The field of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) was co-created by Richard Bandler, then an undergraduate psychology student, and John Grinder, then an Assistant Professor of linguistics at University of California, Santa Cruz. Between 1973-1979 they collaborated and further developed by "modeling" well-known gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, family therapist Virginia Satir, and leading proponent of hypnosis in psychiatry Milton H. Erickson. NLP includes contributions from Noam Chomsky's transformational linguistics, Gregory Bateson, Milton H. Erickson, automata theory, Turing machine, and logic. (Grinder & Bostic 2001) NLP has proliferated in its application to include psychotherapy, business, sports performance, and relationships.

Similar to other New Age notions (Thaler Singer 2003), NLP participants are taught that the mind is programmed, and that unfortunately we all tend to be mis-programmed by negative input in some way. The methods of neurolinguistic programing involve reprogramming, processes of clearing traumas (Andreas and Faulkner 1994) and treating engrams (Bandler and Grinder 1975). NLP has expanded to include applications to a variety of contexts including psychotherapy, business, sports performance, and the development of psychic abilities, and covert seduction techniques.


NLP aims to discover how experts or superior performers, excel in a given niche, firstly through observation and imitation and only when the skills can be replicated by the modeler explicitly coding the "the difference that makes the difference", so that the difference can be taught to others (see eg. Pattern I, Bandler & Grinder, 1975). This process has been described by co-creator John Grinder as "an accelerated learning approach for modeling human excellence." Therefore, NLP modeling is considered by some practitioners to be at the heart of NLP. Other methods of acquiring knowledge including interview style questioning are not considered NLP by the co-founders. (Grinder 2003)

One simple example is the application of NLP to improve people's spelling strategies. In this NLP model, excellent spellers use multiple representational systems (VAK) to codify and recall words. One NLP game designed to learn this strategy, requiring two people, involves holding up flash cards with words to be remembered. The cards are held above line of sight (to promote visualisation). The eyes are then closed while internally visualising the letters of the words. When the internal visualisation of the word, matches the external flash cards, the strategy is tested by reading aloud the letters forwards and backwards. If there are any errors in the reading of letters, the entire process is repeated from the start with the same word. This game is designed to develop the key skills found in excellent spellers, and requires practise and repetition to integrate into daily life.


The field of NLP has over time claimed to have gathered many mini-models and associated techniques that can be applied to various situations. The supposed models and techniques range from talking directly to people's subconcious rapport, to anchoring and triggering of internal states, to putting people into a trance and changing their beliefs for persuasion and psychic seduction. There are models of internal representations (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, gustatory and olfactory) and their submodalities and concomitant effects on emotions, beliefs, and behaviors. (Accordingly, one early book on NLP subtitled the field as "the study of the structure of subjective experience".) As fallout of the modeling process the field has also developed specific techniques that people have attempted to apply to applications ranging from psychotherapy, e.g. curing phobias, handling criticism and flattery, handling grief, stopping unwanted habits and behaviors, etc., to sales and persuasion techniques, covert seduction to learning techniques, to curing some allergies, and many others.

NLP is taught through live training programs LGATs, but also through self-study by using techniques and trying them out for yourself at home.

NLP principles

In contrast to its numerous mini-models and techniques, NLP lacks a central theory for explanation, but there are a number of principles that have generally guided the development of NLP, most of them taken out of the context of other disciplines. Practitioners often explicitly formulate these principles as "presuppositions."


NLP is not so much about discovering what is true as it is about discovering what is useful, what works in any given situation. But beyond mere utility, NLP aims for efficiency and elegance. If one technique can effect a desired change in an hour, then the search is on for another technique that can accomplish the same change in ten minutes. Example: It's not uncommon for the turnaround on a phobia such as heights or spiders to be under 10 minutes. The work can be tested objectively afterwards for delivery of the client's desired result by asking the client to actually visit a tall building or find a spider, and report back on their experience. According to Bandler, when the technique ceases working, one can always go back for more treatment.

Experimentation, observation and feedback

Utility is measured strictly by subjective experimentation and observation. Observation skills are the first skills taught in basic NLP training. Practitioners and students of NLP are admonished not to take any model for granted, but rather are challenged to try them out in the real world and subjectively observe what happens.

