BOOK REVIEW OF THE ORIGINS OF NLP – 2013 Meta Reflections #23

May 13, 2013

Edited by John Grinder and R. Frank Pucelik

Finally we have a second book on the history of NLP, one that adds more information about the early days and gives much more of a human face to the adventure called NLP.  In 1990 Terry McClendon published the first book, The Wild Days: NLP 1972-1981.  This now gives us two books on the early history. Yet while we have a second book, it is still not complete and there’s lots more about the history and origins of NLP that is missing from this book.

A couple years ago I talked with many of those who were at the beginning and commented that if we don’t get some of the stories from the people who were there, many of those stories would be lost to history.   At about that time I was writing a series of seventeen instalments on the History of NLP (you can find on Articles). Later I approached several of those original people to see if several of us could collaborate on writing a history.  That did not work out and I will tell a little bit of that story shortly.  But I did achieve one thing -I provoked John Grinder sufficiently so that he put out this volume!

So at least we have his point of view in this book- in fact, this book is mostly, the origins of NLP from Grinder’s perspective.  Those who disagreed with him for the most part are not in this one!  And for anyone John disagrees with, he wrote a “Commentary” that corrects their misunderstandings.

I’m genuinely delighted to see this book in print because it really does put more of a human face on the origins and enables us to see a little bit more into the minds and hearts of the men and women who brought about the field of NLP.  It also highlights the cultural context of the early 1970s in southern California where NLP arose.  And yes, the book is one-sided in that it fails to deal with the darker-side of NLP- the conflicts, the lawsuits, the breakups (all of which John Grinder seems to deny or pretend does not exist).  All that he says in the whole book about that is “… there are severe issues with its [NLP’s] quality” (p. 220).  No kidding!  Only Stephen Gilligan alludes to this in a short paragraph on page 93:

” While the base of my experience was tremendously positive, the underbelly of 1970s NLP included an arrogant, “take no prisoners” contempt for all “outsiders” in which anybody and anything was fair game for ridicule. This antagonistic attitude seemed to deepen as NLP moved to an international level, culminating in a mid-1980s cacophony of lawsuits, criminal charges, bad mouthing, and other unpleasantries. The principle that the “map is not the territory” seemed altogether forgotten in such events, and NLP suffered as a result. Of course, you cannot speak about NLP in the singular anymore, as there are many different modes and forms.”

This lack of balance in the book strikes me as trying hard to put a positive turn on things so much that it fails to address much of the legacy that we have inherited in NLP- the disdain of much of Psychology and Academia for NLP, the negative P.R. that is prevalent around the world about NLP, why and how the early people in NLP did not engage in research or create an association that would “police” people misusing the technology of NLP, why and how they got into fights, divided, spoke ill of each other, etc.  All that will be for another book on the history of NLP.

The Six Months Delay of “Origins”

Originally, The Origins of NLP was to be released at the NLP Conference in London in November, 2012.  That did not happen.  Why not?  What happened?

Apparently, after getting the ten contributors to write their chapters, John Grinder didn’t like Robert Dilts’ chapter and ended up writing 25 pages of notes to correct Robert’s memory!  Robert wrote 25 pages to make up his chapter, Chapter 10 “My Early History with NLP,” but production stopped due to the 25 pages of corrections that John wanted to include.  I’m not sure how it was eventually worked out or who negotiated the truce, but in the end the “corrections” were not put into the text.  That only took six months to work out.

Well, I say not put into the text … from what I know, John apparently gave up on his position of keeping those corrections in the text after Dilts’ chapter as a “Commentary” chapter, and instead sneaked some of them into his chapter, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind” which is the longest chapter of the book-50 pages, a chapter that mostly rambles on and on.

The book has ten contributors- John Grinder, Carmen Bostic-St. Claire, R. Frank Pucelik, Terry McClendon, Judith DeLozier, David R. Wick, Byron Lewis, Stephen Gilligan, James Eicher, Robert Dilts.  All together John wrote five contributions, he wrote two “Commentaries” on what the others wrote and then a long list of “corrections” about things he disagreed with.  It was as if he could not help himself to let the contributors have their own voice-their own opinion and memory about things.  You can see this in his long introduction about how memory is fallible and undependable and how many of the things the others write about just did not happen!  Claiming it is his act of responsibility, he wrote, “It takes the form of a warning.”

Actually, two warnings:

1. A significant portion of what is described never happened!” (page 5)

2. Memory is selective and essentially incomplete!  (page 6)

The Origins of NLP is really a John Grinder book.  After all, together John and Carmen wrote 130 pages of the 253 pages of the book.  Fifty of the pages is in John’s chapter, then he wrote another 46 pages along with Carmen’s Preface and Epilogue of 35 pages.  And in doing so, they have essentially written Volume II of their book on Whispering in the Wind.1    Both John and Carmen quote writings in Whispering as if it were a sacred text that corrects all errors(!).

