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Neurolinguistic programming

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Neurolinguistic programming

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, USA in the 1970s. Its creators claim a connection between the neurological processes ("neuro"), language ("linguistic") and behavioral patterns learned through experience ("programming") and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life.[1][2] Bandler and Grinder claim that the skills of exceptional people can be "modeled" using NLP methodology, then those skills can be acquired by anyone.[3][4][5][6][7] Bandler and Grinder also claim that NLP can treat problems such as phobias, depression, habit disorder, psychosomatic illnesses, myopia,[8] allergy, common cold[9] and learning disorders, often in a single session.[10][11][12][13] NLP has been adopted by some hypnotherapists and in seminars marketed to business and government.[14][15]

Reviews of empirical research find that NLP's core tenets are poorly supported.[16] The balance of scientific evidence reveals NLP to be a largely discredited pseudoscience. Scientific reviews show it contains numerous factual errors,[14][17] and fails to produce the results asserted by proponents.[16][18] According to Devilly (2005),[19] NLP has had a consequent decline in prevalence since the 1970s. Criticisms go beyond lack of empirical evidence for effectiveness, saying NLP exhibits pseudoscientific characteristics,[19] title,[20] concepts and terminology as well.[21][22] NLP is cited as an example of pseudoscience when teaching scientific literacy at the professional and university level.[23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32] NLP also appears on peer reviewed expert-consensus based lists of discredited interventions.[16] In research designed to identify the "quack factor" in modern mental health practice, Norcross et al. (2006) [22] list NLP as possibly or probably discredited for treatment of behavioral problems. Norcross et al. (2010) list NLP in the top ten most discredited interventions[33] and Glasner-Edwards and Rawson (2010) list NLP therapy as "certainly discredited".[34]

History and conception

Early development

According to Bandler and Grinder, NLP comprises a methodology termed modeling and a set of techniques that were derived from its initial applications by Bandler and Grinder.[35][36] Many of those methods that have come to be considered fundamental were derived from the initial modeling by Bandler and Grinder of the work of Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson and Fritz Perls.[37] Bandler and Grinder also drew upon theories of Gregory Bateson, Alfred Korzybski and Noam Chomsky, particularly transformational grammar,[21][35][38] as well as ideas and techniques from Carlos Castaneda.[39] Bandler and Grinder claim that the therapeutic "magic" as performed in therapy by Perls, Satir and Erikson, and by performers in any complex human activity, had a structure that could be codified using their methodology and thereby learned by others. Their 1975 book The Structure of Magic I: A Book about Language and Therapy is intended to be a codification of the therapeutic techniques of Perls and Satir.[35][40]

Bandler and Grinder say that they modeled Virginia Satir, to produce what they termed the Meta-Model (via their process of modeling), a model for gathering information and challenging a client's language and underlying thinking.[35][40][41] By challenging linguistic distortions, specifying generalizations, and recovering deleted information in the client's statements, the transformational grammar concepts of surface structure were said to yield a more complete representation of the underlying deep structure and to have therapeutic benefit.[42][43] Also derived from Satir were anchoring, future pacing and representational systems.[44] In contrast, the Milton-Model—a model of the purportedly hypnotic language of Milton Erickson—was described by Bandler and Grinder as "artfully vague" and metaphoric.[45] The Milton-Model is used in combination with the Meta-Model as a softener, to induce "trance" and to deliver indirect therapeutic suggestion.[46] However, adjunct lecturer in linguistics Stollznow, describes Bander and Grinder's reference to such experts as namedropping. Other than Satir, the people they cite as influences did not collaborate with Bandler or Grinder. Chomsky himself has no association with NLP whatsoever; his original work was intended as theory not therapy. Stollznow writes, "[o]ther than borrowing terminology, NLP does not bear authentic resemblance to any of Chomsky's theories or philosophies - linguistic, cognitive or political."[21]

According to Weitzenhoffer, "the major weakness of Bandler and Grinder's linguistic analysis is that so much of it is built upon untested hypotheses and is supported by totally inadequate data."[47] Weitzenhoffer adds that Bandler and Grinder misuse formal logic and mathematics,[48] redefine or misunderstand terms from the linguistics' lexicon (e.g., nominalization),[49] create a scientific façade by needlessly complicating Ericksonian concepts with unfounded claims,[50] make factual errors[51] and disregard or confuse concepts central to the Ericksonian approach.[52]

More recently (circa 1997), Bandler has claimed, "NLP™ [sic] is based on finding out what works and formalizing it. In order to formalize patterns I utilized everything from linguistics to holography...The models that constitute NLP™ [sic] are all formal models based on mathematical, logical principles [sic] such as predicate calculus and the mathematical equations underlying holography."[53] However, there is no mention of the mathematics of holography nor of holography in general in McClendon's,[54] Spitzer's[44] or Grinder's[55] account of the development of NLP.

