Thursday, August 4, 2011


Ever heard of NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming)?  Ever heard of the "Landmark Forum?"  This type of psychological approach claims to be therapeutic and has become especially popular, in the last decade or so, with not only therapists, but also Life Coaches.  However, NLP is losing fans; among them are therapists.  The next "new" thing began to prove to be the same old thing with a different face:  promises of a quick fix through an intensive program.

NLP is very controversial.  The "inventors" claim that using NLP helps people become more self-aware and improve communication.  Though they focus on the above reasons for using NLP now, in the past, they have made outrageous, unfounded, unscientific claims for all kinds of disorders that have been resoundingly discredited.

The creators of NLP claim that they developed their methods by watching the
body-language and speech patterns of well known practitioners and hypnotists:  Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Freedman.  There's also a little of this 'n that thrown in and, of course, impressive psychological terms.

Tony Robbins was an advocate of NLP; he started inspiring a string of "believers" on their quest for self-improvement and making money.  However, despite the testimonies of initial believers, the positive effects of NLP do not seem to last long.

The more I read about NLP, the more I got creeped out.  For instance, my NLP-loving practicum director referred me to the "Landmark Forum" (LP), commenting to my doubts that it was not for the "faint of heart".  I found out that LF is a revised version of EST of the 1960's-70's (which has been strongly criticized and discontinued).  There are cult-like aspects to LF, as many who experienced the intense 3-day weekend "mind makeover" have testified.  (I think I'm getting really good at sniffing out cult-stuff, having been raised in one.)

As likeable as my practicum director was, it didn't take long before I started having weird vibes from her.  As my practicum progressed, she began instilling what I believe were unethical and substandard practices into the program.  I was torn; there were aspects I loved about doing therapy and helping the program as practicum co-ordinator, but when obviously unethical boundaries caused me to hit the wall, I decided to change practicums.

Admittedly, doing therapy requires some manipulation through focusing on points needing attention, asking the right questions, and having good communication and repoire with the client.  However, the process is practiced under guidelines of being genuine, authentic, warm, and empathetic--and really caring about the client.

NLP is not only used for positive ends, as in therapy.  NLP is often taught to people in sales to help them increase their business.  It appears to be a quick, slick way to teach tricks and tactics designed to manipulate the customer. 

I saw the same processes at work in my practicum that I found online.  It began with a program my director created for decision-making that really contained some great and powerful insights (gathered from other theoretical models in psychology). However, as practicum students, we had little training, were given very questionable advice, and then were thrown into untenable situations with clients. Confidentiality (the bedrock of good therapy!) was often unnecessarily violated. It finally became clear to me that the director, who was raised in a  cult, seemed to operate her program in a cult-like way.  In my experience, the world of psychotherapy techniques and values I had been taught growing up and in school were crossing into dangerous territory.

I am a staunch proponent of improvement in training and mental health centers and I am very open to considering change. I think she saw my "open door" and agreed to work closely with me in helping her in the organization.  However, the director ultimately betrayed her motives by her actions, her comments, and her communication style.  Unfortunately, she proved to be manipulative and dishonest at times.  I believe, in her exuberance to create and push her program forward and gain credibility, the clients' needs many times came second.

Despite several conversations I had with her regarding serious disagreements with some protocols and procedures, nothing much changed.  Serious breaches in therapeutic ethics occurred over a short time.  I watched as my director maneuvered between students, clients, and authority figures to keep her practicum students and the program afloat.  She worked hard to garner degrees (though not in psychology), certificates--even a ministry diploma--trying to increase the scope of her influence and authority.  While I was there, she also became a deputy.  She appeared very ambitious with a smattering of Machiavellianism thrown in.  It made me very uncomfortable at times.

I liked her at first; then she lost my trust.  Without trust, you severely limit your effectiveness with students and clients.  She made empty promises, even using deceit, trying to manipulate people and situations to keep her program afloat.  Sadly, she really believed in her program and worked diligently at it--often at the price of self-care.  As time went on, her actions felt more and more fanatic.  Clearly, this woman felt driven to get much power in her life, even at the risk of losing her students (which she eventually did) and damaging the success of her program (which is exactly what happened).

Granted, not all NLP practitioners are alike.  (She definitely had her personal issues.)  However, if you or someone else you know is considering therapy or Life Coaching with a practitioner who believes wholeheartedly in NLP, be very careful before you drink the Kool-aid!

My director's off-used phrase?  "Perception is reality!"  I cringe remembering those words. They were half-truths in Existential Psychology she created for highly manipulative clients in deep denial.  The thought of giving these especially potentially dangerous clients the "everything is relative" schtick made me shudder. I'm so glad I changed practicums and luckily found myself at a top rate community mental health center.

The picture of the book is called:  "The Structure of Magic II"--one of two of the original NLP books.  Even the title of the book is creepy, no?


Cynthia A Copenhaver said...

You have 2 very interesting opinion articles on NLP. I can understand your perspective on it due to your experience. It is a valid opinion that even I had questioned during my studies. It is unfortunate that NLP techniques have been glamorized by some as a magic pill. It is not.

My own studies and certification into these techniques were an alternative for clients who wish to seek out a non-hypnotic alternative. It is unfortunate that some may abuse the use or knowledge of the technique or not fully inform and educate their clients.

Always remember you are the client and if you don't feel comfortable with a coach or with an alternative therapy practice, that coach is not going to be able to help you, Find someone else!

I use NLP anchoring and visualization techniques since they can be quite useful. I realized that the techniques should not be disparaged if they are helpful to an individual. I use NLP techniques for myself, and while a critical conscious mind may say that it is subconscious mind knows no difference. With just a twist of my ring, I now have the courage and confidence to step up and speak publicly. It is not is a conditioning anchor response technique of confidence and self-esteem.

I created my own self-imposed good habit response. It did not happen overnight or became a recognizable habit that my subconscious mind responds to. That is where the sustainability sets in. A habit can take up to 3 weeks before it can be fully formed in the subconscious mind. If an individual is not informed of this...they will not create the habit, and there will be no long term sustainability in the technique. Similiar to hypnosis...Once again...caring, informing, and educating the client is the key to their sustaining success.

PSACHNO said...

Cyn, thanks for your contribution. I respect your opinions, despite disagreeing with most of them.

The time it takes to develop a habit varies and can often take much longer. Four months is another number I've heard. It guess it depends on the person. But I know NLP'ers tout the 3 week theory which I have seen disappoint many clients.

Certainly, I join with you in your wisdom to make a good match re: a therapist or coach. Promoting information on these subjects, I hope to help them with their decisions by informing them.

You might be interested in site. He is writing a thesis on Manufacturing Authority that sheds more light on his research into hypnosis.

If you feel NLP has truly helped you, then I am glad for you, with the reservation that what may most have benefited you was info and techniques NLP has stolen from other modalities and sources.