by Rachel Hott, PhD
Source: The NLP Center of New York

1. Describe your experience, training, and/or expertise in the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
My first experience of NLP began in 1981 when I was assisting a non-verbal communication researcher with her library. On her shelf was a copy of Frogs into Princes, by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. I read the book and found it to be fascinating. At that time I had a Master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy and I was very interested in experiential learning and non-verbal communication.

I attended my first three-day NLP workshop in 1981 when I was 26 years old. I studied with Anne Linden , Frank Stass, Robert Dilts and David Gordon at The New York Training Institute for NLP (NYTNLP). As I began to go to NLP conferences, I had the opportunity to also study with Steve and Connirae Andreas. At NYTNLP I took my practitioner and master practitioner training in 1982-1983 and continued in the trainer’s training program which meant that I attended two 26 day practitioner and two 26 master practitioner training as an assistant, plus I attended all of the hypnosis and metaphor trainings offered at that time.

It was during my training experience that I met my husband, Steven Leeds. L.M.H.C. Steven is also a certified NLP trainer who began studying NLP with Richard Bandler and John Grinder since 1979. Steven and I created the NLP Center of New York in 1986. Since that time we have been working with clients/couples and families, as well as leading practitioner, master practitioner and Ericksonian hypnosis courses. From 1986-1996 I led NLP workshops for the American Management Association titled “Building Better Work Relationships and Achieving Professional Excellence”. These workshops were three-day NLP and Self-Esteem training sessions for business professionals. Also during the 80’s I was the northeast representative for the National Association of NLP (NANLP); now known as the International Association of NLP (IANLP). Steven was one of the founding members of NANLP.

In 1997 I went back to graduate school and earned a PhD in Clinical Psychology from The Union Institute, and became a New York State Licensed Clinical Psychologist. In 2006, I attended the Milton Ericksonian Foundation for advanced training in hypnosis. Steven and I have also had extensive training with Dr. Stephen Gilligan (one of Erickson’s students). I regularly attend professional conferences in NLP/Hypnosis and psychotherapy. I currently co-direct The NLP Center of New York with Steven Leeds. I lead practitioner, master practitioner, Ericksonian hypnosis, Core Transformation and supervision groups. My private practice is with individuals and couples. (More detail in question # 3).

2. How long have you been practicing NLP?

I have been practicing NLP for 25 years.

3. How do you use the principles of NLP in your current position? What issues and age groups do you work with?

I find that I regularly rely upon the NLP principles; “Every behavior has a positive intention,” “Everyone has the resources they need,” “Communication is the response you get no matter what your intention” and “There is no such thing as failure only feedback.” I consistently use and refer to these NLP presuppositions when working with individuals as well as when I am leading groups. For example, when a client wants to get rid of a symptom, I will refer to the principle, every behavior has a positive intention. We then discuss the positive intention of that symptom and find ways to maintain the positive intention and change the behavior. For example: a smoker wants to stop smoking, and the positive intention of the behavior is to make him feel like part of a group. We then work together to find ways for them to feel like part of a group without cigarettes. The ages of my clients have ranged from 15-85 years old. The issues have ranged from severe depression, stuttering, stopping smoking, weight control, lack of focus, anxiety, job loss, job transition, marital infidelity, couples counseling, family relations, addictions, post traumatic stress, goal setting, athletic performance, sexuality, etc.

4. What is a typical NLP session like?

An NLP session will be dependent upon the client’s knowledge of NLP. Many times individuals call up for an appointment because they have read an NLP book and they are interested in trying out a session. Other times individuals are referred to the NLP Center of NY but do not really know anything about NLP. So a session will depend upon the client.

This is usually how my sessions develop. I typically schedule a 60 minute session, although sometimes a longer session is warranted. In the initial meeting, I am working on developing rapport, paying close attention to the client’s overall style which includes mirroring their posture and gestures, matching their tone, tempo and volume, backtracking their key words and phrases and listening for their representational preferences in either the visual, auditory or kinesthetic modes. While clients typically want to talk about their problem, I will guide them in clarifying what they want, getting them to describe their outcome as well as discovering what is stopping them (how they are stopping themselves).

As I hear their outcome I ask questions to get a well-formed outcome. A well-formed outcome will be stated in the positives, be measurable, be within their control, be ecological and defines the context(s) where the change is needed. When they discuss their problem I am also listening for their strategies, how they think, how they behave and how they feel. As I am listening, I am beginning to ask myself what would be an appropriate NLP technique to use.

