Interview with Matt Caulfield about his take on NLP

8th September 2012

Matt Caulfield NLP TrainerTo give my website readers a bit more detail about myself, my history and my honest opinion about NLP, here is a short interview.

How did you get into NLP?

I came to NLP from two different directions that happened to dovetail in an amazing series of synchronicities.

I have been cursed with an enquiring mind and have never been able to not question what this life business is all about. It has lead me on a merry little journey studying science, philosophy and religion.

The other, rather less pretentious route was that I was incredibly unconfident, so I had taken up martial arts when I was 12 to try and boost my confidence. It never worked! I was as equally shy and geeky and nervous and insecure as I always was. It was only in 1998 when I took up Thai Boxing and my instructor Bob Spour (a rather infamous character!) introduced me to NLP that I finally found something that worked!

It seemed to be a bit of a panacea for me. Not only did it give an incredibly practical set of tools to change the way I acted, thought and behaved, it gave me tools to explore my own consciousness (and introduced me to some incredible characters such as Robert Anton Wilson, Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, to name a few).

What is your NLP training?

In 2000 (I used to tell everyone ’99, but on checking my certificate I found it was actually 2000, oops!) I finally saved up enough money to do my Practitioner training (it was what seemed the enormous sum of £699 + VAT), I was 23 at the time. After then I did my Master Practitioner in 2001 and my Training Training in 2003. All with McKenna Breen (the company that is now NLP Life Training).

After that I attended a lot of shorter course, including Michael Breen’s 5-day Hypnosis course, Introduction to DHE and one day events.

I stopped attending trainings some time ago as I was afraid I was becoming a bit of a “course junkie”, where I felt I “just needed to attend one more course…” before I got on with actually doing it (a very common issue)!

But I still watch as many DVD’s (for me they are often a little better, I can watch them at my own speed and rate and watch and re-watch. Not to mention the fact they are much, much cheaper!) as I can and read (and re-read) NLP books.

How did you start teaching NLP?

I never really had any plans of “doing” NLP for a living and was only really interested in it for personal development, but after finishing my Prac I was all wound up and excited about it and became a little evangelical, so I  would tell people about it and “do” it to people to demonstrate what it was.

That turned into people making requests like “Can you help me quit smoking?” or “Can you make Dave think he is a washing machine?”, that sort of thing. This turned into a little private practice where I charged £15 to friends and friends of friends. In 2001, after completing my Master Practitioner training, I decided I quite liked working with people, so I set up a small part time private practice. Mainly, I have to be honest, to practice my skills.

I had no real plan and no strategy so wasn’t inundated with clients, but I would work with anyone that came along, which ironically was somewhat of a blessing in disguise as I ended up working with an incredibly broad range of people and gained lots of experience using NLP with lots of different people, from phobias to sports performance, to a bit of entertainment (Derren Brown was just getting big). I did my Trainer Training, really, just to complete the set and with the Society of NLP you have to do a proper training (and video it) before you are a full trainer. So I teamed up with Bob Spour, who had been doing NLP for about 20 years all in all. This was, what I now consider my “apprenticeship” (although I wouldn’t admit to it at the time) and I worked with Bob practicing my skills until about 2006, when I ventured out on my own.

How did NLP affect you?

I genuinely cannot put into words how much NLP has helped me. It wasn’t a massive sudden revelation like some people have, but a gradual build (that is still ongoing) as I practiced and explored and contemplated it. Back in 2001 I was really floating on air, but it has settled down a bit now and the principles and methodologies of NLP are just part of me, so they tend to come through unconsciously in the way I behave. Often I don’t even notice that I am doing it until someone points it out!

And I am still doing it. I explore my beliefs about the world and about my capabilties and then develop some strategy to challenge that if appropriate.

What is NLP to You?

One of the things that I love and hate about NLP is that every “NLPer” you speak to will give a different explanation of what it is!

It is akin to a craft, like sculpting or painting in the way that every NLPer brings something of themselves to it.

I love that! But it does make the whole scene seem very muddled to an outsider.

NLP isn’t a thing. It’s  not real, it doesn’t exist. It is an idea, a concept, a model to filter “reality” through that can give us greater understanding and better choices in certain contexts.

It is also highly intuitive. If you try and box it into fixed “techniques” it tends to not work so well (which isn’t very helpful when trying to validate it! See my answer about science below).

A lot of people use NLP and Modelling in the same sentence. What do you think?