A principle borrowed from cybernetics is that of a feedback loop. The NLP practitioner, when consciously engaged in some activity, especially one which involves one or more other people, is continually gathering information and using it as feedback to adjust his own behavior. One aspect of this is captured in the aphorism "The meaning of your communication is the response that you get." Also NLP practitioners are very keen to stress that some of the most important information is gathered from physiological cues and signals (gestures, posture, eye movement, breathing patterns, facial expressions, etc), the vast majority of which are given unconsciously, and that these signals must be calibrated to the individual who is providing them. These cues are said to give special information such as that of body language.

Client centered

According to NLP presuppositions, the client has the resources they need. The NLP practitioner leaves it up to the person to subjectively say what works and what does not. If they are observed subjectively and carefully, they will actually show it quite clearly in their words and body language, what the problem is, how they experience it, and which ways it will or will not work, or will be blocked. So the NLP practitioner will attempt to use their skills to help the client explore their 'map' (perceptions and preconceptions) of reality. The rest of NLP is then, in effect, an attempt to help the practitioner understand, work and communicate respectfully and effectively within another person's world view.


A key element is that NLP is very much based upon structure and sequence. Individual tools within NLP can be treated as building blocks, put together to most effectively communicate with each individual human being. It is syntax based, in that the order and structure of what is done is felt to have a significant impact on how effective it is.

NLP assumes that human experience, behavior and skill themselves turn out to be highly structured. As structures, they can be sequenced (note: patterns can play out over a tiny fraction of a second) and worked with. There are ways in which pathological or sub-optimal aspects of these structures can be reworked by adapting from other existing skills or by developing and practicing new ones. Or indeed the entire pattern may be best changed for a better alternative.


  1. The spelling example above is a case where one structure (phonetic spelling) is less effective than another (visual spelling).
  2. For many simple phobias, the key problem is in fact a very powerful "once-off" learning experience which formed a structural link of the form "See X --> Feel Y". In the absence of any underlying issue, where the sole problem is the discomfort and inconvenience of a phobia, there are tools which effectively help a client reduce/remove this dysfunctional link.
    (In the latter case, good NLP practice would explore carefully for connected issues and potential side effects (ecology), equally it might act pragmatically once enough information is obtained, and trust the client to say if any further work is needed thereafter)

Multiple perceptual positions (typically triple description)

The idea of multiple perceptual positions in NLP was originally inspired by Gregory Bateson's double description (Grinder & Bostic, Whispering p.247) who purported that double (or triple) descriptions are better than one. By deliberately training oneself in moving between perceptual positions one can develop new choice of responses. (Grinder & Bostic, Whispering p.247)

One basic example in NLP training involves considering an experience (typically a relationship) from the perspective of self, other and a detached third person in that situation. It could be something that has occured already or something that will occur in the future. This type of exercise is useful in gathering information and often new choice in the world become available without a deliberate intervention

Adaptation and Innovation

While students are taught set patterns and models during NLP trainings with very specialized terminology, once they have mastered the basic techniques, students are encouraged to try to use these to innovate new ways, without being tied to mere repetition of existing techniques. The principle here, again borrowed from cybernetics, is that the more flexible and adaptable a person is and the more options they have in their behavior, the more successful they are likely to be in their endeavors. Along these lines are statements such as "If what you are doing isn't working, try something -- anything -- else."; the view that there is no failure, only feedback; and the attitude that any skill, belief or behavior of one person can in principle be modeled and learned by another, who can use it to improve their own skill.?

Mind and body

NLP practitioners consider the mind and physical body as a system; that is, each influences the other. There are several important implications:

  1. The way that the body is moving and held can hold emotion, states and patterns in place. Also some memories are locked in place physiologically.
  2. Therefore some changes can be easier to make by working at a physical (body) level (letting the body inform the mind), as well as by dialog (mind informing emotions).
  3. Humans communicate by taking in information through the senses, but they also give out communication as energy, and this can be considered the spiritual side of communication. The connectivity between living beings makes communication more real, and this allows NLP to be used to enhance human potential far beyond the psychological level.

