NLP

Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration?

 

Introduction

For more than twenty-five years therapies, personal development training, courses and other forms of working with people advertised as based within the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Framework have enjoyed enormous popularity on the market of psychological services. NLP practitioners are found among university employees, and advertisements of NLP-related institutions appear in popular science magazines. Students of psychology attend courses where they attain successive degrees of initiation for NLP practitioners. NLP trainings have been provided in companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, McDonald’s, NASA, the U.S. Army, and U.S. Olympic teams, and in countless public school systems (Singer & Lalich, 1996). It has been suggested that NLP is “being applied widely, if often informally in UK education” (Tosey & Mathison, 2003, p. 371). I investigated official psychology curricula of the 12 best state universities in Poland. Eight offered contents and, in many cases, even separate courses devoted to NLP (Witkowski, 2009).

And still, despite that widespread presence of NLP, none of the psychology textbooks that I have heard of (Polish or English) presents an in-depth discussion of the concept. What’s more, scientific authorities refrain from giving their opinions in this respect. What is the scientific worth of the concept? Only a thorough analysis of empirical research can lead to the answer.

Outline of the NLP concept

In the 1970s, Richard W. Bandler and John Grinder came up with a brilliant idea to create a practical therapy model. They argued that outstanding psychotherapists acted on the basis of implicit theories, which ensure their effectiveness and great rapport with patients. Furthermore, they concluded that observation of the most skilful therapists, their contemporaries, at work should result in the discovery of patterns, which could be then generalized, verified on an empirical basis and put into therapeutic practice. For several years they observed such therapists as Fritz Perls, Milton H. Erickson and Virginia Satir at their work. The gathered material enabled them to formulate NLP tenets and hypotheses.

The central philosophy of NLP is summed up in the sentence “The Map is not the Territory” (see, e.g. Lankton, 1980, p. 7). That means that each of us operates on the basis of our internal representation of the world (the “map”) and not the world itself (the “territory”). The maps that we create are mostly limited and distorted. The therapist’s task is to understand and operate on the basis of the client’s map of the territory.

The maps that people make of their world are represented by five senses: visual; kinesthetic, referring totactical and visceral sensations; auditory, including noises and sounds; olfactory, including smell; and gustatory,including taste. Each experience in the world of senses is composed of information received through the said systems of senses, different in terms of quality, which are termed representational systems by the NLP original proponents (Grinder & Bandler, 1976; Bandler & Grinder, 1979). They suggested that each of us processes the majority of information using one primary representational system (PRS). Following the example of the most outstanding therapists, to work effectively with a patient one should necessarily match the patient’s PRS so as to be able to use their “map”.

Another discovery of which the NLP originators were particularly proud of was to realize that access to the representational systems is possible through the so-called accessing cues that are precisely specified eye movements. Careful observation of these movements should enable the NLP therapist to unequivocally identify the PRS of the patient, interlocutor etc., and, in consequence, facilitate matching their PRS. All other hypotheses of the NLP system related to the arising of mental disorders, the type of therapy and communication, etc. stem from these basic assertions.

When analyzing how the NLP concept was formulated, it is worth indicating analogies between the manner in which it had been developed and the research methodology applied in social psychology proposed and defined by Cialdini (1980) as a full-cycle approach to social psychology. Bandler and Grinder followed the full-cycle method, but regrettably they omitted the stage of empirical verification of their assertions. They found that part of the process inessential and moved straight to the formulation of the system and putting it into practice. Bandler, known for his openly demonstrated contempt for scientific testing of the NLP hypotheses, claimed that his system represented an art, not science, hence testing its assertions was pointless or even impossible. The NLP founders distorted the full-cycle approach creating a quasi-cycle process, which included only these three stages. Against the contempt expressed by Bandler, the NLP system being used so widely made many researchers test its theoretical underpinnings on an empirical basis.

Method

Selection of Material for Analysis

In order to obtain a coherent empirical image of NLP, independent from beliefs of therapists and subjective opinions of academic psychologists, I conducted an analysis of the majority of scientific articles devoted to NLP ever published. A most extensive register of such studies termed the Neuro-Linguistic Programming Research Data Base (State of the Art) is to be found on the web pages of NLP Community (http://www.nlp.de/cgi-bin/research/nlp- rdb.cgi). At present it supplies abstracts and bibliographic information with reference to 315 articles, by and large empirical, written by 287 authors and published in the years 1974-2009. The base was created at the University of Bielefeld in Germany in 1992, and moved to Berlin in the later years. It was designed to gather and organize empirical available studies concerning NLP from all over the world. The base is referred to by its creators as “state of the art”, being updated and recommended on an ongoing basis by numerous institutions worldwide, which draw extensively on NLP in their activities. In Poland this base is recommended by e.g. Polski Instytut NLP (The Polish Institute for NLP) whose founder and chairman — Benedykt Peczko — personally suggested it to me as the most allembracing global source of scientific studies on NLP. Out of several bases of articles developed by NLP proponents this one offers the highest number of entries. The analysis I am reporting in this article was carried out in December 2009.

There were three major arguments in favor of my choice of this database. Firstly, I came to the conclusion that the 18 years of work on the base performed by people committed to showing empirical underpinnings of the concept must give better results than those I could have achieved if searching through other available bases in a short time, such as PsychLit, PsycINFO or MEDLINE. Secondly, the fact of using the base established by followers of the concept might meet their possible accusations that I was biased and partial in preparing my review. Thirdly, analysis of the base contents, of the manner in which it is updated and of selection of articles might disclose additional information on how the image of NLP as a science with empirical foundations is created.

Quantitative analysis

In order to obtain the very essence of the empirical material available in the base, I performed a number of operations on the base. The first was to select the most reliable studies for further analysis. To this end, I evaluated them based on the criterion of whether the journal in which the given articles were publisher was recorded on on the Master Journal List of the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia. This operation does not require justification in more detail. Although there are many doubts raised to this list, magazines from the Master Journal List are much less likely to have published unreliable articles than others. As a result of the initial selection, of 315 articles I had 63 — accounting for 20% of the entire base — left for further analysis.

Of interest are the findings of quantitative analysis of publications in individual years. By reference to the diagram including all 315 studies, it is clear that scientific activity peaked in the eighties of the 20th century. (see Figure 1). It experienced a minor renaissance at the beginning of the present century. Based on the diagram, one may assume that as a research issue NLP enjoyed immense popularity in the period directly following the formulation of its empirical underpinnings in the seventies of the 20th century. In the subsequent years the research interest in NLP was decreasing. The bottom diagram shows the Master Journal List publications exclusively. Activity of researchers having their studies published in renowned magazines was proportional to the entire sample.

 

Figure 1. Number of all publications included in NLP Research Data Base in individual years as against the number of studies of Master Journal List.

 

 

 

The sample of 63 studies selected for further analysis included articles published in 30 different magazines. Below is a breakdown of the number of articles published in individual magazines.

Journal of Counseling Psychology        12

Perceptual and Motor Skills       10

Psychological Reports  6

Professional Psychology: Research and Practice           4

Psychological Bulletin   3

American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis   2

International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 2

Psychological Science  2

American Journal of Family Therapy      1

Anaesthesia      1

Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education           1

Brain and Cognition      1

British Journal of Clinical Psychology    1

European Psychologist 1

Gerontologist   1

International Journal of Hospitality Management 1

International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 1

Journal of Abnormal Psychology           1

Journal of College Student Development           1

Journal of Consciousness Studies         1

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology   1

Journal of Marital and Family Therapy    1

Journal of Nonverbal Behavior   1

Journal of Social Psychology    1

Management Decision  1

Neuropsychologia         1

Psychosomatics           1

SA Pharmaceutical Journal       1

Total Quality Management and Business Excellence 1

This high number of magazines may be treated as indirect verification of the reliability of the gathered empirical evidence. It will be difficult to maintain that one of the magazines or a group of them was biased in favor of NLP or that their activities were aimed at deprecating the concept. It should also be emphasized that the thematic scope of the magazines, which published the studies devoted to NLP was very wide indeed.

I put the selected sample of articles through a qualitative analysis, as a result of which three categories of studies emerged:

  1. Thirty-three empirical articles, which tested the tenets of the concept and/or the tenets-derived hypotheses.
  2. Fourteen articles comprising polemics, discussions, case analyses, or empirical works in which NLP represented little significant aspect etc. that is studies of no empirical worth from the point of view of my analysis.
  3. Sixteen works having nothing in common with the NLP concept, available in the base most likely by chance or due to other reasons that were unknown to me.

The first category is a subject of a more detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis presented in the subsequent part of this article.

The second category comprises such studies as, for instance, a phenomenological account of the first author of horse riding lessons (Mathison & Tosey, 2008), a discussion of the application of lateral concepts in the new millennium (Corballis, 2000), an analysis of a new therapy carried out by Virginia Satir (Woods & Martin, 1984), an analysis of 2 cases of rape victims (Koziey & McLeod, 1987), an analysis of a case of recovering from clinical depression (Hossack & Standidge, 1993) and many other (Davis & Davis, 1983; Beck & Beck, 1984; Yapko, 1984; Einspruch & Forman 1985; Dailey, 1989; Peterson-Cooney, 1991; Adler, 1992; Witt, 2003; Brown, 2004). Accepting the analyzed sample as 100%, the articles on NLP, which proved to be useless for the purpose of empirical analysis, represented 22.2%.

 

Table 1

Number of articles published in individual magazines and their weight.

