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Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is often described as "the study of the structure of subjective experience" [1][2]. "How do we do what we do?", "How do we connect and communicate with each other?"

In practice, NLP offers multiple processes for changing thoughts and behaviours. Many diverse fields work with people and change, and can use NLP's change processes if they want. NLP is commonly applied to:

  • therapy & counselling
  • coaching & personal-development
  • management & corporate change, and
  • persuasion (including sales & seduction)

NLP developed outside the academic mainstream, and has distinctly different goals and methods to Psychology. It began with the study of three highly respected therapists - the NLP co-founders believed that what the therapists were doing, and what they said they were doing, were actually quite different. They wanted to be able to do what they did - so they "modeled" these therapists working with their clients, with the intent of learning their skills - and they claimed success. In this modeling process, NLP was created.

NLP teaches patterns for:

  1. exploring verbal communication and body-language for beliefs and patterns
  2. working with values and needs (even those that aren't consciously known)
  3. changing moods & other 'states' willfully, to be more effective
  4. exploring a problem and goal from multiple perspectives including past/present/future, and the perspectives of other persons.
  5. creatively visualizing memories and outcomes (goals) to fully access them and make better decisions, set better goals, and to integrate new behaviors

Few NLP practitioners are also Psychologists, and as such NLP practitioners test their patterns using their own qualitative methods rather than with psychological research - ie: no "scientific method" - NLP practitioners rarely backup their claims with regular scientific studies. Several psychologists who have researched NLP's principles and processes have found inconsistent support at best - and NLP practitioners say this research was flawed. Outcome-based research does find effective change in subjects being treated with NLP, but does not specifically identify what makes NLP effective in therapy - this is sometimes attributed to non-specific effects rather than specific benefits of NLP.

There is no central control of the development of NLP, and NLP has developed in many directions. Anyone can call what they do "NLP", and there is some confusion in defining what NLP is. NLP has been applied to different fields, and it is often confused with where it is used. There have been unethical uses and some very wild claims which have attracted much criticism. NLP has often been applied to studying & reproducing spiritual experiences - and some people associate NLP closely with spiritual developments (it's even sometimes marketed jointly with spiritual endeavours).

NLP claims to provide quicker and more effective change than other modalities. It is claimed that NLP trains skills that well-known therapists used unknowingly - the structure of their 'magic'. It also claims to be able to teach these skills quickly. (xxxx more claims needed?)


Neuro-Linguistic Programming literally means "brain-language programming". NLP teaches that the brain has an internal language which is programmed through life experiences. Everyone has different experiences and learns differently - a 'bad' experiences ('bad' input) can lead to 'bad' programming, while other experiences may result in excellence in certain fields. A key goal in NLP is to help people learn or develop new programs - both through exploring their existing way of doing things to find new possibilities, and by learning new patterns based on what others do particularly well (NLP modeling). NLP claims that people do the best they can given the choices they believe they have - and that if someone finds a new more effective way of doing something they will use it in preference to the old.

Using what works[edit]

NLP is focussed simply on what works, magic being the main source of mystic knowledge - whether or not there's an obvious reason why.

  • If a hypothetical NLP practioner was building a camp-fire, and some wood seemed to burn particularly well, she would find more of this wood. From an NLP perspective, she would not ask for the reasons - though she may notice certain characteristic "patterns" in woods that burn well.

Likewise when doing change work - the NLP practitioner uses what is effective.

  • If saying "you have all the resources you need to succeed" helps a client change successfully (in a given context), an NLP practitioner would say it. The reason it helps is not important (nor whether it's true).

Some people who practice NLP are personally interested in why things work, and have researched this. Some well known NLP trainers such as Robert Dilts teach NLP with theories of why a process is done and what's happening neurologically - and they do this under the banner of NLP.

NLP Modeling[edit]

NLP modeling is a method that is promoted for reproducing behaviour, expertise, and excellence [3]. It is considered by some practitioners to be at the heart of NLP [4].

NLP modeling can be thought of as the process of discovering exactly how a person (the 'model') does what she does. The object is to directly observe the model performing the task she excels in - in a state where the observer has no preconceptions or expectations to "filter" that observation, and where the observer duplicates the model's physiology.

The intent is to discover relevant distinctions in their experience which can be reproduced to achieve the desired behavior - without the model explaning what they think they're doing. NLP exponents claim that modeling is used to discover patterns of excellence as demonstrated consistently by a top performer in any field, as well as codify that discovery for others to learn [5].

Although NLP modeling is usually aimed at reproducing excellence, it can be applied to any behaviour, including clinical conditions such as schizophrenia [6]p.171p.62. When workin with a subject, basic NLP processes (such as rapport) use elements of modeling and can help a practitioner to determine how a subject does what hedoes, to aid the change process.

