The Legacy of Jonathan Rice in Transformational NLP
By Carl Buchheit, Ph.D. and Ellie Schamber, Ph.D.
In the mid-eighties a new branch of NLP sprouted and developed in a very different way from the other schools of NLP. This new iteration was organized around the work and teaching of Jonathan Rice. By 1985 the philosophy and methodology of the NLP taught by Rice had developed in a substantially different direction from that of mainstream NLP.
The founders of NLP were not interested in the field of psychology. Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed the new field of NLP largely in reaction against the theories and contemporary practices of psychology. They taught their students that they did not have to study the field of psychology or have a degree in it in order to excel in NLP. The new field of NLP could best progress with people who were not contaminated with the old ideas.1
Jonathan Rice joined the NLP group around Bandler and Grinder in 1975. In contrast to the other members of the group, most of whom were undergraduates at the time, Rice was an academically trained and licensed psychotherapist with a Ph.D. He managed a community mental health clinic in Monterey, California and maintained a private psychotherapy practice in nearby Carmel. He happened to see a flyer for a seminar to be given by Grinder and Bandler which described definite behavioral outcomes that would occur for all workshop attendees. For example, the flyer promised that each person attending would acquire the ability to immediately “fix” phobias. Rice was struck by the specificity of the claimed good results since, as a conventionally trained psychotherapist, he was entirely unaccustomed to training outcomes ever being stated in precise, behaviorally measurable terms.2
Most psychotherapists at that time relied on a process-oriented approach to change and healing rather than one that centered on the accomplishment of specific outcomes for the client. The then-predominant therapeutic paradigm was humanistic psychology, which had been developed in the 1950s in reaction to both murky, unending psychoanalysis and mechanistic behaviorism. As exemplified in the work of masters such as Carl Rogers, the humanistic approach emphasized the primacy of the therapist/client relationship.
However, along with many others at the time, Dr. Rice noticed that since the psychotherapeutic experience was so dependent on the on-going presence of the therapist, what good changes did occur did not necessarily stabilize and continue after the client left therapy. Also, he saw that frequently the psychotherapist projected his/her own issues onto the client, with both becoming entangled in transference/counter-transference dynamics. At that point in his career as a clinician, Rice was looking for more practical ways of doing therapy, with the goal of creating tangible and measurable behavioral outcomes that could endure without his continuing presence in his clients’ lives. At the time, this was a tall order.3
In the fall of 1975, Rice went to several weekend seminars and a ten-day workshop taught by Grinder and Bandler. In these trainings, he said, “I saw them doing things that I didn’t know how to do” to achieve profound and permanent behavioral changes, such as eliminating the experience of phobias. The trainers used procedures that Rice had never seen before, and then showed the audience how they accomplished their remarkable results. Rice saw that the NLP techniques were replicable and could accomplish changes in clients that he knew he could not achieve with talking psychotherapy alone.4
These trainings were aimed toward and attended mostly by psychotherapists. However, Grindler and Bandler frequently ridiculed the current theories and methodologies of psychology. They did not call themselves therapists or coaches or scientists. Instead, they called themselves “modelers.” Their goal was to make and teach a model of how to do something that works. They were focused on the practical uses of specific techniques that actually worked to effect change in people.5
Increasingly, Bandler’s and Grinder’s focus became centered on NLP techniques purported to be rapid cures for nearly every life problem. The techniques were more and more presented as stand-alone events, formulas for change that could be combined or chained in sequence with other techniques to produce a variety of outcomes for the client. This quick-fix orientation, although brilliantly innovative, was—from Rice’s perspective as a psychotherapist—superficial and limiting. Rice was apprehensive that Bandler and Grinder’s cavalier iconoclasm and emphasis on formulaic techniques allowed for little real attention to the broader ecology and emotional well-being of their students and clients. Rice was troubled by his perception that the NLP founders had discarded compassion along with many of the outdated theories and methodologies of conventional process-focused psychotherapy.6
Rice was concerned that NLP, which had developed out of the fields of linguistics, psychology, and Ericksonian hypnosis, had become divorced from these roots. It had become simply an aggregation of techniques, and had failed to develop into the more comprehensive system of effective and practical psychotherapy that Rice had been seeking for his own practice. Even while he learned as much as he possibly could from them from 1975 to 1978, he was content to remain on the outskirts of the primary Bandler-Grinder group. At the end of 1978, when the relationship between Grinder and Bandler disintegrated, Rice completely disconnected himself from the NLP founding circle. He never rejoined the original group, and his work proceeded to develop along a very separate track.7
Working from the perspective of his formal academic background in psychology and his need to respond creatively to the demands of a daily clinical practice, Jonathan Rice himself developed that which he had been seeking. By the middle 1980s he had extended the NLP of the 1970s into his own evolution of it: a cohesive psychotherapy that combined the fundamental core of developmental psychology with the perceptual tools and powerful interventions of NLP. It was this synthesis, of the mid-1980s, that Rice taught to his students. Transformational NLP evolved from the teachings of Jonathan Rice.
There are some key differences between the NLP developed by Jonathan Rice and taught to his students, and the way that most NLP is practiced today. Perhaps the most significant dissimilarity is the practice of NLP as a combination of discrete techniques (in conventional NLP) as compared to applying NLP methodologies within the larger psychological context of a person’s life. Grinder and Bandler were fascinated with techniques for quick as well as powerful change; they largely ignored the contexts of their clients’ problems and experiences. Indeed, they often denigrated traditional psychotherapy’s common practice of paying attention to past events and childhood issues. Most of their students acquired and in turn taught this approach, and it became standard as the basis for NLP practice up to the present time. These techniques are highly effective much of the time. Many students of conventional NLP become adept technicians of change and healing without focusing on the childhood traumas that formed the basis of present patterns of belief and behavior.8
However, in his work as a psychotherapist, Jonathan Rice found that acknowledging and reframing the past is almost always the best way to provide a stable basis for future growth. Rice worked with conventional NLP methodologies as part of an internally consistent psychotherapy that was inclusive of the client’s entire experience. He used the information-gathering and behavior re-patterning techniques of NLP only when they were appropriate and useful within his model of one-to-one psychotherapy, a model that emphasized attention to childhood developmental stages and traumas—subjects in which most conventional NLP practitioners were at that time not interested.9
In Rice’s view, people who came to his office were usually caught in self-limiting patterns of thought and behavior developed in response to childhood trauma. If these issues were not resolved, the client would stay stuck in these patterns. Even if isolated NLP techniques were able to change a bit of behavior, the patterns would likely manifest in another form that would be equally self-limiting. Therefore, Rice focused on revealing and resolving childhood traumatic events that were the basis of the adult client’s problems in the present. He paid more attention than other NLP practitioners to the client’s physiology as it was correlated with internal representations, since it offered clues to the origins of the imprints of childhood trauma.10
Jonathan Rice thus used NLP to improve the effectiveness and depth of his practice of psychotherapy. In the process he created a new paradigm that was neither conventional humanistic psychotherapy nor conventional NLP. By folding the new field of NLP into his practice of psychology – and by incorporating modern psychology into NLP – Rice achieved a vital synthesis that strengthened and enriched both fields. Transformational NLP is largely based on the teachings of Jonathan Rice.
Taken from Carl Buchheit, Ph.D. and Ellie Schamber, Ph.D., Transformational NLP: A New Psychology.
2 Jonathan Rice, phone call with authors, June 2011.
5 Dilts and Hallbom; Rice, June 2011.
6 Rice, June 2011.
9 Jonathan Rice, phone call with authors, November 2011.
10 Jonathan Rice, phone call with authors, January 2015.