Neuro-linguistic Programming claims to combine neurology and linguistics in order to program a person’s brain and impact their mind, body, and actions.
Originators Richard Bandler and John Grinder further assert that NLP copies the abilities of geniuses so as to help patients reproduce them. One advertisement proclaims, “If someone can do something, anyone can learn it.” Yes, a handful of introspective couch sessions are all that’s in the way you being the second coming of da Vinci.
Despite its claims of fusing neurology and linguistics, the field cites no neurologists or neurological breakthroughs as being part of its creation. Furthermore, it is awash in undefined, fabricated terms, indicating its status as a pseudoscience. These terms include “eye-accessing cues,” “created reality,” “sub-modality,” and “micro-modeling.”
Supposed benefits include success in personal finance, romance, and business. Even if NLP delivered on these long-shot promises, it would still fall outside the psychological realm it tries to fit itself into. There are additional claims that NLP can produce vastly increased physical strength, as well as being able to cure phobias, depression, myopia, allergies, psoriasis, cancer, obesity, and dyslexia. This lack of specificity and grand claims are two more pseudoscience giveaways.
Additionally, the field is based on such shaky notions as unlimited potential and accessing the subconscious. There is no way of determining what a person’s potential might be and it is even more ludicrous to suggest that every person has infinite capacity in all areas. Also, there are no known methods for accessing a person’s subconscious. Yet the field is content to gloss over these glaring problems in its approach.
It also leans heavily on inferring messages from the patient’s body language, but there is not a universal non-verbal communication set. Leaning back with arms folded could reveal boredom, aggression, or the posture the person feels most physically comfortable assuming. The patient may be accused of being passive-aggressive by taking this position and when they argue otherwise, they may be told they are in denial since the subconscious mind is revealing their true feelings. There is no way to test these claims and it is erroneous to read much into non-verbal behavior, yet this remains one of the field’s key tenets.
Despite its claims of having psychotherapy roots and uses, it is shunned by psychologists and is employed almost entirely by those hosting motivational seminars or running New Age human potential workshops. Tony Robbins has made use of its ideas, but Joyce Brothers did not.
In fact, psychologists, neurologists, and linguists uniformly say NLP is based on mistaken notions of brain science and language, and there are zero controlled studies propping up this field. Its advertising is full of testimonials, not trials.
The usual technique is for the practitioner to ask a series of leading questions or suggestions to the patient. There are two primary models, the Meta and Milton varieties. Skeptic leader Brian Dunning described the Meta Model as requiring the clinician to be “a condescending jerk in order to exert influence.”
Here is his longer version of how the sessions play out: “It is a confrontational manner of speaking intended to dominate a conversation by nitpicking apart another person’s sentences. I may say, ‘I feel pretty good today.’ The Meta Model response is, ‘What specifically makes you feel good?’ And whatever I do come up with gets attacked the same way. ‘Exactly why does that make you feel good?’ And suddenly I’m on the defensive and am made to feel that I’m in error when the position I’ve taken is revealed by the questioner to be unsupported. It’s not psychotherapy, it’s high-pressure sales.”
Dunning described the Milton Model as the low-pressure sales alternative. In this modality, the practitioner is much more casual and likable, but still has the same ends in mind. For instance, he would handle the above scenario with statements like, “You are free to feel any way you like, but do you know why are leaning toward feeling happy,” or “Is there anything that could make you still happier?”
All this might work for sales, business negotiations, or manipulating relationships, but it is certainly not psychotherapy. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry published results of a comprehensive study of NLP and concluded, “These therapies have offered no scientifically valid theories of action, show only non-specific efficacy, and show no evidence that they offer substantive improvements to psychiatric care.”
So if you want to be the next da Vinci, immerse yourself in aerodynamics, anatomy, architecture, astronomy, biology, botany, geology, literature, mathematics, mechanics, medicine, music, painting, paleontology, and sculpting. Or at least read The da Vinci Code. It will cost $100 less than an NLP session and will be more realistic.