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Neuro-linguistic Programming; The Technology of What?


(This page will be updated regularly as more fact comes in)

Updated 1st Oct 2005

Improvement Through Clear Thinking

To improve one's self is one of the most honorable and rewarding human activities, but in attempting to do so people often fall prey to unscrupulous entrepreneurs who are very willing to promise the universe but only deliver old rope.  The intention of this article is to uncover myth, confusions, and misdirections inherant in NLP in order for people to realize how easy it is to fall into the trap of ineffective pseudoscientific thinking that is designed to hook the customer with pleasant sounding promises and jargon, but only results in repeat buy due to dissatisfaction and misconception.   The kind of thinking required for this activity is simple common sense, with an open mind towards clear thinking. 

The facts below have been taken from a wide range of sources including NLP manuals, research journals, and scholarly books on subjects of pseudoscience, neurology, linguistics, and anthropology.

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) NLP is a pseudoscientific self help development in the same mould as that of Dianetics and EST (Lilienfeld 2003).  NLP practitioners most commonly prefer to define NLP as "the study of the structure of subjective experience". How do we do what we do? How do we think? How do we learn? And how do we connect with each other and our world on a physical and spiritual level? (O'Connor & McDermott, 1996) (Dilts et al 1980)(Milliner 1988).

The methods of NLP involve programming and reprogramming engrams (Sinclair 1992) (Drenth 2003) treating traumas (Andreas & Faulkner, 1994) by reframing, and belief change methods (O'Connor and McDermot 1996). Originally developed for psychotherapy, NLP has expanded to include applications to a variety of contexts including business, sports performance, and the development of psychic abilities, covert seduction techniques, penis enlargement, shamanic practices and other such new age marginalia.

NLP was originally created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder and has been further developed by a number of people since the 1970s, and is claimed to borrow from a great many sources and "inspirations". NLP is also promoted by linguist John Grinder as an "operational epistemology" or a meta-discipline(Grinder & Bostic, 2001).

Reviews of the empirical testing of NLP have concluded that NLP is scientifically unsupported, and as such, NLP has been classed as a pseudoscientific self help development in the same mould as that of Dianetics and EST (Lilienfeld 2003)(Williams 2000).


Overview and "Theory"

NLP is a method of programming the mind, emphasizing the mind-body-spirit connection. ¡§Neuro¡¨ vaguely refers to the workings of the brain and to detectable patterns of thinking. ¡§Linguistic¡¨ refers to verbal and non-verbal expressions of the brains thinking patterns. ¡§Programming¡¨ implies that the patterns can be are recognized and understood by the mind and that they can be altered.

NLP promoter, Robert Dilts asserts that NLP "is theoretically rooted in the principles of neurology, psychophysiology, linguistics, cybernetics, and communication theory" (Dilts et al 1980). NLP makes use of concept of the engram (Sinclair 1992) in relation to the mind/body connection, (Drenth 2003) for the utility of change, the development of unconscious competence, and the treatment or removal of traumas (Andreas & Faulkner, 1994). The engram is a patterned response, which has been stabilised at the level of unconscious competence. These engrams are beneficial if they involve automatic activities which are useful, but also comprise activities which are automatic and pernicious, such as addictive behaviour (Sinclair 1992). The concept involves the memory trace, can be located using the eye directionality, or other such cues, and then can be accessed and manipulated using changes in internal visuo-spatial imagery.

The engram concept is by and large scientifically unsupported. Aspects of associative conditioning as discovered by Pavlov have also been used extensively in NLP ¡§anchoring¡¨ techniques, although they are often used out of context. Some NLP spokespeople, such as Rex and Carolyn Sikes say "what occurs is a way of conciously creating the placebo effect".  However, most NLP proponents tend to avoid the theory question and state that they don't really have one (Singer and Lalich 1996).  

NLP advocates claim to be the study of structure and that this structure behaves in predictable ways.  Many proposals are made of association and cause and effect: if the eyes move one way, it indicated that the brain is accessing something particular, and if you use that information in language, you can reach that part of the brain etc.  However, when these proposals are tested by scientists, linguists, neurologists and psychologists, they consistently turn out to be false.  NLP proponents often try to explain this away using ad hoc hypotheses and demanding further proof that experiments were conducted properly etc.  Therefore, there is compelling evidence that NLP is a highly pseudoscientific subject.

