Differences Between Jonathan Rice and Mainstream NLP

By Carl Buchheit, Ph.D. and Ellie Schamber, Ph.D.

A brilliant and prolific student of the NLP Founders, Robert Dilts, took the best of what he had learned from John Grinder and Richard Bandler and creatively developed and expanded the field of NLP toward what it has become today. It is Dilts’s approaches and methods that have become the foundation of modern NLP. By referring to the work of Robert Dilts, we can capture the essence of what is best in conventional NLP.

Jonathan Rice went in a different direction. He evolved a methodology that differed substantially from that of mainstream NLP. In contrast to Dilts’s evolution of the field, Rice used NLP techniques within – rather than in place of – his practice of psychotherapy. In this process, he found it necessary to develop and use NLP in ways that are very different from those of mainstream NLP.

One crucial difference between the two methodologies is that mainstream NLP consists of a series of stand-alone techniques in contrast to Rice’s practice of incorporating NLP methods in an inclusive psychotherapy. This dissimilarity between the two approaches is  exemplified by the difference between standing while performing a specific technique and sitting while having a conversational interaction. Robert Dilts and most mainstream NLP practitioners use “walking timelines” as their primary means of effecting change in clients. The client physically stands and steps from one spatial anchor (usually a spot marked out on the floor) to another. S/he walks on specific locations on the floor that have been intentionally associated with aspects of the  problem state that the client wants to change, such as a belief that s/he is unworthy or not capable of success, and a desired resource state, which may include feelings of confidence, self-respect, and belief in one’s capabilities. The client is instructed to move from one place to another on this physically marked out (although imaginary) timeline that connects the spatial anchors on the floor. 1

In contrast, Rice always worked with clients while sitting and talking with them, in the style of modern psychotherapy. He taught a format for interacting with the client for several hours, using multiple change interventions comprised of a number of continuously interweaving elements rather than a quick, one-process technique. Because the seated interaction format is conversational and, unlike walking timelines, might not include explicit NLP “techniques,” it provides vastly more opportunity for exploration and reframing of the client’s experience.  Reframing changes the meaning of the past. Through reframing and other skillful demonstrations of care and connection between the practitioner and the client, there is a shift in the emotions associated with the narrative of what happened.2

Another extremely significant contribution of Jonathan Rice was his work with what NLP practitioners call “eye-accessing cues.” These are observable eye movements that correlate with events in unconscious internal processing, such as the images and sounds from the past that give rise to emotional experience in the present. The founders of NLP discovered and worked with eye-accessing patterns in the mid-seventies. It had long been common knowledge that humans both generate and store experience through internal representations of the five senses. These representations are held almost entirely in the unconscious. Grinder and Bandler were the first to correlate these internal sensory events with externally observable, real-time changes in the physical body.3 Eye movements that indicate internal sensory (representational) events were the most notable and easily observable of these early discoveries related to the correlation between body changes and internal, unconscious processing. Grinder and Bandler and their students began using these eye-accessing cues to gain immediate knowledge of the clients’ purely internal, and usually unconscious, processes.4

Robert Dilts took classes in psychobiology at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 1973, where he learned that it takes about a half second for an externally or internally generated stimulus to reach conscious awareness. He and the other members of the NLP circle found that when a client was asked, “what stops you from getting what you want?” as part of efforts to elicit consciously-available information, the client immediately made distinct eye movements. They discovered that such eye movements are always correlated with internal representational events. Asking this question in relation to a desired but blocked outcome would always produce nearly instantaneous, completely unconscious eye movements. The internal pictures, sounds, and feelings associated with the unconscious eye movements that took place within the first half second were always linked to a representation that pointed to the answer to this question.5

Most psychotherapists will eventually ask their clients some version of the question, “What stops you from having what you want?” For practitioners who are not trained in NLP, this question is used to elicit conscious content about the client’s experience. However, the client is never consciously aware of what is actually being represented internally, so answers are usually about the content of memories stored in the conscious mind. The discovery and use of the half-second rule to get access to the client’s unconscious was a major breakthrough.

