Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). Pseudoscientific nonsense or something that can help me?
Is was asked a great question I recently,...
Is NLP a Pseudoscience and Can it Help Me.
As some of you may know, NLP forms part of my skill set and is one of the approaches I use.
So, there are two different questions to be answered here.
Is NLP Pseudo-Science?
Well first, let's be clear about terms.
NLP stands for Neurolinguistic Programming. It's an approach to thinking about our thinking, our behaviours and how we create meaning.
This short video may help give you a quick overview.
Well I’m not sure who has ever claimed that it is a science. It is based on ideas from the fields of psychology, linguistics and neuroscience.
The criticism I hear more than any other is that NLP Practitioners have either dumbed-down, misrepresented or misappropriated (out dated) ideas in neuroscience. Detractors will often point at some of the ‘communication’ patterns such as ‘eye-accessing’; ‘matching of language’ and so on.
True these things, which appear to be ‘testable’ have failed to to impress when put to the test. But the these things are taught in NLP as models not facts. In NLP a model is something which attempts to understand behaviours and behavioural processes. The NLP practitioners who recognise this know that the aim of these models is to motivate observation and increase sensory engagement in any dialogue.
Not all NLP Practitioners are created equal.
Some have attended an intensive “practitioner training” lasting a couple of days. Some have attended trainings which cover the generally accepted standard of 22 to 24 days of tutor directed input. Some insist on the completion of personal reflective journals based on the NLP journey, whilst others include a mandatory number of hours of supervised practice. All of which means that there is no real consistency in the training any NLP Practitioner undertakes.
I would also say that some NLP Practitioners make some rather ludicrous claims about what NLP is and how it works, falling into the trap of psychological hyperbole and psychobabble.
Having said that, in my opinion many of the underlying ideas make a lot of sense and share similar theoretical underpinnings to CBT and Gestalt Psychotherapy.
The trouble is that NLP is not one thing. It is a collection of approaches drawn from different disciplines and, perhaps in the early days, lacked the philosophical underpinnings of some of its more ‘accepted’ parents.
NLP, for me, is an approach based upon some powerful techniques which can be used to invite the individual to question how they create internal representations of external experience. In particular, when used in a non-theatrical way, it invites us to question the links between personal meaning, beliefs, behaviours and perceptions.
So, is NLP a tool for Self-development?
Like any approach that calls for us to question our thoughts, behaviours, values, beliefs and attitudes, it does have a role to play in personal and self-development.
As for the ‘self-help’ part. Well, like CBT an NLP coach will give their clients a number of tools with which they can continue to work. It’s as much about ‘education’’ and ‘learning’ as it is about ‘therapy’.
Thus, you may need the outside perspectives and questions from another who is not emotionally tied to your ‘reality’ to kick start the process.
So, can it help you?
I would maintain that any framework which encourages self reflection and a consideration of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours is a good thing.
Here’s another thought.
When people say that NLP is nonsense it would be good to ask them to clarify what it ia about NLP they are dismissing. If they say it’s not scientific, then perhaps you could ask them to use the same measure for other, generally, accepted psychological approaches.
Many of the established counselling or psychotherapies have a core philosophy, but as for specific scientific validation..?
Most of the research into these therapies is based up perceived effectiveness and thus results. Indeed, there is research which shows that some therapies based on personal narrative of historic trauma are simply not that useful. That hasn’t stopped these therapists pr noting their work not clients actually attending them.
Perhaps a key message here is that simply creating a safe space to be listened to and spoken to IS what actually works and the therapeutic approach simply defines the frame in which that space is created.
There is a lot of nonsense promoted in the name of NLP, but at the same time there is a lot of nonsense promoted within some of the ‘more acceptable’ therapies. In many ways, and research has supported this, when it comes to talking therapies and approaches, it is the therapist-client relationship that is paramount.
You may like to read this, my thoughts on Mind Coaching
There's more about NLP on my Inspire NLP website