For example, one client talked about his low self-worth. He had not passed the bar exam and was feeling very badly about himself. He wanted to feel better about himself and gain confidence to take the bar exam again. I decided that the Change Personal History technique would be most appropriate for him. So after he described his outcome, and his present state, I suggested that there was an NLP technique that I thought would be beneficial for him. I led him through the technique. We ended with a brief discussion about the process, and set up an appointment for the following week. This would be a way a typical NLP session would occur. On occasion an NLP session may only be one session, especially if someone is coming for a habit control session, i.e. stopping smoking. In regards to that specific client the Change Personal History technique was very effective for him. He did take the bar exam again and did pass.

5. What do you think are the most important benefits of NLP?

As an NLP trainer and a hypnotherapist and psychologist I think there are tremendous benefits both in the training and therapy room. I believe that when people learn the technical skills of submodalities, mirroring both verbally and nonverbally, criteria identification and utilization (sleight of mouth), acquiring meta model questions to gain better understanding and create more specificity, develop anchoring tools, learn reframing, swish, change personal history, strategies, reclaiming personal history, aligning perceptual positions, phobia model, association, disassociation, meta program patterns, time line, belief change, logical levels, modeling and all of the NLP principles, they are developing life skills that will benefit them both personally and professionally. These benefits include creating a healthy relationship with one’s self, healthy relationships with others, gaining rapport easily, developing listening skills, creating emotional state regulation, forming appropriate boundaries, changing habits, being more resourceful, and having access to a joyful and meaningful life.

6. In your experience, what are most people looking for from NLP?

What people are looking for in 2010 and what people were looking for in the last decade, the 90’s and 80’s has changed. Initially it seemed that people were looking for a way to transform themselves and the world. The students were looking for ways to understand themselves and to be more resourceful in their relationships. Although people today are still looking for skills of self empowerment, we have observed that there are more and more people looking to use NLP in making career changes, becoming life coaches, NLP consultants, motivational speakers as well as supplementing their existing skills in the current work. During our free previews we will get more questions about how individuals can use NLP in business, specifically in sales and in trading. In our classes, we get a wide range of professionals: mental and physical health professionals (including personal trainers, physicians, chiropractors, psychotherapists, life coaches, hypnotherapists, body workers, nutritionists, dentists) as well as lawyers, IT professionals, artists, interior designers, bankers, realtors and athletic coaches. In individual sessions what most people are looking for is a way to be comfortable with themselves, to be a peace with their internal dialogues, to have healthy relationships and/or to manage their anxiety.

7. Do you personally use NLP? If so, what effect has it had on your life?

NLP has become an integral part of how I approach life. I have been practicing NLP since 1982, using it’s principles to creatively and resourcefully responding to challenging situations, managing my internal dialogues and reframing what may initially appear to be negative circumstances. In 1997 when I had breast cancer I used many NLP techniques to help me cope with the chemotherapy and radiation treatments. When I was studying for the NY State licensing exam I used the memory strategy techniques. NLP is an ongoing part of my life’s work. It has had a very positive effect on my life. I believe that I am a happy balanced person. When I get sad, angry, anxious or fearful, I am able to feel my feelings and find a way to move through them. I believe that NLP has given me the tools to maintain my balance with grace.

8. Is NLP more effective in personal relationships or professional ones? How can it be of use in either or both situations?

NLP is a communication technology that can be used for intrapersonal and interpersonal interactions. It is effective for both personal and professional relationships. One of the NLP principles, “The meaning of your communication is the response you get, no matter what your intention,” is very appropriate in both of these contexts. Our NLP students are taught to pay close attention to the responses they get in both their personal and professional lives and develop flexibility in their communication style to get the response they are seeking in all contexts. When students come to the practitioner and master practitioner training they come for both personal growth and professional development. On many an occasion a student has taken our training to further his career development only to discover its benefits in the way he relates to his family. The training is full of practical examples of how to be the person you want to be, do what works, and have a fulfilling life.

9. What do you find is the most effective way to build and use rapport?

The best ways to build rapport are to backtrack and nonverbally mirror. When you backtrack another person you listen to their words, which can include the sensory representations, visual, auditory, kinesthetic as well as key words and criteria. For example, if someone describes his day and says, “ I had a great day, everyone was smiling at me and I felt like I was controlling my destiny.” The backtrack would highlight that they “felt great”, that they noticed other’s “smiles” specifically directed at them and that the sense of “control” was a great feeling. When you backtrack you are letting the person know that you are paying attention to them. When you are genuine and truly listening, you are able to establish rapport easily.

