John Grinder is a contemporary linguist who co-created Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Professional Life

John Grinder, Jr. was born in 1940 and studied psychology at the University of San Francisco. After serving in the Army during the 1960s, Grinder took a job working for a United States Intelligence Agency. He continued his education at the University of California, San Diego and earned his PhD in linguistics in 1971.

Upon graduation, Grinder accepted a teaching position at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). He began exploring Noam Chomsky’s theories of grammatical deletion and syntax. During his time there, he worked with Paul Postal and Edward Klima, focusing on integral semantic elements and syntactic construct.

While at UCSC, Grinder met Richard Bandler, a psychology student. The two worked together, examining the teachings of Fritz Perls, Milton Erickson, and Virginia Satir. They eventually expanded upon the theories of these influential psychologists and published their theories in multiple versions of The Structure of Magic. They continued to develop their own theories, which ultimately led to the creation of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Bandler and Grinder eventually parted ways, and Bandler sued Grinder for the right to continue practicing and teaching NLP. The two continue to train practitioners, though they have not worked together since the 1980s. Grinder established the International Trainers Academy for Neuro-Linguistic Programming in collaboration with his wife, Carmen Bostic St. Clair, and Michael Carroll.

Contribution to Psychology

Neuro-Linguistic Programming posits a connection between neurological processes and argues that working on this connection can help to alleviate psychological symptoms. NLP practitioners aim to model helpful life skills, and they claim they can undo many common psychological ailments, including phobias, depression, and anxiety. The specific methods used in NLP are a tightly guarded secret, and the specific methodology changes periodically. Grinder refers to his original model as classic-code NLP, and he and his wife have expanded upon the original model to develop new-code NLP.

Both versions of NLP rely on principles of hypnosis and persuasion and are often taught and practiced in a group setting. The basic format of NLP requires a practitioner to gather information and establish a rapport with the client, then to work on understanding the client's specific goals. The NLP leader or therapist pays close attention to the client's nonverbal cues and attempts to lead the client's language and nonverbal behavior using subtle cues. The NLP therapist then attempts to help the client change internal and linguistic representations of the world, such as those of problems and emotions. The client is then encouraged to mentally rehearse the changes he or she wants to make by envisioning his or her future or picturing a conversation going the way he or she wants it to go. 

Criticism and Controversy

Numerous empirical studies have failed to validate NLP methodologies, and some researchers claim that NLP is a pseudoscience. One central critique of NLP has been that it uses vague and unclear language and processes, making it difficult to determine what is actually happening during an NLP session and challenging to describe the process. In addition, the heavy commercialization of NLP has been the source of much controversy.

Despite its tenuous standing in the scientific literature, NLP remains popular with the lay public and in pop psychology.