Magazine Cat. 1 Cat. 2 Cat. 3 Weight
Journal of Counseling Psychology 8 3 15
Perceptual and Motor Skills 1 5 2 10
Psychological Reports 3 1 10
American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 1 15
International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 1 24
Psychological Science 1 24
British Journal of Clinical Psychology 1 24
Journal of Abnormal Psychology 1 24
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1 24
Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development 1 10
Journal of Social Psychology 1 15
Neuropsychologia 1 24
Total Quality Management and Business Excellence 1 10

Note. Cat. — category. Weight — based on the scoring system of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education allowing for the impact factor of individual magazines.

 

 

I found the third category puzzling. It encompassed, inter alia, an essay on changes in Soviet psychology on the path of perestroika (Gindis, 1992), social and ethical limitations of psychology (Drenth, 1999), intuition (Lieberman, 2000), mimicry (Lakin, Jefferis, Cheng & Chartrand, 2003; Stel, Dijk & Olivier 2009), status of the pharmacists (White, 2009), application of alternative therapies to children with dyslexia (Bull, 2009) and many others (Norcross & Prochaska, 1983; Malloy, Mitchell & Gordon, 1987; Karniol, 1995; Starker, Pankratz, 1996; Norcross, Hedges & Prochaska, 2002; Cullen & McLaughlin, 2006; Boden & Giaschi, 2007; Abramowitz & Lichtenberg, 2009; Cyna, Andrew & Tan, 2009). Articles not related to the NLP concept account for as much as 25.4%. What is interesting, articles from this category represented an insignificant share in the eighties of the 20th century, which increased gradually towards contemporary times.

Studies published in magazines of the Master Journal List of Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia constitute the essence of the empirical material with reference to NLP. There were as many as 33 such papers representing 52.4% of the selected sample. The qualitative analysis allowed me to single out the following subcategories:

  1. Nine works supporting the NLP tenets and the tenets- derived hypotheses (27.3%).
  2. Eighteen works non-supportive of the NLP tenets and the tenets-derived hypotheses (54.5%).
  3. Six works with uncertain outcomes (18.2%).

Sources of individual articles and the number of articles

of individual categories published therein are shown in Table 1.

Not to be satisfied with the quantitative indicators of the published articles only, in the last column of Table 1, I present the scoring taken from the list of scientific journals available from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The scoring allows for the impact factor of individual journals and constitutes the basis for the assessment of the worth of the scientific output of researchers in Poland. Totaling up points received for individual publications will provide a better illustration of their weight. If it is assumed that all those papers were written by one scientist, in Poland they would have been given 479 points (100%), i.e. 123 points (25.7%) for the NLP supportive articles, 281 points (58.6%) for the studies challenging the tenets of the concept, as well as 75 points (15.7%) for the works showing uncertain outcomes. As it appears, after this conversion the significance of the studies with negative outcomes increased as against the ones with positive results.

The present analysis is my second performed on the database in question. A similar one four years earlier in December 2005 and published the findings in 2006 (Witkowski, 2006). The base has been considerably expanded since then. In 2005 it had 180 studies published in the years 1977-2005. At present the base covers the 1974-2009 period. This does not mean however that more than 100 papers on NLP were written throughout the last four years. The analysis of the base contents indicates that it has been supplemented with an additional one study from 1974, thus increasing the number of works in the years 1977-2005 by 107 entries, and 31 articles published in the years 2006-2009. Some works have also been removed from the base, i.e. one entry from 1977, two from 1987, one from 1994 and one from 1997.

Qualitative analysis

The numbers indicate unequivocally that the NLP concept has not been developed on solid empirical foundations. Less than one-third of the analyzed works shows supportive evidence, more than a half — nonsupportive, and the remaining papers — uncertain results and doubts. But let’s move beyond the mere numbers. Argumenta ponderantur, non numerantur — the force of the arguments lies in their weight, not numbers. It is often the case that one study weighs as much as a number of others. Some works verify basic assumptions of a theory, others only a less significant aspect of the problem.

The studies reporting outcomes, which I rated as supportive of the concept tested its basic assumptions in a very small number. In this respect, the study by Kinsbourne (1974) is exceptional as it tested the hypotheses concerning eye movements, as well as Yapko’s experiment (1981) revealing that the matching primary representational system had a positive influence on the depth of hypnotic relaxation as compared with the control group. Dooley and Farmer’s study (1988) may also be possibly classified into this category.

A high number of the remaining papers in this category lacked control groups. Most frequently only the initial and final measurements of the same group of subjects were taken. This was the case with the research of Duncan, Konefal and Spechler (1990), who provided 21-day residential training to a group of subjects, and then compared the pre-training and post-training status based on self-actualization measures of the Personal Orientation Inventory. Two years later Konefal, Duncan and Reese (1992) carried out almost identical research. The 21-day training was also provided, and this time the authors measured changes in trait anxiety and locus of control. In the subsequent research performed under a similar procedure and without a control group either, Konefal and Duncan (1989) measured changes in social anxiety. Studies on the application of NLP by employees of Southern India companies were conducted without any control group (Singh & Abraham, 2008), and so were studies on the application of NLP for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (Muss, 1991). The latter work from this category showed positive effects of neuro-linguistic mirroring in cross-cultural counseling (Sandhu, Reeves & Portes, 1993).

It is most likely that any type of intensive 21-day effort undertaken on self-development, based on any concept, would result in similar changes as those measured in the quoted research. The placebo effect is relatively frequent both in therapy, as well as in other forms of social influence Similarly, it is difficult to state whether positive effects of mirroring resulted from application of a specific NLP technique or from the necessity to put more focus on observation of the interlocutor, which in turn, was positively evaluated by them.

With respect to the category of non-supportive articles, the majority of studies concerned the basic NLP tenets. Several works were devoted only to tests of the eye movement hypothesis (Thomason, Arbuckle & Cady, 1980; Farmer, Rooney & Cunningham, 1985; Poffel & Cross, 1985; Burke et al., 2003). They all provided unequivocally negative results. The preferred modality was researched into by Gumm, Walker and Day (1982), and also by Coe and Scharcoff (1985). In both cases the results did not support the neuro-linguistic programming theory.

Other studies tested NLP tenets in a more complex manner, investigating several hypotheses in one study. Fromme and Daniell (1984) researched into the imagery and sensory mode, as well as communication. They were unable to find any support for the NLP-derived hypothesis that subjects showing differential ability across sensory modes would choose word phrases reflecting their preferred sensory mode. No support was found for the NLP-derived hypothesis that subjects matched for visualization ability would communicate information more accurately than would mismatched subjects.

Elich, Thompson and Miller (1985) tested claims that eye movement direction and spoken predicates are indicative of sensory modality of imagery. Again, these tests did not find any support for NLP-derived hypotheses.

Graunke and Roberts (1985) tested the impact of imagery tasks on sensory predicate usage. The findings proved to be incongruent with R. Bandler and J. Grinder’s conceptualization of representational systems.

Particular attention should be given to two reviews of research (Sharpley, 1984; 1987). In the first, the authorcarried out a thorough analysis of 15 other research studies. What is interesting, as many as 11 of these works are not available in the database in question. A few conclusions from that review are worth quoting:

(…) the identification of this PRS (if it is a PRS and not merely current language style) by either eye movements or self-report is not supported by the research data. (…) The existence or stability of the PRS is irrelevant to predicate matching as a counseling process, and parsimony argues for the process rather than the yet unverified theory. (…) Of most importance, there are no data reported to date to show that NLP can help clients change. (p. 247)

The second review (Sharpley, 1987) is even more conclusive. It was written as a response to a critical paper by Einspruch and Forman (1985), in which the authors analyzed 39 studies devoted to NLP indicating methodological errors and a lack of sufficient knowledge about the theoretical underpinnings of NLP demonstrated by authors thereof. Sharpley took into account works analyzed by Einspruch and Forman, expanded that sample with seven additional ones and performed an analysis similar to mine, reviewing 44 studies (of which two are not included in the base either). Six papers (13.6%) provides evidence supportive of NLP-derived theses, 27 (61.4%) failed to lend support for the NLP tenets, and 11 (25%) shows only partial support. The author investigated all available works starting from the doctoral dissertations to those published in high scoring magazines. This is how he summed up his review:

There are conclusive data from research on NLP, and the conclusion is that the principles and procedures suggested by NLP have failed to be supported by those data. (p.105) Certainly research data do not support the rather extreme claims that proponents of NLP have made as to the validity of its principles or the novelty of its procedures. (p. 106)

The subsequent three studies referred to the influence of counselors’ or therapists‘ predicate matching on the effectiveness of their actions and quality of rapport (Dowd & Pety, 1982; Dowd & Hingst, 1983; Ellickson, 1983). None provided support for NLP-derived predictions.

Studies on the effectiveness of specific therapeutic techniques failed to support the NLP tenets, too. Krugman, Kirsch and Wickless, (1985) tested Bandler and Grinder’s claim for a single-session cure of anxiety. They did not find support for this claim. Similarly, Matthews, Kirsch and Mosher (1985) tested the effectiveness of double hypnotic induction. Comparison of the experimental group against the control group did not support the hypothesis. In addition, application of pacing and metaphor to overcome client resistance did not support the Bandler and Grinder’s claims (Dixon, Parr, Yarbrough, Rathael, 1986).

Additionally NLP proved to be of little use as a method of enhancing human performance considered by the US Army (Swets & Bjork, 1990). “The conclusion was that little if any evidence exists either to support NLP’s assumptions or to indicate that it is effective as a strategy for social influence.” (p. 90)

The third category comprised six studies with uncertain results. Mercier and Johnson in their research (1984) managed to obtain limited support for NLP theory, with much data contrary to the theory. The same was the case with research by Hammer (1983) on matching perceptual predicates. The findings created more doubts than conclusive data as to perceptual predicates. The researchers studying eye movement as an indicator of sensory components in thought Buckner and Mera (1987) found support for the visual and auditory portions of the model, but the kinesthetic portion was not supported. A similar partial support for the hypothesis that eye movements relate to processing imagery was found in the research by Wertheim, Habib and Cumming (1986).