My understanding is that NLP is NOT modelling.  Modelling is a process (that predates NLP) that led to the model that is NLP (and other things). If you look, Modelling is never taught on NLP trainings and those that claim to teach modelling are only really teaching the strategy model (another model that comes from the modelling process). For some reason modelling and NLP have become intertwined which has led to a lot of confusion. I don’t teach modelling, I teach the model of NLP. Or, if I were to be more precise, the Bandler model of “Classic” NLP, rather than the Grinder model of “New Code” NLP or the Dilts Model of NLP, or the L Michael Hall Model of NLP…

Can you expand on that a bit?

Sure, I think it was Robert Dilts who said we now live in the “3rd Generation of NLP” where it is not controlled or developed by a single person or organisation and has several strands.

I use the analogy of Martial Arts, take Tai Chi for example, there are lots of different style; Chen, Yang, Wu, etc, they are all very different, but share a common core. This is like NLP nowadays, there are lots of different styles, they all share a common core, but have different bias, applications and ways of doing things. I think it is time we need to start saying what style of NLP we do, in much the same way that if someone says they do “Tai Chi” you need to ask what style.

What do you think of the current field of NLP?

To be frank, it is a mess. NLP is incredibly lightly regulated. This, on balance is a good thing. However this light regulation (and a variety of court cases in the 1990’s) has led to all sorts of people claiming to do NLP that haven’t got a clue, or very much experience at all, teaching it and using it. This gives NLP a bad name as these (I am sure very well meaning but) unskilled people make a mess of things and making spurious claims.

Like everything us humans do, it has been the victim of infighting, politics, power trips, egos and spats. Richard Bandler even jokes about this by borrowing a phrase from Discordianism and says “Us NLPers must stick apart” and once you are an NLP Practitioner you must immediately ex-communicate yourself from all other NLPers!

The irony of course is NLP is about communication and understanding other people and building rapport, but there you go.

Does NLP need to be more regulated then?

I don’t think we need more regulation in NLP, we need less! It seems to me that almost every day there is another supposed regulation body springing up claiming to offer the best, or worse, only qualification.

Lets just look at a list of just some of the supposed regulatory bodies out there (a brief internet search churned these out):

  • The International NLP Trainers Association (INLPTA)
  • The Society of NLP (SNLP)
  • The International Trainers Academy of NLP (ITANLP)
  • The Professional Guild of NLP (PGNLP)
  • The International NLP Association (INLPA)
  • The NLP Trainers Registration Body (NLPTRB)
  • The International Association of NLP (IANLP)
  • The Association of NLP (ANLP)
  • The Global Organisation of NLP (GONLP)
  • The American Board of NLP (ABNLP)

The fact is anyone can set up an NLP regulatory body. Most of these organisations are meaningless. They have been set up by a bunch of friends who seem to have done it for some egotistical reason. Basically, they have chatted to each other and agreed on what they think an NLP course should look like, and agreed to recognise each others courses as meeting the standards that they agreed on as a group. Just think for a second how ridiculous that is.

I jokingly set up my own body a few years ago with my friend Bob Spour and called it “The NLP Board of Control”, with the slogan “Because we are”.

OK, the use of an ambiguity is a bit of a nerdy joke, but I liked it (incidentally look at the ambiguity in one of those organisations above and ask yourself if you would trust them…).

But this does have a serious note, I can only imagine how confusing this can be for the newcomer and no wonder they get so confused and end up falling the rhetoric of some of these organisations.

That’s why, to me, you have to pick an organisation with some lineage, can you track it back to one of the original creative group (not necessarily to just Bandler or Grinder, but if you can that is a bonus)? That is why I tend to suggest people train with either an SNLP or ITANLP Trainer because at least they would have been trained and certified by one of the co-founders.

The issue of regulation is very important when it comes to people who intend to use NLP as some sort of therapy. I think there is maybe an argument for people who want to do this to have a more rigorous qualification that is more highly regulated, but people who want to use NLP for business or personal development for example certainly don’t need that level of regulation.

What do you think of NLPers?

Richard Bandler says he loves to teach NLP but he doesn’t like having lunch with NLPers. That’s clear an over-generalisation to make a comical point, but I think there is some truth there.  Michael Breen (who I consider one of the best NLP Trainers out there) is very similar, and so am I!
The thing is, you get idiots in every field, and NLP is no different. There are some excellent NLPers out there who are doing brilliant work and are lovely people, and there are some absolute idiots who are useless, egomaniacs and using NLP for some very nefarious and nasty reasons.

