Interview with Lucas Derks

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WOLFGANG WALKER: As a social psychologist, how did you start doing NLP?

LUCAS DERKS: To me NLP was always psychology as it should be. You know, I learned about Bandler and Grinder’s work, when I could choose their first book as part of my psychology study at university in 1977. The Structure of Magic 1, was part of my education to become a psychologist. To me NLP is psychology. I loved it right away. It was pragmatic and focussed on subjectivity: to me it was science fiction psychology! So for me, the cultural gab between academic psychology and NLP is very silly. The fact that most clinical psychologist reject NLP on the base of some prejudice is stupit, and a great tragedy as well. It misses the point.

WOLFGANG WALKER: What can we do about that?

LUCAS DERKS: Bandler and Grinder also cuased this to happen, be it unintentionously. They saw the oppertunity to market their ideas way beyond the field of professional psychology. They were right; all kinds of people became interseted in NLP. However, for people who tend to identify with what they do, and how it is called, and what its reputation is, it is a different story. For psychologist it counts if NLP is critisized being not scientific. Psychologists are what they do, in a way. It is hard to do NLP if your collegues redicule it in the media. And it is hard to study NLP, becouse it contradict many assumptions you grow up with. The more educated you are in the social sciences, the harder it seems to invest in something different.

So in the long run everyone from all diciplines will end up doing NLP; economists, lawyers-mediators, political negotiators, sport coaches, business coaches, nurses, historians, general practitioners, sales people, you name it… however only few psychologists. The greatest danger that is lurking in the dark for clinical psychologist is, that methods like NLP will indeed proove to be superior. In that case the must face the fact that it has been there for 30 years, while they were looking the other way. But what to do?

Maybe do what you did. Write about NLP in an academic fashion; make it part of science by presenting seriously. Remember, the structure of magic looked like a childrens book. Maybe we just must be patient, and do our very best.

WOLFGANG WALKER: How did you develop the social panorama model?

LUCAS DERKS: It started with a question in 1991 or 1992. I wondered, how can I model social experience? By that time I was glad I had formulated this question, but I had no clue for an answer. But being NLP-er and social psychologist this seemed just the right thing for me to do.

WOLFGANG WALKER: But the notion of the important role of mental space? In those days the idea of mental space was not so mutch stressed as it is today in cognitive linguistics?

LUCAS DERKS: Really, it suddely struck me. I saw a pattern with clients who suffered from being dominated by authorities. Their shyness instantly dissapeared when they shifted the image of the authority downwards and backwards. But before I recognized the general pattern and the role of the submodality location, years went past.

In fact, it happened when I was writing an article about `categorization and submodalities‘ that I had the insight: the catagorization of humans, was made by putting them in diffrent places in space. By testing it on every single human being I could lay my hands on, I gained a lot of evidence in a short time span. But still, after ten years or so, I may feel strong doubt about it too. But that uncertainty drives me.

WOLFGANG WALKER: What do you mean by doubt?

LUCAS DERKS: The phenomena of social representation are part of our unconscious repetoire. We don’t know that we do them. We can hardly focus on them with our attention. So, even when I imagine my loved one, I can hardly see anything of her. What I do sense is the social emotion. But how this emotion came to life is in fact a mystery to me. The picture is just to vague.

WOLFGANG WALKER: Isn’t that a general issue in psychology?

LUCAS DERKS: Yes! You yourself deal with it all time! Wolfgang you seem to be facinated by all unconscious phenomena. The things that happen outside of our awareness and beyond our understanding. Wherever their is such a phenomenon, you are motivated to check it out! isn’t it?

I see it like this: Psychology is studying human thought. However, human thought is very fluent. Its is fast and liquid. It is associative and metaphoric. It is paralel and never ending. A human thought is gone before you know, and will be never repeated in the same way. Every human thought is a unique event.

So what can you do to study them? Thougts can be talked of; they can be expressed in language. But what is expressed is not the thought itself. Once thought a thought is gone forever; the words that describe it may be recorded or written down. But that only leaves us with records or words, but not with human thoughts. But even more problematic is the fact that most human thougt happens unconscious. The thinker himself of herself doesn’t even know about it.

So there you go as a scientist. When you want to apply the methodology of the natural sciences on that… my goodness that is hopeless. If you really want to do your work as a psychological researcher… man you better commit suecide right away. That is why most of them get depressed. You know! No wonder most psychologist rather study questionaires, animal behavior, genetics, cybernetics, statistics, diagnostic tools… but not human thought.