Other research was carried out based on the assumption that the NLP tenets were true and tested. The examination by Durand, Wetzel and Hansen (1989) may serve as an example here with the researchers analyzing the content of written statements, telephone communications and electronic mail messages in terms of the occurrence of sensory predicate by means of computer software. Similar procedures were followed in other research (Wilbur and Wilbur, 1987).

Discussion

Among the studies classified as NLP supportive, there was none to indicate in unequivocal terms the existence of different representational systems. Similarly, there was no support found for the claim that subjectswere using primarily one predominant representational system in different life situations. Apart from one study (Yapko, 1981) there is no strong evidence that matching the primary representational system brings beneficial effects in communication and therapy. Two studies supporting some claims for eye movements should be replicated in order to treat their outcomes as supportive of for the hypotheses. Moreover, there are no more extensive and comprehensive research reviews. The only one which might be regarded as such, (Einspruch & Forman 1985) constitutes criticism of the available papers and it does not provide any data to support the NLP tenets. The analyzed works show numerous methodological errors and shortcomings, such as the lack of control groups, and only one research hypothesis being tested or one factor measured.

The studies classified into the non-supportive category are marked by a much higher methodological level. The majority allowed for the comparison against control groups, provided measurement of a number of variables, and used a higher number of indicators. Among the studies are two articles offering extensive and high quality research of research. Most results of research from this category were replicated.

Comparison of both categories both in terms of quantity and quality unequivocally indicates the predominance of articles that do not lend support for the NLP tenets, with the ratio of non-supportive to supportive of 3:1. When evaluating the whole empirical research output devoted to NLP, one should also consider the file drawer effect (Rosenthal, 1979). According to it, the NLP supportive studies should have a greater chance for publication then those showing lack of support. It may be easily assumed that a part of the studies that did not find any support for the NLP hypotheses was filed away by researchers.

Review of the articles issued in sources other than those from the Master Journal List indicate the existence of many review works showing the lack of any NLP underlying principles as well. Two of them are worth mentioning. Heap (1988) analyzed 63 studies and concluded thatthe assertions of NLP writers concerning representational systems have been objectively and fairly investigated and found to be lacking. In consequence the hypothesis about the possibility to identify PRS through careful observation of eye movements was not confirmed either. In Heap’s view, these conclusions, and the failure of investigators to convincingly demonstrate the alleged benefits of predicate matching seriously question the role of such procedure in counseling. Dorn, Brunson, Bradford and Atwater (1983) also concluded from their review of the literature that there was no demonstrably reliable method of assessing the hypothesized PRS.

While conducting my analysis I noted a certain historical aspect of NLP supportive research. As I realized, most of the research was carried out in the 1980s and partially in the 1990s. In the subsequent years, the number of such research studies decreased and they concerned secondary aspects of the concept or were performed based on the assumption that the fundamental principles of NLP are true. The world of science was apparently losing its interest in the concept of Bandler and Grinder, having confronted it with the research findings. The concept’s proponents lacked motivation to undertake any type of research into, for instance, the effectiveness of its methods.

Another facet, which is worth discussion and that emerged during my analysis is the matter of investigating how the data base is utilized by its administrators, as well as its users. The base is commonly invoked by NLP followers and indicated as evidence for the existence of solid empirical grounds of their preferred concept. It is most likely that most of them have never looked through the base. Otherwise, they might have come to the conclusion that it provides evidence to the contrary — for the lack of any empirical underpinnings. Moreover, they not only fail to browse through the database, dare I say, but they also do not read articles available therein. Reading of two review papers (Sharpley, 1984, 1987) would enable them to first discover that the base lacks as many as 13 entries and then to update it. Fortunately for the present analysis, the missing 12 entries are not included on the Master Journal List.

The number of theoretical studies in the base, such as polemics, dissertations, and discussions is so high that referring to it as to the Research Data Base is considerable misinterpretation as well. What is even stranger is the fact that works completely unrelated to NLP are added to the base. While reading such articles I strengthened my belief that it was only due to some single key words that the NLP related status of those papers was approved. This gives rise to the suspicion that even the database administrators do not read articles, not to mention the abstracts.

All of this leaves me with an overwhelming impression that the analyzed base of scientific articles is treated just as theater decoration, being the background for the pseudoscientific farce, which NLP appears to be. Using “scientific” attributes, which is so characteristic of pseudoscience, is manifested also in other aspects of NLP activities. It is primarily revealed in the language — full of borrowings from science or expressions referring to it, devoid of any scientific meaning. It is seen already in the very name — neuro-linguistic programming — which is a cruel deception. At the neuronal level it provides no explanation and it has nothing in common with academic linguistics or programming. Similarly impressive sounding and similarly empty are expressions used for formulation of tenets of the concept, such as sub-modalities, pragmagraphics, surface structure, deep structure, accessing cue, and non- accessingmovement.

My analysis leads undeniably to the statement that NLP represents pseudoscientific rubbish, which should be mothballed forever. One may even come to believe that my analysis was a vain effort after all. It yielded the same conclusions as the ones arrived at by Sharpley (1984, 1987), Heap (1988) and others. Without doubt, NLP represents big business offering and tempting people with amazing changes, personal development and, what is worst, therapy. In this respect the analysis is an update of the state of knowledge on the subject by reviews published in the period after the latest analyses. Furthermore, is also provides arguments sufficient to answer the following ethical question:  Is using and selling something non existent and ineffective ethical?

The response will surely be similar to the statement given once by Einspruch and Forman (1985) — the effectiveness of NLP therapy undertaken in authentic clinical contexts bytrained practitioners has not yet been properly investigated. Additionally we will certainly be told that NLP works and this should be sufficient reason to use it. Nevertheless, the burden of proof with respect to finding evidence of the effectiveness of the NLP therapy lies on proponents, not skeptics. Here I would like to refer to the statement expressed by O’Donohue and Ferguson (2006), who propose that each type of therapy that does not have empirical supportive evidence of its effectiveness should be called experimental. They also put forward a suggestion that each case of performing such therapies without informing the clients about its experimental status should be referred to and treated as criminal activity. I fully agree with this view. We do not even imagine pharmaceutical concerns marketing medicines whose side effects are uncertain or unknown, yet we allow any psychotherapy to be practiced, in many cases — without any relevant research.

If the NLP assertions on the existence of PRS as well as on the possibility to enhance communication just through matching proved to be true, it would revolutionize neurosciences, cognitive psychology and some other disciplines. If the NLP claims on the instant effectiveness of the proposed therapies proved to be true, the entire area of psychotherapy would turn upside down and research reports with respect to the effectiveness of therapy would have to position the NLP therapy at the top. Nothing like this is taking place. Instead we find NLP on the list of discredited therapies. Norcross, Koocher and Garofalo (2006) sought to establish consensus on discredited psychological treatments and assessments using Delphi methodology. A panel of 101 experts participated in a 2-stage survey, reporting familiarity with 59 treatments and 30 assessment techniques and rating these on a continuum from not at all discredited (1) to certainly discredited (5). Neuro-linguistic Programming for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders averaged 3.87 (SD=0.92).

Conclusions

The analysis of the NLP Research Data Base (state of the art) by all measures was like peeling an onion. To reach its core, first I had to remove some useless layers, and once I arrived, I was close to tears. Today, after 35 years of research devoted to the concept, NLP reminds one more of an unstable house built on the sand rather than an edifice founded on the empirical rock. In 1988 Heap passed a verdict on NLP. As the title of his article indicated, it was an interim one. In the conclusions he wrote:

If it turns out to be the case that these therapeutic procedures are indeed as rapid and powerful as is claimed, no one will rejoice more than the present author. If however these claims fare no better than the ones already investigated then the final verdict on NLP will be a harsh one indeed (p. 276).

I am fully convinced that we have gathered enough evidence to announce this harsh verdict already now.

 

Neuro-linguistic programming: A review of NLP research and the application of NLP in coaching

 

Introduction

FOR MORE THAN three decades trainers, sales people, therapies, and coaches have been drawn by the claims made by NLP (Bandler & Grinder, 1979). The approach has enjoyed enormous popularity, offering an alternative approach to psychologically training and has been widely used by commercial organisations, therapists and coaches.

NLP has over the past three decades been used by global brands including IBM, McDonald’s, NASA and US Army. In the UK, academics have argued that it provides real value to educationalists (Tosey & Mathison, 2003). While in coaching there has been a profusion of NLP coaching books.

Yet despite this popularity, few in depth critical reviews have been undertaken, which have sought to examine some of the key claims of NLP. Those which have been published, for example Sturt et al., 2012, seem to have been largely unread by practitioners outside of the specific domain, such as health.

In the context of coaching, little empirical focus has been applied to the ideas, and the approach remains popular across Europe (Passmore, Brown & Csigas, 2017). To undertake this review, we choose to focus on the distinctive features on NLP, as opposed to ideas and concepts which are published and credited to other approaches, or which are used across a wide range of approaches. The focus of this paper is thus restricted to the unique and distinctive features of NLP and NLP coaching, as opposed to the ideas that may be common across some or many practices, such as open questions, scaling or perceptual positions.

Defining NLP

A useful starting point for any study of this kind is to begin by defining the key terms. However, Neuro-linguistic programming is difficult to define. Most texts do not offer a definition, or instead share a story in the hope of communicating what they believe NLP does. In essence NLP is a tool that delivers transformation change.