Subjectivity of experience

Other principles, borrowed from sources such as General Semantics, affirm the subjective nature of our experience, which never fully captures the objective world, and that this experience differs from one individual to the next, sometimes radically, and can even differ for the same individual when compared across different contexts. As a result, one needs to be aware of these differences when interacting with others, to make few assumptions about what the other person is experiencing, and to gather information as needed to verify one's understanding of the other's experience.

Empiricism and Idealism

"The two classic epistemological polar positions in the 18th century can be usefully presented by Hume, in the British empiricist tradition and Kant in the German idealist tradition." (Grinder & Delozier, 1986)

NLP epistemology attempts to bridge the gap between the extremes of empiricism and idealism without appealing to mysticism. This position tends to agree with Einstien saying, "I see on the side of totality of sense-experience, and, on the other, the totality of the concepts and propositions." (Albert Einstein, Autobiographical notes p. 13). The various NLP patterns are exploration in mapping our sensory impressions to concepts, knowing that there is a difference between in logical level and logical type between reality and representation of reality, or to quote Alfred Korzybski, "the map is not the territory." In NLP training sensory acuity and calibration exercises are used to enhance the five channels of our sensory system in an attempt to bring our internal representations (our maps), closer to reality (the territory). (Grinder & Delozier, 1986)


Ecology in NLP is about respecting the integrity of the system as a whole when assessing a change to that system; the 'system' in this case is a person's model of the world and the consequences of that model in the person's environment. Practically, this consideration entails asking questions like "What are the intended effects of this change? What other effects might this change have, and are those effects desirable? Is this change still a good idea?"

NLP and therapy

The first subjects of study were experts in the fields of family therapy, hypnosis, gestalt therapy and provocative therapy. As a result, a significant number of those who take NLP training do so because they are practitioners of psychotherapy, whether as psychologists, psychiatrists, MFCCs (i.e. Marriage, Family, and Child Counselors), social workers, pastors, or lay counselors.

Strictly speaking, NLP does not dictate a specific approach to therapy, instead relying on the practitioner's ability to observe what is effective. Therefore there is no specific approach or "NLP therapy".

There are various patterns (eg. phobia reduction process) for specific interventions and some patterns (eg. well-formed outcomes, and perceptual positions) that can be used in many different situations to achieve desired change.

In terms of self-help, most of the basic NLP-derived techniques can be applied to self. More complex change work requires the assistance of properly trained NLP practitioner.

NLP practitioners can assist clients in

  1. setting achievable outcomes and goals,
  2. making ecological changes to develop;
  3. developing personal state management,
  4. creating generative beliefs,
  5. reducing phobias,
  6. resolving inner conflict,
  7. reducing some allergies,
  8. expressing emotions,
  9. handling grief,
  10. reducing unwanted habits

Example - Reducing Simple Phobias

For many simple phobias, the key problem is in fact a very powerful "once-off" learning experience which formed a structural link of the form "See X --> Feel Y". In the absence of any underlying issue, where the sole problem is the discomfort and inconvenience of a phobia, there are tools which effectively help a client reduce/remove this dysfunctional link. Responsible NLP practice would explore carefully for any secondary gain or potential side effects (ecology), and deal with that before making an intervention.

Mechanistic toolbox or humanistic?

NLP has spawned a 'toolbox' of techniques and methods, a collection of observations and patterns to be aware of in human interaction. It is important to bear in mind that the tools and their use create issues to consider. NLP, by origin, is pragmatic and looks for "what works" but in addition it has a profound respect for the individual, their life and their wellbeing.

NLP tools, when taught as a set of techniques directed toward specific goals, and especially when divorced from their full background, become mechanistic ("this is how to do that") or manipulative ("this is how to make someone do something"). In full context, a broad approach should be used based upon clients' wishes with the principle of ecology playing an important role. The integrity and health of any system must be maintained and considered when making changes. The 'system' in this case is clients' model of the world and therefore health. It is essential to ensure that any changes do not have a negative effect on clients' long term wellbeing. When taught as a "quick fix" or directed toward a goal such as sales or seduction, checks and balances integral to the core of NLP are often omitted. This disregards the health and integrity of the system and is therefore to the detriment of clients.