On the matter of the development of NLP, Grinder recollects:[56]

My memories about what we thought at the time of discovery (with respect to the classic code we developed - that is, the years 1973 through 1978) are that we were quite explicit that we were out to overthrow a paradigm and that, for example, I, for one, found it very useful to plan this campaign using in part as a guide the excellent work of Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in which he detailed some of the conditions which historically have obtained in the midst of paradigm shifts. For example, I believe it was very useful that neither one of us were qualified in the field we first went after - psychology and in particular, its therapeutic application; this being one of the conditions which Kuhn identified in his historical study of paradigm shifts.

The philosopher Robert Todd Carroll responded that Grinder has not understood Kuhn's text on the history and philosophy of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Carroll replies: (a) individual scientists never have nor are they ever able to create paradigm shifts volitionally and Kuhn does not suggest otherwise; (b) Kuhn's text does not contain the idea that being unqualified in a field of science is a prerequisite to producing a result that necessitates a paradigm shift in that field and (c) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is foremost a work of history and not an instructive text on creating paradigm shifts and such a text is not possible—extraordinary discovery is not a formulaic procedure. Carroll explains that a paradigm shift is not a planned activity, rather it is an outcome of scientific effort within the current (dominant) paradigm that produces data that can't be adequately accounted for within the current paradigm—hence a paradigm shift, i.e. the adoption of a new paradigm. In developing NLP Bandler and Grinder were not responding to a paradigmatic crisis in psychology nor did they produce any data that caused a paradigmatic crisis in psychology. There is no sense in which Bandler and Grinder caused or participated in a paradigm shift. "What did Grinder and Bandler do that makes it impossible to continue doing psychology...without accepting their ideas? Nothing.", argues Carroll.[57]

Commercialization and evaluation

By the late 1970s, the human potential movement had developed into an industry and provided a market for some NLP ideas. At the center of this growth was the Esalen Institute at Big Sur, California. Perls had led numerous Gestalt therapy seminars at Esalen. Satir was an early leader and Bateson was a guest teacher. Bandler and Grinder claimed that in addition to being a therapeutic method, NLP was also a study of communication and began marketing it as a business tool, claiming that, "if any human being can do anything, so can you".[41] After 150 students paid $1,000 each for a ten-day workshop in Santa Cruz, California, Bandler and Grinder gave up academic writing and produced popular books from seminar transcripts, such as Frogs into Princes, which sold more than 270,000 copies. According to court documents relating to an intellectual property dispute between Bandler and Grinder, Bandler made more than $800,000 in 1980 from workshop and book sales.[41]

A community of psychotherapists and students began to form around Bandler and Grinder's initial works, leading to the growth and spread of NLP as a theory and practice.[58] For example, Tony Robbins trained with Grinder and utilized a few ideas from NLP as part of his own self-help and motivational speaking programmes.[59] Bandler led several unsuccessful efforts to exclude other parties from using NLP.[60] Meanwhile, the rising number of practitioners and theorists led NLP to become even less uniform than it was at its foundation.[21] Prior to the decline of NLP, scientific researchers began testing its theoretical underpinnings empirically, with research indicating a lack of empirical support for NLP's essential theories.[16] The 1990s were characterized by fewer scientific studies evaluating the methods of NLP than the previous decade. Witkowski attributes this to a declining interest in the debate as the result of a lack of empirical support for NLP from its proponents.[16]

Main components and core concepts

NLP can be understood in terms of three broad components and the central concepts pertaining to those:

  • Subjectivity. According to Bandler and Grinder:
    • We experience the world subjectively thus we create subjective representations of our experience. These subjective representation of experience are constituted in terms of five senses and language. That is to say our subjective conscious experience is in terms of the traditional senses of vision, audition, tactition, olfaction and gustation such that when we—for example—rehearse an actvity "in our heads", recall an event or anticipate the future we will "see" images, "hear" sounds, "taste" flavours, "feel" tactile sensations, "smell" odours and think in some (natural) language.[61][62] Furthermore it is claimed that these subjective representations of experience have a discernible structure, a pattern. It is in this sense that NLP is sometimes defined as the study of the structure of subjective experience.[63]
    • Behavior can be described and understood in terms of these sense-based subjective representations. Behavior is broadly conceived to include verbal and non-verbal communication, incompetent, maladaptive or "pathological" behavior as well as effective or skillfull behavior.[64][65]
    • Behavior (in self and others) can be modified by manipulating these sense-based subjective representations.[66][67][68][69][70][71]
  • Consciousness. NLP is predicated on the notion that consciousness is bifurcated into a conscious component and a unconscious component. Those subjective representations that occur outside of an individual's awareness comprise what is referred to as the "unconscious mind".[72]
  • Learning. NLP utilizes an imitative method of learning—termed modeling—that is claimed to be able to codify and reproduce an exemplar's expertise in any domain of activity. An important part of the codification process is a description of the sequence of the sensory/linguistic representations of the subjective experience of the exemplar during execution of the expertise.[73][74][75][76]