Grinder and Bandler’s definition from 1980 was widely cast; ‘The study of subjective experience’ (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler & DeLozier, 1980). The definition could include almost anything and fails to move us closer a clarifying what can be included in NLP, and what should be excluded.

A second example is the definition offered by Ready and Burton (2015, p.11) ‘the study of the structure of your subjective experi- ence…the art and science of communication ….the manual for your brain… ’.

A third example shifts the focus towards a focus on excellence: ‘NLP is the art and science of personal excellence. Art because everyone brings their unique personality and style to what they do and this can never be captured in words or techniques. Science because there is a method and process for discovering the patterns used by outstanding individuals in any field to achieve outstanding results’ (O’Conner & Seymour, 1990, p.1). In this sense, position NLP as being the outcome of a rigorous review process to identify evidenced-based practice across multiple fields, has echoes of the aims of psychology.

However, in some ways all of these definitions are unsatisfactory and fail to adequately delineate NLP from other approaches.

The very nature of NLP, has seen it adopt ideas and techniques from other disciplines to create a commercial model, suggesting that NLP is in some way unique, with claims of magical powers. In itself, the idea of an eclectic model, which is based on evidenced-based practice that acknowledges the origin or source of the idea is a noble cause. For the purpose of this paper, the focus will thus be to separate out common methods from unique NLP methods.

The foundations of NLP

In the 1979, Richard Bandler and John Grinder published Frogs into Princes (Bandler & Grindler, 1979). They argued that outstanding psychotherapists acted on the basis of theory, which contributed to their effectiveness and enabled rapport with clients. Furthermore, they concluded that observation of the most skillful therapists would result in the discovery of common or core principles, which could be generalised, verified on an empirical basis and put into therapeutic practice. This sounds a noble cause and one which reflects current research trends towards establishing common principles in coaching, and a desire to move away from multiple models, (cognitive behavioural coaching, solution focused coaching, psychodynamic coaching, gestalt coaching, MI, mindful coaching, etc) towards a unified approach; ‘coaching’. Such a pathway of development has occurred in other domains, for example medicine, which has a single approach, as opposed to multiple ‘schools’ of training and practice within medicine.

For several years Bandler and Grinder observed the leading therapists of the time who including Fritz Perls, Milton H. Erickson and Virginia Satir. They gathered material, formulate NLP tenets and hypotheses, which they believe were the common factors in therapy, and which had wide applicability to all communication.

A number of differentiating concepts arise within the literature. One is the idea that ‘the Map is not the territory’. The term was borrowed from Korzybski (1950), a linguist. This concept summarises the idea that each individual holds a unique internal representation of the world (the ‘map’) and not the world itself (the ‘territory’). The maps that each person creates is limited and distorted through their past experiences and cultural context. Applied to behavioural change, the therapist’s task is to understand and then work using the client’s map to help them navigate a passage, both expanding their awareness and journeying from their condition to a more productive space.

The maps that people make of their world are represented by five senses: visual; kinesthetic, referring to tactical and visceral sensations; auditory, including noises and sounds; olfactory, including smell; and gustatory, including taste. Each experience in the world informs the continual development of the map. Bandler and Grinder suggested that each of us processes the majority of information using one primary representational system. Further, they claimed that the most effective therapists matched the patient’s primary representational system. These ideas, developed into primary representational system (PRS), are discussed below.

A second central concept is the idea of accessing cues, these are gathered from observing eye-movements. Bandler and Grinder suggested that careful observation of these movements would enable the NLP practitioner to unequivocally identify the primary representational system of the client and enable matching.

Having identified these hypotheses, most scientific researchers would move to the stage of formulating a hypothesis and seeking to test that hypothesis through a series of empirical studies. For a reason that is unclear, Bandler and Grinder, missed this step of the scientific process and moved forward to publish their ideas, as if they were scientific fact. One explanation that has been proposed is that Bandler was contemptuous of traditional scientific methods. This led him to reject the tradition methods of hypothesis and testing (Witkowski, 2010). As a result the claims made sound scientific in nature, but lacked the underpinning scientific testing.

Synthesis of previous reviews of NLP

Over the past decade a number of other reviews have been conducted. These provide a useful insight into NLP and the science which underpins the work.

Early reviews of NLP

One of the first reviews of NLP research was conducted in response to the growing claims from NLP practitioners of the effectiveness of NLP therapy. Einspruch and Forman (1985) in response called for a systematic review of the evidence. Only through this process could a clear and evidenced-based undertaking of the effectiveness of NLP could be established. (Heap, 1998) responded with a systematic reviewed the limited data available at the time. He noted the mismatch between the claims of practitioners, which suggested miracle cures and the preliminary studies, which were yielding less promising results. The chapter concluded ‘If it turns out to be the case that these therapeutic procedures are indeed as rapid and powerful as is claimed, no one will rejoice more than the present author. If however these claims are no better than the ones already investigated, then the final verdict on NLP will be a harsh one indeed’ (p.276). Subsequent studies have answered this question.

Health focused NLP

In a health study, Sturt and his colleagues undertook a systematic review of NLP in health, prompted what clinicians saw as NLP practitioners targeting the sector offering services, from training for health professionals to therapies available for GP referral (Sturt et al., 2012). A UK Freedom of Information (FOI) request to NHS organisations to identify spending on NLP training or services over a three-year period leading up to 2009. The research targeted all 143 primary care trusts, 73 mental health trusts, 166 hospital trusts, 12 ambulance trusts, 10 care trusts, and 10 strategic health authorities. A total of 326 (79 per cent) NHS organisations responded to the request and the unpublished data revealed an NHS monetary spend of £802,468 on NLP-related activity. Over 700 NHS staff undertook NLP training during the time period with the majority (75 per cent) being in administrative/manage- rial roles. Clinical staff included counsellors and clinical psychologists also attended. Five trusts had developed NLP based services, with weight loss being the most popular.

The research team noted ‘no systematic review of the NLP literature has been undertaken applying Cochrane methods. 17 The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic literature review and appraise the available evidence’ (Sturt et al., 2012, e758). The team gathered data from 1459 studies, and excluded 1345 as not relevant, reviewing 114 abstracts, reducing the list to 93 before a final set of 41 papers that were reviewed in their analysis. A further 31 of these papers were excluded as they were descriptive in nature. This left a small sample but the researchers concluded based on their detailed review, in typical scientific language ‘there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend use of NLP for any individual health outcome’ (Sturt et al., 2012, e763). For a clinical study this is damaging evidence, that form a comprehensive review of the health literature no robust evidence exists to support its use within health settings.

Psychological study

In a comprehensive psychological study the researchers identified 315 articles of which 63 studies were published in peer-reviewed journals (Witkowski, 2010). Once the descriptive studies were excluded, the statistical data revealed that only 18.2 per cent showed results supporting NLP, 54.5 per cent revealed results non-supportive of NLP and 27.3 per cent offered results which could be described as ‘uncertain’. In considering these results, and taking account of the bottom-draw effect, where unsupported data is more often not published, the evidence offered in support of NLP appears weak, with the positive results akin to what could be expected from the placebo effect.

Witkowski (2010) noted that the number of scientific studies had peaked during the 1980s and 1990s but had declining, as if ‘the world of science was apparently losing its interest in the concept of Bandler and Grinder’ (p.64). The author was significantly more damning in his language in concluding his analysis: ‘My analysis leads undeniably to the statement that NLP represents pseudoscientific rubbish, which should be mothballed forever’ (p.64).

In wide ranging Delphi study Norcross and Koocher (2006) surveyed a panel of 101 leading psychologists to identify the most discredited theories within mental health practice. Their list include NLP as a treatment for mental health conditions. NLP came 18th on the list of most discredited, but was beaten by interventions including ‘Angel Treatment’, ‘Chrystal healing’ and ‘Dolphin mental health therapy’. Overall the researchers concluded experts had selected these interventions due to the lack of evidence to support their claims.

Educational studies

An education review on the impact of NLP approaches in education the researchers found more positive results (Carey et al., 2011). In this first systematic literature review of research evidence the researchers drew on data form both peer review and self published sources from the NLP Research and Recognition Project.

The research team identified a total of 111 studies. These included both quantitative and qualitative studies, including individual case studies and self-report data. While this offered a more comprehensive coverage of the available evidence, it lacked the robustness of more traditionally structured reviews which would exclude single sample studies and experiential data. When reviewing the final set of papers. very few of the final papers were from peer reviewed journals.

Carey et al. (2011) concluded, the majority of published work was supportive of the use of NLP in schools and education. The authors went on to note that given the scale of the research, diverse methods and variation in the quality of the research they reviewed, their results should only be considered as ‘an interim finding’ and that more research was needed.

Counselling review

Sharpley in a pair of studies (1984, 1987) reviewed the application of NLP in therapeutic relationships. His work included a review of 44 papers. His results revealed a total of six of these papers contained positive evidence in support of NLP. His conclusion questioned the value of NLP as a discreet method. With respect to individual tools, he suggested an PRS could not be reliably assessed by therapists and must be serious questioned.

Overview

In summary, a review of these sector specific studies, suggest there is little evidence to support the claims in health, psychology and counsellling. In education the picture is less clear, but when considering the methodology used, which included multiple non-peer review sources and single case studies, a question may also be raised over these findings.

Specific studies

In addition to the large-scale reviews across health, education and therapy, we decided to also review a number of specific studies that have look at individual interventions within NLP. We selected eye movement and PRM as two interventions to review as they are considered essential ingredients of NLP (see de Rijk, 2019).