Claims of NLP

NLP practitioner¡¦s goal is generally claimed to be; to change a person's state and ¡§re-program¡¨ the mind of that person. By detecting automatic body changes such as skin color changes, muscle tension, and eye movements, as well as other physiological responses, the NLP practitioner supposedly discerns how a client perceives and relates to identity, personal beliefs, and life goal issues. NLP practitioners claim to help clients to replace false or negative perceptions, with positive, life affirming beliefs, although some NLP patterns of persuasion within NLP seduction are designed to create negative beliefs.

NLP has been applied to many applications outside of therapy. These include the use of  large group awareness training seminars taught by NLP practitioners such as Tony Robbins in a similar manner to EST (Erhardt Training Seminars) and Landmark Forums. NLP has also been used in a variety of different other related therapies and activities, such as power therapies (Gallo 2003), hypnotherapy, seduction, and other more fringe practices such as shamanism, and psychic development.

In this respect, there have been many extraordinary claims such as ¡§NLP practitioners claim that it's not uncommon for the turnaround on a phobia such as heights or spiders to be under 10 minutes¡¨ and that you can "make someone fall in love with you in 5 minutes" and it is possible to "cure any psychological problem in a session " (Griffin & Goldsmith, 1985, p. 41). Tony Robbins has also claimed that through neurolinguistic programming (NLP), clinicians can "cure people of tumors and long-standing psychological problems, and NLP also has allowed him to "make a woman have an orgasm without touching her," and even "bring a person who was brain-dead back to life" (Leikind & McCarthy, 1991). And Bandler has claimed that he taught a novice woman martial artist how to beat an experienced martial artist by slowing down her perception of time (Bandler 1993. p105). Grinder describes NLP as "an accelerated learning approach for modeling human excellence" (Grinder 2003).

Principles of NLP

In essence, all of NLP is founded on two fundamental presuppositions (Dilts et al 1980)

  • The map is not the territory.  As human beings, we can never know reality. We can only know our perceptions of reality. Your idea of reality is changeable and not the same as reality, and as with other new age notions, you can create your own reality and change other people's reality.  This is a move away from Aristotelian thought of objective reality being the main focus of knowledge.
  • Life and 'Mind' are Systemic Processes. The processes that take place within a human being and between human beings and their environment are systemic. Our bodies, our societies, and our universe form an ecology of complex systems and sub-systems all of which interact with and mutually influence each other.

The other most commonly related presuppositions are:

  • Behind every behavior is a positive intention. This means that no matter how badly or illegally people behave, there is always an underlying positive intent.
  • There is no failure, only feedback. If you fail at something, it is best not to consider it a failure, but an opportunity to somehow get around it.
  • We already have all the resources we need to succeed. This relates to thenew age human potential  notion that we have unlimited resources at our disposal. This often refers to the engram concept and studies by Wilder Penfieldwhich help foster the belief that all memories are kept in the subconcious and can be manipulated by NLP users for self-change or persuasion.

NLP proponents claim that these presuppositions increase your flexibility to solve problems and cope with the strains of life.  However, they can also be adopted as a way to foster delusional or polyanna thinking, to dissociate from reality, and to claim unaccountability due to the subjective nature of the NLP perspectives.  The notions are often very attractive to those interested in new age philosophies of "ultimate power" and "past lives", and the adherence to exaggerated resourcefulness gives rise to confused thinking over human potential (eg the 10% or 1% brain usage myth).  The presuppositions themselves, are extremely useful for group leaders to leverage control, and excuse themselves of misdemeanors.


Background of Neuro-Linguistic Programming

One of the earliest influences on NLP were General Semantics (Alfred Korzybski) as a new perspective for looking at the world which included a kind of mental hygiene. This was a departure from the Aristotelian concepts of modern science and objective reality, and it influenced notions of programming the mind that NLP includes.

General semantics influenced several schools of thought, leading to a viable human potential industry and associations with emerging New Age thinking. By the late 1960s, self-help organizations such as EST, Dianetics, and Scientology had become financially successful, receiving attention and promotion from human potential thinkers such as Fritz Perls who had a great interest in the engram concept, and during this period, promoted and operated a Dianetics clinic. The Esalen human potential seminars in California began to attract people, such as the aforementioned Fritz Perls, as well as Gregory Bateson, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson.

