Tuesday, November 07, 2006

NLP – training’s shameful, fraudulent cult

Know this guy? He was arrested for First Degree murder in 1988 and charged with the murder of his bookkeeper, who was also running a call-girl operation on the side. He had plunged headlong into cocaine addiction, and only he and his drug dealer (who was also the victim's boyfriend) were present in her house when the shooting took place. He's one of the founders of NLP - a crackpot of the first degree - Richard Bandler.

This self-fulfilling faith has propelled itself into the heart of the training world. NLP Neuro-Linguistic Programming has little to do with serious neuroscience and linguistics but it is certainly a programme. The practitioners have been ‘programmed’ to believe the ‘programme’, giving them the right to ‘programme’ others. That’s what cults do. Ever criticised NLP in front of a NLP practitioner? Like all fundamentalists they respond with the full force of the fanatic.

Science fiction
The NLP expert will tell you that it is science. Indeed, the whole brand (and it is almost nothing more than a brand) depends upon it appearing to be science. CAP, the regulatory body for UK advertising, has already slapped the wrists of those claiming that NLP is science. Yet, immune to the huge amount of scientific evidence showing that it is bogus, you will quickly hear them retreat to the idea that ‘science isn’t everything’ or that the techniques ‘cannot be verified through clinical trials’. They can’t have it both ways.

NLP is not a unified theory, it’s a hotch–potch of theories, all unverified. The founders and their disciples have been involved in incredibly bitter disputes about the so-called theory and ownership of the three letters. Gregory Bateson, a now forgotten new-age sociologist, along with his student, Richard Bandler (later drug addict and arrested for First degree murder in 88) and John Grinder produced a messy soup of new age thinking. It folded in hypnosis, psychotherapy and unconscious thinking (and to be frank any old rubbish that comes their way) into a suitably palatable omelette for the gullible. (Trainers love it as it has lots of little childish tricks for classroom courses.)

Heap of crap
The Principal Clinical Psychologist for Sheffield Health Authority, Dr Heap, looked at 70 papers on NLP, to examine its theoretical underpinning - Primary Representational System (PRS). This is the claim that we think in a specific mode: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory or gustatory (first three being the most common). This stinks – NLP tutors would now diagnose me as olifactory, as keywords (predicates) are central to the theory, along with eye movements. The claim is that rapport can be enhanced using these techniques, therefore fooling people into doing what you want; working harder, buying your product etc.

Fine, but surely we can tell, from simple scientific trails whether this is all true or not? Heap did exactly this. He looked at the scientific literature and found that PRS is not serious science. He found that 'keywords' are not indicators in the way NLP practioners claim and ‘eye movement’ theories are, in particular, widely rejected.

OK, so what about establishing rapport? Again Heap found that there was no scientfic evidence for the claim that these techniques improve rapport. In one now famous study, Cody found that NLP therapists, using language matching, were actually rated as untrustworthy and ineffective. Heap concludes that NLP is “found to be lacking” and 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”.

Completely bogus
David Platt, drawing from the excellent German NLP research website (http://www.nlp.de/) found that the science found:

1. No bona fide evidence to support the use of representational systems and concluded that they did not appear to play any significant role in communication.

2. Use of predicates had little to no influence in building or enhancing rapport.

3. Eye-accessing cues appeared to have no significant positive or negative impact when utilised in personal interactions.

Serious linguists will have nothing to do with the theory as its linguistic components were debunked long ago.

Corballis cuts to the quick "NLP is a thoroughly fake title, designed to give the impression of scientific respectability. NLP has little to do with neurology, linguistics, or even the respectable subdiscipline of neurolinguistics".

Others, such as Beyerstein, go further accusing NLP of being a total con, new-age fakery to be classed alongside scientology and astrology and many serious management thinkers decry its presence in management theory.

Last year, Sanghera, in the FT, described NLP as ‘pop-psychology’, ‘pseudosciene’ and ‘banal’. It has been called training’s ‘astrology’. ‘Psychobabble’ is another commonly used term.