In addition to your ability to backtrack, you can also utilize nonverbal mirroring. This natural way of establishing rapport has been seen when parents get down on the floor to play with their babies, when cultures ritualize their dances by being in the same rhythm or when dance/movement therapists mirror the breathing of catatonic patients. In an NLP training, we practice paying attention to the person’s form of communication not just the content.

The form includes; tempo, volume, tone, pitch, breathing rate, breathing location, movement, stillness, facial expressions, gestures, postures and again the sensory language used. After identifying the form, the skilled NLP practitioner finds a way to respectfully mirror another individual as opposed to mimicking him.

10. How are NLP and hypnotherapy related?

When the developers of NLP modeled Dr. Milton Erickson, they learned about his use of presuppositions, language patterns and style of interventions. As the practitioner and master practitioner training curriculum were formalized all of these presuppositions, language patterns and interventions were incorporated. The NLP principles “Everyone has all of the resources”, “There is no failure only feedback” and “Every behavior has a positive intention” were ideas that Erickson believed and practiced. His interventions included; going back to find a resourceful memory, going back in time and visit the younger self, reframing the patient’s way of thinking and using metaphors to indirectly communicate important ideas. All of Dr. Erickson’s contributions to NLP were modeled by Bandler and Grinder and then incorporated into the NLP training curriculums. Perhaps what is most important is to understand that hypnotherapy, specifically Ericksonian hypnotherapy is a process of helping someone become deeply absorbed inwardly. Ericksonian hypnosis is a cooperative relationship between the client and hypnotist. When an NLP practitioner or master practitioner is practicing specific techniques the Ericksonian hypnosis is the foundation of those techniques.

11. How much of NLP do you find to be intuitive? In other words, once you become familiar with the principles, do you find less need to seek formal patterns?

When learning NLP, I was very conscious of listening to people’s language, paying attention to their body language and identifying their meta program patterns. I found the concept of conscious competence to be very helpful, trusting that eventually I would become unconsciously competent. After these 25 years of practicing I do find that there are times that I hear the patterns quite easily. I remind students that the patterns that are most obvious will be the ones to pay attention to. For example, when suggesting a new idea to a co-worker, if this co-worker typically says no, or has a strong negative reaction to any idea, then it becomes obvious that this person has a polarity response and this would be the first pattern to work with. The NLP person would know to say something like, “You probably won’t like this idea.” Typically this flips the person to responding more positively. I think that it is worth taking the time to practice and know that some patterns will be easier to identify than others. Over time, with practice, the conscious competence becomes unconscious competence. Communication is multileveled and we cannot consciously pay attention to all levels at the same time, so in the training we teach each distinct level and work towards integration on an unconscious level.

12. There are several books with hundreds of techniques and patterns available. What basic NLP patterns of techniques do you believe to be the most important for those new to NLP to learn?

Yes there are lots and lots of skills and techniques. To effectively use any of the techniques, it is very essential to know the following; integration of the NLP principles (presuppositions), practicing of nonverbal and verbal mirroring, distinguishing between sensory based observations and interpretations, observing and utilizing eye accessing cues representational systems, and criteria, incorporating the Meta Model and the Milton Model as part of your ongoing communication, developing well-formed outcomes, practicing submodalities, building resource states and practicing self-anchors, practicing Sleight of Mouth patterns (verbal reframing) and Meta Program pattern identification and utilization. For me the most important NLP techniques include the Six Step reframe, Swish, Change Personal History/ Re-imprinting, Strategies, Phobia/ 3 Step Disassociation, New Behavior Generator, Reclaim Personal History, Metaphor creation and presentation, Aligning Logical levels, Belief Change, Core Transformation, Aligning Perceptual Positions, The Allergy Technique, Time Line and Modeling. There are many more techniques that could also be added. After we teach techniques to our students, we encourage them to be creative with their skills and discover how to, like a chef, mix different ingredients together. The techniques are like recipes, yet they must be changed to fit the individual.

13. Do you tend to use the Meta Model or the Milton Model and why?

Yes both the Meta Model and the Milton Model are regularly used in the training classes and in individual sessions. The meta model is an excellent way to gain understanding, obtain more specific information and learn more about the person’s map. Another name for the meta model is the precision model. An NLP trained person is using the meta model as a way to ask questions to gain more specificity and better understanding. The Milton Model patterns are also used regularly to indirectly communicate to a student or a client when doing NLP techniques. The Milton Model patterns are examples of hypnotic language that help the individual to have access to their unconscious and inevitably to realize solutions, through creative explorations. It is typical to speak to a client and suggest that they already are relaxed (a presupposition) or that they can remember a time when they were relaxed (an embedded command).