Criticism of NLP

NLP and Psychology

NLP is criticized because it lacks a unified personality psychology theory and it does not adequately explain how people come to think or behave. NLP advocates claim that explaining the intervention before or after the event possibly prohibitive to the change process. The allusion to "what works" and delaying explanations of "why it works" until after the event is generally viewed by scientists as evasive flim flam. Ethical standards bodies require that the client should have an explanation for why something works for it to be acceptable as a treatment.

Only recently there has been some attempt by NLP co-creator John Grinder to promote an epistemology of NLP. Until the epistemology is properly backed up with peer-reviewed empirical research in Linguistics and Neuroscience the field of NLP will remain a buzzword laden psuedoscience.

While Richard Bandler had an undergraduate degree in psychology and John Grinder an assistant professor of linguistics, the field of NLP began quite outside the academic mainstream, and it remains largely divorced from mainstream academic psychology in both theory and practice. The NLP epistemology differs in its research methodology and evidence procedure from acceptable science, which places it outside the domain of psychology.


Some have criticized the manner in which NLP has been promoted. NLP trainers are often said to make unwarranted claims for the field in general or for the specific techniques that they teach. This is possibly due to the field being largely unregulated and because there are several conflicting associations or guilds, and as such it is argued that it is unlikely that members of the field will be able to hold each other to any respectable standards when practitioners behave incompetently or unethically.

NLP and New Age

NotionsSimilar to other new age movements such as Scientology dianetics EST Transcendental Meditation and Ramtha (Langone 1993), NLP has consistently been unequivocally promoted as a technology or science that promises solutions for everyone, far beyond the specific application of psychotherapy. As such, NLP is promoted by some for dubious treatments such as hypnotic breast enhancement, penis enlargement, remote viewing, covert seduction, remote seduction, speed learning, speed reading, and the sale of expensive brain entrainment equipment. In keeping with its New Age roots, it is often sold in combination with shamanic methods of magick or Huna witchcraft by original NLP developers such as Richard Bandler. The other co-creator, John Grinder also instills shamanic metaphors from Carlos Castenada into his NLP seminars.

Unethical Use of NLP

Some believe that NLP as a technology for change is ethically neutral, and others complain that the ethics of NLP has been compromised, because the techniques of NLP are at times (and have in the past been) used to sell dubious commercial courses on sales and marketing, and activities such as seduction. One well known example of this ethical neutrality is, if an estranged boyfriend brings a knife to an ex girlfriend's house, a legal perspective may see it as intention to harm. Whereas an NLP view may "spin" the situation as an attempt to re-ignite an old flame.

Some feel that the ethical problems arise from the promotion of products that are untestable for efficacy, and from the ethical problem that some practitioners convince the customer to deliberately use deceptive tactics on other individuals for persuasion or coercion. For example, according to NLP presuppositions "There is no such thing as failure. There is only feedback." But this can even be construed to explain why NLP doesn’t work for all individuals and has been argued as being used unethically. It has also been used to explain why people took the failure of NLP as feedback and concocted new “brands” of NLP under a different name.

Some trainers are secretive about their techniques, referring to them as "secrets" and only make them available through expensive training courses or products, making it hard to for customers to assess the validity of the techniques. Even scientists who found that NLP modalities did not work during research, have been accused of not being properly trained in NLP and have been invited to enroll in these courses to “correct their erroneous application” of NLP.