The first 3 people Grinder and Bandler modeled were

(source Andreas & Faulkner, 1994)

All 3 were considered by Grinder and Bandler to be highly competent in their fields, and the patterns they detected in their therapy became the basis of NLP, along with influences from Korzybski and Bateson (who coined the NLP expressions "The map is not the territory", and "the difference that makes the difference", respectively).

Grinder and Bandler analyzed the speaking patterns, voice tones, word selection, gesticulations, postures, and eye movements of these individuals and related this information to the internal thinking process of each participant. According to their claims, Bandler and Grinder found that eye movements, posture, voice tone, word choice, and breathing changes reveal unconscious patterns affecting a person¡¦s emotional state. For people experiencing emotional difficulties or physical illness, Bandler and Grinder suggest that once these unconscious patterns are discovered the client can be assisted I adopting new healthy patterns of thinking that trigger positive immunological responses and guide the mind and body to greater health and wellbeing.

Thus, NLP is claimed to be "the most powerful synthesis of psychology available" (Bradbury 1992) concocted by a mathematician and linguist, who modeled a Dianetics promoter, a new age energy therapist, and an anthropologist.

The practice of neuro-linguistic programming attracted mostly therapists at first. The promise of effective communication patterns and the ability to influence people attracted business people, sales people, artists, and "new-agers" (Hall 1994). As time went by, Leslie Cameron-Bandler, Judith DeLozier, Robert Dilts, and David Gordon made contributions and the seminars of Bandler and Grinder were transcribed into a book, Frogs into Princes. This became a popular NLP book and demand for seminars increased, which in turn became successful human potential attractions (Dilts, 1991).

NLP's core methods and hypotheses have been tested over the period from the early 1980's to the present and are scientifically unsupported. Presently, the field of NLP is classed as a pseudoscientific self help development in the same mould as that of Dianetics and EST (Lilienfeld 2003).

Following the influence of the Esalen Institute, NLP is often promoted in combination with New Age developments such as biofeedback, neurofeedback, intuition development, remote viewing, and psychic development. NLP claims to be nonjudgmental to all creeds and points of view (Andreas & Faulkner, 1994).

Eye accessing cues and the preferred representational system (PRS)

According to this core NLP model, upward eye movements indicate visual processing, eye movements down indicate somatic or kinesthetic processing, and eye movements to the sides indicate auditory processing. Also, eye movements to the left, or right indicate if a representation was recalled or constructed. NLP advocates connect this with brain hemispheric science of left and right brain dominance for certain skills, such as logic and mathematics for the left hemisphere, and creativity and imagination for the right hemisphere (O'Connor & McDermott, 1996).  The simplistic level of left/right brain hemispheric differences that PRS is based on has been classed as brain mythology (Sala 1999).

NLP practitioners also use other cues to understand the preferred representational system (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) of the person. For example, the posture of a person could be; head up and erect, swaying or tilted, rounded and head down to indicate visual, auditory or kinesthetic respectively (O'Connor and McDermot 1996).

Most evidence used by NLP practitioners to promote the use of NLP appears to be ¡§unsubstantiated, uncorroborated or entirely anecdotal¡¨ (Platt 2001). However, NLP "models" have been rigorously reviewed and tested by independent scientists but the results show that NLP has ¡§no significant scientific support¡¨ (Platt 2001). For example the conjecture that a person has a primary representational system (PRS) which is observed in the choice of words has been found to be false according to rigorous research reviews (Morgan, 1993) (Platt, 2001).

The assertion that a person has a PRS which can be determined by the direction of eye movements found even less support (Heap 1988) (Morgan, 1993) (Platt 2001). The assertion that matching PRS will increase rapport with the client has also been found to be false. Research has indicated that therapists who match their clients' language using techniques proposed within NLP were rated by the client and external observers as being untrustworthy and ineffective (Heap1988) (Morgan, 1993).

Meta-model and Milton Model

The meta-model is a set of language patterns (from Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls and Transformational syntax) designed to challenge limits to a person's map of the world (Grinder & Bostic, 2001). Effectively the meta-model can be reduced to asking "What specifically", or "How specifically?" to challenge unspecified nouns or verbs. Other challenges are directed at distortions, generalizations or deletions in the speaker's language (Bandler & Grinder, 1975a Ch3). The reverse set of the meta-model is the Milton-model; a collection of artfully vague language patterns elicited from the work of Milton H. Erickson (Bandler & Grinder, 1975b). Together these models form the basis for the all other NLP models.

