Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to psychotherapy and organizational change based on “a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them” and “a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour”. The term “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” refers to a stated connection between the neurological processes (“neuro”), language (“linguistic”) and behavioural patterns that have been learned through experience (“programming”) and can be organized to achieve specific goals in life.
Founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder say that NLP is capable of addressing problems such as phobias, depression, habit disorder, psychosomatic illnesses, and learning disorders, and helps people attain fuller and richer lives” Bandler and Grinder claimed that if the effective patterns of behaviour of exceptional people could be modelled then these patterns could be acquired by others.
NLP has been adopted by private therapists, including hypnotherapists, and those who undertake training in NLP and apply it to their practice. It has also been promoted as a “science of excellence”, and applied within management training, life coaching, alternative medicine, large group awareness training, and the self-help industry.
Reviews of empirical research on NLP showed that NLP contains numerous factual errors, and failed to produce reliable results for the claims for effectiveness made by NLP’s originators and proponents. According to Devilly, NLP is no longer as prevalent as it was in the 70s and 80s, “controlled studies shed such a poor light on the practice, and those promoting the intervention made such extreme and changeable claims that researchers began to question the wisdom of researching the area further”.
Criticisms go beyond the lack of empirical evidence for effectiveness; critics say that NLP exhibits pseudoscientific characteristics, title, concepts and terminology. NLP is used as an example of pseudoscience for facilitating the teaching of scientific literacy at the professional and university level. NLP also appears on peer reviewed expert-consensus based lists of discredited interventions. In research designed to identify the “quack factor” in modern mental health practice, Norcross et al (2006) list NLP as possibly or probably discredited, and in papers reviewing discredited interventions for substance and alcohol abuse, Norcross et al (2008) list NLP in the “top ten” most discredited, and Glasner-Edwards and Rawson (2010) list NLP as “certainly discredited”.