Robert Dilts and Jonathan Rice both made use of the half-second rule in their practice and trainings, but they used it differently. Dilts refers to it in a paragraph in his book Beliefs: “When I am working with people, I frequently ask the question, ‘What stops you from achieving your desired outcome?’ I’m not as interested in the verbal answer as I am the non-verbal cues that occur in the first half-second that lets me know precisely how the person is getting stuck.”6 Then, Dilts uses one of the NLP techniques to deal with the representations associated with this event. A preferred method is to resolve internal conflicts by integrating eye movements.7

Rice found a different way to work with the half-second eye-access cues. He believed that this discovery had monumental significance for psychotherapy, and he made it the center of his practice. As a psychotherapist, he had for years realized that discussions about content are largely useless for gaining new knowledge about the specifics of the client’s unconscious internal processes. He was driven to discover a replicable methodology to reliably and precisely access information about early life trauma from the unconscious. Rice observed that unmistakable physiological signs of age regression always accompanied the eye-access in the first half second after he asked, “What stops you?” He realized that this was a key to accessing imprints of childhood traumas.8

Now the practitioner could take time to carefully and thoroughly unpack the literal but heretofore unconscious content of the past experiences, i.e., the specific events involving specific people in a specific time and place.  Thus, the therapist could gain access to information about events, decisions, and beliefs that had until now operated unconsciously in the client’s unwanted patterning. Once the original imprints, and the decisions and beliefs associated with them, are unpacked, the practitioner can then choose among a variety of NLP approaches and techniques to begin the process of behavior, belief, and identity revision.

In the 1980s, Robert Dilts and Jonathan Rice also independently evolved different ways to work with beliefs. Dilts based his work with beliefs on what he had learned from Grinder and Bandler, including their interpretation of the work of Milton Erickson.  Since Dilts had not studied psychology or child development, he did not use the frames of psychotherapy.9 In contrast, Jonathan Rice had developed his understanding and work with beliefs within the conceptual framework of psychotherapy and childhood development. He was extremely attuned to the positive intentions (e.g., to survive or gain love) of decisions made by children experiencing threat or loss at various stages of psychological development. Hence, he paid more attention than Dilts to the original (almost always unconscious) decisions made by the child, decisions that then continued as the foundation of patterning that would manifest as lifelong pain and limitation. He knew from his clinical experience that if clients could change beliefs and decisions that had originated in childhood, this could influence the entire constellation of their thoughts, emotions, and behavior.10

Dilts and Rice also worked differently with ecology concerns. The term “ecology objections” refers to a client’s usually unconscious objections to consciously desired change.11 Dilts paid more attention than the founders to possible ecology issues. However, while Dilts usually asked clients to describe their conscious thoughts about possible ecology problems, Rice focused more on understanding and resolving unconscious ecology objections to the desired state experience.12 Because of his psychotherapeutic training, Rice was able to follow the trail of personal ecology and early belief formation into the intense and usually nebulous territory of imprinted early childhood experience.  Rice probed into, and evoked conscious awareness of, the early childhood experiences and needs that were drivers for early decisions and essential behavior patterning that remained to become mysterious—and apparently unshakeable—adult dysfunction.  Rice taught his students that through rigorous respect for the larger ecology of the client’s experience across time, a practitioner’s revisions in the client’s old patterning will more naturally align with and support the fulfillment of the client’s desired experience in the present and future.13

Another difference is in re-imprinting technique. An imprint is a persisting pattern of sensory representations that is the consequence of a survived traumatic experience, usually occurring during early childhood. The memory of the experience and the accompanying emotions are  “imprinted” in the nervous system, along with body states associated with a threat to survival and decisions the child made about the cause and meaning of the experience. These  decisions become beliefs, usually out of consciousness, that guide the child’s actions for the rest of his or her life. Re-imprinting is a procedure to revise the imprinted representations that form the basis of a person’s identity, beliefs, and behavior.

