The Validity of NLP Filters
by Tim Brunson, PhD
Our concept and sense of realty is limited and defined by how we filter our perceptions. The mental states that result become the instigators of our behavior. Therefore, in order to alter states – and ultimately behavior -- a person can merely alter their filters. This concept is the core of the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Communication Model (NLP is an often controversial rapid therapy system that was developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler in the 1960's. It has widely been embraced by the self-help and hypnotherapy communities, generating only occasional interest within the main-stream psychology arena.)
So what is a filter? Beliefs and values are prime examples. Someone who witnesses an act of compassion or cruelty will experience it much differently than others based upon their indoctrinated or rationally accepted ideas. In turn, they will precipitate specific emotional responses in the form of feelings and emotions. This will then result in action or inaction.
Another category of filters discussed by Bandler and Grinder are called Meta-Programs. These generally define how a person sorts and categorizes perceptions. For instance, ask a person about a life-changing event and one individual will describe the event in relation to where they lived and another by date and time. Others will tend to self-sort as they describe events chiefly in relationship to themselves. If they sort by others, they will inform you who else were involved and what the event meant to them. These are only a few of the Meta-Programs that are traditionally taught to NLP Master Practitioner students.
The two main benefits of studying communication filters are in regards to facilitating transformation and assisting in the modeling of ideal behavior. When addressing transformation I am referring to altering filters so that an individual can improve their state of happiness – to include addressing a wide range of mental pathologies – improve their health, and move them closer to self-actualization. Modeling refers to the act of replicating the behavior of one person in another. For instance, the first person may display an excellent ability to spell words. The goal would be to identify the filters used by the first person and install them in the second. The use of NLP techniques to facilitate modeling behavior is one of the main reasons that it became a very big component of the Human Potential movement of the latter years 20th century.
The challenge for any NLP practitioner is finding effective ways to modify filters. In fact, one overwhelming characteristic of the field is its vast array of rather simple – and highly effective – interventions. Understanding that the relevance of a filter resides almost entirely with the internal state created – which is to say the meaning (i.e. understanding) that is created, the goal is not necessarily to change the filter, but to change the associated state. I find that, as states are essentially limbic patterns that are activated by filtered perceptions, just about every traditional NLP intervention works in reverse. They change the behavior associated with the state. This then may result in an alteration – or reframing – of the filter and thus create transformation. Getting someone to change their posture or real or imagined actions changes their state and challenges the role of their filters. Once the filters are changed, future perceptions are processed somewhat differently.
Much of NLP theory was derived by the study of the work of Milton H. Erickson, MD. However, his objectives were often somewhat different that what Grinder and Bandler ultimately intended with their techniques. He would use somewhat confusing linguistic patterns to challenge dysfunctional mental patterns. The NLP developers would recognize the same linguistic patterns – which are commonly characteristic of particular limiting belief or value – and seek increasing clarity in order to affect a change in a dysfunctional filter.
Although I firmly believe that the field of NLP is overdue for a major relook and revision, its major premises remain valid as ever. Modern findings in the fields of neurology and artificial intelligence to a large extent validate basic NLP theory. On the other hand, when these rapidly unfolding discoveries are applied to the theory, it is easy to see how some of the concepts and terminology can be improved. (This is being done during the development of Advanced Neuro-Noetic HypnosisTM.) Nevertheless, although I still see a major value in the pursuit of formal NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner training, competency in basic NLP concepts and interventions must be a minimum requirement for anyone involved in coaching or behavioral or mental health clinical practices.
The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD's and MP3's.
There are no comments for this entry.[Add Comment]