Eye movement

Proponents of NLP claim that certain eye-movements are reliable indicators of thinking patterns, including truth-telling or lying. According to this notion, a person looking up to their right suggests a lie whereas looking up to their left is indicative of truth telling. This is further explained by diagram X, based on the original claims made by Ban- dler and Grinder (1979, p.25; 1975).

 

Diagram 1: Eye movement.

 

Despite widespread belief in this claim, no research was undertaken to test its validity. A recent series of studies by Wiseman et al. (2012) examined this claim. In the first study the eye movements of participants who were lying or telling the truth were coded, but did not match the NLP patterning. In the second study one group of participants were told about the NLP eye-movement hypothesis whilst a second, control, group were not. Both groups then undertook a lie detection test. No significant differences emerged between the two groups. In a third study involving coding the eye movements of both liars and truth tellers taking part in high profile press conferences. Once again, no significant differences were discovered. In reviewing the results from the three studies the researchers claim the results of the three studies fail to support the claims of NLP, and this pseudo-scientific claim of eye movement can be reliably dismissed’ (Wiseman et al., 2012).

A more recent study (Ahmed, 2013) reexamined the claims regarding eye movement. Ahmed noted the criticism of Ein- spruch and Forman (1985), who argued that all 39 of the previously published studies (for example, Appel, 1983; Brockman, 1981; Cody, 1983; Ellickson, 1983; Dorn, 1983; Dowd & Pety, 1982; Ehrmantraut, 1983; Falzett, 1981; Green, 1981; Hammer, 1983 and Paxton, 1981) which had sought to test NLP claims were all false due to methodological concerns. These concerns included the researchers were not trained NLP specialists, or that the statements or inventions used were not consistent, in some way, with NLP methods. Ahmed used a student sample of 33 postgraduate MBA students, who were invited to answer a number of questions while their eye-movement was measured. The results show that, except for visual recall, less than half of the respondents exhibited the eye patterns (i.e. visual construct, verbal recall, verbal construct, kinaesthetic and auditory digital), posited by the founders of NLP. Ahmed concluded ‘NLP eye patterns as claimed by the founders, do not apply to this sample of students in Abu Dhabi’ (Ahmed, 2013).

 

Table 1: Eye movement cue codes.

Vc Visual constructed images Vr Visual remembered images
Ac Auditory constructed sounds or words Ar Auditory remembered sounds or words
K Kinesthetic feelings (also smell and taste A Auditory sounds of words

(Bandler & Grinder, 1979).

 

 

Research questions to measure eye movement responses (Ahmed, 2013)
1 ‘Do you remember clearly the house you grew up in?’

(This question involves visual recall and the eye pattern should be towards the top right.)

2 ‘Can you imagine what the house would look like if it was bright pink (or had more levels)?’ (This question involves visual construct and the eye pattern should be towards the top left.)
3 ‘Do you have a favourite song/music? Can you play that in your head?’

(This question involves verbal recall and the eye pattern should be towards the lateral right.)

4 ‘Can you imagine what the song would sound like if it was played at twice the speed (or if the singer had a voice like Donald Duck?

(This question involves verbal construct and the eye pattern should be towards the lateral left.)

5 ‘Can you remember how it feels like to walk on soft sand/carpet?’

(This question involves kinaesthetic and the eye pattern should be bottom left.)

6 ‘Can you say the times table?’

(This question involves auditory digital and the eye pattern should be bottom right.)

 

 

Preferred representational matching

A second commonly used model is Preferred Representation Matching [PRM]. According to Bandler and Grinder (1975) words, phrases and sentences are indicative of an individual’s referencing of each of the representational systems. So for example the words ‘green’, ‘see-through’, ‘spiral’ and ‘image’ reference the visual representation system, while the words ‘silent’, ‘ringing’, ‘moo’ and ‘blast’ reference the auditory representation system. These two are part of the three systems; visual, auditory, and kinesthetic that humans use, and are sometimes known as VAK

In his studies, Shapely (1984; 1987) reviewed the use of PRM in counselling domains. In a set of 15 studies using PRS Shapely concluded there was little supportive evidence for the use of the PRS.

Since these studies little further work has been done to review the application of PRS through a scientific lens. Further work within a coaching context may help further provide evidence on our understanding about the claims for PRM.

In summary, in reviewing generic studies of NLP the evidence suggest that there is not enough evidence to support NLP claims for specific interventions such as eye movement and PRM. In light of the lack of robust evidence validating unique NLP models, we set to explore NLP with a specific focus on coaching research. Our aim was to draw together published studies and examine the empirical research within NLP Coaching.

Method

The method for this review was to undertake a series of searches using commonly used databases, through the Henley Business School One Source search tool. The tool combines data from multiple search tools including EBSCO, Science Direct, Business Source, Emerald, Text-direct and others. A search of peer review papers published between 1980 and 2018 produced 19,154 items, using the initial search term ‘NLP’. However in reviewing papers from this list it was clear that the term NLP has multiple meanings, being used as an abbreviation for a variety of terms. The search was narrowed to ‘NLP and Neuro-linguistic Programming’. This reduced the number of items found to 224 peer reviewed papers in the period 19802018. This was further refined in a search to ‘NLP- Neuro-linguistic Programming — Coaching’. A total of 40 peer review papers were identified. A detailed review of these 40 papers was undertaken. This process is summarised through the PRME diagram (Figure 1) showing the source and process. The full list of papers is detailed in Table 2.

Analysis

In reviewing these papers a number of striking observations appear. Firstly, given the period of nearly 40-year period the number of papers is relatively small. This may in part reflect the wider issue of a lack of research within coaching, although the appearance of a number of meta-studies and systematic reviews of coaching research (Theeboom et al. 2014; Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018), suggests the size of the literature pool has grown significantly in the past decade.

Secondly, the list is dominated by conceptual papers, with a lack of robust scientific design or traditional research methods being used to empirically test the ideas offered by NLP within the coaching domain. In considering the 40 papers included in Table 2, more than half were either conceptual papers, literature reviews or book reviews. Only two quantitative studies were found through this search, with a further seven qualitative studies. Not a single randomised control trial was identified. This compares with more than 40 RCT’s in coaching in the past twenty years, which is itself considered an under-researched area.

Thirdly, several of the papers only make passing reference to NLP, for example Reece (1999).

 

Figure 1: PRME diagram

 

Research study Brief summary
Grosu, E.F., Grosu, V.T., Preja, C.A. luliana, B. B. (2014) Study of Romanian Judo team members using Grindler and Bander questionnaire.
Cassidy-Rice, J. (2014) Case study of a business manager suffering with phobias.
Peng, T. Yun, L., Weiquan, W., Jincong, Y. Dong, W. Yang, X, Jinzhi, X., Zengzhen, W. (2015) 180 patient RCT, measuring depression and anxiety, and the awareness of stroke knowledge.
Kudliskis, V. & Burden, R. (2009) Case study reviewing application of NLP in sixth form (Year 13) students in one secondary school in the South West of England.
Blaskova, M., Blasko, R., Matuska, E. & Rosak-Szyrocka. (2015) Questionnaire survey of Universities in Slovak Republic and Poland, with suggestions for how teaching quality could be improved.
Boughattas, W., Mlssoum, G. & Moella, N. (2017) French language journal paper using experimental design with a sample of 20 junior judo competitors, with control group.
Grosu, E.F., Grosu, V.T., Popovici, S. Dumitrescu, M. (2015 ) Experimental design, 11 to 15 years, from Romania ski competitors. A planned study to explore attention and anxiety comparing NLP and a control group, and exploring gender differences. No results reported.
Linder-Pelz, S. & Hall, M. (2008) A conceptual and case study paper with a life coaching client.
Moliusyte, S & Kvedaravicius, J. (2013) A conceptual paper in Lithuanian exploring the potential of coaching and NLP to improve management performance.
Knight, J. (2012) A conceptual paper review the application of NLP to qualitative research.
Moliusyte, S & Kvedaravicius, J. (2012) A survey of business managers and their assumptions about learning styles of employees. The results revealed manages assume employees have same learning styles as they do.
Laposi, E. & Dan, I. S. (2014) A review of NLP concepts in Romanian.
Joey, L. & Yazdanifard, R. (2015) A conceptual paper arguing the case for NLP.
Stockdale, S. (2013) A qualitative study using NLP modeling techniques as a guide to the interview process with driving instructors exploring their teaching methods.
Tosey, P. & Mathison, J. (2010) Conceptual paper exploring links between psychophenomenology and NLP.
Bimba, A., Idris, N., Al- Hunaiyyan, A. Mahmud, R. B., Abdelaziz, A., Khan, S. & Chang, V. (2016) A literature review of modeling relevant to knowledge-based business management.
Research study Brief summary
Tee, S., Jowett, R. M. & Bechelet-Carter, C. (2009) A mixed methods study, using survey and interview with 10 nursing students on the value of coaching as a learning approach.
Chuecos J. R. (2015) A conceptual paper on NLP.
Alexanders, J., Anderson, A. & Henderson, S. (2015) A literature review study that reported physiotherapists appreciate the importance of using psychological interventions within their practice.
Hodgson, D. (2014) A qualitative study exploring cancer patient and carer’s attitudes. Concluded that training curriculum enhancements must focus on developing care and compassionate behaviours.
Vlok, A. (2012) A conceptual paper proposes a competency profile for innovation leaders derived from research in a South African, with reference to NLP among a wide range of other models.
Gray,. E., Ekinci, Y. & Goregaokar, H. (2011) A mixed methods study examining the impact of a leadership development programme. Coaches with therapy or NLP backgrounds performed better than those with no therapy background. However, managers on the programme did not perceive the coaching to have had a significant impact on their development.
Anderson, J. (2007) A practitioner paper examining the role of imagination, calling and emotions in leadership, and the role intuition can play in helping leaders, with reference to an NLP exercise for leaders to help them stay intuitive.
Boussebaa, M. & Morgan, G. (2008) Case study focusing on management development, passing reference to NLP.
Reece, R. (1999) Interview with a medical doctor about his practice, with passing reference to use of NLP as a communications tool.
Linder-Pelz, S. (2014) A qualitative study based on a sample of nine exploring the value of meta-modeling. The study concluded the approach was a valuable tool in coach competency development.
Segers, J., Vloeberghs, D., Henderickx, E., and Inceoglu, I. (2011) Survey of Belgium coaches, sample of 83 exploring coaching practice. Noted the popularity of NLP coaching in Belgium, and the fact this was due to one of the first training schools in the country using this approach.
Kay, D. (2013) Conceptual paper about a splinter method from NLP.
Jinks, D. & Dexter, G. (2012) Conceptual paper about the limitations of coaching setting in coaching, with a passing reference to NLP.
Bailey, L. F. (2014) Conceptual paper review qualitative research methods, with a passing reference to NLP as a possible research tool in qualitative research interviews.
Research study Brief summary
Turaga, R. (2016) Conceptual paper offering a range of communications skills from open questions, non-verbal communications etc, with a passing reference to NLP.
Losada, S. J. V. (2009) A Spanish paper in a practitioner journal advancing the case for role of NLP as a useful tool in coaching and consulting.
Titkos, C. (2012) A conceptual paper exploring the role of personality development. The paper argues that NLP is a specialist tool for enabling this change along with psychodrama.
Tosey, P. Lawley, J. & Meese, R. (2014) Conceptual paper making the case for ‘clean language’ as interview tool in qualitative research.
Shyamsunder, A., Anand, S.; Punj, A.; Shatdal, A. et al. (2011) Series of case study about leadership development and the role of NLP as a communication skill forming part of a programme.
Fontannaz, S ( 2017) Book Review.
Woodall, J. & Douglas, D (1999) This wide-ranging paper examined ethical practice across leadership training. It noted the development of NLP, questioned its lack of ethical practice and also noted that few NLP practitioners were willing to engage in their research study.
Wruk, B. & Hebert, D. (2003) Conceptual paper about the role of NLP tools in financial planning interviews to map client personality.
Hrop, S. (2004) Book review.
Huczynski, A. A. (1993) Conceptual paper review of management fads, with passing reference to NLP.

