We like to measure new things against things we already know. Many of us have concrete experiences with, or at least some knowledge about, therapy, coaching and/or spiritual direction. How does NLP compare? In what ways is NLP like these modalities, and how is it different?
To start with the most common of the three, therapy and NLP have many things in common. Both are intentionally therapeutic—bringing a kind of healing. NLP, though, tends to focus more simply on “change.” It points us toward our desires rather than back towards our problems. (In this way, NLP has much in common with Appreciative Inquiry, for those of you familiar with that way of thinking and working.) As I have already written, NLP sessions begin with “What would you like?” rather than “What’s wrong?”
Also like therapy, most Marin-style NLP will spend time considering the meaning and impact of childhood experience. We don’t do this in a morbid exploration of lousy pasts; rather, childhood is where we received the initial safety patterning that causes our suffering in the present. Change requires a return to the “official story,” and the client may be surprised to discover the meaning of their story changing as NLP has its effect, releasing the client into a preferred future. The past is not something to overcome or even resign oneself to; even the worst past has resources for which the client is looking to experience their most strongly held life desires.
Regardless of whatever suffering the clients’ current problems may be causing them, in NLP we gently insist on respecting the person who has created this present and so creatively sustained it for important reasons, over time. Every session is two hours long, and NLP makes it possible for the client to experience some concrete and appreciable shift toward their desired state (even though deep belief-based changes can take longer to unfold). Usually, there is great clarity about the goals, the process, and the way it is unfolding. Problems rarely persist for years in NLP work, and the client has a good picture at all times about what is taking place, within a session and over a series of sessions.
So, how about coaching? Many coaches turn out to have NLP training because it can be so useful in achieving immediate goals. NLP and coaching are focused on the behavior and experience of the client, with a persistent invitation to the client to make powerful and life-changing choices to manifest their desires. Not much lolly-gagging in NLP or coaching!
Nonetheless, a full NLP session is different from most coaching, which remains at the level of conscious cognition in the present moment: What are the specific conscious choices a client can make to move toward what they want? In contrast, Marin-style NLP acknowledges that most of the patterning that has kept us stuck is unconscious; if that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t be stuck, would we? The choices we are seeking to influence are the unconscious ones, and NLP generally functions at that level. As a result, unlike coaching, NLP doesn’t ask for “homework” or intentional behavioral changes from the client. We assume that the changes that are taking place for a client are in a deep and somewhat hidden place or likely not at all, even though the manifestations of that change are conscious and concrete. (With this, we have a great deal in common with our Jungian colleagues.) Because of this, some of the traditional content of psychoanalysis is interesting in a Marin-style NLP session: dreams, “Freudian slips,” metaphorical stories, etc. These tell us what the unconscious is up to, and where powerful interventions can be made.
Finally, for those of you with a religious background, what about spiritual direction? Does NLP offer anything to people seeking to grow in their spiritual lives? In my article on Respect, I wrote that every NLP session begins with the question “What would you like?” The answer can be a response to a painful present state that we don’t like, or it can simply be a desire for something new or more than what we are experiencing now. A deepened spiritual life, an understanding of one’s vocation, and growth as a spiritual person with respect to one’s religious tradition are all powerful desires to bring to an NLP session, and full of potential. Beyond that, though, NLP is essentially an experience of “discernment,” sensitive to how spiritual desolation teaches us about the life we would prefer not to live, and in what ways desire and Life Itself (in Carl Buchheit’s words) are wanting to take us forward.
A great NLP session offers the best of these three approaches, but can also be much more. I invite you to experience a taste of this in a free twenty minute consultation. Contact me to find out.
Leslie Nipps, NLP & Change Work Practitioner
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