NLP and Clean Language: The Historical Links

JR: "Clean Language may not be “NLP in disguise”, but the two approaches to personal development have shared roots.

David Grove is on the record as saying so to Penny Tompkins and James Lawley in 1996. Apparently he said: ''My first association with NLP was back in 1978. At first I wasn’t interested in the therapy side, I really wanted it for business. One time I went along for an NLP business workshop and they said “Oh I’m sorry, not enough people have showed up, you’ll have to join the other group.” So that’s how I first became interested in phobias and trauma.'

Paul Scheele told me he knew David when they were both studying NLP, and shortly afterwards – I think this would have been in Minneapolis. He said that David threw himself into learning with huge energy and determination – he took a psychotherapy degree in super-quick time, for example. Paul remembers David being fascinated by people’s personal metaphors, even then.

And, David certainly made a very comprehensive split from NLP. By the time his only book (co-authored with B.I. Panzer) was published in 1989 he was describing himself as having done “considerable work with Ericksonian and strategic family therapies”, but his bio doesn’t mention NLP. In the immediate aftermath of his death, I was asked by his ex-partner, Cei Davies Linn, to remove references to NLP from his online obituary on the grounds that they were not true, and that he had never had anything to do with NLP.

Reconnecting Clean and NLP

When Penny Tompkins and James Lawley met David in 1994, they were deeply embedded in the NLP world – for example, they ran the London NLP Practice Group which existed at that time. Penny had a very profound experience at one of David’s workshops and the couple set out to model (in an NLP sense) what he was doing. By their account, he was initially very reluctant to be involved.

caitlin walker:
"In terms of the early years, I’m no expert.

I therefore think that Clean Language – as many people are teaching it and are using it today will have NLP influences in many aspects of their practice and in their delivery.

Also whatever David’s connections with NLP while he was developing Clean Language, he spent a lot of time hanging out with NLPers while he continued to develop it and the wrangling and wrestling that we were all doing will also have had an influence along the way.
I imagine Cei will know a lot and might share more of her thoughts there are others around in those early days who may well remember more."

Corrie van Wijk:

"From what I learned about NLP and Clean Language, the difference is that NLP uses models and clean questioning is tailor-made. David strived for a scientific approach and resented NLP. Having said that, NLP might be more close to neuroscience than any other approach, but at the time psychology was not as biological than it is now.

With Emergent Knowledge he tried to follow a scientific line."