The problem with the meta model is that it takes a linguistic relativism view.  According to linguists, this is long out of date, and has largely been debunked empirically.  Nominalizations are a fact of language, but the use within NLP is clouded with misconception (Levelt 1995).  As such, the meta model can be regarded as an obscure application of jargon more for the purposes of concluding whatever you like within people's communication, rather than simple questioning for objective clarity.


Mind, Body and Spirit

Similar to the followers other New Age disciplines some NLP practitioners consider the mind, spirit and physical body as a system; that is, each influences the other (Dilts 1992) (Lilienfeld et al 2003). This means that there needs to be a balance between the concious and unconcious mind (O'Connor and McDermot 1996), changes can be easier to make by working at a physical (body) level (letting the body inform the mind), as well as by dialog (mind informing emotions), and humans communicate by taking in information through the senses, but also by giving out communication as a kind of energy, and this can be considered the spiritual side of communication (Dilts 1992). This can be considered metaphorically in terms of the communication sender and recipient's mutual intention to spend energy on sending/receiving, and it can also be thought of as in the sense of a "thought field" or "thought energy" defined in the related subject of energy psychology (Gallo 2002).

However, there are no physical correlates between these kind of energies and energy explained through physics (Sala et al 1999). Nevertheless, Virginia Satir often stated this kind of humanism as being the spirit and soul of communication and therapy (Brothers, 1992). NLP spirituality is said to be fully accepting of any religion whether it be Christian, Buddhist, Occultist, Taoist, Rosicrucian, or any other (O'Connor and McDermot 1996), which is evident in NLP's use for the promotion within dubious new age and occult practices.


The Scientific Testing of NLP

NLP has been empirically tested over many years, and it has consistently been found to be ineffective (Thaler Singer & Lalich, 1996). The US National Committee was asked in 1984 to judge the various techniques, and they used 14 different judges in order to do so. A review of research showed that NLP is scientifically unsupported (Heap 1988).

The 1988 US National Committee report then reported that "Individually, and as a group, these studies fail to provide an empirical base of support for NLP assumptions...or NLP effectiveness. The committee cannot recommend the employment of such an unvalidated technique" (Druckman & Swets, 1988). In addition, Edgar Johnson, technical director of the Army Research Institute heading the NLP focused ¡§Project Jedi¡¨ concern stated "Lots of data shows that NLP doesn't work¡¨ (Squires 1988).

Since then objective and empirical studies and review papers have consistently shown NLP to be ineffective and reviews or meta-analyses have given NLP a conclusively negative assessment (Bleimeister, 1988) (Morgan, 1993) (Platt, 2001) (Bertelsen, 1987), and the finding that there is no neuro-scientific basis for any of NLP¡¦s claims (Thaler Singer and Lalich 1996)(Drenth 2003).   Thus, it is clear that NLP does not work to even a normally acceptable standard, and falls very far short of fulfilling the extraordinary claims that are made even within the basic techniques of NLP and implied within the jargon of NLP.


Placebos, Distorted Thinking, and Superstitious Pigeons

There are also scientific explanations for why some people perceive some aspects of NLP to work sometimes. This can be due to the placebo effect, authority expectation change, social pressure, superficial symptomatic rather than core treatment, distortion of fact through beliefs change distorting the value in the treatment, and overestimating some apparent successes while ignoring, downplaying, or explaining away failures (Beyerstein 1997).

In fact, the superstitious pigeon experiment is one of the best ways to explain how people can fool themselves into thinking that certain parts of NLP are working.  An experimenter placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon "at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird's behavior". He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered, and that they continued to perform the same actions.  One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a 'tossing' response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly.  These are similar to what goes on when a person believes NLP will do something for them.  The fact is though, it turns out to be a red herring.


NLP's Claim to Science

Grinder often claims that NLP is both an art and a science (Grinder 2003) and many NLP promoters and advertisers continue to call the originators "scientists" and to use such terms as "science" to promote their ideas, "technology", and "hi-tech psychology" in order to sell NLP (Thaler Singer & Lalich, 1996). However Grinder more recently has been promoting NLP as an epistemology than a technology or psychological science.

Similar to Scientology, NLP uses a combination of scientific and pseudoscientific jargon.  However, the scientific jargon that is used is most often taken completely out of the context that is was used within psychology.

