trigger?)? Where does it happen most often (what is the context?)? The diagnostic process continues with the hypothesis that there is some structured set of perceptions and behaviors that is the direct source of the present-time complaint. That structure is presumed to be a set of sensory representations (internal sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells) that by a combination of their order and distortion, give rise to the problem behavior or response. This tentative structural dynamic is held provisionally as further levels of structure are examined. Each of these steps may become the focus at any time as the therapist works to ensure that she has created an accurate model.

Having determined the simple sequence of sensory-motor data that creates the response, NLP now looks for the specific submodality distinctions that give meaning and importance to the internal images, sounds, feelings tastes and smells and that give the behavior its special compelling quality. This level allows the clinician to make hypotheses about the internal dynamics of the pattern (the client’s present state) and begin to formulate a possible restructuring of those dynamics that would succeed in reshaping the behavior.

The final hypothesis is a plan of action for restructuring the perceptions, actions and the submodality structures that are the direct precursors to and/or responsible for maintenance of the problem. It too, however, is held provisionally and must be tested against the client’s map. If the client confirms the structure as valid, if they can use it to start an episode (which the therapist will be careful to end before it overwhelms the patient) the pattern receives a certain level of validation.  The final test appears as the therapist and client systematically modify a set of submodalities, or sequences in the structure of the behavior, that seem to lie at its heart.  This is the “operate” phase of the TOTE model.  In our case study, it represents the therapeutic intervention.  During this process, the new pattern is associated with past and future circumstances which may have evoked the behavior or would threaten to do so in the future.  This is frequently done using a fantasizing process such as:  “Imagine that when this happened back then, if you had structured it this way the way we just rehearsed, what would have been different?  If the client finds that his response would have changed in the past if this restructuring had been available, the model is partially confirmed.  The next step would be “Imagine the next time the ‘right time and place’ occur, and you structure it the way we just rehearsed, what happens?”  If the client, using the new structure cannot imagine a circumstance that would provoke the response in the present or the future, no matter how hard he tries, the hypothesized remedy is presumed to have been successful until tested again at follow-up. Should the intervention have failed between the last formulation and follow-up, new hypotheses and possible remedies are generated.

Insofar as it is susceptible to cognitive-behavioral intervention, a one example of a DSM IV diagnosis of Severe Depression might be described in NLP practice (as determined by the process just described) as “an obsessive internal voice in the same tone and timbre as the client’s long-deceased, overbearing mother.”  This diagnostic description provides the therapist with the client’s own internal representations which generate and maintain the depression, and can now presents specific submodality points that can be altered to alleviate it. In this circumstance Using this example, the therapist might typically invite the client to try several things such as:  Move the source of the sound to a place (farther away, from another room, over the telephone, etc.) where it has less impact. Change the tone and timbre of the voice so that it sounds very different (like Mickey Mouse).  Make the voice distant and barely discernable.  Each of these, singly or in combination, could significantly reduce or even eliminate the client’s experience of depression and, with some imaginal practice, could produce a long-term remedy.

GT and NLP

At this point, the parallels between GT and NLP should be obvious.  Both begin with a target of investigation, establish rapport and begin a conversation with their informant or model about how they do the behavior of interest. In both cases there is an attempt to find certain basic categories of information:

1.What are the limits of the behavior or response (When does it start; when does it end? In what contexts does it arise?)

2.What are the essential elements of the phenomenon? In NLP this would be sequences of sensory experiences (motor responses are treated as a subtype of kinesthetic perception), their distortion by submodalities and whether there are recursive elements.  In GT this is the process of categorization: definition of the elements.

3.At every stage in both GT and NLP, any new information is tested against any current model or hypothesis of the phenomenon.

4.In both NLP and GT, as coherent models arise, outside information may be brought to bear in order to clarify the process from previous research. In NLP this includes the use of the meta-model, the structural assumptions about sensory modalities and submodalities as well as other basic elements of and tools we have reviewed that are in the NLP tool kit.

5.Axiological analysis involves re-questioning the data and the informant as to the importance of various elements and assigning them sequence and value.  It also includes the assessment of bias or predisposition on the part of the investigator or modeler.

6.After multiple courses of testing and retesting the various levels of model-making against the data, there may come a stage of data saturation in which all possible elements have been defined.

