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Does NLP training work?

A well-known set of psychological techniques, NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been around for nearly fifty years. First described by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, NLP works on the basis that success in making the right choices in order for individuals to achieve their goals is determined by their “internal map” of the world. NLP theory suggests that by imitating the thought processes and ways of working which characterise successful people, it’s, therefore, possible to mimic their achievements. Techniques employed as part of NLP include: “mirroring” (adopting the same body language as the person you’re communicating with in order to create empathy); reducing negativity associated with past events; and creating sensory triggers which evoke a particular emotional response. Widely utilised, particularly in work-based training initiatives, here we take a look at whether NLP training works, helping you to decide if it needs to form part of your training programme.

NLP – the curate’s egg

Whilst certain parts of NLP do result in positive change for the individuals that practise it diligently, overall there is little scientific evidence to suggest that the therapy makes a meaningful difference in its entirety. One of the biggest barriers to ascertaining the effectiveness of NLP is that there are currently no defined clinical standards and parameters for the concept. Whereas other therapies, for example, CBT, have a set of clear criteria and a rigorous process. The more amorphous, customised way in which NLP is delivered means that it’s difficult to assess effectiveness, as like isn’t being compared with like.

Has NLP been used too widely?

The research which has been undertaken suggests that NLP may have a small positive benefit for people who have social or low-grade psychological problems. Unfortunately, to date, there is no evidence that it has any meaningful benefit for people who suffer from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, phobias, OCD or similar problems. This evidence tends to suggest that NLP may have a limited degree of usefulness as a tool to improve employee performance (for example by possibly improving confidence, communication skills or motivation), but have little or no useful effect on problems which are seen as requiring psychological intervention.

Should you invest in NLP?

Because of the lack of definition over what NLP actually consists of, the assessment of its effectiveness is problematic. Whilst there is evidence of some limited success in improving low-grade psychological issues, there is little justification for it being used as a therapeutic tool. If you are running work-based training or want some pointers towards developing staff resources which may have a beneficial effect, some aspects of NLP may be helpful. For anything else, it’s probably more helpful to consider some of the more well-documented and well-researched therapies.

Whilst there is no documented evidence that NLP has had any negative outcomes, the lack of evidence in favour of positive outcomes means that it’s unlikely NLP works for most people in any meaningful way. It is suggested that other therapeutic approaches, which have been more rigorously researched, may provide greater benefit.