 

Fourthly, in a number of papers the authors make claims that are unsubstantiated. One example, a paper by Cassidy-Rice (2014) which presents a case study of an individual ‘Nick Burnside’ who following NLP training is ‘cured’ from a collection of phobias. The exact method is not described, nor how the phobia were diagnosed, nor the measures used. The author however claims an almost miracle effect of NLP which goes beyond the initial phobia, making the client both a superior boss and a super athlete: ‘Among the interventions that helped were the removal of negative states, the changing of limiting beliefs, the elimination of performance-inhibiting mental blocks and hypnosis. Such techniques have also helped him to achieve personal goals which he never thought possible, including grueling endurance races such as the Snowdonia marathon and the Hadrian’s Wall ultra event, where he covered 68 miles in just over 17 hours… He has transferred this new positive thinking directly into his workplace, enabling him to undertake employee coaching across the organisation in areas such as time management, presentation skills, motivation, influencing and confidence building’ (Cassidy-Rice, 2014, p.39).

 

Of the papers which do, there are questions about the methods employed, which leave the reader with more questions than answers. One example (Peng et al., 2015) reviewed the use of brief NLP-health education to help post-stroke patients through a blended NLP and psych-education programme. The researchers were measuring anxiety and depression of stroke patients. The results from this study revealed an initial difference in depression levels, although in the follow-up stage the difference between the control group and the NLP-health education intervention group was not sustained. However, by including two interventions in a single study it is impossible to identify which was the active ingredient in bringing about the initial change; NLP or the education aspect of the programme.

One possible explanation for this lack of evidence is the bottom draw effect, where studies with unsupported hypotheses results are more likely to be either rejected by journals or not submitted.

Integrating the evidence

So where does this leave the case for NLP coaching? The review of the research evidence within coaching suggests there is almost no evidence to support the multiplicity of claims made about its effectiveness as a 1-to-1 coaching interventions to facilitate behavioural change. This contrasts with the evidence which has grown over the past two decades which does support the view that coaching has a small to medium effect size across a number of aspects of behavioual change (Theeboom et al., 2014). In reviewing the evidence from NLP, we may conclude that the lack of evidence suggests that NLP coaching has very little to offer coaching practitioners, as a separate and distinct set of interventions.

Conclusions

In this paper we aimed to review the evidence for NLP and specifically for NLP coaching. Given this review, we have no hesitation in coming to the view that coaching psychologists and those interested in evidenced based coaching would be wise to ignore the NLP brand in favour of models, approaches and techniques where a clear evidence base exists. However, moving forward, we might take with us the dream which NLP offered of drawing the best practices from multiple traditions to create a unified model of coaching and behavioural change.

 

EVIDENCE-BASED NEURO LINGUISTIC PSYCHOTHERAPY: A META-ANALYSIS

SUMMARY

Background: Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Framework has enjoyed enormous popularity in the field of applied psychology. NLP has been used in business, education, law, medicine and psychotherapy to identify people’s patterns and alter their responses to stimuli, so they are better able to regulate their environment and themselves. NLP looks at achieving goals, creating stable relationships, eliminating barriers such as fears and phobias, building self-confidence, and self-esteem, and achieving peak performance. Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy (NLPt) encompasses NLP as framework and set of interventions in the treatment of individuals with different psychological and/or social problems. We aimed systematically to analyse the available data regarding the effectiveness of Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy (NLPt).

Subjects and methods: The present work is a meta-analysis of studies, observational or randomized controlled trials, for evaluating the efficacy of Neuro Linguistic Programming in individuals with different psychological and/or social problems.

The databases searched to identify studies in English and German language:

■             CENTRAL in the Cochrane Library;

■             PubMed;

■             ISI Web of Knowledge (include results also from Medline and the Web of Science);

■             PsycINFO (including PsycARTICLES);

■             Psyndex;

■             Deutschsprachige Diplomarbeiten der Psychologie (database of theses in Psychology in German language),

■             Social SciSearch;

■             National library of health and two NLP-specific research databases: one from the NLP Community (http://www.nlp.de/cgi-bin/research/nlprdb.cgi?action=res_entries) and one from the NLP Group (http://www.nlpgrup.com/bilimselarastirmalar/bilimsel-arastirmalar-4.html#Zweig154).

Results: From a total number of 425 studies, 350 were removed and considered not relevant based on the title and abstract. Included, in the final analysis, are 12 studies with numbers of participants ranging between 12 and 115 subjects. The vast majority of studies were prospective observational. The actual paper represents the first meta-analysis evaluating the effectiveness of NLP therapy for individuals with social/psychological problems. The overall meta-analysis found that the NLP therapy may add an overall standardized mean difference of 0.54 with a confidence interval of CI=[0.20; 0.88].

Conclusion: Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy as a psychotherapeutic modality grounded in theoretical frameworks, methodologies and interventions scientifically developed, including models developed by NLP, shows results that can hold its ground in comparison with other psychotherapeutic methods.

Key words: Neuro Linguistic Programming — Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy — treatment effectiveness — meta-analysis — systematic review

 

INTRODUCTION

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) originated in California around 1974. In the initial group consisted of a number of Master Degree and Ph.D. students leaded by the forefront figures of the linguist John Grinder, Ph.D., the psychology student Richard Bandler and teacher and psychologist Frank Pucelik. The intention was to create a methodology for modelling that would lead to a set of intervention models and techniques. NLP quickly became popular because many of its practitioners believed the techniques to be extremely efficient and applicable in different life contexts. An aggressive marketing was used to help it spread. NLP had repeatedly been criticized for its partly unethical and selfreferential claims, its lack of well regulated, while at the same time very often commercialized, training structures and lack of proof of valid results.

A number of studies tested the general claims of NLP and reports different levels of validity scientific structure (Witkowski 2009, Wake et al. 2012). NLP started as a method studying and coding in an accessible format the patterns of very efficient ways of thinking and communication processes. The collected samples of the behavior of the most successful people seen from the perspective of the system theory and cybernetics give as an output a better interventional strategy. Then those results allow to be then easily replicated in the work of practitioners with the clients. The early literature promoted approaches generated by NLP methodologies with demonstrable impact as a rapid form of psychological therapy. An NLP Practitioner will primarily use words to manipulate thoughts and inner sensory processes in a psychotherapeutic setting. These kind of interventions are used and accepted in various psychotherapeutic settings. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Dry den & Golden 1986), Rational Emotive Therapy (Ellis & Grieger 1977) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Hayes & Strosahl 2004) are among them.

As a psychotherapy modality, NLPt is based primarily on neurobiological, phenomenologically-systemic and metatheoretical considerations. It can be defined as a systemic imaginative method of psychotherapy with an integrative cognitive approach (Schuetz et al. 2001). NLPt draws on the principles and techniques of NLP, with a standard EAP referenced the curriculum for psychotherapeutic education (see www.eanlpt.org) and a professional code of ethics www.europsyche.org).