NLP and Cult Activities

NLP is strongly associated with modern day cults (Langone 1993), it is an intrinsic part of modern ritual mind control tactics and NLP has even been classed by cult awareness networks as a cult in itself . Indeed some NLP experts freely accept that NLP is a cult . Cults are often keen to use the new age notions within NLP, in combination with the occult and pseudoscience to claim modern day miracles and induce dependence and compliance on the part of the cult’s victims. The NLP terms applied within cults are not so much persuasive on their own, but they support the beliefs promoted by the cult, and set up ambiguities necessary to excuse the cult organizers for their actions, further incriminatin associated with modern day cults (Langone 1993), it is an intrinsic part of modern ritual mind control tactics and NLP has even been classed by cult awareness networks as a cult in itself . Indeed some NLP experts freely accept that NLP is a cult . Cults are often keen to use the new age notions within NLP, in combination with the occult and pseudoscience to claim modern day miracles and induce dependence and compliance on the part of the cult’s victims. The NLP terms applied within cults are not so much persuasive on their own, but they support the beliefs promoted by the cult, and set up ambiguities necessary to excuse the cult organizers for their actions, further incriminating (and committing) the participants within the cult. NLP hypnotic techniques are used by both mild cults and very aggressive cults to induce dependence on the cult, and to further provide conditioning to induce compliance within the cult (Langone 1993). Well trained psychologists even have to resort to using the mind control aspects of NLP to help the victim recover from the NLP using cult. NLP has even been promoted by the originator, Bandler, as magic and he often used anecdotes about the occult in his large group awareness training LGAT seminars (Hall 1999).

Dubious Courses and Accreditation

The sale of private courses is unlikely to change until the subject is taught more widely in more publicly accessible venues, and until the innovators decide inventing gratuitous terminology is superfluous. There are only a few training establishments offering properly accredited courses in NLP, but a large percentage of these claim falsely to be registered as universities in their own right.

Issues with Buzzwords and Trademarks

Often existing patterns and processes are modified then rebranded for marketing purposes which does not assist NLP in becoming recognised as an academic discipline. Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, for example, uses NLP technology under the banner 'neuroassociative conditioning'. Some terms or buzzwords, are invented such as anchoring (similar to conditioning), eye accessing cues, ... etc. Other terms are borrowed from philosophy, linguistics and other fields, such as epistemology, metamodel, representational systems, conscious/unconscious, neurological transforms, linguistic transforms, entropy, logical levels, logical types, states, ... etc.

The widespread trademarking of buzzwords is partly due to the failed attempt of Richard Bandler in the 1980s and early 1990s to acquire legal rights to the term 'NLP' or 'Neuro-linguistic Programming' through the courts. In 2000, Bandler and Grinder settled any claims with each other, additionally 'NLP' and 'Neuro-Linguistic Programming' were deemed to be a generic terms clearing the trademark issues. (Grinder & Bostic, Whispering 2001).

NLP is not a science

Some attempt has been made to write books promoting NLP interests, but no reliable research has been conducted from this effort. A research framework for NLP patterns was published (Grinder & Bostic 2001), as well as framework for further research assigned to neuroscientists and linguists (Grinder 2003). Grinder often claims that NLP is both an art and a science. However, NLP’s lack of methodology and current (lack of) scientific research effort and results suggests that this attempt at association with science is highly dubious. To date, NLP advocates and other such interested parties have been unconvincing in their efforts to associate NLP with neuroscience . There is no neuro-scientific basis for any of NLP’s claims. The art world may also find fault in NLP’s attempt to associate itself with artistic endevour.

The claim that NLP is empirical is highly questionable. The results of models and techniques of NLP are observable. NLP "models" have been tested with, at best, mixed results (eg. peer-review studies on the effectiveness of NLP modality matching techniques in psychotherapy). For example the conjecture that a person has a primary representational system (PRS) which is observed in the choice of words has been found to be false according to rigorous research reviews. The assertion that a person has a PRS which can be determined by the direction of eye movements found even less support. The assertion that matching PRS will increase rapport with the client has also been found to be false. A good deal of solid research has even found that therapists who match their clients' language were rated by the client and external observers as being untrustworthy and ineffective, indicating that these NLP models may be largely impractical.

NLP models contrast sharply with accepted psychological models of behavior, motivation or personality. Psychological modeling makes considerable effort to measure the existence and strength of the parts of the model for distinguishable constructs or factors, and takes great care to measure the distinct association between each proposed construct . NLP models and the NLP the promoters who concoct them make no attempt at all to do this. In this sense, NLP models can not be considered to be models in either the psychological or the neurological sense at all .

