Among the myriad of therapy approaches, neuro-linguistic programming is a lesser known one. When you first consider that name, neuro-linguistic programming, you might think it has something to do with the brain and language. Such assumptions are not far off. Neuro-linguistic programming is an approach towards understanding the human mind, from the stance that everyone has their own perspective of the environment around them. In essence, it says that people are all speaking their own language.
Yet, neuro-linguistic programming asserts that you can study other people, learn their language for navigating the environment around them and choose to adopt their approach if you want. Why would you want to do that? You might want to do that, if that other person seems more successful at something and you want to emulate their approaches to replicate their success.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming: What is it?
As noted, neuro-linguistic programming is one psychological approach designed to help clients improve their mental health and general quality of life. It involves analyzing the strategies frequently used by already successful individuals so that those same strategies can then be applied towards reaching some personal goal. In doing this, it connects learned thoughts, behavior, and language to specific outcomes. Neuro-linguistic programming is considered an experiential approach because the learning relies on experiencing life, observing one’s environment, and putting information into action to learn even more.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming Theory
Practitioners of neuro-linguistic programming take a positive view of human action. They assume that all action is positive. When something unexpected happens, such as a plan failing, that outcome is not necessarily viewed as bad. Instead, it is viewed as simply useful information to use in the future.
Practitioners of neuro-linguistic programming believe there are hierarchies for learning, communication, and change. They defined six levels of change as the following:
- Purpose and Spirituality: This level of change involves connecting with something larger than one’s self. This could include connecting with a religion. It is considered the highest level.
- Identity: One’s sense of identity is the person they perceive themselves to be. It includes having a sense of personal responsibilities and roles in life.
- Beliefs and Values: NLP practitioners believe that all people have a personal belief system and some set of values for the issues that matter to them.
- Capabilities and Skills: These are defined as a person’s abilities and what they can actually do.
- Behaviors: These are defined as the specific actions a person may perform.
- Environment: This is defined as a person’s context or setting. It can include the other people around them. NLP practitioners consider this the lowest level of change.
According to neuro-linguistic practitioners, the purpose of these levels is to assist in organizing and directing all of the information below it. It is thought that making some change in a lower level will also result in changes to the higher levels. The opposite is also thought to be true—making a change at some higher level can result in changes to the lower levels.
How Does Neuro-Linguistic Programming Suggest the Mind Works?
Practitioners of neuro-linguistic programming believe that each person has their own personal map of reality. Individuals who practice neuro-linguistic programming prefer to thoroughly analyze their own perspectives and other people’s perspectives to gain more information. This allows NLP practitioners to gain a full and systematic overview of any given situation.
Given the emphasis on observation and gathering of data, neurolinguistic practitioners believe that the senses and sensory information are vital. It is the senses and the data taken in that allows people to gain and to process necessary information. That information can then be used by the person to more successfully influence their mind and body towards successful outcomes.
Important Practitioners in Neuro-Linguistic Programming
In the 1970’s neuro-linguistic programming got its start at the University of California-Santa Cruz. A team led by John Grinder and Richard Bandler worked together to develop the theory.
In 1975, Grinder and Bandler published their first book on neuro-linguistic programming. It was entitled Structure of Magic: A Book About Language and Therapy. It included research from Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls, Milton Erickson, Noam Chomsky, Alfred Korzybski, Gregory Bateson, and Carlos Castaneda. In the text, they highlighted patterns of communication that set excellent communicators apart from others.
Through their research and work, Grinder and Bandler also presented their neuro-linguistic programming meta-model. This was intended to be used as a technique for identifying the language patterns that are the most reflective of people’s basic cognitive processes.
John Grinder was one of the primary founders for neuro-linguistic programming. He approached the theory from his background as a linguist.
Richard Bandler was the second of the two primary founders for neuro-linguistic programming. He approached the theory from his background as a mathematician.
In addition to the work of Grinder and Bandler, several other professionals also contributed to the development of neuro-linguistic programming theory. Chief among these was Judith DeLozier and Leslie Cameron-Bandler. David Gordon and Robert Dilts were also contributors.
How Does Neuro-Linguistic Programming Cause Change?
The key elements of neuro-linguistic programming include modeling, action, and effective communication. All this is done based on the belief that if a person can understand how another individual successfully accomplishes some task, then that observed approach can be communicated and replicated so that any other person can also accomplish that same task.
What Happens in a Neuro-Linguistic Programming Session?
NLP practitioners think that each person functions from their own perspective, and not necessarily from a place of objectivity. Since neuro-linguistic practitioners think that there are differences between belief and reality, they believe that a person’s perception may be limited, distorted, and unique from the perceptions that others hold. NLP practitioners further believe that people process their experiences with a primary representational system (usually abbreviated as PRS).