So how come a theory with no credible academic basis in psychology, linguistics and neuroscience is still being delivered as serious training? It would seem that the training world is happy peddling pseudoscience. The actual scientific basis of NLP is of no real interest to trainers who are happy doing parlour tricks in classrooms.


Heap, M. (1988). Neuro-linguistic programming, In M. Heap (Ed.) Hypnosis: Current Clinical, Experimental and Forensic Practices. London: Croom Helm, pp 268-280.

Heap, M. (1989). Neuro-linguistic programming: What is the evidence? In D Waxman D. Pederson. I.

Krugman, Kirsch, Wickless, Milling, Golicz, & Toth (1985). Neuro-linguistic programming treatment for anxiety: Magic or myth? Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology. Vol 53(4), 526-530.

Corballis, M. in Sala (ed) (1999) Mind Myths. Exploring Popular Assumptions About the Mind and Brain Author: Sergio Della Sala Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons ISBN 0-471-98303-9 p.41

Beyerstein.B.L (1990). "Brainscams: Neuromythologies of the New Age.". International Journal of Mental Health 19(3): 27-36,27.


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Anonymous said...

I think the effort is worthwhile: To point out pseudo-science wherever it presents itself.

Its also important to understand the nature of pseudo-scientific thinking.

I notice there are sites that do that very thing:


Anonymous said...

It all depends on what you believe in man, what works for you - works for you. Does it really matter ? Scientology is a cult - NLP is just another model. You say it doesn't hold up to science... That just doesnt make sense - What is science but theories? NLP is just another theory.

Anonymous said...

This author is a fantastic troll guys, don't you get it!!!

Anonymous said...

I like how all the anonymous comments are actually written by Donald, look at the IP addresses

Anonymous said...

What is "merely" about being medicated?
Medication - devised and manufactured by white male scientists, quelle horreur! - works. Not for everyone. Not without side effects. But to dismiss them so airily is profound arrogance when pharmaceuticals have made a huge difference to peoples' lives. In the area of mental health they are far from perfect, but getting better all the time. And a s**tload more effective than alcohol or exorcism or whatever we had before. You are crying with your mouth full. Western medicine is an incredible product of and book to civilization.

Anonymous said...

The logic bashers do not surprise. They are all NLPers! Since Descartes to Hegel, from Kant to Freud; it has always been about the SUBJECTIVE. Just me, myself, and I. Thus, we end up in a satanic sinking ship, on an ocean of fire... Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this article, and I am grateful for all the comments as I found the topic interesting.

I am confused about a few things though. Firstly, the article appears to be a rant rather than attempt to provide any information. There are lots of things in science that have not been proven, hence the existence of theories and the field work to prove or disprove. Some scientific rigor would not go astray but in the end, as a discipline, it will live or die by its word of mouth performance.

The debate is pointless. Haters will continue to hate and frankly, if there was evidence of it doing harm, there would be reason to rally support.

Maybe look at what you are afraid of and spend your time on that. I'm just an accountant reading this blog for interest, but I think the initial blogger has some issues and the respondents are just being successfully baited in a meaningless debate.

If that's your thing... enjoy!

Anonymous said...

NLP may be legitimate, however, I'm 99% convinced It's bullshit. You see what I did there? It's pseudoscience.

Anonymous said...

"The short description of yourself on your blog simply adds to my assessment of your personality"


OMG somebody please tweet this LOL this is SO COMPLETE A PICTURE in such a short sentence!!

By contrast, kudos to this: "NLP is set up to fool the user into thinking they sound cool, when the actual effect is they end up being inept.

Just looking at this blog, the NLPers have shown just about every logical fallacy, pseudoscientific blather, and evasive platitude in the world of snakeoil salesmanship."

NLP is for losers, for manipulators and lemon sellers. It is a typical resource of the weak, together with cowardice and deception. It's not for strong or even commonplace people. I'm yet to see one NPLer whose life is not an utter piece of crap.

Good and worthy men don't need NLP to hit on girls, nor honest salesmen when selling QUALITY products, for this quality speaks and convinces for itself. Only losers strive to manipulate you into thinking that they have "superpowers" or "superproducts" and that they are so much holier-than-thou. Together with all the rapists, con artists, child molesters and deceivers, they all deserve in jail.