Also, the modeling of deceased experts has been criticized even within the field of NLP. Robert Dilts published models of Albert Einstein's and Nikola Tesla’s internal strategies. With limited, or no high quality video available, it is almost impossible to test, within the NLP modeling framework.

In sum, NLP promotes methods which are verifiable and have so far been found to be largely false, inaccurate or ineffective. From these models it develops techniques which may have nothing to do with either the models or the sources of the "models". NLP makes claims about thinking and perception which do not seem to be supported by neuroscience. NLP has been marketed to the general public using a broad brush approach to solutions, and adopts conveniently broad and simple terms, popular psychology, and pseudoscience and myths about the brain to promote its claims. As such it has been widely extended to market an extremely diverse range of products from psychotherapy to breast enlargement and psychic seduction techniques, as it is likely to be used for the sale of other such products in the future.

The ever changing and uncertain nature of NLP’s concepts and theory, and the negative results of rigorous research, have led to distrust by conventional fields and the close association with snakeoil. Nevertheless, the use of pseudoscience and anecdotal promotion allows it to operate on a commercial scale with a disregard for objective proof of its efficacy, and the “flavour of the month” trends and fads occurring within the NLP concern suggest that NLP will continue to be directed at customers or anyone willing to believe the buzzwords and claims.


  1. Thaler Singer,M. (2003) Cults in our midst. Pub-Josey Bass
  2. Langone, MD PhD (1993) Recovery from Cults. Norton and Company NY
  3. Grinder, John and Delozier, Judith (1986) Turtles all the way down
  4. Grinder, John and Bostic, Carmen Bostic (2001) Whispering in the Wind
  5. Grinder, John (2003) Interview in London on New Code of NLP
  6. Andreas and Faulkner (1994) NLP : The New Technology. New York, NY: William Morrow & Co. Inc


O'Connor, Joseph, and McDermott, Ian Principles of NLP. National Book Network (ISBN 0722531958)
A concise yet thorough introduction to NLP that works from everyday experience back to theory, rather than from theory to practice. This works well compared to many introductions which explain techniques before giving their commonsense background.
Bandler, Richard & Grinder, John, 1975. The Structure of Magic I. Science and Behavior Books, Inc. (ISBN 0831400447)
Seminal work in Bandler and Grinder's early development of the process of NLP. Attempts to model successful therapeutic skills using Chomsky's Transformational Grammar linguistic theory to explain the relationship between a clients speech and the underlying experiences. Introduction of the Meta-Model.
Andreas, Steve, editor 1979. Frogs Into Princes. Real People Press. (ISBN 0911226192)
The first popular introduction to NLP, it is primarily an edited transcription of a seminar given by Bandler & Grinder in the early days of NLP. While some members of the NLP community still regard this as one of the best and most readable introductions to NLP, it is quite dated and contains little of the many techniques and models that have been subsequently developed. Many others in the NLP community therefore have more regard for it as an historical document within NLP.
O'Connor, Seymour, 1990. Introducing NLP. Aquarian Press. (ISBN 1855383446)
A no-hype introduction to NLP.
Andreas, Steve, and Faulkner, 1994. NLP: The New Technology of Achievement. William Morrow. (ISBN 0688146198) An applied introductory book, with exercises.
Hall, Belnap, 1999. The Sourcebook of Magic. Crown House Publishing Ltd. (ISBN 1899836225)
A concise compendium of the central patterns and techniques of NLP.
Merlevede, Patrick & Bridoux, Denis, 2001. 7 Steps to Emotional Intelligence: Raise Your EQ with NLP. Crown House Publishing Ltd. (ISBN 1899836500)
A NLP textbook containing most of the models taught during NLP practitioner training, explaining on how to use them to increase your EQ.
Grinder, John and Bostic St Clair, Carmen, 2001. Whispering in the Wind. J & C Enterprises. (ISBN 0971722307)
Fundamentals of NLP, epistemology, research into NLP, and the historical context of discovery.
Ready, Romilla and Burton, Kate, 2004. Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. (ISBN 0764570285)
A primer in neuro-linguistic programming for the beginner.