Techniques or set of practices

According to one study by Steinbach,[77] a classic interaction in NLP can be understood in terms of several major stages including establishing rapport, gleaning information about a problem mental state and desired goals, using specific tools and techniques to make interventions, and integrating proposed changes into the client's life. The entire process is guided by the non-verbal responses of the client.[77] The first is the act of establishing and maintaining rapport between the practitioner and the client which is achieved through pacing and leading the verbal (e.g., sensory predicates and keywords) and non-verbal behavior (e.g., matching and mirroring non-verbal behavior, or responding to eye movements) of the client.[37]

Once rapport is established, the practitioner may gather information (e.g., using the Meta-Model questions) about the client's present state as well as help the client define a desired state or goal for the interaction. The practitioner pays particular attention to the verbal and non-verbal responses as the client defines the present state and desired state and any "resources" that may be required to bridge the gap.[77] The client is typically encouraged to consider the consequences of the desired outcome, and how they may affect his or her personal or professional life and relationships, taking into account any positive intentions of any problems that may arise (i.e. ecological check).[77] Fourth, the practitioner assists the client in achieving the desired outcomes by using certain tools and techniques to change internal representations and responses to stimuli in the world.[78][79] Finally, the changes are "future paced" by helping the client to mentally rehearse and integrate the changes into his or her life.[77] For example, the client may be asked to "step into the future" and represent (mentally see, hear and feel) what it is like having already achieved the outcome.

According to Stollznow (2010), "NLP also involves fringe discourse analysis and "practical" guidelines for "improved" communication. For example, one text asserts "when you adopt the "but" word, people will remember what you said afterwards. With the "and" word, people remember what you said before and after."[21]



Early books about NLP had a psychotherapeutic focus given that the early models were psychotherapists. As an approach to psychotherapy, NLP shares similar core assumptions and foundations in common with some contemporary brief and systemic practices,[80][81][82] such as solution focused brief therapy.[83][84] NLP has also been acknowledged as having influenced these practices[82][85] with its reframing techniques[86][87] which seeks to achieve behavior change by shifting its context or meaning,[88] for example, by finding the positive connotation of a thought or behavior.

The two main therapeutic uses of NLP are: (1) as an adjunct by therapists[89] practicing in other therapeutic disciplines; (2) as a specific therapy called Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy[90] which is recognized by the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy[91] with accreditation governed at first by the Association for Neuro Linguistic Programming[92] and more recently by its daughter organization the Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy and Counselling Association.[93] Neither Neuro-Linguistic Programming nor Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy are NICE-approved.[94]

According to Stollznow (2010) "Bandler and Grinder's infamous Frogs into Princes and their other books boast that NLP is a cure-all that treats a broad range of physical and mental conditions and learning difficulties, including epilepsy, myopia and dyslexia. With its promises to cure schizophrenia, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and its dismissal of psychiatric illnesses as psychosomatic, NLP shares similarities with Scientology and the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR)."[21] A systematic review of experimental studies by Sturt et al (2012) concluded that "that there is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health-related outcomes." [95] In his review of NLP, Stephen Briers writes, "NLP is not really a cohesive therapy but a ragbag of different techniques without a particularly clear theoretical basis...[and its] evidence base is virtually non-existent."[96] Eisner writes, "NLP appears to be a superficial and gimmicky approach to dealing with mental health problems. Unfortunately, NLP appears to be the first in a long line of mass marketing seminars that purport to virtually cure any mental appears that NLP has no empirical or scientific support as to the underlying tenets of its theory or clinical effectiveness. What remains is a mass-marketed serving of psychopablum."[97]

André Muller Weitzenhoffer—a friend and peer of Milton Erickson—wrote, "Has NLP really abstracted and explicated the essence of successful therapy and provided everyone with the means to be another Whittaker, Virginia Satir, or Erickson?...[NLP's] failure to do this is evident because today there is no multitude of their equals, not even another Whittaker, Virginia Satir, or Erickson. Ten years should have been sufficient time for this to happen. In this light, I cannot take NLP seriously...[NLP's] contributions to our understanding and use of Ericksonian techniques are equally dubious. Patterns I and II are poorly written works that were an overambitious, pretentious effort to reduce hypnotism to a magic of words." [98]

