April 6, 2015
It’s Not Southern California!
You undoubtedly know that NLP began in Southern California in the 1970s. Unfortunately, that says a lot about it, doesn’t it? Things were changing culturally in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s and changing radically. The best thing was the Civil Rights Movement as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others led for a recognition of equality under the law, a promise which he noted in his famous “I Have a Dream!” speech in Washington DC., had been made, but not fulfilled. The Civil Rights Movement began to actualize that promise. There was also many other movements during that time urging for equal rights for women, minorities, etc. There was also the Human Potential Movement (HPM) which eventually gave birth to NLP. Those were the days of the Vietnam War, a war that became increasingly unpopular and unacceptable as the years progressed. Those were the years of the counter-culture movement of hippies, of free love, exploration with drugs, rock ‘n roll, and more.
Right in the midst of all of that, NLP arose. It arose at the University of Southern California, Santa Cruz and many of the early developers protested against the Vietnam War and some were even strongly into the drug scene. It was the spirit of the times. All of this was also at Esalen, which at that times, was the headquarters of the Human Potential Movement, where in the 1960s Perls and Satir lived and where, in the 1970s, Bateson would move to, and died, as the Scholar in Residence.
Then when NLP burst onto the scene as a new psychology in the late 1970s, dozens and then hundreds of Training Centers arose all over the United States. The first and probably most successful one was NLP Comprehensive in Boulder Colorado that Steve and Connaire Andreas created. When I discovered NLP in 1986, there were multiple Training Centers in every major city in America. Then 1995 occurred. That’s when the Bandler Lawsuit threatened the field of NLP naming eight individuals and 200 “John Does” to a ninety-million dollar lawsuit. In this lawsuit Bandler claimed to “own” NLP and own the right to control who taught it and who did not. [See the article on the Lawsuit in the series on the History of NLP, www.neurosemantics.com.]
Over the next five very long years as the lawsuit continued, one NLP Association after the other in the USA disbanded, Training Centers closed down, Trainers changed careers, and others continued doing what they had always done just under a new name. Now while Bandler lost his lawsuit in Feb. 2000 with NLP being declared in Public Domain and himself owing the former President of the Society of NLP, Chris Hall, $650,000, the damage had been done. By that time, there were no Associations left in the US, and within another year there was not a single Journal left, and 95% of all Training Centers closed.
This explains how, and why, NLP barely exists today in the USA. It is coming back. New Training Centers have started up and trainers from other countries are coming to America to do NLP Practitioner courses. But it is slow. Meanwhile, NLP which got a much healthier start in the UK and Europe has continued to grow and evolve. Most of the strong negative publicity about NLP in the USA does not exist. Also, to a great extent, NLP was established by professional, ethical, and well-trained business people, who then set up Associations, and so NLP has thrived in those countries. In Europe one new branding of NLP is NLPt — Neuro-Linguistic Psycho-Therapy which has been diligent in establishing research and getting it accepted by various European Countries as a legitimate psychotherapy. Today, in contrast to America, there are hundreds of Training Centers in Central Europe, the UK, and the Scandinavian Countries. And NLP is exploding in the former Soviet Countries, in the Asia Pacific Countries, and now beginning in the Arab countries.
NLP has long been in Australia and New Zealand, in many of the Latin American Countries, and in various countries in Africa, especially South Africa. It is growing everywhere. In most countries there are Associations although everywhere NLP Associations typically have challenges and difficulties thriving. Why? Probably because of the overly strong emphasis in NLP on individualism. It was there from the beginning having come into NLP from the HPM. And it was demonstrated ruthlessly by the original developers who quickly could not, or would not, get along with each other.
All of this now leads to the question: Where now is the heartland of NLP? It is certainly not in the USA and not in Southern California. Today if you want to see where NLP is the strongest and most well-developed— it is Europe. While it began in Southern California, it can no longer be said to be a “Southern California” thing. The hippie element has been greatly reduced although there’s still the ever-seductive presence of New Age thinking that hopes for near-magical formulas for instant health, wealth, success, and happiness(!).
Yet NLP has been growing up. We will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, and there’s a special event planned at Santa Cruz this August to recognize this. Increasingly NLP is being represented by University Professors and Researchers and today it is much more quiet in its PR as it informs Business Consultants, Executive Coaches, and ongoing training in the Communication Arts in Organizations around the world. Are there people still misusing it? Yes, of course. Anything powerfully effective will naturally lend itself to misuse, abuse, and distortion. Yet even that seems to be less and less. Further, there is lots of good things happening in the field one of which I’m involved in— the NLP Leadership Summit.
What is the bottom line? NLP is now mostly a European phenomenon rather than a Southern California phenomenon. So if you want to take a good look at NLP, what it is, what it stands for, how it is presented, what it is being presented for— Look that NLP in Europe!
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.