Since 2005, Dilts and Grinder have agreed on the above definition of NLP modeling. Dilts' earlier modeling is considered "analytic" modeling XXXX which includes more conscious analysis of what the model is doing, and questioning the model.

Modeling requires a quality representation of the model, or it becomes greatly limited. Live modeling is preferred, or video, tapes, and lastly written accounts. Some models of notable dead people have been presented such as Jesus of Nazareth [7] - though most NLP exponents argue that modeling from writings is unverifiable (as do others outside NLP). XXXX

The first models of NLP were respected therapists, working with clients, and the modeling originally focussed on their use of language.

XXXX To integrate: Many NLP practitioners consider that the processes of NLP are NLP. Almost all NLP trainings teach the NLP processes, including the basic skills necessary for NLP modeling. Others consider that NLP modeling is NLP, but modeling is only taught on more advanced courses and not all practitioners are even aware of it.


NLP was created in the early 1970s at Kresge College, University of California, Santa Cruz when Richard Bandler (then a fourth year undergraduate student) invited John Grinder (then an Assistant Professor of linguistics) to visit his Gestalt therapy group [8].

The co-founders collaborated between 1973-1979, under the mentorship of Gregory Bateson. They modeled 3 therapists considered highly competent in their fields:

  • Fritz Perls (gestalt therapist)
  • Virginia Satir (family therapist)
  • Milton Erickson (a proponent of hypnosis in psychiatry)

(source Andreas & Faulkner, 1994, and [9])

Bandler and Grinder detected repeating 'patterns' in how the therapists spoke and responded to their clients, leading to a behaviour change in the client. These 'patterns' became the basis of NLP. The co-founders published several books based on these patterns, including The Structure of Magic Volumes I & II (1975, 1975a), Changing with families and Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, Volumes I & II (1977, 1978).

The practice of neuro-linguistic programming attracted mostly therapists at first although it eventually attracted business people, sales people, artists, coaches, and "new-agers" [10]. As it expanded, Leslie Cameron-Bandler, Judith DeLozier, Stephen Gilligan, Robert Dilts, and David Gordon (Therapeutic Metaphors, 1978) made further contributions to NLP and the seminars of Bandler and Grinder were transcribed by Steve Andreas into a book, Frogs into Princes (1979). The books sold well, and interest in NLP seminars and books increased [11]. NLP began to evolve in different directions as the co-creators and other practitioners applied NLP in their own way and with their own intentions.

NLP is often said to consist of and borrow from intellectual antecedants including Gregory Bateson's systems theory & cybernetics, Noam Chomsky's transformational linguistics]], Alford Korzybski's concepts ("The map is not the territory"), Milton H. Erickson, automata theory, and logic (Grinder & Bandler, 1975a) (Grinder & Bostic, 2001).

{dubious} This was what is currently written which hasn't been added above - some is valid and should be! XXXX
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. Korzybski 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. The Esalen human potential seminars in California began to attract people, such as the therapist and dianetics proponent Fritz Perls [12], as well as Gregory Bateson, Virginia Satir, and Milton H. Erickson.

Presuppositions and Beliefs[edit]

One of the language patterns originally modeled in therapy was "Presuppositions". This is a linguistic term referring to something that must be true for a sentence to make sense.

  • For example: If someone says "I don't want to go to the beach again" - there are certain things that must be true. In this case, one presupposition is that the speaker must have been to the beach before.

In normal conversation, presuppositions reveal what someone believes. This is not an assumption, nor educated or insightful guess, since their language very specifically indicates what they believe.

NLP found that therapists (and their clients) regularly "presupposed" that certain things were true. The clients were revealing their underlying beliefs, which the therapists would challenge. Also, the therapists were deliberately presupposing certain beliefs in order to help the client change. NLP now uses presuppositions deliberately.

  • For example: "Which choice would you prefer?" presupposes that a subject has 2 or more choices, and that they prefer one. If someone believed they had no choices, this might open up possibilities.'

This is distinctly different to fields such as Medicine & Psychology. A doctor does not knowingly tell their patient something that isn't true - an NLP practitioner will tell someone something if it will help them, even if it's wrong.

"The Presuppositions of NLP"[edit]

All NLP processes contain presuppositions which are claimed to be effective for change work. These are built into NLP and are some of the building blocks of NLP processes.