Clinical psychologist Stephen Briers questions the value of the NLP maxim—a presupposition in NLP jargon—"there is no failure, only feedback".[99] Briers argues that the denial of the existence of failure diminishes its instructive value. He offers Walt Disney, Isaac Newton and J.K. Rowling as three examples of unambiguous acknowledged personal failure that served as an impetus to great success. According to Briers, it was "the crash-and-burn type of failure, not the sanitised NLP Failure Lite, i.e. the failure-that-isn't really-failure sort of failure" that propelled these individuals to success. Briers contends that adherence to the maxim leads to self-deprecation. According to Briers, personal endeavour is a product of invested values and aspirations and the dismissal of personally significant failure as mere feedback effectively denigrates what one values. Briers writes, "Sometimes we need to accept and mourn the death of our dreams, not just casually dismiss them as inconsequential. NLP's reframe casts us into the role of a widower avoiding the pain of grief by leap-frogging into a rebound relationship with a younger woman, never pausing to say a proper goodbye to his dead wife." Briers also contends that the NLP maxim is narcissistic, self-centered and divorced from notions of moral responsibility.[100]

Other uses

Although the original core techniques of NLP were therapeutic in orientation their genericity enabled them to be applied to other fields. These applications include persuasion,[60] sales,[101] negotiation,[102] management training,[103] sports,[104] teaching, coaching, team building, and public speaking.

Scientific evaluation

Empirical validity

In the early 1980s, NLP was advertised as an important advance in psychotherapy and counseling, and attracted some interest in counseling research and clinical psychology. However, as controlled trials failed to show any benefit from NLP and its advocates made increasingly dubious claims, scientific interest in NLP faded.[19]

Focusing primarily on preferred representational systems, reviews by Sharpley (1984)[105] and—in response to criticism from Einspruch and Forman (1987)[106]—Sharpley (1987)[18] concluded that there was little evidence for NLP's usefulness as an effective counseling tool. Reviewing the literature, Heap (1988) also concluded that objective and fair investigations had shown no support for NLP's claims about preferred representational systems.[107]

A research committee[60] working for the United States National Research Council led by Daniel Druckman came to two conclusions. First, the committee "found little if any" evidence to support NLP's assumptions or to indicate that it is effective as a strategy for social influence. "It assumes that by tracking another's eye movements and language, an NLP trainer can shape the person's thoughts, feelings, and opinions (Dilts, 1983[108]). There is no scientific support for these assumptions."[17] Secondly, the committee members "were impressed with the modelling approach used to develop the technique. The technique was developed from careful observations of the way three master psychotherapists conducted their sessions, emphasizing imitation of verbal and nonverbal behaviours... This then led the committee to take up the topic of expert modeling in the second phase of its work."[17] Von Bergen et al. (1997) state that "the most telling commentary on NLP may be that in the latest revision of his text on enhancing human performance, Druckman (Druckman & Bjork 1991) omitted all reference to Neurolinguistic Programming."[14] According to Gelso and Fassinger (1990) Sharpley's literature review, marked a decline in empirical research of NLP, and particularly in matching sensory predicates and its use in the counselor-client relationship in counseling psychology.[109]

NLP practitioners and academics Mathison and Tosey have argued that the experimental approach is not always appropriate for researching NLP, instead proposing that NLP should be researched phenomenologically.[110][111] Gareth Roderique-Davies (2009) responded that "Phenomenological research is free from hypotheses, pre-conceptions and assumptions, and seeks to describe rather than explain. Given the claims made by proponents of NLP, this adds little to the credibility debate and would produce reports concerning the experience from the perspective of the individual rather than confirmation of the supposed efficacy. The fact remains that NLP proponents make specific claims about how NLP works and what it can do and this compels providing evidence to substantiate these claims."[112] He argued that the proposal to conduct phenomenology research using NLP modeling "constitutes an admission that NLP does not have an evidence base and that NLP practitioners are seeking a post-hoc credibility."[112]

Rowan (2008)[113] addresses recent efforts by some NLP proponents (e.g., Wake (2008);[114] Mathison and Tosey (2008)[115]) to give NLP epistemic foundation in constructivism. According to Rowan, "Constructivism (and constructionism, which is closely similar) in all its forms questions the existence of a fixed external reality, ready to be discovered by scientists...The basic case is that knowledge, scientific or otherwise, is not obtained by objective means but is constructed through social discourse." Rowan argues that the only philosophical commitment that is explicitly and implicitly present in NLP is a "broad and undiscriminating pragmatism—let's see what works." Rowan explains that Bandler and Grinder adopted concepts from their examplars—Erickson, Satir and Perls—without scrutiny or criticism, as per their pragmatism. Rowan explains that Bandler and Grinder at no point—for example—subjected Erickson's concept of "The Unconscious" to any critical analysis, they took it entirely for granted. Rowan argues that this is entirely antithetical to constructivism and that these notionally constructivist NLP proponents do not understand constructivism or its implications. Taking constructivism seriously necessitates challenging Bandler and Grinder and their exemplars on all their assumptions, according to Rowan. Rowan suggests that these authors' commitment to constructivism doesn't extend beyond lip service and name dropping. Rowan charges: "Let me put it even more simply: you cannot be based on constructivism and hold in an unquestioned way a belief in the Unconscious. But it is even worse than this – in NLP they shift from one definition of the Unconscious to another. In Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy (Wake, 2008), on p.49, we are accepting the Freudian unconscious, on p.56 we are accepting the hypnotic notion of the unconscious, on pp.59–62 we are going with the definition of Morris Massey, on p.135 we have a whole farrago of 21 functions of the unconscious, quoted from Tad James, an exponent of 'Quantum Linguistics' and 'Time Line Therapy'. This can only be described as undiscriminating...this is not constructivism, but something different, and highly dubious."

