Have you ever heard of Neurolinguistic Programming? More commonly referred to by its acronym, NLP, this body of knowledge has incredible resources for therapists. Still, you may be more familiar with its use in coaching or as a tool of influence and persuasion. You may have already seen NLP connected to many different types of work.

This is because NLP essentially helps us to understand the mental process. From this understanding, multiple results can be sought, depending on the objective of the applicator. So, don’t be surprised if you see professionals who use NLP to teach English, lead teams or even to cure a “craving for chocolate”. Neurolinguistic Programming is really versatile!

But among all its applications, NLP therapy has a special glow. I remember when I first saw NLP used to cure a phobia. I was just a student on the NLP training course. One of my colleagues volunteered for the demonstration: she had a phobia of geckos; just talking about the fagots made her face twist in terror. The trainer gave him half a dozen instructions and, in less than 5 minutes, the technique was finished. My colleague even looked confused. She no longer felt that paralyzing sense of fear, while thinking it couldn’t have been that simple. But it was really simple! And it’s the simplicity that makes NLP great.

All this is because the person produces a limitation due to the way his mind works. In this sense, what NLP does is use the person’s mental strategies to solve the problem. 

First of all, what is NLP?

The definition of NLP is not very simple to make, exactly because of its multiplicity of applications. A good first step may be to understand the elements that make up this acronym: “programming”, “neuro-”, and “linguistics”. The union of these three areas forms a model for understanding the mental process. Let’s see the influence of each one:

  • Programming: This is the part of NLP associated with systems theory, the global and systemic understanding of events, as well as the formation of structures that work as rules, composing our mental programming. It relates to internal rules that determine how we perceive the world, our actions, relationship styles, etc.
  • Neuro: Refers to how our neurology processes information and how our perceptual system works to apprehend and shape reality. In addition, it concerns how the use of our perceptual and neurological systems interferes with the expression of ourselves.
  • Linguistics: Addresses how language is used in our representations and how we can use it to understand elements buried in someone’s unconscious.

NLP, therefore, is a method of understanding mental models. The basic premise consists of the fact that, from reality, we form representations. Thus, Neurolinguistic Programming determines the understanding of the world from our neurological systems, that is, the interpretation of information in the light of our programming and the communication about this representation, from our language. This relationship of acquiring information and forming representations will determine how we will act in our multiple contexts. So, the name NLP defines a dynamic process through which we interact with reality, form mental models, and behave. 

NLP was born out of therapy

This systematization of mental models did not come out of nowhere. It was based on the understanding of neurology, systems of perception, linguistics, communication, sociology, anthropology, etc. NLP drew resources from biology, the humanities, and even mathematics. But not everyone knows that NLP was born from the observation of therapists.

In the late 1960s, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, respectively a mathematician and a linguist, joined forces to understand how the human mind works. They sought this understanding in the workshops of great therapists of the time, such as Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir, and Fritz Perls, among other great names.

All this observation and this study culminated in the structuring of a methodology that allows describing how our mind processes information. Although many areas have been involved, the birthplace of NLP is in the therapeutic context. 

Magnetism, bioenergetics, hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming are examples of integrative therapeutic practices. 

A “wild card” for the therapist

NLP is an impressive tool in its versatility. It can be added to any therapeutic style, and there are many possibilities when considering the use of NLP as a complementary technique. His way of mapping the mental process helps the therapist to be more assertive, going straight to the focus of his client’s pain. In addition to assisting in understanding the problem, Neurolinguistic Programming helps in resolving the conflict. Even when she is not the main technician in the work, she directs and assists.

This multifunctional characteristic of NLP does not mean that it needs other therapeutic techniques to work. Students who have training in NLP have the tools to fully start their work as therapists. NLP brings a working method to its scholars, at the same time that it presents a series of techniques to work with conflicts, from the simplest to the most complex.

Neurolinguistic Programming, therefore, allows a professional to start his work and can also be fragmented, to be used by other professionals. Its application encompasses therapeutic work as well as serving as a complementary therapy in several areas. Therefore, just as it serves those who work directly with people’s minds, NLP is a very useful therapeutic resource for medical professionals, physiotherapists, dentists, social workers, and speech therapists, among many others who need, in some way, to understand the individual integrative way. 