NLP advocates attempt to associate NLP with great minds such as Einstein (Grinder & Delozier, 1987), and uses extraordinary claims of its efficacy. However, in distinct contrast with Einsteinian thought, NLP prefers to ignore Hume's dictum: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". NLP promoters have consistently failed to provide even normal scientific evidence. This includes the notion of adopting unconscious competence through the manipulation of the engram, which is also not supported by science.

NLP models contrast sharply with accepted psychological models of behavior, motivation or personality. Psychological modeling makes considerable effort to measure the existence and strength of the parts of the model for distinguishable constructs or factors, and takes great care to measure the distinct association between each proposed construct (Michie et al, 2005). NLP promoters make no attempt at all to do this, and NLP models cannot be verified, and so the techniques developed from them may have nothing to do with the models or their sources (Carroll, 2003).

In sum, NLP promotes methods which are false, inaccurate or ineffective (Bleimeister, 1988) (Morgan, 1993) (Platt, 2001). From these models it develops techniques which may have nothing to do with either the models or the sources of the "models" (Carroll, 2005). NLP makes claims about thinking and perception which do not seem to be supported by neuroscience (Carroll, 2003) (Platt, 2001) (Druckman & Swets, 1988) (Bertelsen, 1987). Also, NLP has been marketed to the general public using a broad brush approach to solutions" (Carroll, 2003), and adopts conveniently broad and simple terms, popular psychology, and pseudoscience and myths about the brain to promote its claims (Drenth 2003).

NLP and Linguistics

The psycholinguist view is that "NLP is not informed about linguistics literature, it is based on vague insights that were out of date long ago, their linguistics concepts are not properly construed or are mere fabrications, and conclusions are based upon the wrong premises. NLP theory and practice has nothing to do with neuroscientific insights or linguistics, nor with informatics or theories of programming. NLP developers are not interested in the question as to how neurological processes take place, or in serious research" (Levelt 1995).

NLP is Pseudoscientific

Given the deference that science is routinely accorded in most walks of life, it was inevitable that it would attract many impersonators.  These imitators display the trappings of legitimate sciences but lack their rigorous methods, reliable findings, and valid insights (Sala et al 1999).

As such, NLP has been classed as a pseudoscientific self help development in the same mould as EST and Dianetics (Lilienfeld et al 2003) (Williams et al 2000)(Levelt 1995)(Drenth 2003). This is in part due to the fact that the reviews of research on NLP have not supported either the assumptions of NLP or the efficacy (Thaler Singer & Lalich, 1996), but similar to proponents of other pseudoscientific subjects such as Dianetics and EST, the NLP community continues to claim their assumptions and methods are powerful, relying only on testimonials and anecdotal evidence to support their claims.

Pseudoscience is also prone to certain fallacies and characteristics. These can be; Overgeneral predictions, pseudoscientific experimentation, dogmatic adherence or recycling of de-validated claims (Winn and Wiggins 2001)[3].

The characteristics of pseudoscience have been identified in NLP promotion. These are (Lilienfeld et al 2003):

  • The use of obscurantist language and psycho-babble (eg metaprograms, parapragmatics, sub-modalities etc)
  • The absence of connectivity (Levelt 1995)
  • Over-reliance on testimonial and anecdotal evidence
  • An overuse of ad hoc hypotheses designed to immunize claims from falsification
  • Emphasis on confirmation rather refutation (eg do what works, - cover up what does not work)
  • Absence of boundary conditions
  • The mantra of holism
  • Evasion of peer review
  • Reversed burden of proof (away from those making claim, and towards those testing the claim).

Pseudoscientific arguments tend to contain several or all of these factors, as can be seen in this example that shows ad hoc hypotheses and holistic argument as an attempt to explain away the negative findings, and an emphasis on confirmation and reversed burden of proof etc.

Criticisms of NLP

There have been many criticisms of NLP from psychologists, management scholars, linguists, psychotherapists and cult awareness groups. Critics say NLP is simply a half-baked conflation of pop psychology and pseudo-science that uses jargon to disguise the fact that it is based on a bunch of banal, if not incorrect, presuppositions (Sanghera 2005). The criticisms range from the fact that it is ineffective, ethically questionable, pseudoscientific, full of unwarranted claims that lead to the sale of further dubious products, inconsistent, unscientific, and cult-like.



