How Did NLP Originate? [History Explained]

How Did NLP Originate? [History Explained]

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If you’ve recently discovered NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), you’ll be interested to know where it originated.

The history of NLP itself is incredibly rich, and if you’re planning to understand and learn more in this field fully, then knowing more about its history is vital. 

NLP often gets disregarded as a form of pseudoscience, with critics often stating that there is a lack of empirical or scientific evidence to support many of the claims made.

However, with a deeper understanding of the history of NLP, you’ll soon see that it is much more than a mere pseudoscience. 

So, to learn more about the origins of NLP, as well as an explanation of its history, this guide will take you right back to the very beginning of NLPs development. Let’s get started! 

What Is NLP?

If you’ve only recently encountered NLP, then chances are you’ve heard very little about it, so allow us to explain the field in more detail, so that you can understand exactly what it is all about. 

NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and is a form of approach to personal development and communication, as well as psychology.

The foundation of NLP is built upon the thought that there is a natural connection between both our neurological processes, our communicative processes (language), and our learned behavioral patterns.

Ultimately, NLP is believed to be able to help make changes to all three of these things, which will result in more success in both personal and professional areas of life. 

Practitioners of NLP state that it is able to help a wide range of different issues that can affect someone’s development, including phobias, depression, psychosomatic disorders, tic disorders, as well as learning disorders too.

There is also the idea that NLP allows you to form skillsets of people who have been considered “exceptional”, therefore allowing you to model yourself after them. 

There are a number of different practitioners of NLP. It is commonly used by hypnotherapists, as well as personal development companies, or run seminars for businesses or agencies to help the progression and learning of their employees. 

As previously mentioned, as it stands, NLP is still very much considered a pseudoscience, especially since it still lacks any solid empirical or scientific evidence to support its claims.

However, this does not mean that NLP is fake or ineffective in any way, just that the effects NLP can have are unable to be proven through scientific testing. 

So, now that you know a little more about what NLP actually is, it’s time to take a closer look at how NLP originated all those years ago, so that you can understand the full purpose of NLP!

The History Of NLP 

The first mention of NLP came from the book “The Structure Of Magic I”, which was written by the founders of NLP: Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

However, their inspiration for this approach took inspiration from two areas of thought that were developed and formed during the 1950s and the 1960s, as well as other minor influences from across the 20th century too. 

The first area of thought which is central to the formation of NLP is cybernetics, especially the work done by Gregory Bateson.

Cybernetics was focused on providing something of a view on how many systems were organized based on the feedback that was developed throughout the 1940s and 1950s. 

The other area of thought which helped to form NLP was the work done by the Palo Alto Mental Research Institute during the 1960s, which also had involvement from Gregory Bateson.

This research institute was pushing the emphasis on the pragmatic nature of human communication, as well as the ideas of constructivism, which explains that since people cannot understand what we know as “reality”, we base our actions and thought-processes based on what we “construct” as reality instead. 

Both the self-help and the human potential movements were also hugely influential on both Bandler and Grinder’s work towards developing the thought area of NLP, and the latter movement is what actually caused the two to meet in the first place, so without it, it is very unlikely that NLP, as we know it today, would simply not exist. 

The human potential movement of the 1960s mainly stemmed from the Esalen Institute founded in 1962, which involved two prominent psychotherapists: Fritz Perls, and Virginia Satir. 

When Perls died in 1970, it was Bandler who was asked to transcribe his work in order for it to be published posthumously, and as a result of this, Bandler enrolled to study at a radical experimental alternative education college called Kresge College, where John Grinder was an assistant professor. 

After the release of their first instalment of “The Structure of Magic”, the human potential movement had been transformed from a movement into an industry, and ultimately provided NLP with the perfect market for its ideas, and NLP was then transformed into a self-help and developmental business tool, and NLP began to expand further and further as a number of psychotherapists began to subscribe to the area of thought.

As a result of a dispute between Bandler and Grinder, NLP and Neuro-Linguistic Programming are now terms that are not trademarked as intellectual property, and because there is also no official regulatory body for NLP certification, it means that anyone is able to certify themselves as a practitioner or trainer of NLP. 

NLP has also been applied in a number of different ways since its inception, with some people believing that it can be utilized as a form of alternative medicine, used to help treat conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, and HIV/AIDS.

Of course, NLP was never intended to be utilized as a form of alternative medicine, and is not something that either Bandler or Grinder believed in, but this is likely due to the fact that it is no longer a trademarked IP, allowing people to throw the term around without consequence. 

NLP’s main use is in Psychotherapy, and although it has come under heavy criticism for much of its history, is still in practice today, especially with the revival of the self-help movement towards the end of the 2010s. 

If you’re going to seek out an NLP practitioner, it’s important to ensure that they are considered reputable, with plenty of feedback from clients who have used their services on a regular basis, as the lack of a regulatory board makes it easy for people to utilize NLP as a marketing buzzword. 


There you have it, the history and origins of NLP.

The history of this practice and thought area is certainly a messy one, which is why many people don’t investigate it much at first, however, it provides a great insight into the inspirations and influences on Bandler and Grinder, and how they were able to come together to create “The Structure Of Magic” I and II in the first place.

So, we hope that this history guide to NLP has been able to help you understand more about NLP, and thanks for reading! 

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