After his warnings, John fills the book with his biases about what “real” NLP is about.  Nor does John seem undaunted by his presumption of correcting others and putting them in their place.  Writing on page 16, he says:

“I take it as co-author of Origins, I have the prerogative to edit what the authors in this section have written.  At the same time, this requirement is to be balanced with the strategy that Frank and I have adopted for the presentation of the history of The Origins of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. More specifically, the strategy that we pursue here is to rely on the intelligence of the readers to assimilate the representations by different authors that diverge in significant ways and through some multi-angulation of these divergent descriptions from distinct perceptual positions to arrive at their own understanding of what occurred.”

The Value of the Book

Do I recommend this book?  Yes, it’s a very good book!  It is a valuable read for many reasons.  What you will discover are lots of historical facts about the earliest period: 1971-1972 when Richard and Frank were playing around with Gestalt Therapy.  The next period: 1972-1974 when John entered and they began using Transformational Grammar to model the language patterns of Perls and Satir, and finally 1974 and following when the Meta-Model was developed, used, and published that launched NLP as such.

You’ll discover that terminology of NLP- “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” came about in 1976 and that it was not until almost the end of the 1970s that the formatting of practitioner and master practitioner developed.  I especially enjoyed the chapters by Frank Pucelik, Terry McClendon, Robert Dilts, and Stephen Gilligan.  Their spirit and attitude of NLP reflects how I think about NLP and wrote in the book, The Spirit of NLP (1996).

What’s New?

The third co-creator of NLP!  This is actually the first work that fully identifies Frank Pucelik as “the third man” who played a co-creating role in the origins of NLP.  Grinder had mentioned this in Whisperings (2002) and I had written an article on Frank in my series on the History of NLP, and there was a interview with Frank in Rapport.  But mostly prior to this, there was very little record of Frank and his role in the origins.  In almost every history of NLP it is always Richard and John.  From now on, we will be seeing that “there were three who worked together and co-created NLP, Richard, John, and Frank.”

What’s also unknown to most NLP practitioners is that Frank and Judith DeLozier were married prior to moving to Santa Cruz; then after their break-up, Judith and John married.  During that time, Frank and Leslie Cameron dated and became partners (“life partners” to use his words from his chapter); this was prior to Leslie and Richard Bandler marrying.  Given that, I found it fascinating that Judith wrote a mere 4 pages for her chapter.  What she doesn’t say seems thunderous.  I wonder if there will be more forthcoming?

Frank’s chapter speaks about John, Judy, and Leslie going to visit Milton and something unspecified happening that led to he and Leslie to end their relationships and shortly thereafter Richard inviting (making a “request”) for Frank to leave.  Obviously there’s as much unsaid about all of that, so there’s much more of the story yet to be described.

NLP was born of some Encounter Groups.  This also is new!  The Origins of NLP highlights Frank’s role in first working with Richard doing the gestalt “encounter groups” and then inviting John into the experience to model the linguistic structure of what they were doing. From Frank also we learn that there were two original groups of people who brought about NLP, the first group, called “the meta people” or the “meta kids” by Frank, experimented with the encounter group format and helped developed the Meta-Model.  The second group experimented with the Meta-Model, Milton Model, Strategies, etc.  An interesting fact about these two groups is that none of the people in the first group stayed with the development whereas almost every single person in the second group went on to become the leading NLP Trainers, Developers, Thinkers and Writers.

A discovery that Origins reveals is that Kresge College itself and the experimenting pre-NLP groups grew out of the Encounter Groups.  John Grinder made this explicit in his chapter:

“The particular form used to develop this Living/Learning Community was a model of communication lifted from the National Training Laboratory called the T Group or sensitivity training. Originally a form of group psychotherapy, the T Group was adapted for non-therapeutic purposes: development of community, studies in small (8-15 members) group dynamics. Thus at a minimum of once a week for several hours (often, more frequently and with longer hours), T-Groups assembled (groups of 8-15 people, consisting of a faculty member, a trained T Group facilitator and a mix of staff and students.” (P. 173)

Now imagine that!  Today’s overly individualistic NLP field full of many sub-communities began as an Encounter Group!  It was created in the context of twelve to twenty people (as identified by Frank Pucelik in his chapter) experiencing “gestalt” therapy as practiced by Richard and Frank and later analyzed by John.  NLP began as a community!  How about that!?  In fact, in reading through the chapters of Origins I wondered many times about how the justice or accuracy in accrediting only the co-founders and not the community of people that they worked with, practiced on, and learned from as the full source of NLP?