I just enjoy doing my own thing and wish everyone else doing NLP the best of luck in their endeavours, but I don’t want to hang out with someone just because they are into NLP. I don’t tend to use what people are into as a criteria of if I will enjoy hanging out with them. I look deeper than that. I always find it very strange when someone goes “oh I know someone into NLP you will get on with them” like having some small thing in common is deciding factor! In fact a lot of my friends think NLP is utter bunkum and think it very strange I do it!

The thing that gets me is the startling lack of originality or adventure in the field at the moment with people churning out the same old stuff. The number of NLP training organisation has exploded in the UK in the last few years, all offering identical trainings. How do the newcomers think they will set themselves apart? Do they really think the market is there for another NLP training company? (The answer by the way, is no). All they are doing is stealing work off each other. Which is not only stupid, but totally unethical and unbusinesslike behaviour. No wonder so many fail. The sad thing is they will probably take someone else with them. Which is totally unacceptable.

The only reason I do NLP training is because I am very unadventurous (well, the real reason is that when I started in 2003, there was a genuine gap in the market)! NLP is a massively powerful tool, do something cool and new with it for goodness sake, don’t just churn out the same old stuff as everyone else!!

What do you think of current NLP training?

As I mentioned earlier, NLP has exploded over the last 3 or 4 years, more and more people have become aware of it, especially in the corporate arena (I read somewhere that 75% of Bluechips are now looking for NLP as a core competency in their staff).

In one way, this is a good thing, it has increased the credibility of NLP and it has prompted lots and lots of research into the field that can only be a good thing.

But the downside is that this means there is now a glut of very inexperienced NLP trainers peddling their wares. This is not great. It means a lot of people are getting ineffective trainings. And, even though the market is saturate, still more turn up.

I had 6 years experience in NLP, working in a variety of sectors including running my own therapy and coaching business before I started teaching and when I did I worked with another NLP trainer as my “apprenticeship” as it were. These people seem to do start their NLP journey and in a couple of years (or in some extreme cases a couple of months!) are offering NLP trainings. Do they really think they are offering quality trainings with that little experience?

A lot of the “big names” who were very cool and very good seem to have left NLP behind at this time. Which is a shame. Especially in the UK there are not many long running training schools left and the majority of NLP training companies have very little experience (no matter what their marketing literature claims!), this means that a lot of people are getting training in NLP by people who hardly have any experience themselves, this cannot help the quality of the NLP being produced…

There seems to be this current “race to the bottom” with NLP at the moment, where companies are competing about who can offer the cheapest and shortest training, which just belittles NLP and means people wandering around with NLP qualifications don’t really know that much or have much experience.

So what is your take on NLP?

To try and offer it as pragmatic process, not some flouncy “new age” or “self help” process that it tends to be packaged up as. I take Michael Breen’s lead with this, he was one of the first people who has made it a pragmatic process and dragged it out of the “human potential” field (not that there is anything wrong with that, I am right old hippy!).

I had the compliment recently of running a training for an organisation who had suffered an NLP training in the past and found it to be (in their words) patronising and creepy (why they had chosen to do another training I really don’t know!), but were totally engaged by my approach and found NLP accessible and powerful. Which was nice.

I am very clear that NLP is not the be all and end all. It is just one of many, many options to explore the way we think and behave. It works very well in certain situations, but it is not the RIGHT or ONLY or BEST way (something a lot of NLPers claim which I think belittles the field).

Does it actually work?!

Yes! But it isn’t a panacea for all ills. It would great if it is was. It doesn’t work with everyone and not everyone is adept at using it, but on the whole it is very, very effective. To give you an example, I have gotten rid off a life long phobia for someone in 7 minutes! This was about 7 years ago and I still see that person on occasion and the phobia hasn’t come back yet. That is enough proof that it works for me!

Is it is cult?

There is no doubt that some NLP trainers can be accused of running cultish organisations, but to tar everyone involved in NLP with the same brush is crude and offensive. The people who run NLP cult like trainings would be doing that anyway, and if they hadn’t chosen NLP they would be using something else.

You have been quite critical of “Advanced NLP Techniques”, can you explain it more?

NLP as a model is actually very, very small and getting more streamlined the more it develops. How Richard teaches nowadays is much more streamlined than how he used to teach, he is constantly adapting and cutting out what is not necessary.

(This is why it is so easy to teach the core elements of NLP in such a short space of time, usually 6 – 7 days. Of course, once you have completed your training you need to practice a lot).

Any NLP technique is not NLP, it is not part of the original model, it is an application of that model. So the idea of there being any sort of “advanced” techniques is nonsense. There is the model of NLP and the techniques it has created. Some of these techniques may be better than others, but to call any of them “advanced” is purely a value judgement of the person who developed them.
There is no secret inner circle of NLP that you have be initiated into to learn the real juice. It is all there in the trainings, you just need to practice and apply it!