NLP and Dubious New Age Remedies

NLP is often defined as a quasi-spiritual behavior-modification (or "performance psychology") technique whose crux is "modelling," or "NLP modelling" (Raso 2005). Although NLP has been found to be largely ineffective, the general behavior of NLP advocates is one of wishful thinking and passing the buck that is often characteristic of quick fix schemes (Thaler Singer & Lalich, 1996). NLP has consistently been unequivocally promoted as a technology that promises solutions for everyone, far beyond the specific application of psychotherapy. As such, NLP is promoted by some for dubious treatments such as hypnotic breast enhancement, penis enlargement, remote viewing, covert seduction, and remote seduction.

In close association with its New Age spiritual principles, it is often sold in combination with shamanic methods of magic or Huna witchcraft by original NLP developers such as Richard Bandler. Although Grinder claims that NLP epistemology does not encourage mysticism (Grinder & Delozier, 1987), shamanic metaphors from Carlos Castenada are used in his NLP seminars. NLP has also been promoted by the originator, Bandler, in his shamanism teachings, and he often used anecdotes about the occult in his workshops and large group awareness training LGAT seminars (Hall & Belnap, 1999). This is partly attributable to NLP's New Age spiritual appeal (Lilienfeld 2003).

Also, the modeling of deceased experts has been criticized even within the field of NLP. Robert Dilts published models of Albert Einstein's and Nikola Tesla¡¦s internal strategies. With limited, or no high quality video available, it is almost impossible to test within the NLP modeling framework.

NLP is often sold together with power therapies.  These power therapies have received no scientific support, and are based on pseudoscientific principles of thought energy which have no physical correlation with energy as measured in real life.  However, the use of NLP together with power therapies tends to ignore these factors and rely on spurious testimonials and anecdotes in order to attract customers.

Unethical Use of NLP

The manner in which NLP has been promoted is highly questionable. NLP trainers often make unwarranted claims for the field in general or for the specific techniques that they teach. Ethical standards bodies and other professional associations state that unless a technique, process, drug, or surgical procedure can meet requirements of clinical tests, it is ethically questionable to offer it to the public, especially if money is to change hands (Beyerstein 1997). However, NLP claims are as yet unsubstantiated and the efficacy has not been seriously proven by NLP practitioners. Also, some trainers are secretive about their techniques, referring to them as "secrets" and only make them available through expensive training courses or products, making it hard to for customers to assess the validity of the techniques.

Ethical concerns of manipulation have also been voiced: ¡§so long as the influenced party's outcome is achieved at the same time as the influencer, this is "influencing with integrity." However, "Achieving your own outcome at the expense of or even without regard for the other party constitutes manipulation. What makes this particular 'informed manipulation' so frightening is that people with these skills acquire such personal power that they are able to affect people deeply, and their capacity to misguide others is thereby increased to the point of evil." (Seitz and Cohen 1992). Concerns have also been raised over NLP's use in ¡§speed seduction¡¨ methods proposed by NLP proponents such as Ross Jeffries in that may encourage manipulation and coercion.


NLP and Cult Activities

NLP has been strongly associated with modern day cults (Tippet, 1994) (Langone, 1993)(Singer 2003), it is seen as an intrinsic part of modern ritual mind control tactics (Crabtree, 2002) and NLP has even been monitored by the Cult Awareness Network (Shupe & Darnell, 2000) and appears on some lists of cults (Howell, 2001). This has partly been attributed to NLP¡¦s tendency to promote an ¡§almost evangelical fervor¡¨ which makes practitioners unreceptive or even unprepared to countenance scientific reviews of NLP (Platt 2001).

Although the basic tenets of NLP have been proved by science to be incorrect and ineffective, concepts that NLP borrows from other areas, such as hypnosis, social psychology etc, are used to coerce cult members to do things that they would normally not do.  Certain cults use borrowed techniques within NLP, in combination with the occult and pseudoscience to claim modern day miracles and induce dependence and compliance on the part of the cult¡¦s victims. Borrowed hypnotic techniques within NLP are used by both mild cults and very aggressive cults to induce dependence on the cult, and to further provide conditioning to induce compliance within the cult (Langone, 1993). 