More recent systematic reviews of all NLP-related research conclude that that the efficacy of NLP and the validity of its core tenets has not been demonstrated;[16][95] this is a view that is shared by some NLP proponents that are calling for rigorous scientific research.[102][116][117] Reviewers Witkowski (2010) and Sturt et al (2012) agree that NLP lacks an evidence base but disagree on the invalidity of NLP: Witkowski[16]—expressing the consensus scientific opinion—states, "My analysis leads undeniably to the statement that NLP represents pseudoscientific rubbish, which should be mothballed forever"; Sturt et al—in common with some NLP proponents—state that "[t]he study conclusion [of no effect] reflects the limited quantity and quality of NLP research, rather than robust evidence of no effect." Reviewing Sturt et al (2012) Murray (2013) affirms their conclusion and adds that "[c]ollectively, the academic research base yields nominal support for paying for NLP training or services."[118]

Scientific criticism

Neuro-linguistic programming has been characterized as a New Age[57][119] pseudoscience. Witkowski (2010) writes that "NLP represents pseudoscientific rubbish, which should be mothballed forever."[16] The name Neuro-linguistic programming has also been criticized. Roderique-Davies (2009) states that "neuro" in NLP is "effectively fraudulent since NLP offers no explanation at a neuronal level and it could be argued that its use fallaciously feeds into the notion of scientific credibility."[112] Witkowski (2010) also states that at the neuronal level NLP provides no explanation at all and has nothing in common with academic linguistics or programming.[16] Similarly, experimental psychologist Corballis in his critique of lateralization of brain function (the left/right brain myth), states that "NLP is a thoroughly fake title, designed to give the impression of scientific respectability"[20] and describes NLP as a "cult" activity with "little scientific credibility".[120] According to psycholinguist Willem Levelt "[NLP] is not informed about the literature, it starts from insights that have been rendered out of date long ago, concepts are not apprehended or are a mere fabrication, conclusions are based upon wrong presumptions. NLP theory and practice have nothing to do with neuroscientific insights, nor with linguistics, nor with informatics and theory of programming."[121][122][123]

Neuroscientists Sergio Della Sala and Barry Beyerstein wrote, "[NLP] began with some now outmoded information from legitimate psychology, linguistics and neuroscience that even most experts accepted back in the 1960s, when NLP first arrived on the scene. The nice thing about real science, as opposed to pseudoscience, is the former eventually corrects its mistakes as new discoveries emerge. NLP remains mired in the past or the never-was."[124] According to Beyerstein (1995)[119] and Witkowski (2010), NLP jargon—such as pragmagraphics, metamodeling, metaprogramming, submodalities—is intended to impress, obfuscate and give the false impression that NLP is a scientific discipline.[16] Beyerstein says, "though it claims neuroscience in its pedigree, NLP's outmoded view of the relationship between cognitive style and brain function ultimately boils down to crude analogies."[119] Furthermore Beyerstein (1995) believed that NLP has helped popularize myths about the brain and neurology and that that the aphorism "you create your own reality" promotes an epistemologically relativistic perspective, the purpose of which is to gain immunity from scientific testing. Reviewing various applications of brain lateralization mythology to education and psychotherapy, neuroscientist Lauren Julius Harris writes, "[t]he scientifically most pretentious of these [applications] is known as Neurolinguistic Programming".[125]

