How, exactly, does one go about interviewing a man who has dedicated his life’s work to the art of mind control? Are difficult questions going to be swept under a carpet of charm? Can his answers be trusted? Will this piece, mysteriously, write itself as a glowing appraisal?
All of which are valid considerations in advance of meeting Richard Bandler. Bandler is the American co-creator of the modern self-help phenomenon Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a discipline developed to quick-fix life’s problems by “reprogramming” one’s brain. In crude terms, NLP explores the relationships between how we think (neuro), how we communicate (linguistic) and our patterns of behaviour and emotions (programmes). The idea is that, by studying these relationships, people can adopt more successful ways of thinking, communicating, feeling and behaving.
Even if you think you don’t know much about NLP, the chances are you’ll have witnessed it at work in instant phobia cures, shouty-titled management-skills books, “life coaching” and those unsettling conversations with sales people who seem to be mirroring your every move (because they quite possibly are – it’s a classic NLP trick). Bandler has mentored Britain’s favourite change-your-life hypnotist, Paul McKenna, and his work has influenced illusionist and master mindbender Derren Brown. Bandler himself still teaches NLP regularly, and claims to be able to “erase” traumatic memories, improve your relationships and even ‘ “cure” schizophrenia and paralysis (he taught himself to walk again using NLP after a stroke put him in a wheelchair). …
“He put me in a trance,” recalls one woman. “I don’t remember what happened, I just remember Richard saying: ‘The floodgates of happiness are now open.’ Then he touched my face and from that moment all of the rubbish of my life suddenly went,” she says. “It was weird.”
It’s a common reaction. In Orlando, over a conference break for lunch, there was a moment when a concerned-looking student, also a highly successful business coach, came over having seen me scribble down some of Bandler’s rhetoric. “I’m not a groupie,” she began, “but I just wanted to say that when I first heard Richard speak – all that sexual innuendo and stuff, I was offended and appalled. But it’s deliberate, you know. It’s all to create a heightened state – a state in which you’re more aware. All the while he’s talking, he’s changing brain chemistry and implanting ideas. Since I’ve done you a favour,” she continued carefully, “perhaps you might be kind enough to send me a copy of your piece.”
It was probably a perfectly innocent request, but it was impossible not to wonder whether I was being NLP-ed.