But we NLP-type of psychologist are the ones that are doing just that. We try to extract information out of unconscious processes. Imagination techniques and hypnosis, the core of the NLP-technology, serves as our research tool. We slow people down with hypnosis, and help them to think as little thought in paralel as possible. We experiment with living thinking human beings. That is how we discovered phenomena like the personal time line, submodalities in general, metaphors, criteria and also the social panorama. But it will problably take more than a lifetime before the field of psychology will give us credits for that.

WOLFGANG WALKER: What can you do with the help of the social panorama, that you could not do without it?

LUCAS DERKS: Expell evil spirits! Rebuild the foundations of peoples model of the social world. Change the place people believe is theirs in society. Break nasty identification patterns. Help people see themselves as equal to others: help them to create positive self images. And doing this very directly, from understanding how people create social problems and how people may change them for better social constructions.

WOLFGANG WALKER: What is the difference between your work and Bert Hellingers work?

LUCAS DERKS: First we need to say that Hellingers work was of great support to me. Mainly becouse it independently confirmed the import role of mental space in social representation. When I learned about Hellingers work, I was very mutch inspired to go on with the social panorama model.

It showed me that mental space was the place to look, and also that there were some more things to develop for me. I was also challenged to stay with the principles of NLP. Becouse these are very valuable to me. Hellingers work is only partly in accondance with the NLP assumptions. That is why people cannot integrate the one and the other. Most say things like: `Systemic work is on an other (higher, better, greater, etc.) level.‘ That is how they often implicitly disqualify NLP by that. That is a pity. My search is directed towards having the best of both.

So I started to study unconscious social cognition. Becouse this work needs a foundation outside the semi-religious character Hellinger gave it. Not everyone is happy with my approach. The magical, mystical, spiritual, dramatic and emotional side does attract a lot of people. You may say, the way Hellinger plays with these phenomena has a lot more sexapeal for many therapists. Many people are impressed becouse they do not understand what things are opperating in the way Hellinger presents it.

Generally speaking I would say that he suggest to ascribe these phenomena to external spiritual powers (the system soul). As such, their is nothing wrong with that, mankind has done that for millenia. For me as a psychologist it is unsatisfying, becouse it makes invisable what is realy happening in between people. When the soul does the work, one cannot see how people create and recreate their social imagery. To see human unconscious social competence at work takes an non religious view.

Or maby, the most difficult relegious vision of all. Namely: people in a family constellation do a host of inconceivable complex unconscious social coginitive things. But they themselves are only very dimly aware of that. To tell them that it is the work of `the great spirit‘ or `chocolate power‘ will take their attention away from their own activities. Activities that are far more remarkeble than we can imagine. It is in-imaginable. That is why people rather imagine it to be the work of `the system‘ or `the soul‘. But by doing so, they lose sight on what they are themselves, couse they start to attent to `the system‘ or `the soul‘.

WOLFGANG WALKER: In what direction do you expect your work to develop?

LUCAS DERKS: Social life is very important. It is hardly possible to find something that has nothing to do with social imagination. Environment, politics, human conflicts, even when a person smokes… he belongs to the smokers… That fact will be engraved in his social panorama too. So when someone quits smoking, he will change his self-image and go over to the non smokers group. What I mean is, the applications for a specialistic NLP-tool for dealing with social issues is without limits.

At the last NLP-conference in Holland I presented about our conception of aliens. I had people to change themselves into aliens and others to try to have an encounter with them. It all confronted us with our conceptions of what a human being is. Beside that I could make a model for social learning. It prooved relatively easy to understand what the relation between a student and a teacher should be, to make it possible for the student to learn from his teacher.

WOLFGANG WALKER: Is there a difference between the Dutch and German NLP scene?

LUCAS DERKS: Our association has a small pretty journal; However Multi Mind is mutch nicer becouse is part of a private enterprise. Conferences in Holland are not organised by our NLP association, but by a private enterprise. So that is the other way around.

Beside these differences, there is a small cultural difference. The Dutch NLP-ers are very hard to organize. If there are conflicts in an NLP association, like in Germany, that means the association is taken serious. We haven’t reached that level yet. Our institutes pay EUR 600 a year to be accredited. In Germany they pay per certificate. Just like in Germany we have some institutes that work together in training NLP trainers.

What to my mind (as a matcher) is more important than these differences, are the similarities. For one reason or the other it seems that NLP attracts a lot of very nice people. In every country I met NLP-ers, it was allways a delight to be among them. Sometimes I think that this is the best reason to continue to work in this field.

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