Bradley and Biederman (1985)[126] explain that the study of human communication is conventionally divided into syntactics, semantics and pragmatics and that these subfields of linguistics are indivisible and interdependent. After Watzlawick, Bradley and Biederman argue that "[s]uperimposed on these three aspects of communication is the context in which the communication occurs" and that this context is vital to understanding communication. Bradley and Biederman argue that Bandler and Grinder focus on syntactics and semantics and disregard pragmatics and context which are "the most intricate and important aspects" of communication. Bradley and Biederman argue that to this extent Bandler and Grinder have produced a very superficial analysis of verbal and non-verbal communication. It is also argued that this major deficiency in NLP cannot be remediated "as long as Bandler & Grinder refuse to acknowledge the need for empirical research." Furthermore, "their theory is not clearly articulated; its terminology, premises, and assumptions are either specified in an ambiguous manner or not specified at all". Responding to Bandler and Grinder's maxim that they aren't interested in the "truth" but only in "what works", Bradley and Biederman state, "[i]t has yet to be empirically demonstrated that their [Bandler and Grinder] approach works". For example, a central supposition of NLP—that there exists a connection "between a client's distorted perceptions of the world and his/her distorted linguistic representations"—is undergirded only by faith and intuition. Bradley and Biederman highlight that on the one hand Bandler and Grinder posit that there is no veridical relationship between reality and perception (an idea drawn from the phenomenology of Husserl) yet on the other hand they offer only personal testimony—something which according to their own theoretical position is unreliable—in support of the accuracy of their theory.

Tye (1994)[127] is concerned to reconcile the failure of empirical research to validate NLP and the anecdotes that NLP proponents present in defence of the efficacy of NLP. Tye draws a comparison between shamanism and NLP, describing what he terms a "psycho shaman effect". According to Tye, "[l]ike NLP techniques, the psycho shaman effect is a collection of already existing, well understood and accepted ideas. Specifically it has three components: cognitive dissonance, placebo effect and therapist charisma". Tye thus attributes the apparent efficacy of NLP to nonspecific effects.

Craft (2001)[128] considers NLP to be ostensibly based on social constructivism—and indeed several NLP proponents claim that it is so[114][115]—and proceeds to evaluate NLP modeling in those terms. According to Craft, constructivist theories of learning conceive of an expert instructor and a novice in apprenticeship that gradually grows in "confidence, understanding and competence" via a process of dialogue that results in a negotiated shared experience and meaning. The notion of knowledge being created discursively is central to social constructivism yet absent in NLP modeling. Craft argues that NLP modeling contains no appreciation of the expert instructor (i.e. the person who is skilled in the activity of teaching itself) nor of the peculiarities of constructivist teaching and learning. For these reasons Craft is not convinced by the claims of NLP proponents; Craft doubts that "merely copying, without negotiation, can really lead to expert performance". Craft contends that the theory of situated cognition contradicts the assumptions of NLP modeling in that NLP modeling is in effect concerned with mimicry of expertise that is divorced from its actual ("real life") context of performance. Observation of "'surface features' of another person's behaviour...[and even] deeper aspects of another person's performance, which may include beliefs, physiology, strategies, sub-modalities, etc" is insufficient to enculturate a novice into a specific domain of knowledge, argues Craft. Craft contends that NLP is dogmatic in its promotion of modeling as the most effective method of skill acquisition when there may be such things as learning styles. Lastly—and in common with Rowan (2008) but for different reasons[113](see Empirical validity)—Craft argues that NLP is inconsistent with social constructivism. According to social constructivism reality is socially constructed. One of the main NLP maxims—presuppositions in NLP jargon—is Korzybski's pronouncement that "The map is not the territory". To paraphrase Craft, according to social constructivism there is no "territory" as such, no reality "out there", so the map-territory distinction is meaningless within a social constructivist epistemology.

Devilly argues that the so-called power therapies—such as NLP—gain popularity because they are promoted, like other pseudoscience, using a set of social influence tactics. These include making extraordinary claims (e.g., a one-session cure for any trauma-related memory), creating a rationalization trap by obtaining incremental commitments from students learning the power therapy (e.g., first lesson is free and subsequent courses increase in price), manufacturing source credibility and sincerity by creating a guru-like leader that is most qualified in the power therapy, creating a self-regulated body composed of those that have completed a course in the power therapy, and defining an enemy to facilitate in-group/out-group thinking and behavior and to serve as a scapegoat.[19]

NLP has been criticized alongside theories and practices characterized as questionable, pseudoscience and/or discredited practices in therapy. Sources within therapy and psychology include books such as Crazy Therapies (1997), Science and Pseudo-science in Clinical Psychology (2002), and Tall Tales about the Mind and Brain (2007). Articles critical of NLP also appear in the Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience (2000) and The Skeptic's Dictionary (2003). NLP has also been used as a key example of pseudoscience to facilitate the understanding of the importance of rational and critical thinking in a number of academic subjects.[23][24][25]

According to Witkowski (2010), NLP also appears on "the list of discredited therapies" published in the Journal of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.[16] With reference to work by Carroll (2003), Della Sala (1999), Lilienfeld et al. (2003) and Singer and Lalich (1996) on "pseudoscientific, unvalidated, or "quack" psychotherapies" within clinical psychology, Norcross et al. (2006) included NLP for treatment of mental/behavior disorders in a survey[22] of the opinions of psychologists who rated NLP between possibly discredited and probably discredited, a rating similar to dolphin assisted therapy, equine therapy, psychosynthesis, scared straight programmes, and emotional freedom technique (EFT). Norcross et al. (2010) listed "neurolinguistic programming for drug and alcohol dependence" seventh out of their list of the ten most discredited drugs and alcohol interventions,[33] and it is listed as "certainly discredited" for addiction treatment in Evidence-based practices in addiction treatment: review and recommendations for public policy.[34]

