Defining NLP as ‘the study of the structure of subjective experience', presupposes that people somehow organise their experiences and end up with a ‘model of the world'. Bandler & Grinder (1975: 13) say that:

… when people come to us in therapy, they typically come with pain, feeling themselves paralyzed, experiencing no choices or freedom of action in their lives. … these people block themselves from seeing those options and possibilities that are open to them since they are not available in their models of their world.

The aim of therapy is to expand such limited models of the world in ways that help people get what they want.
So instead of thinking that a model of the world has to be a particular way, just let it be whatever you want. You find out if your model of the world serves you when you play with it, in the same way you would play with toys or computer games. This is how you discover their potential.

Actually, you have been acquiring models all your life. If you have studied NLP or another discipline, you will have absorbed many models of reality which other people have found useful for bringing about change. You may have enjoyed exploring ‘time-lines' or ‘perceptual positions'. Each model offers possibilities; none are the ‘truth'. However, should you find people claiming that they are describing the essence of mind, remember it is just a model they have made up. Acknowledge their enthusiasm, remember that ‘truth' is forever evolving, and choose to be curious, to go exploring, as every new model may offer great wisdom and understanding.

Models of Relationships

The history of psychology contains numerous ways of modeling human relationships. In the 1930s, Jacob Moreno invented the ‘sociogram' as a way of mapping how people interact and communicate within groups. The group was represented spatially as a diagram in which the various members were connected by lines (single and double-headed arrows) that showed who was connected to whom, and how they communicated (one-way or reciprocated). Other kinds of organisation charts or networks show strength of connection by the thickness of the lines.


Similar kinds of maps have been created by family therapists, given the importance of understanding ‘networks' and ‘systems' of relationships. Virginia Satir (1972: 141–169) would literally connect people with rope or string. In the 1970s, in a forerunner of ‘reality TV', BBC2 ran a series of programmes called All in the Mind, showing group process in action. In the accompanying book, Gaie Houston (1976: 120) says:

… the idea was for someone to volunteer to place all the group the way he or she ‘saw' them at the moment – who was near whom, who was out of things, and so on. The jargon word for this exercise is ‘sculpting'.

Individuals could map their understanding of the group by arranging the other members of the group in space around them in ways which felt ‘comfortable.' Over the last 40 years, Tony Buzan (see ReSource issues #1, #2 and #3) has been using his Mind-Mapping technique for relating any concepts and ideas, including people. In Understanding NLP (Young, 2004: Chapter 12), I describe the Meta-Mirror technique for changing someone's perception of the other person within a problematic relationship. By shifting their point of view, you change someone's behaviour.

Social Panoramas

Lucas Derks, in his new book, summarises the work he has been carrying out over the last decade in his therapeutic practice in Holland using his ‘social panoramas' model of reality. This builds on the earlier models, adding further refinements to the descriptions of ways in which people represent relationships. From his list of nine factors important for relationships, Derks puts Location in first place. Essentially he is using submodality work to explore the metaphors of relationship, especially those which are kinesthetic. A major influence is the work of linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1999). People conceive of a relationship as a container; this gives rise to feelings of belonging when you are ‘in' a relationship; other people are ‘outsiders'. In terms of distance, there are people you are ‘close to', maybe ‘too close for comfort', or even ‘in your face'. Other people are ‘distant' or may have ‘turned their back on you'. Height measures relative status: ‘lowly', ‘put-down' or ‘being one-up' on someone.

Our language is full of evidence of how people fill their model of the world with ‘personifications' of others. A ‘personification' could be of an individual or a group. I take this as the ability to turn a person into a ‘thing' in your mental space, which will have location, distance, orientation, symmetry, height, and so on. He references Keith Johnstone's (1979) work on status (using the higher/lower metaphor) and centres. Given the way someone's worldview is configured may explain why some people respond as they do, and why conflict often results. Derks takes familiar NLP techniques such as submodalities, time-line, applying resources and so on, to a further level. For example, when working with hated out-groups: first deal with the anger and hatred, and then find forgiveness so that you are able to endow those others with the resources they need – which may then change their location. This works not just with the living but also with the ghosts of those who are dead. You are literally changing someone's outlook on life.