The fundamental presuppositions in NLP are:

  • The map is not the territory. There is no such thing as " objective experience" - the subjective nature of our experience never fully captures the objective world. It is assumed that each of us creates a representation of the world in which we live - that is, we create a map or model on which we base our behavior. Our representation, or map of the world, determines to a large degree what our experience of the world will be [13][14][15].
  • There is a mind-body connection pp.xx,xxi ch.3 ibid p.222. Changes in a person's mind affects their body, changes in their body affects their mind - there is an interacting 'systemic' process.
  • Change occurs in a greater social & environmental context. Systemic effects take place within a human being and also between human beings and their environment [16]. Our bodies, our societies, and our planet form an ecology of complex systems and sub-systems all of which interact with and mutually influence each other. This assumes that looking from different vantage points may result in quite different and yet equally valid descriptions and emphasis of what is important in the system [17][18].
  • For every behaviour there is a positive intention. Every behaviour, good or bad, is done in an unconscious attempt to fulfill a value or need.

Basic building blocks of NLP include:

  1. The mind is broadly composed of a conscious and a unconscious (or subconscious) component [19]. A person is not aware of everything that is going on within themselves.
  2. A person's experience of the world is processed and organized firstly in terms of the five senses [20][21] - and then in terms of our language and communicated experience.
  3. A person's language indicates distortions and generalisations in their thinking and beliefs, and questioning this language can cause profound change.
  4. The internal "state" of a person is comprised of their physiology, sensory representations, and emotions [22]. A person's state is exhibited both verbally and non-verbally [23], and their state mediates their experience.
  5. Internal strategies (systematically ordered patterns of sensory representations [24][25]) combined with internal states influence (or determine) behavior [26].
  6. Behavior is learned [27].
  7. Internal states and strategies (and hence behavior) can be communicated, codified, and reproduced in another person [28] [29],
  8. Every person does the best they can given their understanding of the world.
  9. A problem looks different from the past, present, and future, and it's valuable to explore these perspectives

Common NLP processes[edit]

The first NLP processes were language based (the meta-model and milton model) and are integral to all NLP work. NLP is better known for it's more controversial processes - in particular the processes for rapport, and eye-accessing cues ("representational systems")

Meta-model and Milton Model (Language Models)[edit]

The meta-model is a set of thirteen language patterns [30] found to be useful for change work. People generalize their thoughts, delete who or what something applies to, and distort the meaning of something - often just to speak more succinctly, but it can also reflect a misunderstanding of the world. When someone does this, NLP calls it a "meta-model violation".

The meta-model is proposed as an information gathering tool, and can be used to challenge distortions, generalizations or deletions in the speaker's language [31].

The meta-model was found by observation (modeling) of the language patterns of Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls. These language patterns were then reproduced by the NLP co-founders, when working with subjects, who found subjectively that they were very effective. John Grinder (NLP co-founder, and a professor of Linguistics) related their working model to the theoretical concepts of Chomsky's transformational grammar [32][33].

Levelt (1995) criticises the metamodel in that it was applied without being psychologically (empirically) tested. He also says the meta-model was applied directly from Chomsky's untested theory, which contradicts NLP's teaching that it came from modeling. Linguists have since abandoned Chomsky's theory for more refined work.

On a practical level NLP considers these language patterns of Satir and Perls to be applicable to any change work. In the 1990s, John Grinder proposed that the meta-model language patterns could be reduced to asking "What specifically", or "How specifically?", as these 2 questions can be used on any meta-model violation to clarify the unspecified elements [34]. The meta-model is commonly taught in NLP.

Milton Model

The inverse of the meta-model is the Milton-model [35][36] a collection of "artfully vague" language patterns appendix II elicited from the work of Milton H. Erickson. These language patterns are deliberately non-specific - generalizing, deleting, and distorting information to allow a subject to fill in their own meaning. The Milton Model is commonly used in trance work.


Representational systems[edit]

NLP states that a person's experience of the world is processed and organized firstly in terms of the five senses [38][39] - these are our visual (sight), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (touch), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) senses (VAK, or VAKOG). NLP calls these the "primary representation systems". Language is a "secondary representation system"

People experience the world through their representation systems. They see, hear, feel, smell, & taste their surroundings (the primary senses), and they use language (secondary representation systems) to communicate (tell others) about sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and tastes. When people remember an event, or imagine a future event, these same senses are involved internally (eg: they may remember, visually, what someone looks like).

Representation System Indicators, including Eye Accessing Cues[edit]

NLP teaches that a person's internal subjective experience is demonstrated in several ways. This means that if someone is imagining seeing a friend, accessing their feelings, or saying something to themselves (for example) - they give an external indication that can be seen or heard. These signs includes their eye movements, the words they use ("sensory predicates"), their breathing, and body posture.

The concept of "calibration" is particularly important for this. Different people give different signs of what they are experiencing internally, and working with someone involves learning their specific signs. For example, NLP says that many right-handed people look up and to their left when they talk about something they saw in the past - but different people do look in different directions, so this has to be worked out ("calibrated") specifically for every individual person.