  • In NLP this stage of theory building is tested by determining whether the model works to replicate the behavior (current state) in the client.  In NLP the case of therapeutic interventions, it is also tested by modifying the structure of the problem behavior and noting whether that change meets the client’s outcomes.  In the case of modeling a desired skill or behavior, it is tested by observing if the model (the sequence of sensory-motor data) can reproduce the behavior in the investigator and others to whom the model is taught.
  • In other scientific endeavors, GT may proceed through other stages to create formal, general models of the behavior under question.

7.In both cases, the next step is either to perform the same investigation using other subjects, to see whether the same analysis arises from the data, or to test the model in other subjects to determine whether it can reproduce the target behavior.

In this comparison it appears that whereas the early developers of NLP claimed to have no theory or that their practices could not be evaluated theoretically, they may have been unaware of the parallel development of GT during the same era. Viewing each behavioral analysis—the development of an NLP strategy—as a theory in the sense that GT uses the word, NLP becomes a substantive theory of the structure of subjective experience.  If each model that is developed using NLP modeling techniques as described is creates a theory of individual perception and action, then the ability to replicate that behavior in others, or to end the negative symptoms of some pathological conditions, constitute validations of those theories.

Evaluations of NLP treatments. 

Basis for Evaluative Research

Following the lead of GT, we strongly recommend NLP might be subjected to large-scale evaluations of its techniques (generalizable theories and its basic postulates). For any individual NLP-based theory—the structure of a limiting behavior for one individual, the general utility of the theories (interventions) created by NLP, might be evaluated using the research would utilize subjective scales like such as the Likert Scale in order to measure relative satisfaction with the intervention.  These evaluations would then become subject to statistical evaluation by standard means. Several such studies have already been done and can be reviewed in the work of Konefal and colleagues (1992, 1998) and more recently in the work of Stipancic, Renner, Schütz, and Dond R, (2010) and Genser-Medlitsch &Schütz (1997, 2004).

A In addition, we suggest further meanstesting for of NLP-based techniques would be by using utilize Comparative Effectiveness Research models.  Here, the results from databases tracking the treatment course of a diverse population of patients is compared for its effectiveness as an intervention, and a cost benefit analysis may be made. These kinds of studies are cost effective and can be structured so as to provide high quality information about which treatment is better suited to the problem at hand.  Typically, the approach monitors the responses of patients receiving different treatments for a similar problem or disorder.  Data for comparison is extracted from a database of patients who have received the two treatments and insofar as possible the anonymous records are matched for medical and psychiatric history, socioeconomic status, and other relevant variables. The groups are then compared to determine which treatment provided the best and most cost effective results. Once a database of NLP treatments has been amassed, this approach could produce significant information about the clinical effectiveness of the approach against more standard treatments (Begley, 2011; Morton, & Ellenberger, 2012; Neely, Sharon, Graboyes, Paniello, Nussenbaum, Grindler, & Dassopoulos, 2013).

Further evaluations of NLP-based patterns may be applied in those cases where NLP has tested individually developed patterns (the Fast Phobia Cure–V/K-D–RTM procedure, the NLP Spelling Strategy, and the Rapport procedure) with larger groups to develop techniques of general application. These techniques, as theories on another level (using the NLP modeling processes previously described to identify the general structure of this a specific phenomenon and this is how to remedy it or reproduce it), are susceptible to evaluation using standard quantitative measures. In these cases, significant clinical trials and or statistical evaluations have already been performed.  The Fast Phobia Cure, also known as the RTM or Rewind Technique provided significant relief to 85 percent of a small sample of survivors of the Rwandan Genocide (Utuzza, Joseph & Muss, 2011). The same technique is currently the subject of a thirty subject RCT wait-group control study funded by the state of New York ( The Rapport pattern has been extensively supported in multiple studies (Gray, Wake, Andreas, & Bolsted, 2012).

At this stage, however, a caveat must issue and that is this: once the NLP/GT process of basic theory generation is completed and a technique of general (or specific) applicability arises, any quantitative test performed on that pattern becomes a test of the pattern or technique, not NLP. In such cases, NLP as a species of GT has generated a theory or technique that stands apart from the process that created it and is tested as an application in its own right.


Since its inception, NLP has been subject to empirical investigations.  Because, however, there was no clear theoretical model of NLP which could guide the research, researchers found themselves testing patterns (such short-lived patterns previously discussed, like the PRS, eye accessing cues as related to the PRS.  Because they were consistently assuming that these were the essential elements of NLP, the bulk of the researchers came back with an almost uniformly damning analysis (for reviews see Heap, 1998; Sharpley, 1984, 1987; Witkowski, 2010).