Regarding the use of Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy for clients with psychological difficulties and perceived quality of life, Stipancic et al. 2010 showed that NLPt is an efficient intervention. Another study was performed in with claustrophobic patients who required MRI (magnetic resonance imaging); NLPt also proved to be was effective in reducing the need for general anaesthesia (Bigley et al. 2010). Krugman et al. 1985 indicated that the NLP single-session treatment for phobias compared with an intervention of self-control desensitization of equal duration, or a waiting-list control condition was less efficient in reducing public speaking anxiety. Also, they mentioned that the perceived rapid effectiveness of NLP, which was reported by Bandler and Grinder 1979, was possibly an artefact of changes that is possibly present without the interventions that they describe. For this reason, it is still not clear if there is an efficacy of NLPt in reducing different social or/and psychological problems.

AIM AND OBJECTIVE

This meta-analysis aims to evaluate all available data regarding the effectiveness of Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy (NLPt) and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) for the treatment of individuals with different psychological and/or social problems.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS

Inclusion and exclusion methodology

A literature search selected all randomized controlled trials, cohort studies (with or without a comparison group), comparative and case-control studies. It evaluated the relationship between NLPt and effectiveness as described by the authors (with any prespecified tools included) and survival/mortality.

Types of participants

Individuals selected are suffering from phobias, anxiety disorders, morning sickness, depression, allergy.

Types of intervention

The search included the following measurement: NLP interventions: visualization, anchoring techniques, the visual-kinesthetic dissociation;

Measures of outcomes assessment: Spielberger’s State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Personal Report of Confidence as a Speaker, Structured clinical interviews for DSM-IV Personality Disorders, Beck Depression Inventory.

Types of outcome measures

The searched outcome was the efficacy of NLPt as reported by the authors.

Searching Strategy

For purposes of our search in biographic databases we used certain strategies to retrieve studies that contained combined medical subject headings and text words for NLP and NLPt. We did not apply any methodological filters or put any restriction on language. The search strategies are available to read in Table 1.

The studies identified for inclusion in this review, in July 2014, were searched in:

■         CENTRAL in the Cochrane Library;

■         MEDLINE from 1950;

■         EMBASE from 1980;

■         PsychINFO from 1967;

■         Reference lists of textbooks;

■         Review studies;

■         Relevant articles.

In order to to identify any further studies not retrieved by electronic search we checked the reference lists of all potentially worthy studies as full reports. We also obtained full reports of review articles retrieved by the search and checked these for other relevant citations.

Checking of the methodological quality

The quality of the included studies was evaluated by the authors. The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale (NOS) for assessing quality of non-randomized studies was used (www.lri.ca).

Extraction of data

The authors extracted data from the studies, using a data extraction form. Each author double-checked data extraction and data entry independently, and any discrepancies between authors were resolved by discussion.

 

Table 1. Search Strategies

Database Search terms used
■ CENTRAL in the ■ *Neurolinguistic Programming
Cochrane Library ■ Neurolinguistic Programming
■ MEDLINE from 1950 ■ *Psycholinguistics
■ EMBASE from 1980 ■ *Psycholinguistics
■ PsychINFO from 1967 ■          *NLP

■          *Psychotherapy

■          psychotherap*

■          NLPt*

■          NLP*

■          Neuro$linguistic

■          neurolinguistic.mp. (mp=ti, ab, tx, ct, sh, ot, nm, hw, kf, px, rx, an, ui)

■          NLP.mp. (mp=ti, ab, tx, ct, sh, ot, nm, hw, kf, px, rx, an, ui)

■          neurolinguistic programming.mp. (mp=ti, ab, tx, ct, sh, ot, nm, hw, kf, px, rx, an, ui)

■          psychotherap* near nlp.mp. (mp=ti, ab, tx, ct, sh, ot, nm, hw, kf, px, rx, an, ui)

■          psychotherap* near programming.mp. (mp=ti, ab, tx, ct, sh, ot, nm, hw, kf, px, rx, an, ui)

 

 

Data analysis

The overall effect size was calculated using Cohen’s d in a random-effect model that is more comparable to real-world data than a fixed-effect model (Hedges & Vevea 1998). Sensitivity analysis was performed by omitting each study once and calculating the overall effect size again. The publication bias computed using several methods. The inspection of the funnel plot was done visually. Rosenthal’s and Orwin’s Fail-safe N was computed. Begg and Mazumdar’s r. rank correlation, as well as Egger’s regression test, was performed, and finally a trim-and-fill analysis (Duval & Tweedie 2000) was inspected. For all computations, CMA (Comprehensive Meta-Analysis v2.2.057) was used.

Effect size calculation

It was decided to use a mean difference expressed in standard deviation units (Cohen’s d) for calculation since the therapy effect was considered to be measured best using this kind of index.

RESULTS

Inclusion-exclusion criteria (Figure 1)

We identified a total number of 425 studies of which 350 were removed and considered not relevant based on title and abstract. We did find three other records through searching additional sources or any unpublished data.

We identified 76 potentially relevant citations that were full-text reviewed. 64 studies we further excluded for the following reasons:

■         Not the right population: studies conducted on healthy individuals with social/psychological problems (n=19);

■         Not the right intervention (n=17): studies conducted in healthy individuals with social/psychological problems (n=8), depression (n=5), other (n=4);

■         Not the good outcome: studies carried out in healthy individuals with social/psychological problems (n=17);

■ Excluded based on study design (n=11): review,

editorial, comment letter, study design protocol.

Overall, we finally included 12 studies with a total number of individuals of 658 (studies that analysed different subgroups from the same population). On average, the numbers of participants in each study was small, ranging between 12 and 115 subjects (see Table 2, Figure 1).

A study (Bigley et al. 2010) measured the level of anxiety in 50 participants with claustrophobia using Magnetic Resonances Investigation. The selected subjects were 24 males, 26 females with a median age of 52 years. The result showed that the anxiety scores significantly reduces after NLP sessions during the MRI examination. The MR radiographer (therapist) attended a 20 days training in NLP techniques (accredited by the International NLP Trainers Association). The main NLP technique used was “Clare’s fast phobia cure”, and applied in one-hour duration. The patient’s level of anxiety was assessed with Spielberger’s State — Trait Anxiety Inventory.

In another study, Krugman et al. included a number of 55 undergraduate students (28 male and 27 female) with anxiety in public speaking situations. NLP singlesession treatment for phobias was not giving better results in reducing public speaking anxiety than another psychotherapeutic interventions (Krugman et al. 1985). The therapists were three graduate students trained in NLP treatment for phobias. The therapists used kinaesthetic anchoring techniques and visualization in one single session. Before the subjects began their speeches, they rated their anxiety level, using a 12 items questionnaire derived from the Report of Confidence as a Speaker, developed by Gilkinson, 1942. Also, during their speeches, three trained observers rated the subjects’ behavioural anxiety using Paul’s (1966) Behavioral Checklist- 10-point scale. After speech delivery, the subjects indicated the level of anxiety using the same Report of Confidence as a Speaker.

 

Table 2. Baseline characteristics of the included studies

Study (reference) Type of study No Age (mean) Gender Psychological and/or social problem
Allen 1982 Randomized Controlled Trial 36   32 F 4 M Snake phobia
Bigley et al. 2010 Prospective observational 50 Median age 52 (range 17-75) 24 M 26 F Claustrophobic subjects who failed a previous MR examination
Genser-Medlitsch & Schutz 2004 Prospective observational 115 (55 therapy clients, 60 nontherapeutic persons) NS NS Therapy clients and persons of a no treatment waiting list participated
Huflejt-Lukasik Prospective observational 19 Range age 21-46 y 12 F 7 M Subjects with difficulty in social interaction, family, marital and relationship problems, low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, anxiety disorders, phobic problems, efficiency and concentration.
Krugman et al. 1985 Randomized Controlled Trial 55 Data not shown 27        F

28        M

Undergraduate students with anxiety in public speaking situations
Liberman 1984 Prospective observational 12 Data not shown Data not shown Subjects diagnosed with Simple Phobia (DSM III criteria)
Ojanen 2004 Prospective observational 62 Range age 18-54 50 F 12M Subjects with work exhaustion, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, phobic problems, insomnia
Pourmansour

1997

Randomized, controlled, parallel- group clinical trial 42 Range 18-47 21 F 21M Patients with fear of dental procedures
Reckert 1999 Randomized Controlled Trial 50 Mean age 39.7 years 36M

14F

40 specific phobias, 10 social phobias
Rogers 1993 Randomized Controlled Trial 38 Data not shown 38M Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Stipancic et al. 2010 RCT 106 20 to 61 years 22 M 78 F Psychotherapy clients
Witt 2003 Prospective observational 73 Median age 41 years (range 18-66 y) Data not shown Subjects allergic to birch pollen
Table 2. Continues
Study

(reference)

NLP interventions Applied measures Results
Allen 1982 NLP Phobia Technique Behavior Avoidance Test Fear Thermometer No significant effects of NLP treatment on subject’s fear of snakes
Bigley et al. 2010 Clare’s fast phobia cure. Spielberger’s State Trait 30 subjects (76%) completed the MR examination.

Nine subjects went on the scanner bed, but were obtained unusable images, and three didn’t consider going into the scanner.

One session of one hour Anxiety Inventory for assessing the anxiety level.
Genser-Medlitsch & Schulz 2004 General individual complaints, clinical symptoms, coping strategies, locus of control tendencies 3 sessions Standardised psychological questionnaire on individual complaints, clinical symptoms, coping strategies, locus of control tendencies NLPt group registered significantly improvements and lasting effects than the control group
Huflejt-Lukasik Short-term NLP therapy 1 session/week, 5 months, min. 1 month SKNS (measures the level of self- focused attention)

CISS ( measures the way one deals with stress in some dimensions) SCL-90 (diagnoses behaviors (symptomatic dementia).