A basic NLP training exercise involves calibrating eye movements patterns with internal representations [40][41]; p.171. According to NLP developers, many people share the following characteristics: See chart [42][43][44]:

  • Visual: eyes up to left; high or shallow breathing; muscle tension in neck; high pitched/nasal voice tone; phrases such as ìI can imagine the big pictureî.
  • Auditory: eyes left; even breathing from diaphragm; even or rhythmic muscle tension; clear midrange voice tone, sometimes tapping or whistling; phrases such as ìLet's tone down the discussionî.
  • Kinesthetic: eyes down right; belly breathing and sighing; relaxed musculature; slow voice tone with long pauses; phrases such as ìI can grasp a hold of itî

NLP teaches that ìVisualî thinking tends to be fast, while "kinesthetic" is much slower (as people take longer to access their feelings) [45].

Once an individual's eye movements, word use, breathing rate, and body posture are calibrated (worked out), the patterns of their internal Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic representations can be tracked[46]p.9[47].

The B.A.G.E.L. Model[edit]

Dilts teaches a mnemonic for remembering the 5 types of behavioural signs for an individual's internal processes.

Preferred Representation Systems[edit]

Early NLP books said that people were more likely to use 1 (or 2) of the Primary Representation Systems (some would say "I'm a visual person", or "I'm an auditory person"). This was called their "Preferred Representation System" (or "PRS").

Some authors [51][52] use internal Verbal/Auditory/Kinesthetic strategies in order to categorize people within a thinking strategies or learning styles framework for instance, that there exist visual, kinesthetic or auditory types of manager.

NLP taught that if 2 people shared the same PRS, there would be greater rapport between them. In practice, they claimed that someone matched the VAK predicates (eg visual words) of another person, that can build rapport between individuals. It was said that slower ìkinestheticî thinkers might not trust faster "visual" thinkers. [53]. Psychological research found little support for this and other related PRS teachings.

NLP now teaches that most people use all representation systems (though if someone doesn't use one or more systems it is useful to work with that). Also, NLP now teaches that people use their representation systems in patterns, and matching these patterns increases rapport.

Note: While well known NLP authors and trainers define PRS as above, some scientific studies and private NLP websites interchange the meanings of Primary Representation System, Preferred Representation System, and PRS.



  • Submodality modification: deliberately altering the coding of internal sensory representations such as location, size and brightness of internal images[54] (S & C Andreas 1987)
  • Swish: a technique that involves swapping a representation of a simple habit for desired self-image in the future [55]p.169.

6 step reframe[edit]

Perceptual Positions, and Dissociation[edit]

  • Perceptual positions: a situation is considered from different points of view of those involved, typically self, other, and neutral observer pp.xix,197 [56].
  • Visual / Kinesthetic dissociation: separates the see-feel synaesthesia that drives reponses to a stimulus. The NLP "phobia cure" uses two place dissociation [57][58][59][60]

Other patterns[edit]

  • Dilts' Neurological Levels of Learning: categorisation of information into a hierarchies consisting of environment, behavior, competency, belief/value, identity and purpose (or spirit) [61].

In fact Dilts' term covers several models (about 5 at the last count), but none of the models has anything to do with NLP. In their book Whispering in the Wind (2001), Grinder and St Clair strongly criticised these models and invited Dilts to show how his so-called neurological levels models could be fitted into NLP. Thus far (March 2009) Dilts has failed to accept this invitation. Any references to these models are irrelevant to any informed discussion of NLP.

  • Metaprogrammes
  • Rapport: pacing and leading attention by matching, mirroring or cross pacing verbal and non-verbal behavior [62][63] such as breathing, sensory predicates [64], and gestures.

None of these are actually what are called "meta programs" in genuine NLP.

Differences, Variations, and Alternate Brands[edit]

There is no central control of the development of NLP, and NLP has developed in many directions. Richard Bandler, one of the co-founders of NLP, attempted to control the term NLP but the court found anyone could use the term (XXXX).

Richard Bandler, one of the co-founders of NLP, attempted legal action to control the field. JOhn Grinder and others fought this property because he could not resolve the dispute through the use of NLP [65]. The dispute between Bandler and Grinder over trademarks and copyright was resolved in court of California in 2000 who deemed NLP a generic term Appendix [66]. XXXXXXX (mid sentence... unfinished)

Individual trainers have introduced or idiosyncratically developed their own methods, and concepts, branding them under the "NLP" name [67]. Anyone can call what they do "NLP", and there is some confusion in defining what NLP is.

Additionally, NLP has been applied to different fields, and it is often confused with where it is used (see "Applications"). This includes an association with spiritual developments - NLP has often been applied to studying & reproducing - and NLP is sometimes marketed jointly with spiritual endeavours.