Derks suggests (p. 7) that "Once they are formed, personifications cannot be removed; they can only be transformed or moved around in the social panorama." To reduce possible overload, individuals are bundled into categories. I wrote an article (Young, 1995) describing where various ‘nominalisations' or concepts were located in my mental domain, thus extending the idea of ‘eye-accessing cues', familiar to NLP practitioners. For example, when you remember something visual, your eyes often look up, and you see it again. I found that when I thought about certain places ("Switzerland") my eyes would look in a precise and consistent direction. This was also true of concepts such as ‘love' and ‘honesty', which were also ‘stored' in certain parts of my visual field. I suggested the metaphor of the icons on a computer screen; these locations acting as ‘gateways' to further information or activity.

In Relationships with groups, Derks gives his findings on how people place whole groups or stereotypes, such as ‘the Belgians', in their social panorama. In other words, these generalised concepts are sorted and positioned in a similar way to individual personifications. However, it is only when someone suggests looking at the world in this way that you notice these arrangements.

Family Therapy

Of family panoramas he says (p. 204): "… this book fits within a new family therapeutic paradigm, in which interaction patterns are seen as the result of how people give ‘pictorial' shape to one another in their thinking." Perceiving the family as a system is only one way of holding the world. Family therapy is an active area of human model-making, and disputes and conflicts have arisen because of certain beliefs about what is important, and the best way to do it. But instead of the attitude that "the others are wrong", consider: "What has this model got to offer? How can I use this practically for creating change?"

Derks tells us something of what is happening in the rest of Europe. In particular, he devotes 20 pages to describing ‘charismatic' Bert Hellinger's Family Constellation Method of having people to play the parts of your family members. What seems to happen is that a constellation takes on a life of its own, and reveals things about the family that were hidden. How the group ‘knows' these things is a mystery.

When he gets onto Spiritual Panoramas, we enter another world, that of the ancestors, shamans, and channeled material. Fascinating as it is, Derks is riding pet hobby-horses, though it is not clear what he actually believes about these things.

The final chapter on Training, teaching and teams explores the inner panorama of the trainer standing in front of a group, and offers practical ideas for building teams. In his experience, "trainers imagine their favourite groups … close by, just a little lower than they are, colourful, homogeneous and moving" (p. 325). He also tells us how charismatic teachers maintain their world. To remain a guru ensure that you "are represented too far away to be identified with", to ensure that "Their students will never fully learn what they are taught because no identification occurs; they will always have to come back for more" (p. 348).


Lucas Derks' Social Panoramas model suggests practical ways of helping people change their own models of the world. This book makes an important contribution to our understanding, and at over 360 pages, has a great deal to offer practitioners, family therapists, trainers, as well as everyone who is part of a family or group. Derks provides many case studies, and 61 Exercises. The model has numerous applications: for resolving conflicts, harmonizing relationships within the family, within society, within the classroom. Diagnostically the metaphorical descriptions of relationships come to life, and you now have a way of dealing with them.

Social Panoramas will delight those people who enjoy exploring the other people's models of the world. The Social Panorama Model enables you to intervene appropriately and creatively in someone else's model of the world – when they are stuck and need help – by giving them an alternative point of view. This is essentially what therapy is about. It will also widen your own panorama of the world, and you could be surprised at what you find there!

Is this how the mind works? No – despite Derks' uncritical use of ‘universal quantifiers' (always, everyone …). Every model is just a way of holding the world in order that we may take appropriate action. What matters is how useful the model is in helping people change what they are doing to something that serves them better. What emerges from Derks' work is that even though you may be imposing a structure on someone's reality that was not there before (or that they had never thought about), once the model is in place it acquires a degree of validity, consistency and dependability. It allows you to play.

© 2005 Peter Young

Lucas Derks (2005) Social Panoramas: Changing the Unconscious Landscape with NLP and Psychotherapy has been recently published by Crown House Publishing, price £18.99



First published in ReSource, Autumn 2004 pages 23–27

An in-depth review of Lucas Derks' Social Panoramas