Can anyone learn NLP?

Learning NLP is possible for anyone who so desires. This is the prerogative of one of the co-creators of NLP, Richard Bandler. This is because Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a resource that should be part of our basic education, that is, everyone should know how this technique works. In fact, in some places like Holland and Portugal, this understanding forms part of school education! So, there are no prerequisites for learning NLP; it is not necessary to have higher education or any prior knowledge.

This is an aspect that makes NLP even more interesting. That is, it is a high-level knowledge, which reaches great complexities of our mental process, but at the same time, such technique has a logic that simply translates the mental process and can be learned by anyone. 

Training in NLP

There are many ways to learn the practices and assumptions of NLP. However, the best experiences happen in NLP training, which can be divided into three levels:

  • NLP Practitioner: Learning NLP philosophies, basic techniques, and the general functioning of our mental process. The participant learns to apply NLP in multiple contexts of life.
  • Master in NLP: In this training, the theme of modeling is addressed – modeling is the name that NLP gives to its mapping method. It is about using the knowledge acquired in Practitioner in NLP systematized to understand the mental processes and strategies that each one has to perform skills and to form conflicts. The participant concludes the course by mastering the method to understand and systematize mental models.
  • NLP Trainer: Training for those who want to teach NLP. It involves a deeper understanding of NLP, not just to teach the content, but to lead students through the transformation needed to understand and implement NLP in life.

To act as a therapist, the Practitioner and the Master in NLP are very useful. There are also many NLP application courses, that is, classes directed towards a theme, with NLP strategies, techniques, and knowledge formatted for a specific objective. They can be a good way to acquire specific knowledge or to have first contact with Neuro-Linguistic Programming. 

NLP is versatile

When it comes to putting NLP into practice, multiple formats are possible. NLP is like the “clothes that go with everything”! Professionals who already work in a therapeutic line often bring NLP as a complementary therapy. It is a therapeutic “wild card”, as we have already discussed.

Therefore, this association of NLP with other lines can happen with a lot of flexibility. The perfectionism of using the entire methodology all the time is not necessary. That’s because NLP can be used in full, in part, or just in some details. The therapist can then use one or a few of the tools, or use the entire toolbox.

Some professionals integrate NLP completely into their line of work, mapping methods and techniques that they already apply in their routine. Others only use this methodology to understand the conflict and, still, some use only some of the techniques to increase their performance.

On the other hand, some therapists use NLP as an integral methodology in their work, that is, all their care is based on Neurolinguistic Programming. This possibility also brings excellent results, as NLP is sufficient as a therapeutic line. Its methodology and techniques allow the understanding of mental models and the resolution of important conflicts. This means that the professional who works exclusively with NLP can work on all kinds of therapeutic issues.

Another possible therapeutic format is to specialize in one technique and work with clients whose issues are within reach. There is also the possibility of working with only one type of conflict, for example, weight loss. In this way, the therapist determines stages of the work and chooses NLP elements that will enable the success of the sessions. 

More and more clients prefer NLP

There are several benefits to therapy. Whichever line of approach, introspection, and review of one’s processes are extremely beneficial. In this perspective, NLP has been more and more sought after, thanks to its speed, as it goes straight to the point, focusing on the client’s objective. This is explained because analytical therapeutic techniques seek to deconstruct the puzzle of the client’s life and put it back together, fitting all the pieces, while NLP aims to find the specific piece that is missing.

There is a fallacy in many therapeutic areas that says that the client’s change always happens slowly, and that changes in our systems, beliefs, and behaviors necessarily need time to happen. Changes can, yes, be time-consuming, but that’s not a law. On the contrary, NLP results tend to be quick. Most of the time, the client leaves the session considerably better off than he was when he entered.

Speed ​​is only possible due to the assertiveness of NLP, since the focus is completely on the client’s objective, which makes Neurolinguistic Programming “surgical” in its performance. The NLP practitioner learns to distinguish between relevant processes and irrelevant processes, and this greatly shortens the work time.

In addition to all this, the NLP method allows an understanding of the mental process like no other. It’s as if we were accessing the client’s code base, the programming behind the conflict, as well as its resources to solve the problem. Once the process is understood, the chance of getting the resolution right increases greatly.