Some recognised trainers have developed their own brands, largely based on NLP:

  • John Grinder teaches New Code of NLP
  • Richard Bandler teaches his own offshoot of NLP, called DHE (Design Human EngineeringTM)
  • Anthony Robbins teaches NAC (Neuro Associative ConditioningTM)
  • Michael Hall teaches Neuro SemanticsTM
  • Tad James teaches Advanced Neuro DynamicsTM & Time Line TherapyTM

NLP and Theory[edit]

Many NLP proponents state that NLP is not theory-oriented, and Bandler states that he does not "do theory" [68]. Instead, the stated goals of NLP are to model effective patterns "in the field", to learn what someone is actually doing in practice (internally and externally) that works, and how they do it - rather than deriving behaviors from a theory or obtaining their motivations for doing them.

However, some NLP exponents do make hypotheses and propose theories [69]. NLP has "models" for how people function - NLP exponents have done research into beliefs, meta programs, and George A. Miller's T.O.T.E. model. The fundamental Metamodel, Milton Model, and Representational Systems can be considered models (or theories) of communication and subjective experience. Longstanding practitioners Robert Dilts and Judith Delozier claim that the SMART model, amongst others are also part of NLP[70].

Singer says that NLP assumes that all human behaviour is neurological, and all human behaviour is based on the 5 senses, rather than attitudes, reason, emotions, mind, morals or ego [71]. (XXXX Dubious Quote: NLP considers the 5 senses to be the primary representations in the mind. Language and higher order thoughts are considered secondary representations. All of these affect human behaviour. I doubt that Singer would not be aware of that, hence I find this a dubious quote)

Brain lateralization[edit]

Psychologists and neurologists propose that the brain has specialisations on each side (for example - a common specialisation is that the left side of the brain is responsible for speech). This is called "Hemispheric differences", or brain lateralization. Another example from Milton Erickson is that the left side is more logical/analytical than the right side, which is said to be more creative/imaginative pp.10,87 (XXXX check!)

Grinder & Bandler propose that regions of the brian are specialised for certain functions such as mathematics or language [72][73]. (XXXX so what? isn't this common?). Robert Dilts proposes that the represntation systems correspond to specific regions in the brain [74][75][76]. (XXXX how does this relate to left/right?)

brain lateralization' is used to support assumptions in some versions of NLP.

"Engrams" and the meaning of "Neuro"[edit]

File:Engram Trace and NLP V-K Circuit3.JPG
Explaining the neuro in NLP in relation to V-K modalities(click to enlarge)

Most current NLP literature mentions no more than the reprogramming of mental habits and associations. All NLP literature refers to the altering of one's neurology through the neural pathways of the senses and the neural circuits of the brain {dubious} (XXXX).

Some practitioners use the Engram[77] to explain how NLP works [78][79] [80][81], particularly in Western Europe. They theorize that NLP processes can be explained through the neurological concepts of programming and reprogramming engrams [82]Extract. Within NLP, Engrams are proposed to give a patterned response which has been stabilized at the level of unconscious competence [83][84][85].

Representation System Theory[edit]

NLP theory explains the differences in breathing and mental processing for different representation systems as being due to the varying levels of chemical composition in the blood that affects the brain [86] (XXXX did they misquote?)


Much of NLP is now largely targeted for niche markets (particularly commercialized, cut down or self-help usage), and may be more controversial or esoteric, sometimes charismatically or evangelistically taught [87]. Some of the original developers, notably Richard Bandler and the stage hypnotist Paul McKenna, have encouraged these trends and the resulting fragmentation and move towards "pop NLP" has discredited the subject in the eyes of many people [88].

NLP is sometimes applied to coaching and for personal or business development, including motivational communication and systems thinking [89]. NLP is often promoted as large group seminars, similar to or in combination with Landmark Forum seminars [90].

Some of these involve day long, or several day periods of large group awareness activities including the introduction of authority figure guest speakers and promotion of New Age products. For example, Anthony Robbins promotes NLP as a "systemic approach for change" through his seminars [91], and other products. NLP trainers and consultants are now applying NLP rituals and techniques in some HR application areas.

NLP "Therapy"[edit]

NLP is considered a fringe or alternative therapy [92]. Although several aspects of NLP have been found to be largely ineffective [93], NLP is used, or suggested as an approach, by a few mental health bodies, including the National Phobics Society of Great Britain [94], MIND [95] (PDF), [96], the British Stammering Association [97], the Center for Development & Disability at the University of New Mexico Center for autism [98],[99]. Around 1978, NLP practitioner certification was set up as a 20 day program with the aim of training therapists to apply NLP as an adjunct to their professional qualifications. In Europe, the European NLP therapy association has been promoting their training in line with European therapy standards.

Associations with New Age groups, Scientology, and Cults[edit]

NLP practitioners say that NLP is compatible with any religion or spiritual context [100], as it has no spiritual beliefs. NLP processes can be used in spiritual contexts (for change work), and NLP modeling has been used to study spiritual experiences & then to teach people how to have that experience. NLP is often taught with metaphors, and both Grinder and Bandler use spiritual anecdotes and metaphors in their workshops [101].