NLP as quasi-religion

Sociologists and anthropologists—amongst others—have categorized NLP as a quasi-religion belonging to the New Age and/or Human Potential Movements.[129][130][131][132][133][134][135][136][137][138] Medical anthropologist Jean M. Langford categorizes NLP as a form of folk magic; that is to say, a practice with symbolic efficacy—as opposed to physical efficacy—that is able to effect change through nonspecific effects (e.g., placebo). To Langford, NLP is akin to a syncretic folk religion "that attempts to wed the magic of folk practice to the science of professional medicine".[139] Bandler and Grinder were (and continue to be[140][141]) influenced by the shamanism described in the books of Carlos Castaneda. Several ideas and techniques have been borrowed from Castaneda and incorporated into NLP including so-called double induction[39] and the notion of "stopping the world"[142] which is central to NLP modeling. Tye (1994)[127] characterizes NLP as a type of "psycho shamanism". Fanthorpe and Fanthorpe (2008)[143] see a similarity between the mimetic procedure and intent of NLP modeling and aspects of ritual in some syncretic religions. Hunt (2003)[129] draws a comparison between the concern with lineage from an NLP guru—which is evident amongst some NLP proponents—and the concern with guru lineage in some Eastern religions.

In Aupers and Houtman (2010)[133] Bovbjerg identifies NLP as a New Age "psycho-religion" and uses NLP as a case-study to demonstrate the thesis that the New Age psycho-religions such as NLP are predicated on an instrinsically religious idea, namely concern with a transcendent "other". In the world's monotheistic faiths, argues Bovbjerg, the purpose of religious practice is communion and fellowship with a transcendent 'other', i.e. a God. With the New Age psycho-religions, argues Bovbjerg, this orientation towards a transcendent 'other' persists but the other has become "the other in our selves", the so-called unconscious: "[t]he individual's inner life becomes the intangible focus of [psycho-]religious practices and the subconscious becomes a constituent part of modern individuals' understanding of the Self." Bovbjerg adds, "[c]ourses in personal development would make no sense without an unconscious that contains hidden resources and hidden knowledge of the self." Thus psycho-religious practice revolves around ideas of the conscious and unconscious self and communicating with and accessing the hidden resources of the unconscious self—the transcendent other. According to Bovbjerg the notion that we have an unconscious self underlies many NLP techniques either explicitly or implicitly. Bovbjerg argues, "[t]hrough particular practices, the [NLP practitioner qua] psycho-religious practitioner expects to achieve self-perfection in a never-ending transformation of the self."

Bovbjerg's secular critique of NLP is echoed in the conservative Christian perspective of the New Age as represented by Jeremiah (1995)[144] who argues that, "[t]he ′transformation′ recommended by the founders and leaders of these business seminars [such as NLP] has spiritual implications that a non-Christian or new believer may not recognise. The belief that human beings can change themselves by calling upon the power (or god) within or their own infinite human potential is a contradiction of the Christian view. The Bible says man is a sinner and is saved by God's grace alone."

The quasi-religiosity of New Age belief and practice—even to the extent of "self-improvement" technique—was affirmed in a series of US court cases brought by employees against their employers whom mandated corporate New Age training. The plaintiffs claimed that these trainings conflicted with their religious beliefs.[145][146] On this subject, Young—in Heuberger and Nash (1994)[147]—specifies, "[s]uch New Age methods include meditation, yoga, biofeedback, centering, guided visualizations, affirmations, Akido-based exercise [sic], self-hypnosis, fire walking, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)".

Intellectual property disputes

By the end of 1980, the collaboration between Bandler and Grinder ended.[41] On 25 September 1981, Bandler instituted a civil action against Grinder and his company, seeking injunctive relief and damages for Grinder's commercial activity in relation to NLP. On 29 October 1981, judgement was made in favor of Bandler.[148] As part of a settlement agreement Bandler granted to Grinder a limited 10-year license to conduct NLP seminars, offer certification in NLP and use the NLP name on the condition that royalties from the earnings of the seminars be paid to Bandler. In July 1996 and January 1997, Bandler instituted a further two civil actions against Grinder and his company, numerous other prominent figures in NLP and 200 further initially unnamed persons. Bandler alleged that Grinder had violated the terms of the settlement agreement reached in the initial case and had suffered commercial damage as a result of the allegedly illegal commercial activities of the defendants. Bandler sought from each defendant damages no less than US$10,000,000.00.[149][150] In February 2000, the Court found against Bandler, stating that "Bandler has misrepresented to the public, through his licensing agreement and promotional materials, that he is the exclusive owner of all intellectual property rights associated with NLP, and maintains the exclusive authority to determine membership in and certification in the Society of NLP."[151][152]

On this matter Stollznow (2010)[21] comments, "[i]ronically, Bandler and Grinder feuded in the 1980s over trademark and theory disputes. Tellingly, none of their myriad of NLP models, pillars, and principles helped these founders to resolve their personal and professional conflicts."