We have argued that NLP can be understood as a species of Grounded Theory. As noted by Fassinger (2005), Grounded Theory takes on many aspects, some related to Positivism, some to Constructivist and others more or less structured.  Each variety may include a varying number of tenets that are more or less axiomatic.  These may frame the entire inquiry or may be included into the modeling process in the phase of analytical questioning. NLP holds (however loosely) to certain basic principles that inform its search for patterns in creating models. In order to provide an accurate frame for the evaluation of NLP according to its own precepts, we offer the following list:

  • All of its principles are held as patterns of behavior that are by their nature stochastic, they have a strong tendency to approach a certain value but that value is a statistical artifact (Bandler & Grinder, 1975; Bostic St. Clair & Grinder, 2001; Dilts & Delozier, 2001).
  • Most perceptions and behaviors can be reduced to the data of sensory experience (VAKOG). In this case movement is understood as a variety of kinesthetic perception (Bandler & Grinder, 1975; Andreas & Andreas, 1980, Bandler 1985; Lewis & Pucelik, 1990; O’Connor & Seymour, 1990).
  • The structures of behavior are often recursive and self-referential and can be described in terms of Hall’s Metastates or the TO.T.E. heuristic (Dilts, Grinder, et al.1980; Hall, 2001)
  • Sensory data are distorted by submodality distinctions that code for salience and affective valence (Andreas & Andreas, 1980, Bandler 1985; Gray, Wake, Andreas, & Bolsted, 2012; Lewis & Pucelik, 1990; O’Connor & Seymour, 1990).
  • Structure and syntax are more important to the structure of perception and behavior than content (Andreas & Andreas, 1980; Bandler & Grinder, 1975, 1979; Dilts, Grinder et al.1990).
  • Internal representations of sensory data do not correspond to the external objects that they represent in an exact one to one relationship (the map is not the territory) (Andreas & Andreas; 1980, Bandler & Grinder, 1975, 1979; Lewis & Pucelik, 1990; O’Connor & Seymour, 1990).
  • The Meta model of language is a primary tool for uncovering lost sensory experience from linguistic constructions (Bandler & Grinder, 1975; Dilts, Grinder, Bandler & Delozier, 1980).
  • The presuppositions of NLP form a frame for communication and modeling which may be held as personal beliefs or as a working perspective (Andreas, 2006; Dilts & Delozier, 2001, IASH & Delozier, 2010; Lewis & Pucelik, 1990; O’Connor & Seymour, 1990).

These are some of the basic concepts that underlie the perspective of NLP. Although held loosely as noted, there is a large consensus regarding these foundational ideas. Any evaluation of the field of NLP must include some analysis of these axiomatic principles. The presuppositions and submodality distinctions include multiple propositions and assertions, most of which have already been supported by parallel research (Gray, 2013; Gray, Wake, Andreas & Bolsted, 2012). The root concepts of sensory modalities and submodalities have been present in psychology since Titchner’s Lectures published in 1909.


Having been the recipient of ill-informed evaluations in the Journal literature, NLP has suffered from its own failure to define itself in clear terms that would invite valid scientific appraisals of its value. Here we have presented the possibility of viewing NLP as a species of Grounded Theory.  Despite the early developers’ claims that no theory could describe NLP, we suggest here that the dynamic and recursive nature of GT describes the process of NLP very well and, had the developers been aware of it, they might have identified it as an identical, if broader, approach.

We have further designated several means for evaluating NLP using standard methods.  These included:

1.Comparative effectiveness research for NLP in general and for its application to various problems;

2.Statistical ratings of client satisfaction scores aggregated from populations of NLP clients and;

3.Standard positivistic, statistical analysis of the general techniques that emerge from NLP (e.g., the V/K-D—RTM protocol, the NLP Spelling Strategy, and the rapport model). This last category of techniques, it was warned would constitute a testing of the techniques, and not NLP itself.

Finally, we set forth a list of propositions that are held to be axiomatic in the field of NLP. Any valid scientific test of these would constitute a test of the basic premises of NLP. While the refutation of any one of them would not destroy the field, their testing would allow an empirical refinement of the principles which have largely been accepted based upon personal experience over the course 35 or more years.


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