The techniques used tend towards the drilling of guided imagery techniques that are designed to create suggestible circumstances for the mind so that the suggestions of the trainer/leader are instilled into the mind of the devotee or recruit.  The Australian Report, on Scientology has banned the use of these techniques within cults and religions in Australia due to their ability to create unhealthy dissociative states and delusion within the subjects.  Well trained psychologists even have to refer to the mind control aspects of NLP to help the victim recover from the NLP using cult.  Fortunately, the ill effects of these techniques is restricted only to those individuals using them extensively on their own, or during workshops, seminars, and other recruitment venues.


NLP on Newsgroups

Browsing through the NLP related newsgroups can offer a good idea of the level of delusion and misconception that NLP tends to promote.  These groups tend to simultaneously promote NLP with other pseudoscientific or dubious therapies such as remote influence, Silva Mind Control, and other dubious psychic or occult practices.

Often newsgroup leaders encourage adulation and cronyism to promote themselves and even sell products, and the use of the meta-model is often strongly enforced in order to control and increase social pressure towards promotion of NLP.   Dissenters are often labeled with loaded language, similar to that used in cults.  "Missmatcher" often means somebody who does not agree, and is similar to Scientology's QnA (no question and answers label).  Passive-aggressive is often used as a label for someone who asks awkward questions about the philosophical, scientific, and theoretical inconsistencies within NLP.  In all, it is clear that NLP offers a medium for restrictive cult behavior due to the metamodel's odd requirements, even though the concepts of NLP are "fluffier than a toffee in a laundry bag".

Dissenting against NLP results in being ordered to communicate extremely clearly often having to cite their sources, and the leader and acolytes do their best to attack the person (ad hominum) often using abusive language.  If the dissenter does not comply they are likely to get ejected from the group, and the leader and inner circle goes to work on "burning their effigy" for days afterwards in order to threaten anyone else for thinking of doing the same thing.  The group pressure caused by this kind of behavior is akin to heavy coercion. 

Issues with Jargon, Buzzwords, and Trademarks

Consistent with other pseudoscientific developments NLP's existing patterns, processes and jargon are modified then rebranded for promotional purposes. Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, for example, uses NLP technology under the banner 'neuroassociative conditioning' and promotes using gimmicks such as firewalking as clearly explained by the humourist Dave Barry. Some terms or buzzwords, are invented such as anchoring (similar to conditioning), and embedded commands, which are actually only hypnotic suggestions. Other terms are used completely out of context from their originally intended areas such as applied psychology and linguistics.


Applied psychology has a lot to offer in terms of allowing us to detect self delusion, functional fixedness, misattribution and all its problems.  Psychology also points to reliable methods of thinking and change.  However, with so many pseudos around, with their simplistic "accelerated" style of promotion, it can be so easy to be tangled up in nonsense that it becomes a long hard struggle for some to disentangle from the briars in order to find anything useful from the experience.  

As mentioned above, NLP lacks a coherent theory that would explain its terminology and mechanisms of action, it uses anecdotal stories and testimonials as "evidence" and lacks empirical support. It is not surprising that NLP has many characteristics of other pseudosciences: scientific-sounding jargon, reliance on anecdotal evidence, unsubstantiated claims of rapid cures, absence of a sound theoretical basis, and over-promotion for financial gains (Krugman et al 1985). Nevertheless, the extended addition of pseudoscientific buzzwords and anecdotal promotion suggests that it will continue to operate on a commercial scale, with a disregard for objective proof of its proposed assumptions or claimed effectiveness.

It is likely that NLP proponents will continue to promote NLP using anecdotes and rhetoric, and any scientific studies or reviews that show a negative result will be dismissed using the usual pseudoscientific thinking (such as ad hoc hypotheses, reversed burden of proof (passing the buck)), and plain old wishful thinking.  As such, learners of NLP will generally be unprepared for facing facts for adjusting towards a clearer conception of what is required for improved use of psychology for life.

As the National Council mentioned in their summary of NLP "Alas, what works in NLP is not new;  And what is new in NLP does not work"  Unfortunately the self help sections of bookstores are full of books such as NLP.  On the positive side, most good libraries relegate NLP to only a tiny portion shelf-space, compared to the wide array of reliable and well researched psychology books on the shelf.



See Neuro-linguistic programming: Bibliography for a fuller list of Books and articles not directly referenced on this page.