All these reasons are enough for many people to choose NLP, but it also has another great advantage: the process does not depend on content. This means that the customer does not have to tell every detail about himself; it is possible to work with trauma without having to reveal the details of what happened. Therefore, as many people stop looking for a therapist for fear of needing to tell the stories of their past, NLP therapy presents itself as a very important resource in this type of issue. 

Magnetism, bioenergetics, hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming are examples of integrative therapeutic practices. 

A different service

NLP, by nature, is very irreverent. Your approach to the person’s conflict is often innovative for the client. Questions like the ones described below are common in the session:

“How do you manage to have this conflict?”;

“What is the problem with having this problem?”;

“What is the importance of changing this?”.

Simple questions like these often lead the customer to reflect on their key issue in ways they never thought possible before.

Above all, NLP has a lot of respect for people’s mental processes. Some assumptions determine this, starting with the idea that the mental process is wise and understands very well what it is doing. So, when a person has a conflict and finds it difficult to achieve what he wants, this happens because he disrupts his natural process. For something like this to happen, the person must have had to adapt to some very difficult context. Therefore, conflict is always the result of an attempt to regulate the individual’s system. It is up to the therapist to reveal this process.

While Neuro-Linguistic Programming has all this reverence for the client’s process, it also demystifies the seriousness of the conflict. This is because the problem is often treated as something very serious and heavy. NLP, then, has a way of showing that all this gravity is not necessary, as Carlos Drummond de Andrade said in the poem: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. Thus, it is very common for laughter to be as present as tears during NLP sessions. 

What results to expect

Normally NLP will resolve your issues in up to 10 sessions. That is, hardly a client leaves a session without having at least a small improvement. Even when the change happens only in understanding oneself, or in the relief of discussing their problem without criticism or accusations, the person always leaves with more resources than when they entered. Therefore, NLP is an excellent driver for client outcomes.

“Your problems are imaginary; the solutions should be too.” This iconic phrase by Richard Bandler, co-creator of NLP, is very enlightening about how this technique works. This is explained because people build problems into their mental representations. As an example, this construction can be done in a straw house or a brick house. Regardless of the complexity of the conflict, it’s just a representation.

In this sense, the results of NLP happen from changes in this representation. Therefore, the therapist who applies NLP can expect rapid and noticeable changes. You can try it now:

  1. Think of an unpleasant scene from your past. I recommend that it not be a trauma, a horrible memory. Select a memory of something inconvenient, an annoyance, etc.
  2. When remembering, you are expected to produce an image. Look at that picture. That must be uncomfortable.
  3. Now let’s make some changes to this scene! Try each of the following variations. If something goes wrong, go back to the initial configuration.
    • Change the distance: move this scene away from you, throw it far away; check if there is relief when doing this;
    • Change location: place the image behind you, left, right, in front. Think about putting it in the past and then leave it in the most comfortable place;
    • Change the point of view: if you are seeing the scene from within, take it outside. See it as if you were in a movie theater and the scene appeared on the screen;
    • Change the color: try leaving the image in black and white;
    • Add a soundtrack: play music in the background. You can choose whatever music you like, to make the image more comfortable, but also try playing circus music in the background.
  4. Check how you feel about this image now.

Changing such elements usually gives at least a little relief. See how amazing this is! We are making a change in its representation, a change that is perceptible and replicable in other memories, even in other people. I, who am writing, do not know what your representation is, nor do I know anything about you. Even with all these obstacles, it is still possible to produce change!

NLP systematized the mental process and, with that, made it possible to access human representations. The truth is that we can execute highly complex processes, but our brain is very simple. It makes changes easily when we can use the logic inherent in it. In this sense, it is reinforced that NLP is not magic: it just knows how simple conflict resolution can be. 

Kátia Lima has been a trainer in NLP for over 15 years, she works teaching courses and assisting people. Graduated in Veterinary Medicine, she uses the knowledge she has in these diverse areas to help people see the world differently. She believes that people have all the resources they need to reach their goals, just help them find the way.

Magnetism, bioenergetics, hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming are examples of integrative therapeutic practices. 

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