In therapy, the NLP practitioner aims to better understand both a person’s unique views (sometimes called a “map” in NLP therapy) and the way in which that person processes their experiences (their PRS). It is thought that by understanding a person’s thinking, emotions, behaviors, and aspirations, the therapist can gain increasing amounts of information about the person’s “map.”
Further, it is thought that all this knowledge can then be used to help a person identify and strengthen their personal skills. The goal is to help people improve the skills that will best serve them. At times, new skills may need to be developed to replace any skills that were less productive for the person.
Techniques Used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming
NLP seeks to identify and change the unconscious limitations and biases in a person’s perspective for their environment. To do this, the following techniques may be used:
- Rapport: The NLP practitioner attempts to match the person’s behaviors. It is thought this will improve communication and empathetic responses.
- Anchoring: The practitioner may ask the client to turn sensory experiences into a trigger for a particular emotional state.
- Swish Pattern: The practitioner will change patterns of behavior or thought. This is done with the goal of attaining some new particular outcome instead of a typical outcome.
- Visual and Kinesthetic Dissociation: The NLP practitioner aims to help the person remove negative thoughts and feelings they have associated with some event.
Does Neuro-Linguistic Programming Work?
After Grinder and Bandler first published their work, interest in neuro-linguistic programming grew throughout the 1970s. Bandler and Grinder also began to market their approach as a tool that could help people learn how to achieve success through emulating the effective behaviors of already successful people. The approach continued to increase in popularity as it was itself proven successful. Today, the neuro-linguistic programming approach is used successfully in many different fields such as counseling, law, business, medicine, sports, military, medicine, education, and the performing arts.
In practice, neuro-linguistic programming seeks to improve communication between a person’s conscious and unconscious mental processes. It is thought that doing this can increase a person’s ability to problem-solve. Those who practice NLP report that the neuro-linguistic programming approach can produce fast and lasting results by improving a person’s personal understanding of their thinking and behavior. Neuro-linguistic programming is sometimes compared to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) by its proponents. Its practitioners claim that changes can be made in less time with NLP.
There have been research studies to examine how effective neuro-linguistic programming may be for various presenting concerns. Thus far, there are some favorable results. However, researchers also admit that the current research findings are limited, and additional research will be needed.
What kinds of Concerns is Neuro-Linguistic Programming Best For?
Neuro-linguistic programming has been used in therapy settings to address many different mental health issues and presenting concerns. It has been used for anxiety, phobias, panic, post-traumatic stress, OCD, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, addiction, borderline personality disorder, and relationship issues. Research has also found it to be effective in helping children who had special education needs. In a study, when NLP was used as a treatment approach, these children were better prepared for classroom learning.
How Are Neuro-Linguistic Programming Specialists Trained?
One critique of the neuro-linguistic approach is that there may be a lack of regulation for the training of NLP practitioners. Currently, there is no specific certification for these practitioners to pursue. This means that people can profess to practice the neuro-linguistic programming approach without a thorough background in mental health or credible training experiences in NLP. Ideally, practitioners will have a general training in mental health and specialized training with neuro-linguistic programming.
Concerns/Limitations of Neuro-Linguistic Programming
One limitation of neuro-linguistic programming is that it is somewhat difficult to define as a treatment approach. This makes it challenging for researchers to conduct empirical research, in which everything should be clearly defined for the most accurate and easily interpretable data and results. Numerous testimonials support the approach, but there is limited unbiased scientific backing for it at this time.
How to Find a Therapist
If you are interested in obtaining therapy and believe that neuro-linguistic programming may be a helpful approach to you, then you may want to seek out a mental health provider that practices from this approach. To find an NLP practitioner, you may want to research for licensed mental health providers that use this specific approach. You can research online for potential providers. You may also ask other medical providers and friends or family for their recommendations.
What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?
When you seek out a licensed mental health professional (also known as an LMHP) you will want to work with someone who is appropriately trained and adequately experienced in the field of therapy. You can be assured of their training and experience by checking that they are licensed.
If you want neuro-linguistic programming to be a part of your therapy process, you may want to seek out someone with specialized training in this approach. Generally, you also want to be certain that your potential provider has experience with the specific concerns you have.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
When you choose to use counseling, you will want to ask your potential provider important questions. You will want to ask about their previous experience and general approach to treatment before you get started. If you have an interest in participating in NLP as a part of your counseling, then you will want to ask about their use of this theory and its techniques. It is also helpful to ask what approach your potential provider plans to take to work with your mental health concerns and goals. Finally, you should ask how they will plan to monitor your progress.
Finally, many people find they work best in the therapy setting when they feel comfortable with their therapist. Therefore, to make your therapy more productive, you may want to gather information and ask questions that will help you discern whether you feel comfortable.
Final Thoughts on Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Neuro-linguistic programming is one approach to counseling that may assist in improving your quality of life. It can be used to help people identify strategies for personal improvement and success. In conjunction with other techniques, this approach may help a person improve their mental health.