In December 1997, Tony Clarkson instituted civil proceedings against Bandler to have Bandler's UK trademark of NLP revoked. The Court found in favor of Clarkson; Bandler's trademark was subsequently revoked.[153][154]

By the end of 2000, Bandler and Grinder entered a release where they agreed, amongst other things, that "they are the co-creators and co-founders of the technology of Neuro-linguistic Programming" and "mutually agree to refrain from disparaging each other's efforts, in any fashion, concerning their respective involvement in the field of NeuroLinguistic Programming." [155]

As a consequence of these disputes and settlements, the names NLP and Neuro-linguistic Programming are not owned by any party and there is no restriction on any party offering NLP certification.[156][157][158][159][160]

Associations, certification, and practitioner standards

The names NLP and Neuro-linguistic Programming are not owned by any person or organisation, they are not trademarked intellectual property[161][162] and there is no central regulating authority for NLP instruction and certification.[160][163] There is no restriction on who can describe themselves as an NLP Master Practitioner or NLP Master Trainer and there are a multitude of certifying associations;[112] this has led Devilly (2005) to describe such training and certifying associations as granfalloons, i.e. proud and meaningless associations of human beings.[19]

There is great variation in the depth and breadth of training and standards of practitioners, and some disagreement between those in the field about which patterns are, or are not, actual NLP.[18][164] NLP is an open field of training with no "official" best practice. With different authors, individual trainers and practitioners having developed their own methods, concepts and labels, often branding them as NLP,[57] the training standards and quality differ greatly.[165] In 2009, a British television presenter was able to register his pet cat as a member of the British Board of Neuro Linguistic Programming (BBNLP), which subsequently claimed that it existed only to provide benefits to its members and not to certify credentials.[166]

See also

Notes and references


  • Bandler, R., Grinder, J. (1975) The Structure of Magic I: A Book About Language and Therapy Science and Behavior Books. ISBN 0-8314-0044-7
  • Bandler, R., Grinder, J. (1976) "The Structure of Magic II. A Book About Communication and Change" Science and Behavior Books. ISBN 978-0831400491
  • Bandler, R., Grinder, J. (1981) Reframing: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Transformation of Meaning Real People Press. ISBN 0-911226-25-7

Further reading

  • Bandler, R., Grinder, J. (1979) Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming. Real People Press. 149 pages. ISBN 0-911226-19-2
  • Bandler, R., Andreas, S. (ed) and Andreas, C. (ed) (1985) Using Your Brain-for a Change ISBN 0-911226-27-3
  • Bradbury, A., Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Time for an Informed Review. Skeptical Intelligencer 11, 2008.
  • Carroll R. (2003) The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions p. 253
  • Della Sala (Editor) (2007) Tall Tales about the Mind and Brain: Separating Fact from Fiction Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198568770, p. xxii
  • Dilts, R., Hallbom, Tim, Smith, Suzi (1990) Beliefs: Pathways to Health & Well-being, Crown House Publishing, ISBN 9781845908027
  • Dilts, R. (1990) Changing belief systems with NLP Meta Publications. ISBN 9780916990244
  • Grinder, J., Bandler, R. (1976) Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson Volume I ISBN 0-916990-01-X
  • Grinder, M., Lori Stephens (Ed) (1991) Righting the Educational Conveyor Belt ISBN 1-55552-036-7
  • Genie Z. Laborde, Ph.D. (1987) Influencing with Integrity: Management Skills for Communication and Negotiation
  • Satir, V., Grinder, J., Bandler, R. (1976) Changing with Families: A Book about Further Education for Being Human Science and Behavior Books. ISBN 0-8314-0051-X
  • Lum, C. (2001). Scientific Thinking in Speech and Language Therapy. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Mahwah, New Jersey London p. 16
  • Singer, Margaret & Janja Lalich (1997). Crazy Therapies: What Are They? Do They Work?. Jossey Bass, pp. 167–195 (169). ISBN 0-7879-0278-0. Crazy Therapies (book)
  • Wake, Lisa (2008). Neurolinguistic psychotherapy: A Postmodern Perspective. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415425414.
  • William F. Williams, Ed. (2000) Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience: From Alien Abductions to Zone Therapy, Fitzory Dearborn Publishers, ISBN 978-1-57958-207-4 p. 235
Journal articles
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