People who sell “advanced”  NLP techniques are doing so purely for marketing purposes, they are selling you snake oil.

The way to get good at NLP is not to try and find these mythical advanced techniques, but to practice the basics really, really hard.

Is NLP scientific?

I don’t really know what a “science” is. But by certain interpretations of the word, psychology is barely a science! If it is a science it is a fringe science. Which I like. NLP is and should be controversial. This does mean, however, you will sometimes get somewhat vocal critics of the field. There will always be people who claim something or other isn’t scientific enough to try and invalidate it. I am not overly interested in those sort of people.

There have also been claims that NLP is a pseudoscience, I don’t really see any evidence of this. A pseudoscience is something that uses scientific language to try and obfuscate and legitimise it. Now, some NLP training companies may make such spurious claims (but that is probably just marketing), but NLP as a whole does not use spurious scientific claims or use scientific lingo to try and make itself sound clever.

It is true that there is or was a lack of rigorous research into NLP, but this is (finally, after only 35 years!) starting to change.

Does NLP need to “scientific”, we seem to live in a strange world where if the keepers of the scientific flame do not judge something to scientific enough, it is somehow less valid. Which, if you take just a few moments to actually think about that, is rather absurd. Science is not the only (nor at times the best) way to gather information and legitimise something.

What do you think of Richard Bandler?

I genuinely think Richard Bandler is a genius. Would I want to hang around with him? Probably not. And I am not really into all that hero worship that a lot of people seem to do.

He infuriates me at times though. Particularly his attempt to take control of NLP in the 1990’s. I agree he should have attempted to take control (someone had to), but he left it far too late! There was a big backlash against Bandler’s attempts to take control of NLP, these people seemed to be saying, “we want NLP to regulated and controlled, we just don’t want Bandler to do it”! Why not him? He invented the field and has made many of the breakthroughs in it.

Who else do you admire?

In NLP I very much admire Michael Breen, I think he is one of the best and most straight talking NLP trainers out there. I also admire the way he has just got on with his own thing, he doesn’t hang around in that backslapping mutual appreciation that a lot of NLPers do. I also really like Doug O’Brien, particularly the way he has presented Dilts’ Sleight of Mouth in a simple and understandable way.

I also really like what Tom O’Connor is doing over at NLP Times. He does a lot of work with Michael Breen and is great at breaking down some of the more complicated areas of NLP and presenting it in an understandable manner. He has done some great NLP videos on Youtube (he does the really analytical stuff I love, but can never get round to doing. He does it so I don’t have to!).

Outside, but connected to NLP I am massive fan of Robert Anton Wilson, he really changed my life. I also admire Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, James Joyce and Austin Osman Spare.

What are you exploring these days?

After a period of real off piste exploration, where I have really wandered “off the path” I have returned to the source as it were and have gone back to the basics.

There is a saying in Tai Chi that there are no experts just beginners and slightly more advanced beginners. I have brought that attitude to NLP. I have spent the last couple of years going right back to the core of NLP and asked myself what it is all about. I have jettisoned the flotsam (think the Pareto Principle) and focused on what seems important to me. This has hopefully come through with how I have structured my trainings. I have spent a lot of time looking at the L in NLP, the Linguistics of it all, I have started by re-learning basic grammar and going through rhe

What next?

To quote someone famous “you gotta go there to come back” and nowadays I am interested in offering the best quality NLP training that I can. Nothing more, nothing less. I take my training very, very seriously and spend a long time practicing and honing it. I have a constant feedback loop and maybe I am a little overcritical of myself at times.

Over the last few years, I have spread myself rather than trying out new ideas, some stuck, some were utter disasters! So now I am just going to back to basics.

I am currently going through the process of accreditation with ILM (the Institute of Leadership and Management), so I can offer more robust qualifications to my corporate clients.

I really want to explore the idea of online delivery of information. I don’t think you can learn all of NLP that way, for that you do need to do a live training, but I think there are aspects that can be delivered really well online.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to learn NLP?

It is always difficult to give advice as it very difficult not to confuse advice with just opinion. So, my first bit of advice would be don’t believe anything! Question and test everything, and find what works for you. Avoid dogmatic or rigid “do as I do” techniques.

Other than that, I like to think of Gordon Ramsay from Kitchen Nightmares. The first thing he would do with an ailing restaurant was to cut the menu down to just a handful of items. Don’t overcomplicate things. Keep it simple!

Oh, and be careful not to let you ego get in the way…