Some say NLP is connected much more strongly than this. For instance, 2 well known trainers link their training with spiritual teachings - Richard Bandler (NLP co-founder) advertises his NLP trainings in combination with shamanic methods of magic, and Tad James teaches Huna. Some practitioners claim that NLP can be used to “create both positive (+) and negative (-) psychic energy which operate at polar opposites from each other”[102].

NLP is often promoted in combination with new age developments. Winkin (1990) says that with its promotion with Tai Chi & Meditation, NLP is in the margins of contemporary obscurantism [103].

Note: The claims about NLP and New Age ideas all founder on the same rock: What people choose to do with NLP modelling and related techniques are not what NLP is. It is very clear from the fact that Bandler (co-creator of NLP) chooses to give his courses different names that he does NOT consider NLP and shamanism to be the same thing.

New Age beliefs?[edit]

At the time of NLP's development, New Age teachings were increasing in popularity, and similar people were interested in both NLP and New Age teachings. "New Age" is a broad category and very often includes spiritual components, though this is not always true. THe US Army studied NLP, classified is as New Age and defined New Age as "Developed outside the academic mainstream" (Druckman & Swets, 1988).

Apart from deliberate NLP-modeling of experiences which are spiritual, the first 2 psychotherapists that were modelled with NLP were also involved in 'New Age' activities and some of their client interactions may have conveyed their beliefs and approaches (Fritz Perls was associated with Dianetics (Scientology), Virginia Satir with the enneagram (ref), and both were involved in the Esalen human potential seminars along with Gregory Bateson). NLP exponents say that modeling will filter out the unnecessary content leaving only the important patterns, though NLP patterns do contain certain beliefs which are built into their wording as "presuppositions" (for example, "having all the resources we need"). Although exponents note that these are not actually true, just useful, many practitioners and their clients do believe these presuppositions and many trainers teach them as being true.

NLP has been criticised as being a dubious new age therapy. In most cases, however, this has been entirely the work of critics who have no clear knowledge of the FoNLP (field of NLP), such as the editor of the New Zealand Cults List, whose sole knowledge appears to be cut and pasted selections from the Wikipedia page on Neuro-Linguistics which, as here, has been largely corrupted by sockpuppets, and from the so-called Skeptic's Dictionary, which likewise contains numerous errors.
Having said that, it is perfectly true that some trainers promote popular new age myths such as unlimited potential and past life regression. However there is no such material in the writings of the only two genuine authorities on the FoNLP - Richard Bandler and John Grinder who are the co-creators, and what "some trainers" chose to do in no way affects the nature of any part of the authentic FoNLP.


Scientology, rebirthing, and other alternative therapies teach that the human mind can be programmed and that mis-progrmaming by negative input is the norm. Raso (1994) and Lilienfeld (2003) compare this to NLP, and Singer (1996) says that NLP teaches a classic New Age concept of "clearing" these blocks.

However it is unwise to take such comments at face value as the record for serious academic research on NLP is pretty appalling. See, for example, Lilienfeld et al's (2003) confusion between NLP and Tony Robbins [1]

  • Naranjo classes NLP in the same mold as EST (Landmark Forum) and Dianetics(Scientology) [104].
  • The German educational ministry banned the use of NLP in education due to its close similarity to Scientology [105].
  • Sala (1999) says that NLP is sometimes advertised/promoted together with Dianetics [106] and that NLP promoters use similar marketing methods to that of cults like Dianetics [107]. (xxxx in what way?)

Both within and outside of NLP, some relate the concept of NLP "activating a memory" to the Psychological concept of Engrams [108] [109]. Some others further relate this to the different Scientology concept of subconscious engrams.


NLP is sometimes referred to in scientific research reviews as a cult[110] [111] [112] and in research it is often considered to be akin to a cult [113] [114][115] [116] [117].. NLP can be used in cults as a pretext, through which the cult can apply their own rituals (Dianetics (Scientology) and EST(Landmark)[118] can similarly be used). The cult may use NLP processes in conjunction with their own techniques - for control, authority, dissociation, reduced rationalization, and social pressure - to obtain compliance from the cult's victim or to induce dependence on the cult [119]. For example, the NLP belief that people can be badly programmed (dianetic's engram concept[120]) can be taught to potential cult victims so that they'll be open to 'reprogramming' - the cult then teaches them the cult's own beliefs. Novopashin says that NLP is a destructive or amoral pseudoscientific psychocult [121] [122](eg. NLP Rekaunt [123]).