Ok guys, go analyze the whole me too now by this sentence LOL XDDDDDDDD

Anonymous said...

Interesting article and comments. I 've heard from an NLP practitiones friend of mine that Grinder and Carroll used to cure cancer with NLP, what? you kidding? "no, they told us in the course they did so" really??? so this guys are saying they can cure cancer with NLP? he replied to me "I will be able too as soon as I gain more experience"
So no more to say I guess. Get your own conclusions. I am not lying they brainwash their attendees with NLP techniques...
have a nice day you all

Jason Taylor said...

Not even going to read this bullshit you wrote for this simple fact - We are all making it up as we go along - no one really knows exactly how things should or should not be done in life. If some program / training method / course or idea helps someone become a better person and helps someone else also deal with life and people better then I say GO FOR IT! NLP has helped thousands of people in their life - is it for everybody? OF COURSE NOT! Should we insult something that has been proven to be effective with some people? WHO ARE WE TO DO THAT? We are all making this thing called "life" up as we go along.......

Anonymous said...

Having qualified as a master NLP practitioner I can hand to heart say it was the most ridiculous thing I've ever done. After 5 intense days of working from 9:30am-03:00(am) and being repeatedly told that 'you are all getting your monies worth' throughout the course - at least three times a day (typically at around 6 pm , 10 pm and 2am when we were all exhausted and just like zombies). It was like a cult. Telling each other 'we rock' dancing and just how great and super naturally buzzed we were.

We were let out into the field to try out our skills - we were told to find homeless people (in Oregon - I did my training with a guy from the USA - who kept reminding us that he could read people within 5 seconds of seeing them) and to 'try out some tools on them'.

Anyway, looking back at the experience I realised one common feature among all the self-proclaimed gurus

They all started off 'rock bottom' no tertiary education and in their words 'nothing to lose' - they were sales folk (they each bought into their predecessors sales story and refined it a little to make it their own and on-sold it)
From my perspective - I'm sure they now believe their own myth - the origins of NLP are not pure and sincere - the origins are very false and highly HIGHLY manipulative.

These people had zero to lose. NLP appeals to the vulnerable (insecure client with money) and unscrupulous practitioners.

the so-call d founders (plagiarisers and distorted versions of other people's research) are master manipulators who have legitimised themselves.

Welfare of client is never brought up - pacing yes.

A little reality check and self-reflection is required.

observe a homeless person - [very very sad they're homeless] - but observe them - outside a tube station - what they say/act/do for money or food from a stranger - they know that unless they can get that food/money there is every chance of death. In that situation intense focus and in-present moment resides. The founders (way way back) of self help - person pop psych - were effectively homeless. They did a lot and were willing to do anything to get themselves out.

Do your homework on NLP. Also, drop arrogance down a notch and read up about cognition - neutrons and chemical effect on neutrons. Our behaviour is far far more complex than what NLP purports. There is ample research that behaviourism did more harm than good when "supporting" clients.

by the way - positive psychology is as related to pop-psychology as much as oil and water naturally immerse well together.

Question - when the question was asked/said (let's face it, NLP trainers are the only trainers who actually have never openly admitted to not knowing something/or getting something wrong - their confidence (as paper thin as it actually is) appears so deep and alluring) - "don't think of a purple elephant" - immediately followed by "right that was hard, we all thought about one" - did you really? I mean really in the nano speed the statement was made; followed by the analysis of that statement." It's also such a nonsensical out there statement - it has nothing to do with what most people in the training would think of, but being in a room filled with other "like minded people" one person made somewhat of laugh/smiling gesture and then most of the room smiled/laughed and inside we all said 'oh yeah, he's right' from there the 'you had me at hello' sales pitch was done, the trainer knew that collectively we were all willing to play the game and so continued the training. Trainer all wise and knowing and attendees looking in awe at how insightful and yet relatable the trainer was.

OrdinaryOne said...

