Last week I was lucky enough to attend an event with Frank Pucelik, one of the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Frank Pucelik isn’t a name that normally springs to mind when people mention NLP and there are plenty of sources suggesting that the original founders were just John Grinder and Richard Bandler, Frank begs to differ. In this event Frank shed some light on what really happened and along the way he shared some really interesting information about how NLP came to be. What follows are my resulting notes and memories from the event in London.
The evening started with an informal interview of Frank by the event host, Michael Carroll from the NLP Academy. Frank shared his background and how he had gone from school to joining the Navy. This was around the time of the Vietnam war and he was posted to Japan where, aside from his navy medical training, he had the chance to play what sounded like more than his fair share of golf. Unfortunately for Frank he was posted to Vietnam after completing his training and the resulting jungle experiences certainly took their toll. From Frank’s perspective the US Military returned their bodies to America, but it did nothing for their minds (As evidence of this Frank shared the alarming statistic that 57,000 US soldiers died in Vietnam while a further 65,000 US soldiers committed suicide in the 10yrs immediately following the Vietnam war!!!). Frank studied at college before dropping out and focusing on Gestalt Therapy while working with students affected by drugs at UC Santa Cruz. He had some very interesting stories to share in his role helping people come down off drugs like LSD.
Frank and Richard Bandler met and used to run a group of students who were interested in Gestalt Therapy. Due to Frank’s connections at UC Santa Cruz he was able to arrange class rooms on a regular basis. Between Richard and Frank they managed to become extraordinarily good at Gestalt Therapy and the group grew and grew. In Frank’s words they were just really good at copying… errrr modelling… people. And those people included the likes of Fritz Perls and Carl Rodgers. One day John Grinder was to start observing these Gestalt Therapy group meetings. For the first few weeks he just sat at the back of the room, quietly observing. Then after a few weeks he approached Frank/Richard with a truck load of questions. At this stage Frank/Richard were just doing what seemed to work, but John was interested in the thinking behind their behaviour and started to get really specific on how they were making it work. Essentially, John Grinder brought their conscious awareness to what they were actually doing.
Frank talked about how Frank and Richard had an extraordinary ability to copy people successfully, but it was John Grinder’s involvement that lead to the creation of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Frank was really clear: NLP would never have happened without John’s input.
So thanks to John Grinder they started developing NLP or, as they called it originally, Meta. They set out to figure out: How do people who are really good at something do it? They found that beliefs played a huge part in what was achievable. One story I enjoyed was how they would reach stumbling blocks, or problems they couldn’t work out a solution to. They would then go to a group of students and tell them they had worked out how to do it and they wanted to see if they could work it out also. Then they watched the students figure it out and they wrote down what the students did! It is amazing how the belief that something is possible could lead others onto finding the solution so easily. Some of the stories he shared definitely needed the label ‘Do not try this at home’. At one point he explained how they split a large group of participants into five smaller groups. They then sent a hypnotherapist into each group and told each hypnotherapist what they were to do, but each hypnotherapist had to do something different and they didn’t know what the others were doing. Then 10~ minutes into the session they went into the room, took the hypnotherapist out (with no warning) and moved him into the next room where he was to continue working on the tranced out people! Frank said it really pushed his skills to the limit but they learnt so much from experiences like that and I can see why!
They had a small group of John, Richard, Frank and approximately seven others. The seven others sooner or later split from the group (Approx 1973/1974) leaving just Frank/Richard/John. Frank called them, including the seven, the first generation. While the seven personally gained huge amounts for themselves from their involvement, they did not go on to share the fame that Richard and John were to lay claim to. Around this time Frank/Richard/John all moved onto a property together and this was where the story became slightly comical. Frank shared stories of the living arrangements, that included one of them living in a paper chicken coop!
He also shared a story of Gregory Bateson coming to visit. Gregory didn’t believe in Hypnosis and they (Frank and Judith DeLozier) offered to introduce him to it. What followed was a session that lasted over an hour. When he came out of trance he noticed the time that had passed on his watch… “Nice trick” he told them, expressing how it would take more than changing the time on his watch to make him think it had worked. What really threw him is that when he had arrived it was light outside, yet when he went outside it was dark!
Following the first generation going their own way a second generation formed in 1974/1975 that included many of the more commonly known names of NLP. Names like Gilligan, Dilts and Gordon (There were many more but I was to slow to write them down). Then it started to get interesting. For reasons that Frank wouldn’t really elaborate on he was asked to leave by Richard Bandler in 1977. He left and he went to Nebraska. What followed was Frank traveling and living through a variety of places including Nebraska, San Diego, Oklahoma and eventually with him moving to Russia in 1990 to work with drug addicts. His talk about his work with drug addicts was FASCINATING but I will save it for another post as he talked about it at length.
Beyond what I have shared above there were also several other key points that have stuck with me:
One of the really pertinent questions asked was about why more didn’t make its way into NLP. Frank shared about how everything they considered was evaluated against three core criteria: (1) It needed to have a critical moment; (2) It had to be usable; and (3) It had to be behaviourally specific. It was thanks to these criteria that things like Myer-Briggs did not make their way into the field of NLP.