In 2010 I began writing a series of Meta Reflections on the History of NLP — and that is what you will find in the following articles. These appeared on the international egroup of Neuro-Semantics — Neurons (

Here are the first ten of the Meta Reflections. More will appear later as they appear on Neurons.

This is not a formal history. They are my reflections about the history — where we have been, what the field of NLP has been through, stories of the origin, and so on. Why? Because if we don’t know our history, we may be doomed to repeat it. I think Henry Ford said that. So the purpose is to learn— to learn from our history and use that information to forge a much better future for this field.

The field of NLP offers so much and yet is in danger of losing the opportunity to make a tremendous difference in the world. To be the change and offer the change that NLP can, we who love the models and want to use them to make a difference in our world need to rise up to a new level of collaboration, professionalism, ethics, and respect. I offer these Meta Reflections in hope that we can live the models that we love.

From: L. Michael Hall
Meta Reflections 2010 – #31
July 12, 2010
History of NLP Series #1


As you probably know, I began exploring some of the pre-history of NLP a few years ago and discovered The Secret History of NLP in 2005. And at various conferences I have playfully said, “It is a secret history that Richard Bandler and John Grinder don’t want you to know about.” At other times I teased saying, “And they don’t even know about this secret history.” What I didn’t know was how true that has turned out to be.

Recently I went back to re-read John Grinder’s Whispering in the Wind to look for any indication that he knew or had any awareness of the relationship between Maslow, Rogers, the Human Potential Movement, Esalen, etc. to NLP. And what I found not only confirmed what I’ve been saying, but goes further. Even today John Grinder does not know about this history! Apparently he hasn’t been reading my books!

What is the evidence? From his own words, here is some:

On page 2 of Whispering he makes a list of therapies and he lists “self-actualization” which he keeps separate from what he and Bandler were doing in NLP. He also mentioned Aldous Huxley (p. 26) without indicating that he had any awareness of his role in the Human Potential Movement (HPM). He mentioned that Bateson was at Esalen and refers to “a lecture taped at Esalen Institute just before Bateson’s death, available through Esalen” (p. 115)

Then he distanced himself from Maslow, the HPM, and Self-Actualization Psychology when he wrote the following which like his jabs about myself and Robert Dilts, he here does to Maslow:

“Relax, Maslow, there is no full realization of human potential, only an ascending spiral of differences and change.” (315)

So while Grinder knows about Esalen and Maslow and Self-Actualization, and even that Bateson was at Esalen, and speaks about them in a general wa, he does not, even to this day, demonstrates any awareness of their historical significance to NLP. He does not seem to know that Bateson, Perls, and Satir worked together at Esalen and that it was from the context of the Human Potential Movement that NLP arose. Perhaps he was, and is, too close to things to have that expanded historical perspective.

In fact, here’s my analysis of all of this. I think that at the beginning Bandler and Grinder was so close to the idea of picking up the linguistic distinctions of Perls and Satir (and later Erickson) that they never really stepped back to ask, “What’s this all about? What is the larger frame? What unites Perls and Satir?”

Historically they simply stumbled upon the strange “effectiveness” that resulted when Richard was mimicking Perls in his “Gestalt Class,” which surprisingly led people in the class to change and transform. Richard simply thought it was funny getting people to hallucinate a mom or dad into a chair and yell at them. So they began trying to figure out what was the structure of this “magic.” Their focus was on the details, and since both were reductionists, or as Grinder admits, “minimalists,” they looked down to the tiniest of distinctions like eye-accessing cues and sensory- specific linguistic distinctions. They never looked up.

And without looking up, they didn’t even ask “What is Perls and Satir doing that’s similar?” They only asked for differences, “What are they doing that’s different from everyone else?” This was theiroriginalgenius—mismatchingfordifferences. Andbyfocusingonsuch,theyfoundsome very unique distinctions that now make up the foundations of NLP. Yet without the balance, they also missed something that was right in their face— the Human Potential Movement which could have given them a big why and tie them (and hence NLP) to the HPM.

Yet the result of their mismatching was that they pushed away from everything and everybody else working in the field of psychology and psychotherapy as this sought to create their own unique field. You can see this pushing away from everyone else in all of the original NLP books. And it is still starkly evident in Whispering where John has to mismatch his earlier self, Bandler, and a great many leading NLP trainers in the field today. Several unfortunate things resulted from this— one being the inability to define what NLP is. Of course, it is most fundamentally a Communication Model, yet it is also a form of psychology, and a field of modeling.

Yet because Bandler and Grinder were so driven by mismatching for differences, they could not, and would not, connect with all of the sources that define and position NLP: Gestalt (Perls), Family Systems (Satir), Cognitive (George Miller, Noam Chomsky), General Semantics (Alfred Korzybski), Anthropology (Bateson) or the Human Potential Movement (Maslow, Rogers, Huxley). So that left NLP out in the cold, alone, disconnected, and without a history.

Yet NLP does have a history— a history that goes back many, many years prior to Bandler and Grinder. As with every movement, it grew out of the ideas and passions of the time and “onthe people on whose shoulders they stand” (even if Grinder has expressed dislike for that phrase!). NLP’s history goes back to the very fields and people listed above and most of all, it goes to the movement that Maslow initiated as he pioneered a paradigm shift in psychology from the sick side tothehealthyside. And that’s why we have made Self-Actualization Psychology thefoundation of Neuro-Semantics and to that extent, re-discovered the fuller history of NLP.

[If you were there at the beginning, 1972-5 or in the 1970s or early 1980s and have some NLP history to share, send to me at]