  • Margo Anand promotes a form of NLP called SkyDancing TantraTM

Some critics criticise NLP for being spiritual, others, such as Singer, criticise NLP for theorising that all human behaviour is neurological [124].

Scientific analysis of NLP[edit]

Most of the so-called "scientific evidence" regarding NLP and NLP-related techniques is totally worthless because neither the experimenters nor the reviewers had much idea what NLP was about or what claims had been genuinely put forward by the co-creators of NLP.

One favourite ploy used by NLP critics is to use mainly or exclusively non-authoritative sources of information, frequently including several early works by Bandler and Grinder, but actually quoting other people - preferably anyone who made outlandish claims.

It is a fact that neither Sharpley nor Heap have ever carried out any research themselves, and even now have only a minimal and mainly incorrect understanding of NLP and/or the NLP-related techniques.

Worst still, the many academics who cite Sharpley and/or Heap accept their articles without making any perceptable attempt to evaluate the accuracy of those reviews.

Thus a very high percentage of the criticism of the FoNLP (field of NLP) is not independent but simply recycles the same, deeply flawed material over and over again.


Critics say NLP is simply a half-baked conflation of pop psychology and pseudoscience that uses jargon to disguise the fact that it is based on a set of banal, if not incorrect, presuppositions (Sanghera 2005). However, Sanghera is a newspaper reporter, writing in the Financial Times, and not an expert of any kind. NLP has been criticized by clinical psychologists, management scholars, linguists, psychotherapists and cult awareness groups, concerning ineffectiveness, pseudoscientific explanation of linguistics and neurology, ethically questionable, cult-like characteristics, and promotion by exaggerated claims.

(Notice that, apart from the reference to Sanghera, absolutely no evidence is provided to support these claims)

(Bandler attempted legal action to control the field property because he could not resolve the dispute through the use of NLP [125]

False claims to science[edit]

Critics say that NLP often associates itself with "science of communication" p.81 in order to raise its own prestige [126] and anthropologists such as Winkin consider such promotion to be intellectually fraudulent [127]. Furthermore, some critics assert that NLP's association with science is as distant as astrology's association to astronomy[128].

As with any other science, theory is central to behavioral science. However, Gregory Bateson in page ix of the Structure of Magic Volume I claims that, "The behavioral sciences, and especially psychiatry, have always avoided theory..." [129]. The co-originators have also stated, "We are not psychologists, and we're also not theologians or theoreticians" [130]. However, proponents claim that the Milton-model is based on the behavioral patterns of Milton H. Erickson and that if these patterns can be 'formalized it will make a solid foundation for a science of communication' (1977 p.81) yet Grinder & Bostic St Clair (2001) say that "the coding phase of NLP modeling is at present an art"p.127. Some proponents have marketed exaggerated claims about NLP such as false connections to neuroscience and have marketed the original developers as 'scientists' [131]. Advertising bodies in the UK have asked for NLP proponents to avoid promoting NLP as a new science [132].

Psycholinguist Willem Levelt states that (translated into English) "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" [133][134].


Numerous academics have criticised what they perceive to be "NLP". In fact, however, ftom Sharpley onwards most of these criticisms have been based on a lack of accurate information due to a pervasive carelessness when it comes to the background research.

Pseudoscience is prone to certain fallacies and characteristics. These can be; Overgeneral predictions, pseudoscientific experimentation, dogmatic adherence or recycling of un-validated claims [135][136]. The characteristics of pseudoscience are more specifically shown thus [137] [138]. Please note, however, that most, if not all, of the limitations listed below apply to EVERY area of psychology which is not directly related to physiology:

  • The use of obscurantist language (eg meta programs, parapragmatics, sub-modalities etc)
  • The absence of connectivity [139]
  • Over-reliance on testimonial and anecdotal evidence [140]
  • An overuse of ad hoc hypotheses and reversed burden of proof designed to immunize claims from falsification [141]
  • Emphasis on confirmation rather than refutation (eg reliance on asking how rather than why)
  • Absence of boundary conditions
  • The mantra of holism and eclecticism designed to immunize from verifiable efficacy [142](Claiming that NLP is unmeasurable due to too many factors or to simplistically ìdo what worksî[143].
  • Evasion of peer review (If claims were true, why were they not properly documented and presented to the scientific community?) [144]
  • Reversed burden of proof (away from those making claim (NLP promoters), and towards those testing the claim (Scientists)).

Ethical Concerns[edit]

No ethical concerns have been noted in regard to authentic NLP. How could there be - it is merely a specific modelling technique, and nothing more.

The real ethical question here is in regard to the sockpuppets who infest Wikipedia - like the one's that constantly fill NLP-oriented pages with inaccurate information - and in regard to whom Wikipedia still has far too few safeguards.