The technique of re-imprinting developed independently in the work of Robert Dilts and Jonathan Rice.  Dilts developed the process of re-imprinting as a result of his association with Timothy Leary, the famous 1960s guru of consciousness transformation. In discussions with Leary in the early 1980s, Dilts realized that traumatic experiences during childhood frequently cause imprints that significantly affect the development of belief and identity across the span of an entire lifetime. This realization evolved into Dilts’s technique of re-imprinting.14

Jonathan Rice developed his own methodology for re-imprinting independently of Dilts and Leary. He was not in contact with Dilts after 1978.  In 1981 he met Shannon Sobel, a body worker who combined polarity therapy and gestalt therapy, and he sat in on her client sessions. While observing Sobel’s work, Rice noticed profound age regression in the clients. He and Sobel began to tease out elements of belief formation by the clients at the ages to which they had regressed. After Sobel died in 1984, Rice found that by using the half-second eye access method, he was able to access original trauma states as reliably, and often more reliably, than when he and Sobel had accomplished this through her body-based interventions. Then he could re-imprint the client with touch and other anchors while seated in one place.15

In addition, Dilts paid less attention to the client’s emotions. The Dilts formats were designed to attenuate the client’s experience of unpleasant feelings.  Rice found that the results of the change work could be deeper and longer lasting if the work involved an experience of emotional release that accompanied the cognitive restructuring. Also, Dilts believed that, since limiting beliefs are usually a consequence of the client’s past interactions with people in the family or social system, it is useful to help the client take resources to these significant others. Rice believed that it was often more useful for the client to continue to have access to the original memory so s/he could experience that s/he had choice regarding how s/he felt about what happened despite the actual facts of how the others behaved.16

Thus, Dilts and Rice developed and used NLP procedures in very different ways. These differences in practice reflect their differences in philosophy and the difference in their relationship to the field of psychology. Transformational NLP was deeply influenced by the world view and methods of Jonathan Rice, which combined the practices of the new field of NLP with the tradition, philosophy, and methodologies of humanistic psychology.

Taken from Carl Buchheit, Ph.D. and Ellie Schamber, Ph.D.,  Transformational NLP: A New Psychology.


1 Robert Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP (Capitola, CA: Meta Publications, 1990).
2 Jonathan Rice, phone call with authors, November 2011.
3 Terrence McClendon, The Wild Days: NLP 1972-1981 (Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications, 1989); Early Days of NLP, Robert Dilts and Tim Hallbom (San Francisco, CA: NLPCA, 2009), DVD.
4 Robert Dilts, “The Discovery of Eye Accessing Cues,” 2008, www.nlpiash.org/Conferences/2008Conference/Ebulletins/tabid/248/EntryID/10/Default.aspx.; McClendon.
5 Rice, November 2011; Rice, phone call with authors, August 2014; Dilts, email to author Ellie Schamber, October 2014.
6 Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP, 124
7 Ibid, 125.
8 Rice, November 2011; Rice, phone call with authors, January 2015.
9 Dilts and Hallbom.
10 Rice, phone call with authors, June 2011.
11 Carmen B. Bostic St. Clair and John Grinder, Whispering in the Wind (Scotts Valley, Ca: J&C Enterprises, 2001); Robert Dilts, Tim Hallbom, and Suzi Smith, Beliefs: Pathways to Health and Well-Being, (Portland, OR: Metamorphous Press, 1990).
12 Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP.
13 Rice, June 2011.
14 Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP; Dilts, “The Influence of Timothy Leary on Re-Printing,” 1996, http://www.nlpu.com/Articles/article4.htm.
15 Rice, November 2011; Rice, January 2015.
16 Rice, November 2011; Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP.