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Why does NLP have such a crap reputation?

NLP Fact or FictionTo put it mildly NLP seems to have a mixed reputation.  Look up ‘NLP’ on Wikipedia and you’ll find words such as pseudoscience, quasi-religion, discredited and quack factor floating around.

Sometimes when I mention NLP certain individuals seem to think that it’s almost a dirty word.  They think of manipulation, brainwashing and getting people to do what you want – but perhaps not what they want.  They think win-lose, certainly not win-win.

It seems to follow that over the past 12 months my post with the most views here on G13 has been Is NLP manipulation, mind control or brainwashing?

So I thought it was time to do address the elephant in the room once again….

What is NLP?

And here starts the problem.  It seems like everyone says something different.  There are so many veins or versions of NLP; so many disparate factions; and each seems to say something different.  Even the originators don’t seem to agree.

Does NLP per se even exist?  Well Richard Bandler says ‘no’.  And statements like that only add to the confusion.

Certainly there’s no consensus on what NLP really covers and what is included.  Take an NLP Practitioner course with one company and then take it again with another and the courses may be entirely different – night and day.  Even though in both cases you may complete the course as a ‘Practitioner of NLP’, or in some cases you won’t.

Look up ‘NLP’ on Wikipedia and you’ll find negative statements such as ‘….the balance of scientific evidence reveals NLP to be a largely discredited pseudoscience….’  ‘….it contains numerous factual errors…’  ‘… doesn’t produce the results asserted by proponents…’ ‘ … lack of empirical evidence for effectiveness…’ ‘… exhibits pseudoscientific characteristics…’ ‘…certainly discredited…’ .  When nobody agrees exactly what constitutes NLP – what exactly are they criticizing?

BUT if it is so discredited then why are credible universities, such as Henley Business School (part of the University of Reading in the UK) teaching NLP as part of Masters courses in coaching?

Is NLP a ‘science’?

With my true scientist hat on I have to say that to me NLP is not a science.  Or at least not yet.

Science can be defined as ‘the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment‘.

I know there are people working on academic studies of NLP, but with so many different versions of NLP, and so many disparate factions in the NLP world, I do question whether those systematic studies will create meaningful change in the schizophrenic, multi-personality world of NLP.

As a result does NLP come over to the wider population as pseudo-science?

Yes – that’s part of the problem.  NLP makes a collection of claims many of which are not supported by systematic scientific studies.  So claims are made about stuff that simply isn’t proven.

BUT does that mean that all of NLP doesn’t work?  Or that it doesn’t help people change their lives?  Certainly not.  It does and I’ve seen it multiple times.

Does it matter if some or even all the positive effects of NLP derive from the placebo effect?

In my book – no.

Considering that up to 70% of the positive effect of medicines may be from the placebo effect, why should we be rude about NLP using the same mechanism?

Does NLP offer anything novel that you can’t find somewhere else?

Probably not – is the simplest answer.

BUT does it bring under a single UNIQUE umbrella a host of useful information, techniques and processes that you wouldn’t find together anywhere else?

Yes, it certainly does.

Is NLP a cult?

Again when you look at Wiki you will find words such as quasi-religion, folk magic, folk religion, psycho shamanism, etc etc thrown around.

It’s true – when I first started to study NLP my mother really did think I’d joined a cult.  At the time I started my NLP Practitioner course none of my friends or family had ever heard of Neuro-linguistic programming.  Oh, but they all have now I can hear you cry!  The more I studied, the more passionate I got.  The more passionate I got, the less I talked about anything else.  And the less I talked about anything else, the more convinced my mother became that I’d joined a cult and was being brainwashed in some dastardly way!

Apparently her reaction isn’t so unusual and I know I’m not alone in having family members who got something of a shock when one of their offspring started to study NLP.  Part of that shock comes from the fact that NLP has the potential to create seemingly magical change in people.

You can unload those negative emotions you’ve stored up and wasted so much energy carrying around for so many years.  You can let go of the limiting decisions that have held you back from achieving your goals, in many instances since you were a child.

You move towards being at cause, taking responsibility for your life and achieving results, instead of making excuses and blaming the world and other people for holding you back.

So is NLP magic?  It most definitely is, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the psychic or supernatural kind.  This is all rooted in your own self.

On the simplest level you could call NLP advanced communication skills – with that communication being both within yourself and also with other people.  NLP provides a set of tools for you to increase your self-awareness and flexibility such that you can massively change how you perform in any chosen situation.

Think of how amazing it would be if you could be in charge of your internal (emotional) state all the time.  If you could connect, so easily and effortlessly, with other people such that you could communicate or sell any idea to them – be that a pay rise to your boss or getting the kids to go to bed on time!

If you could get out of that rut you’ve been in and clearly see exactly where your life is going and feel entirely happy with that direction.  One of the first things you learn in any NLP training is that there’s only one person in charge of your thoughts, your internal state and your behavior/actions, and that’s you! 