  • Andreas, Steve & Charles Faulkner (Eds.) (1996) NLP: the new technology of achievement, New York, NY: HarperCollins. ISBN 0688146198
  • Bandler, R. (1993) Time for a change. . Publisher Cupertino, Calif. : Meta Publications.
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  • Dilts, Robert B (1992) Cognitive Patterns of Jesus of Nazareth, Ben Lomond, CA: Dynamic Learning Publications. ISBN
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    See Dylan Morgan bio Retrieved 25 Aug 2005 and Scientific Assessment of NLP Retrieved 24 Aug 2005.
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  • Sanghera,S (2005) Financial Times. London (UK): Aug 26, 2005. pg. 9
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Heap, Michael (Ed) (1988). Hypnosis: Current Clinical, Experimental and Forensic Practices. London, UK: Croom Helm.

¡§Although the results have been mixed, the hypothesis that a person has a PRS which is observed in the choice of words has been found not to hold by the great majority of researchers. The hypothesis that a person has a PRS which can be determined by the direction of eye movements found even less support.¡¨

¡§The third hypothesis which was looked at is the practical one of whether or not we can improve our relationship with a client by matching the presumed PRS. Again the answer is a resounding NO. There is no evidence that focusing on the presumed modality adds anything to the widely recognised finding that matching general characteristics of verbal and nonverbal communication may facilitate rapport. It is interesting that one researcher, Cody, found that therapists matching their clients' language were rated as less trustworthy and less effective!¡¨

¡§in view of the absence of any objective evidence provided by the original proponents of the PRS hypothesis, and the failure of subsequent empirical investigations to adequately support it, it may well be appropriate now to conclude that there is not, and never has been, any substance to the conjecture that people represent their world internally in a preferred mode which may be inferred from their choice of predicates and from their eye movements¡¨

¡§How do you measure the claim "NLP works"? I don't know and I don't think NLPers know, either. Anecdotes and testimonials seem to be the main measuring devices. Unfortunately, such a measurement may reveal only how well the trainers teach their clients to persuade others to enroll in more training sessions.¡¨


Platt, Garry (2001). "NLP - Neuro Linguistic Programming or No Longer Plausible?". Training Journal May 2001:10-15.

¡§It left quite an impression on me. However, most of my colleagues who undertook the same programme were completely convinced of its power and became charged with an almost evangelical fervour. For this reason alone NLP has always interested me because of its deep influence on people who have undertaken the training.  I have generally found that people who practice NLP are not receptive or even prepared to countenance critical reviews of this field of study. Indeed, I have come to recognise that 'Hell hath no fury like an NLP practitioner scorned' as a result of daring to question some of the practices framed by NLP.¡¨

"By maintaining a particular framework over another despite clear evidence to the contrary, aren't we limiting and denying ourselves the opportunity for even more flexibility and extending ourselves still further?¡¨

¡§Most evidence supporting the aspects of NLP I have focused on appears to be unsubstantiated, uncorroborated or entirely anecdotal. Some people would contend that representational systems, eye-accessing cues and predicates are minor aspects of NLP. An analysis of the published literature does not support this view.¡¨


Druckman, Daniel & John A Swets, (Eds) (1988). Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories, and Techniques. Washington DC:

¡§NLP is based on outdated metaphors of the brain functioning and is laced with numerous factual errors¡¨  ¡§There is no evidence to support NLP assumptions or NLP effectiveness¡¨


Bleimster J (1988) Empirical verification of the theoretical constructs of NLP.  Zeitschrift für klinische Psychologie, Forschung und Praxis 17(1):21-30.

¡§Where controlled studies have been performed testing NLP hypotheses, like the proposed relationship between eye movement direction and representational system, they consistently have failed to do so.¡¨


Bradley 1985  Bandler and Grinders NLP its historical context and contribution: Psychotherapy 22 59-62 --

--  ¡§NLP is limited by a lack of supporting empirical evidence and is too simplistic¡¨


Sharpley C F 1997.  Research findings of NLP.  Non supportive data or untestable theory? Journal of counseling psychology. 34 103-107   ---------

¡§Matching representational systems to eye movements has no effect.¡¨


Von Bergen, C W, Barlow Soper, Gary T Rosenthal, Lamar V Wilkinson (1997). "Selected alternative training techniques in HRD". Human Resource Development Quarterly 8(4):281-294.

"Some self help products may have some use, if in limited contexts.  Others may be of little value.  The only way to discern which is which, is by using the scientific method and relying on the formal experimental methodology instead of the testimonials or marketing hype typically used by proponents of alternative training and development strategies.¡¨