The Cognitive Psychology Foundation of NLP.   Most of us have long known that the key personalities responsible for the Cognitive Resolution in Psychology- Noam Chomsky and George Miller were at the heart of the development of NLP.  This explains why “NLP” is usually put under the category of “Cognitive Psychology” in textbooks.  Interesting enough, John Grinder revealed something that I didn’t know that further establishes this connection:

“I had spent one academic year as a Guest Researcher at George Miller’s lab at Rockefeller University in New York City (1969-70) and had great respect for Miller’s work.” (P. 139)

Of course, John cannot leave it there or accept even this as he noted-

“I mention in passing that during this era and consistently since, I have refused the classification of NLP as a part of academic psychology. Academic psychology, at least as practiced in the states, is the study of the average performance and activities of people given certain tasks – a statistical approach to the study of human behavior. This was and remains the domain of psychology. NLP, in contrast, is the study of one of the extremes of human performance, the patterning of genius, the patterning of the most advanced performers available.” (P. 141)

Now for the Back Story – The Book is “a Severely Bad Idea” (John Grinder)

Now here is what you don’t know and will not read in the book The Origins of NLP.  In 2009- 2010 Wyatt Woodsmall and myself decided that we would collaborate together on a book on the history of NLP.  I asked Wyatt to work with me on the book because Wyatt was one of my original trainers in NLP and because of the high regard that I hold him in terms of intelligence and integrity.  After discussions with Martin Roberts, Wyatt, Terry McClendon, Frank Pucelik, Robert Dilts and others, my idea was to write a book and title it, In Their Own Words.

The book would be a collection of as many of the voices that we could get from those early days and we would do no editing.  We would collect the chapters, ask the contributors to write in the area where each would feel the most passion about their actual experience.  Then we would write some Reflections at the end of the book using some of our own experiences in the field of NLP.  So we made a list of all of the contributors, 25 or more and began to contact them.

Everybody I wrote to, or spoke with, thought that it was idea whose time had come and said in essence, “Great, let’s do it.”  I wrote to both Richard Bandler and John Grinder, both who immediately refused.  It was John Grinder who first wrote back and asked in a demanding way, “Who are these so-called ‘developers of NLP’?”  When I tried to relieve his fears by saying, “It is you, Richard, Frank and the others who were at the beginning.”  He wrote back declaring, “It is a severely bad idea” and he said he would have no part of it!  I wanted to know what led him to think that.  That’s when he became not a little bit rude with me.

“I personally think that you being associated with any representation of the history and origins of NLP is a bad joke.  From my own point of view, you writings -the only connection I have ever had with you – demonstrated a extremely limited grasp of NLP.  I had hoped that you would desist representing NLP so ineptly and would focus on the development of Neuro-Semantics – now you show up again, acting as if you are qualified to comment on the origins and history of NLP – events that you (and the majority of people you list as contributors) have zero direct experience of. So, I decline and I invite you to take a step back from this project.  I do not recognize any contribution you have made as being in the field of NLP and therefore find it ludicious that you would propose this book.” (Email, December 13, 2010)

Determine to not respond in kind I wrote back and commented that I was “stunned and disappointed” in his response.  “I had hoped for better.”  Then I wrote some words that I knew would be provocative and that in the mind of a mis-matcher would stir him up:

“The history will be told with you or without you.  I made the offer, I had hoped you were up to the task.  If you’d like to add a touch of Neuro-Semantics to sweeten your NLP, let me know.  I think it really needs it.”

I then ended my email as I do with everyone, “To your highest and best.” Within the next three weeks, many of the people who had agreed to write the book, In their Own Voice, wrote to me and said that they “had to back out.” They said that they were going to write their chapter now for John’s book. I smiled.  “Ah, I provoked him!”  He’s going to do a history book on the origins even though he thinks it is “a severely bad idea.”  Good.

The Origins of NLP -a fascinating book which provides wonderful glimpses into more of the history of NLP.  In the book you will get bits and pieces of a dozen or two human stories as it presents many of the men and women who initiated the beginning of the adventure that we call Neuro-Linguistic Programming.  You will discover that NLP was created by a community and in a community of people fascinated by personal growth and development.  And for me, that is the true spirit of NLP that we need to recover today.


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.  A student, researcher, and author of NLP since the late 1980s and author of over 40 books in the field of NLP, many of them best sellers in spite of what John Grinder thinks(!).  Some of the history of NLP has been written in the book, Self-Actualization Psychology (2010) and the series of 17 articles on the history of NLP can be found at  For “The Secret History of NLP” see Rapport and other journals as well as the Neuro-Semantic website.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.