So is it a cult?  Most certainly NOT.

Does anyone own ‘NLP’?

The reputation of NLP certainly hasn’t been helped by the copious number of public disagreements, civil court actions, infringement claims and injunctions between its feuding originators Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

It seems their NLP skills failed to help them resolve their conflict for more than two decades, until finally in 2000 when they publicly agreed that “… they are the co-creators … of the technology of Neuro-linguistic Programming …” and would “… refrain from disparaging each others efforts…”.

These days NLP and Neuro-linguistic Programming are not trademarked by any single party and there is no restriction on any Tom, Dick or Harry offering NLP certification.

And that lack of restriction leads to the next problem in our jigsaw puzzle…

Is NLP regulated?

As NLP and Neuro-linguistic Programming are not owned by any person or organisation, nor are they trademarked, and there is no single global (or even national) regulating authority for NLP training and certification.

As it currently stands there are a multitude of NLP groups, organisations, associations, boards and bodies around the globe.  ANLP, ABNLP, BBNLP, Professional Guild of NLP, INLPTA to name but a few.   Each believes different things constitute ‘NLP’ and the patterns that are, or are not, actually part of NLP.  Each has their own standards.  Each has their own certification/affiliation schemes.   And each has different philosophies on how NLP should be taught and practiced.

In the world of NLP training there is no single official BEST PRACTICE.  There are huge variations in certification standards, course content, duration of training, requirements for face to face time with a trainer, practice/practical time and required levels of competency.

Yet another major problem when it come to the reputation of NLP.

Why bother to learn NLP after all that?

I heard a wonderful quote the other day and wish I could remember to whom it was attributed.  But the essence was that it’s your mind that creates your problems and it’s your mind that will solve those problems.

Our mind, as fantastic and powerful as it is, can also create a whole heap trouble, strife, stress and general chaos, if left unattended for any length of time. Whether you believe NLP could be of value to you or not – you can utilise it as a tool to tame the mind, make it a faithful servant, and take back control.  Some people will do that with NLP.  Some will do it via meditation.  Some will do it their own way.  Whatever works for you.

As Bruce Farrow (one of the best Master NLP Trainers in the UK in my biased book as he trained me!) so neatly puts it “NLP provides you with an instruction manual of how the mind works and introduces you to your unconscious mind.   It provides you with techniques that will support change in either your life or others and will give you a map of how to REALLY achieve success in your life. It will empower you with the art of TRUE communication that will allow you to understand and to influence your peers. It will allow you to make real changes easily in the way you work and live and provide you with the manual to fully achieving your potential.”

Do you really need any greater reason to explore NLP?

2 responses to “Why does NLP have such a crap reputation?

  1. Isn’t it always interesting how these arguments go? The same could have been said about the entire world of psychology many years ago. Science had developed its own definition of what science is so it is rather self serving. There are and will always be those who are negative about what is and what is not, and that is what makes us look at what we do and examne more carefully what we are doing.

    I was trained by Richard in the early days of NLP in Sausalito, CA when he did not know exactly how to commercialize his and John’s work. I was trained in sales techniques and early NLP thinking. All I know for sure that through the years, as I have practiced NLP and left the world of psychology as a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. I have practiced NLP and seen it work effectively as you have indicated in your writing.

    The world of Neuro Science is evolving rapidly now and there are literally billions of dollars on research being spent by the US government in major universities and the military as well, to understand how the brain works and how it can be manipulated, etc…

    So I for one, like you, am not so concerned about if it is or isn’t a science, but the larger question of what results do we get when we use the tools of NLP. I beleive it is healthy to always question what we are doing and if it works, and examine our thinking and learn more from those who are traveling all the different paths they go. We can learn new things that work and learn to stay away from things that are only shams. The same can be said about all sciences; there are those who use science for the benefit of mankind and those who do otherwise. We must choose our own course carefully and continue to question our knowledge.

    The danger to me, is when we call ourselves experts and stop learning because we think we have all the answers, ahhh this is the downfall of our expertise. So called experts seem to have all the answers and become arrogant about their knowledge. As we can see and experience, knowledge is a evolutionary concept that calls to be constantly challenged and revised as new thinking evolves.

    Lastly, anyone who calls themselves a scientist truly understands to question things and to always seek the truth. because the truth seems to shift with new perceptions and realities. So does that mean that all science that is “proved to be a fact” today and then changes tomorrow denounces the knowledge once learned or simply is one step in the long stair case or life’s learning?

    • Hi Robert – thank you for taking the time to write such an eloquent and insightful comment to my post. From my perspective an open mind and the opportunity to keep learning are the keys to a vibrant, fulfilling life. Close either door and you not only limit your options, but more importantly you reduce your chances of achieving your dreams.

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