What is NLP?

NLP stands for ‘neuro-linguistic programing’. In my early drafts of Understanding Erotic Hypnosis, I described NLP as a linguistic art. But a beta reader commented that he’d never seen my definition for before. That forced me to go back and look up books I haven’t read or even seen in over 20 years. Turns out my personal definition of NLP has drifted considerably from the original.

So what happened, and what is NLP really?

My History with NLP

I first discovered NLP through discussion boards and web sites devoted to Ross Jefferies’ Speed Seduction techniques. Jefferies marketed NLP as a ‘scientific approach to picking up women’. His high pressure sales tactics and hyperbolic claims immediately marked him as a huckster. But lots of other hypnosis enthusiasts swore by NLP. So I went to the library and checked out Frogs into Princes and Trance-Formations.

Unfortunately, these books were transcripts of live seminars. These books were so poorly organized and written, I only manage to learn one thing: the authors, Bandler and Grinder, had studied the techniques of Milton Erickson and developed a model to explain how they worked.

I went back to the internet and searched for examples, and I found plenty. Well, that’s not exactly true. I found lots of NLP enthusiasts explaining and demonstrating the same double binds and sensory evocations over and over. (I still see these same examples on many web sites.) I also observed many hypnotists using these techniques in chat rooms and private chats to begin consensual non-consent hypnosis sessions.

The chat rooms felt like an online craft fair. Everyone learning to use the same techniques  — the same building blocks — to create their version of the teacher’s wicker basket.

I did the same thing with my first few hypnosis scripts. Breathe for Me includes a double bind that I copied verbatim from another web site. And the first two minutes of Hypnotically Seduced is derived from a sensory evocation I found on a Speed Seduction site.

At some point I picked up a copy of Handbook of Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors, which was more of the same. Although much better written and organized, this book was also collection of ‘tried and true’ techniques. All the NLP practitioner had to do was select the metaphor that met their goal and insert it into their script.

Erickson was the Master, and all of us who followed him merely craftsmen applying his techniques to our craft.

When I developed my definition of art, I realized that Erickson was an artist. If an artist is someone who creates as a way to develop their mind and engage in personal growth, then Erickson was a master artist. Although he spent more time helping others with their personal growth, he developed linguistic techniques that now help millions of people engage in self-directed growth by reshaping their subconscious conceptual models.

So naturally, in my book I defined NLP as follows:

NLP is a linguistic art that people use to reshape their subconscious conceptual models and engage in personal growth.

Unfortunately, this confused my beta readers. They’d never seen that definition in any NLP book or web site. They recommended I replace it with a more widely accepted definition. But for that, I had to go back to the books I haven’t seen in 20 years.

Definitions of NLP

Actually, I first checked Wikipedia, which says:

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a pseudoscientific approach to communication, personal development and psychotherapy, that first appeared in Richard Bandler and John Grinder‘s 1975 book The Structure of Magic I.

That definition didn’t match my experience at all. Besides, it looked like an emotional overreaction to Bandler, Grinder and Jefferies claims NLP could work miracles. I couldn’t use it in my book. So then back to the original source.

The Structure of Magic describes a meta-model, i.e., a model of how people process language and sensory inputs to create internal representations of the world and their experience in it. This meta-model also includes linguistic tools for eliciting positive changes in people’s mental models to help them live better lives. Although the neither the term Neuro-linguistic programming, nor the acronym appear in the book, these tools have since evolved into what we now call NLP.

While modeling is a valid scientific method, it’s hard to say if the authors used a truly scientific approach to creating their model. They definitely did NOT use a scientific approach to promoting it. Reading Frogs Into Princes and Trance-Formations, I felt like I was reading transcripts of seminars given by P. T. Barnum, and I was unable to find a definition in their books that I could quote.

Continued research led to a more recent book on the topic, Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Protocols For Change: An Instruction Manual for the Clinician by Patricia Casner. This author defines NLP as follows:

NLP is the study of how we process information received through our senses to form internal representations.

— Patricia Casner

Finally, a definition that I could quote; except that I couldn’t, because my book is about erotic hypnosis. And this definition doesn’t  fit my observations of the way erotic hypnotists uses NLP.  We do use NLP language patterns to modify internal  representations, but we don’t study them, at least not scientifically.

My beta reader offered the following:

NLP is the detection, utilization, and transformation of subjective human experience.

— Chris Dunkley, NLP Trainer

This is fairly close to my personal definition, but not exactly the same. Erotic hypnotists rarely engage in the ‘detection’ part, focusing on transformation. And this still leaves open the question of whether NLP is a science, pseudoscience, an art, or a craft.


My original definition of NLP as a linguistic art still seemed like the best way to describe how NLP fits into erotic hypnosis. But, my beta reader suggested, presenting my personal definition as fact would likely generate a lot of criticism and make me look foolish. So I decided to downplay the definition and just discuss a few of the most commonly used patterns.

So what is NLP? Is it a model, method of study, an art, or a craft? I think this depends on how you use it.

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