Dear Mr. Donald,

While I am researching the ethics and truth of NLP, I find your blog. I learned lots from your supported arguments. I am just an ordinary individual who strongly believes in proportional evidence to back up any arguments. I humbly think that the main reason the NLP practitioners are against your view is to prevent others from learning and spreading of the truth which likely impacts their way of making income from teaching NLP. Many Master NLP practitioners claim the sole purpose of NLP is to do no harm but help people, so why do they charge people quite high, $150/hour, to attend the training? If someone adamantly claims trying to help me by "lecturing me" but makes me to pay for his/her time, I would never believe in the goodwill but hypocrite. Anyway, thank you for the post and all the responses to the NLP advocates. Take care Sir.

Anonymous said...

I'm posting to state that I have a long, very detailed example of the practise of NLP tearing a family apart and invisibly damaging the NLP "master practioner"'s life. They have gone from being employed in a professional position to running an NLP "business" that gets dribbles of money in by comparison and with many more hours (and money) poured in. A dead horse they have been flogging for several years now... it's not the fault of NLP that it's a failure though, right?

The thing is that failure is almost inevitable when entering into such an over-saturated market selling a snake oil product that in reality very few people want. Then there is the failure of NLP to address some of these master practioners phobias on any measureable and ongoing basis. Add to that the destruction of family relationships as NLP-injected narcissism replaces human interaction.

Still, they have plenty of new "friends" in the cult.

To the NLP practitioners sharing, like gamblers or born-again ministers, tales of positive stories... did you rewind time and give these clients a simple hug to see what that did? Have you kept track of identical twins over time, one receiving NLPdoo and one just words of encouragement whilst recording intimate details of their progressions? No scientific method whatsoever - just anecdotal tales of success and no measurement of failure? Indeed.

NLP is just post-modern, decontructionalist bunk where everything is true that suits the story and everything is false that contradicts, such as scientific method. A belief system, pure and simple. A belief system that enables the paid up to frame/justify any and all actions in any way they choose, no matter how nefarious. It's a psycho manufacturing industry selling dreams of false hope to the last dregs of the gullible.

Ganapathy Subramaniam said...

This is such a terrific post... and the followup comments and the bashing...yet Donald , you are on top! I am an instant fan! Fuck NLP! lets go work hard and learn to be successful and happy the old fashioned way of being content with what the wonderful life offers.


Susan said...

My sister had been diagnosed with serious psychiatric illnesses over the years including schizophrenia, then later with trauma and personality disorders, was charmed by an NLP practitioner who I can't name but who has not a single professional qualification, no professional registration, no code of ethics, no grievance procedure, no clue how to manage difficult cases. These concerns I raised fell on deaf ears. My sister was an autonomous adult, free to make her own choices. She contacted salmonella typhi while attending one of his workshops in Goa, India, and descended into psychosis. Their Therapeutic Relationships deteriorated, resulted in negative attention from my sister, negative responses from the therapist (emails later discovered) and out of control, he had her arrested and spent nearly two years pursuing her through the courts, refusing to settle out of court in respect of her illnesses as pleaded by her solicitor, he wanted her to attend in person. Incidents of self harm escalated. I wrote a letter to her psychiatrist enclosing a emails and texts that exposed her at risk for suicide. Nothing happened. My 78 year old mother started exhibiting signs of burnout, becoming detached and reclusive, existing only to watch over my sister. The process was terminated by my sister found hanging from the kitchen door. I am at loss as to how to understand how we all failed her. We all tried but failed. Even get psychiatrist I believe failed her but I'm not sure what other options existed. However this unprofessional therapist continues to run a thriving business, making all sorts of unverified claims. There is no way to stop him as he is accountable to no one. I'm so angry that he can go on arrogantly exploiting vulnerable patients.

Anonymous said...

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for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, let alone the content!

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Anonymous said...

Yes, and those shameful NLP grubs in NXIVM appeared and sounded wonderful to change your life! Interesting that NLP “masters” love to pray on vulnerability to hook. NLP is snake oil and every representative I’ve met is weird and wired, particularly when questioned as to its viability.

Don’t go near it!

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