Both the Meta Model and Milton Model patterns help the NLP practitioner/master practitioner guide their clients to a greater understanding of their present state and desired outcomes.

14. How critical is anchoring to the NLP process? Explain.

There are lots of unconscious anchors already set up in our lives. If you walk by a store and hear the Beatles song, “Yesterday,” it may take you back to a time in your life that has some specific meaning for you. If it does, it is an anchor. In NLP, we create conscious anchors by determining what inner states, resources, are needed in specific situations. If the client/student has determined that when they are with their family they need patience they will learn how to associate into this state, either by selecting a memory of patience, modeling someone with patience, or acting as if they have patience. Initially, a client or student will learn to self-anchor with a unique stimulus, for example, two finger pads pressed together, saying a word like, “patience,” or having an image represent patience. Ideally the stimulus, the family, would become the anchor and then when the client/student was with the family the patience resource state would automatically be present. First we practice by setting up a conscious anchor, and eventually the anchor becomes part of the unconscious process. Anchors that trigger both positive and negative state are always around, but they are often unconscious. In the NLP training, we become aware of these triggers. The goal is to have a real emotional “choice” in responding to people and situations

15. Who do you believe can reap the most benefits from using NLP?

Since 1986 we have worked with thousands of people from all over the world. Anyone coming to a training course or an individual session with an open mind, wanting to learn, remaining curious, willing to make mistakes, and being available to feedback will greatly benefit.

Whether you are someone who has never attended a personal development workshop before or you are a more seasoned learner, who has been to many different workshops and has sought self-improvement in an on-going way, there are vast benefits.

16. Do you feel that people need to work with a certified practitioner or can they use NLP principles on their own?

Many people upon entering a training or working with an NLP practitioner have previously read about NLP or watched NLP videos, but realized that they are not getting the full benefits or understanding. In attending a NLP course or working with an NLP practitioner, they become fully engaged in a transformative learning environment that makes it personally compelling, getting individual attention and immediate feedback. Participants in our training consistently remark that the experience of being in a live training, observing numerous demonstrations, being guided through each process, working with others and receiving sensory based feedback from the trainers and fellow students significantly increases their learning.

Many times when people call for information they say that they have read the NLP books, and have tried a technique but for some reason it hasn’t worked. We encourage them to come in to have an experience with a class or session because we know that we can lead them into a deeper more profound experience. While there are some people who have reported getting a rich experience from reading, we find the majority do much better when attending a class or session. In attending an NLP training or working with an NLP practitioner, you get to learn skills and develop competencies that you can continue to experience and use on your own.

17. What are the best resources for NLP information?

The Internet is full of NLP sources. Our students are always updating us about what is available. We have found that one of the most helpful sources is the “NLP Encyclopedia” by Robert Dilts and Judith De Lozier. There is also a group called the International Advanced Society for Health (IASH) that is an offshoot of NLP and specifically focuses on health. 18. How do you respond to criticism of NLP and reports that it is not supported by science?

In regards to the research, I do agree that the scientific research is lacking, and I recognize that it is more about the individual’s experience than whether there is a study saying something is proven. However, there is a research committee in the NLP community called the NLP Research and Recognition Project, headed by Dr. Frank Bourke. It is Dr. Bourke’s mission to get more research into the NLP community. His first project is to establish an NLP protocol for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

19. Is there anything that I have not asked that you wish to share?

Many people ask Steve and me what it is like to be an NLP couple. We met while studying NLP; we developed the NLP Center of New York and we raised our two children who are now in their 20’s. Our ability to communicate, to pay attention, to seek clarification, to be flexible and to take in feedback has been essential in developing and maintaining a healthy and empowering personal and professional relationship. There have been many times when in the middle of an argument, we will ask ourselves and each other, “what is our outcome?” while also paying attention to our form of communication. Yes we argue, and yes we get angry, but we do not devolve into blaming or disrespecting each other. We take responsibility for what and how we are communicating, express ourselves and move on. Our NLP training has helped us to acknowledge our outcomes and communicate more specifically about our needs. There are times when we both have been criticized by our children, who will say something like, “and you teach communication!” Then we listen for their feedback to move things forward. Like all families we have our challenges, however, we do have a respect for our family’s intentions and the overall belief that each of us is doing the best he can and that they have the resources to do even better. Our recommendation for couples is to learn how to backtrack, listen more effectively, be resourceful and maintain a sense of humor (a very important resource state).