Questionable Applications[edit]

Currently, there is criticism from psychotherapists about the promotion of NLP and other dubious therapies within psychotherapy associations [145][146]. NLP certification for therapists in general still does not require any professional qualifications [147].

File:NLP-Scientology of achievement2.JPG
Critical view of NLP and pseudoscience
  • Human Resources: As with other pseudoscientific subjects, human resource experts such as Von Bergen et al (1997) consider NLP to be inappropriate for management and human resource training [148]. NLP has been found to be most ineffective concerning influence/persuasion and modeling of skills [149]. There is a general view that NLP is dubious and is not to be taken seriously in a business context [150][151]. Within management training there have also been complaints towards NLP concerning undue and forced adoption of fundamental beliefs tantamount to a forced religious conversion.[152]

Many such courses appear to depend more upon charismatic appeal, wish-fulfillment, quick fixes, and lack of critical faculty, than actual quantifiable results, and so are often considered pure pseudoscience. The original fad of NLP has undergone further controvercy and abandonment since the further realization that it is simply a faddy cult, and the divorce of Tony Robbins despite his commercial promotion of "Perfect Marriage" counseling has led to a great deal of disenchantment from his own followers (Salerno 2005). The various claims NLP proponents make have no clinical support and are grossly missleading (Eisner 2000).

  • NLP and Education: Although NLP has no reliable neuroscience foundation, it is sometimes considered as part of "accelerated learning" or "brain based learning"[153][154]PDF[155]. There is no reliable evidence to support the use of NLP within education, and as such, the use of this unvalidated method is discouraged by educational experts (REF).
  • Cosmetic Effect Claims: Dubious treatments such as hypnotic breast enhancement and penis enlargement often claim to use NLP processes to produce this effect (REF). If such miraculous effects had actually been achieved, then why have they not been properly documented by the people making these claims, and presented to the scientific community? [156].

Notes and references[edit]

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  • ^ Bandler, Richard & John Grinder, 1975. The Structure of Magic II: A Book About Communication and Change. Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books.
    ^ Above source, see pp.12-13,137,179-99.
  • ^ Richard Bandler & John Grinder, 1976. Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Volume I. Cupertino, CA :Meta Publications.
  • ^ Bandler, Richard, Grinder, John & DeLozier, Judith, 1977. Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Volume II. Meta Publications.
  • ^ Richard Bandler & John Grinder, 1979. Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming. Moab, UT: Real People Press.
    ^ Above source, pg 30.
    ^ Above source, pg 24.
    ^ Above source, pgs 15 and 45.
    ^ Above source, pg 52.
  • ^ Bandler, Richard & John Grinder, 1983. Reframing: Neurolinguistic programming and the transformation of meaning Moab, UT: Real People Press.
  • ^ Bandler, Richard 1993. unknown.
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- | author=Barrett, D. V. - | title=The New Believers - A survey of sects, cults and alternative religions - | publisher=UK, Cassell & Co. - | year=2003 - | id=1844030407 - | url=}} - *Barrett, D. (1997) Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions: A World Survey and Sourcebook. Pub Blandford.

- *^ Bàrdlein, Christoph (2001). Das "Neurolinguistische Programmieren" (NLP) - Hochwirksame Techniken oder haltlose Behauptungen? Schulheft, 103 , 117-129.

*^ Brothers B.J. (1992) Spirituality and couples : heart and soul in the therapy process New York : Haworth Press. - *^ Bunge, M. (1993). Realism and Antirealism in Social Science, Theory and Decision (Historical Archive), Volume 35, Number 3, Pages 207-235, Springer Science+Business

- *Christopher, P. (2004) New Religions: A Guide : New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities. Oxford University Press ISBN 0195220420

- *^ Derks and Hollander (1998) Systemic Voodoo. ISBN 1907388896

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See also[edit]


(*)Grinder & Bandler are considered the co-creators/co-originators of NLP.

External links[edit]


Some psychologists have questioned the truth of what is said in a process, instead of whether it works

This can be done through questioning their descriptions of what they want, or by stepping the subject into different states and contexts (in their mind) so they can imagine their current situation and their goal from many different perspectives. This includes the subject's own values, specific steps to their goals, how others perceive them in a variety of contexts, considerations from the future or past, and more. The practitioner may help the subject to explore their values and through this to create new alternative goals - and they may guide changes in the subject's internal imagination.

NLP processes involve a focus on the client, and working with them for the desired change. It involves listening to the spoken and unspoken communication from a client, to identify and challenge the client's current state and explore how they want to be. Language patterns are used to explore & fill gaps in the subjects experience, and issues are looked at from multiple perspectives to enable greater choice for a subject. Internal images of a problem (or goal) are specifically manipulated to enable change. All changes are checked for the consequences (good and bad) on a subject's life (including on their family and friends)

  1. ^ <a href = "">3 Professors Lose the Plot</a>