NLPt is effective method of receiving positive changes. During therapy they registered a decrease in public selfconsciousness, emotion-orientation in dealing with stress, and in psychopathological symptoms.
Krugman et al. 1985 NLP phobia intervention&self desensitization treatments (kinaesthetic anchoring Techniques, visualization) Single session. Personal Report of Overall, the findings of this study indicate that the NLP single-session treatment for phobias was no more effective in reducing public speaking anxiety than a self-control desensitization intervention of equal duration or a waiting-list control condition.
Confidence as a Speaker Scale. Paul’s Modified Behaviour Checklist
Liberman 1984 Visualisation, anchoring. Two sessions, each lasting less than an hour. Fear Thermometer, Symptom Checklist 90 (SCL-90R) Fear Survey Schedule (FSS III) NLP treatments was effective in reducing phobic behavior and in reducing fear, discomfort and the intensity of a wide range of symptoms.
Ojanen 2004 NS SWB( Subjective Well-Being) — consisting 7 DVAS ( Descriptive visual analogue scales)

TWB — Therapist Rated Well Being PE — Total Problem Experience

The ratings of the clients about the therapy were very positive, they changed into better. The therapeutic relationships were highly positive.
Pourmansour

1997

One two-hour Collapse- Anchors session State-Fear-Questionnaire Significant positive effect of NLP treatment, reduction of fear of dental procedures
Reckert 1999 NLP Phobia Techniques, 2 sessions Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) State-Trait-Anxiety Inventory (STAI) For clients with light phobias no significant effects were found; for client with severe phobias there was a significant effect on reduction of fear response
Rogers 1993 NLP Three Place Visual Kinesthetic Dissociation, 3 sessions Mississipi Scale for Combat Related PTDS (MISS)

Sleep Self-Report Symptom Severity Index (SSI)

Betts Questionnaire of Mental Imagery (QMI)

Vividness of Imagery Scale Combat Stress Index (CSI)

The addition of NLP sessions did not significantly enhance the effects of the PTSD program
Stipancic et al. 2010 NLP therapy on a number of psychology difficulties and perceived quality of life (QoL)

1 session*60 min/week Average number of sessions = 20; (range 10-40 sessions)

Structured Interview for DSM IV

Personality Disorder

Croatian Scale of Quality of Life (KVZ)

In the therapy group, there was a significant decrease of clinical symptoms and increase in QoL
Witt 2003 The Hildesheim Health Training — for the mental handling of allergies 8 meetings (2 per week).

2 hours — individual conditioning, psychological factors and believe system + 25 min. relaxation

The Skin Prick Test Krampen-AT- Symptomscale Rehabilitation Psychological Diagnostic System NLPt has an effect on allergic sensitivity. It was in strong combination with Psychological Items, Aliments and Medication.

 

Stipancic et al. 2010 examined in 106 subjects (22 males and 84 females) the short-term and long-term effects of NLPt on a number of psychological difficulties and perceived quality of life. Patients were set to a therapy group (assessment prior to and immediately after therapy, and at a five-month follow-up session) or to a control group (assessment at pre-test, simultaneously by the treatment group and 3 months later). One session of 60 minutes took place weekly, and the number of sessions per subject differed from each participant, according to the individual need of each of them. The average number of sessions was 20 (range: 5-65, with 89% of participants in the range 1040) and the effectiveness of NLPt assessed during the individual therapy sessions. To measure the clinical symptoms are used the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID I) and Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Personality Disorders (SCID II). To determine the quality of life the Croatian Scale of Quality of Life (KVZ) was applied. Seven psychotherapists, with 10 to 20 years’ experience in NLPt, participated in the study. The therapy group presented a significant improvement in having fewer psychological difficulties and better-perceived quality of life, than the control group.

The overall standardized mean difference was d=0.51 with a confidence interval of CI=[0.20; 0.82]. Figure 2 displays the forest plot for the analysis. Effect sizes for each study are available in Table 3. Sensitivity analysis showed no significant influence of omitting every single study once. The point estimate varied between d=0.42 and d=0.61.

In two articles, relevant data were neither described in the paper nor could be determined via contacting the authors. In these two cases, a conservative approach was chosen, according to Lipsey and Wilson 2001. No information about the effect could found in Allen (1982). Therefore, the effect size was fixed at d=0. Bigley (2010) reported significant results but gave no further numerical information.

 

Figure 1. Flow chart for process of screening electronic databases and inclusion of trials in the study

 

Figure 2. The overall effect of NLP intervention (standardized mean difference with a confidence interval)

 

Table 3. Risk of bias quality assessment

    Study characteristics Quality coding  
  Therapist=

author

Therapist=

NLP professional

Sample= only students Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Q6 Q7 Q8 Q9 Q10 Q

percent

Allen 1982 n.a. n.a. yes 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 70
Bigley et al. 2010 Yes partly no 1 0 0 n.a. 1 0 1 1 0 n.a. 50
Genser-Medlitsch & Schutz 2004 No Partly no 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 1 50
Huflejt-Lukasik (n.a.) Yes Yes no 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 50
Krugman et al. 1985 n.a. Partly yes 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 60
Liberman 1984 Yes n.a. no 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 60
Ojanen 2004 No Yes no 0 1 1 n.a. 1 1 0 1 0 n.a. 62.5
Pourmansour 1997 Yes n.a. no 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 60
Reckert 1999 Yes Yes no 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 70
Rogers 1993 yes No no 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 80
Stipancic et al. 2010 n.a. Yes no 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 60
Witt 2003 n.a. n.a. no 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 70

 

Across the twelve studies, only in four studies the therapist was a professional practitioner (Huflejt- Lukasik, Reckert 1993, Ojanen et al 2004, Stipancic et al. 2010). In other two studies, the participants were students (Allen 1982, Kingman et al. 1985). Main problems reported by subjects were anxiety and phobias. Of the twelve studies selected, in five studies the outcome was fear and in four studies the outcome was psychological symptoms. Two studies are assessing the quality of life and one study the allergy symptoms. Most of the studies were based on a prospective design.

Therefore the smallest effect size possible considering the given sample size and an assumed significance level of a=0.05 was chosen for analysis. Since this method is very conservative, it can cause a downward bias in the final mean effect size.

Risk of bias

Ten of the total number of studies (12) used correct method of selection of persons (Q2). In nine studies, intervention was described sufficiently (Q7). In seven studies, the follow-up period was long enough for outcomes to occur (Q6). In all twelve studies, criteria for measuring outcomes was clearly defined (Q8) (see Table 2).

Publication bias

The visual inspection of the funnel plot as depicted in Figure 2 showed no asymmetry. Rosenthal’s Fail-safe N indicated that 174 studies with a null effect would be needed to reach non-significance of the current analysis. Orwin’s Fail-safe N showed that 30 studies with an effect of d=0.1 would be necessary to reduce the overall impact to a trivial d=0.2. Neither Begg and Majumdar’s rank correlation nor Egger’s regression test was significant (p=0.73 and p=0.45, respectively), which indicates no publication bias. Trim-and-fill analysis (Duval & Tweedie 2000) showed no effects to be missing.

DISCUSSION

Summary of main results

The effects of NLP interventions were compared in 12 trials involving 658. Of the twelve studies selected, only one study had a large number of participants (N=115 psychotherapy clients). In that randomly controlled trial, the NLP therapy group showed a significant improvement and longer lasting effects of psychotherapy than the control group (Genser- Medlitsch & Schutz 2004).

An experimental study showed that NLPt influenced the allergic immune function in birch pollen allergic humans and the participants experienced significant improvement in all psychological symptoms (Witt 2003). In another study with a small sample size (12 participants) diagnosed with Simple Phobia, with a pretest and post-test control group design. NLP treatment seemed to be effective in reducing phobic behaviour, fear, and discomfort (Liberman). In one study, Krugman et al. 1985 indicated that a single session of NLP was not effective in reducing anxiety in public speaking situations.

Summary consideration of research quality

Overall, the quality of the studies was judged as good enough. The most common reasons for occasional inferior quality were the small number of participants and the publication vintage on some studies. Also, in one study no information about the effect could be found and in another one, significant results were reported but no further numerical information was available.

Strengths and limitation of this study

That study represents the first meta-analysis evaluating the effectiveness of NLP therapy for individuals with social/psychological problems. Another advantage of this review includes the searching of conference proceedings. Also the inclusion of unpublished data to provide a comprehensive analysis of all available evidence. A plus is the rigorous assessment of proof quality which has been incorporated into review conclusions using standard methods. Potential limitations in primary observational studies contributing to this study, however, limit confidence in the conclusions that might draw from the available evidence for NLP modalities.

Implications for further research

Although many studies are aimed to determine the efficacy of NLPt, there is a major lack of high-quality data from observational, experimental studies or randomized trials on this field. Up until now there is insufficient data to recommend this form of therapy strongly in reducing some psychosocial problems.

CONCLUSION

Our meta-analysis review found evidence to support the positive effects of this form of psychotherapy. However, further investigations are needed to confirm the effectiveness of Neuro-Linguistic Therapy on individual’s outcomes since most of the evidence is available from smaller observational studies only.

 

What is Neurolinguistic Programming, (NLP)? The development of a grounded theory of NLP within an Action Research Journey.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Abstract 7
Chapter 1. Introduction 8
An introduction to NLP 9
My Journey 11
Recent Development 14
NLP in the Workplace 16
Modern efforts to bring credibility to NLP 20
Summary of Chapter 1 22
Chapter 2. Literature search 24
Some current definitions of NLP 24
Lessons learned 27
Einspruch and Forman in more detail 36
NLP: Positivist or Anti-Positivist epistemology? 43
Rosenthal experimenter effect 44
NLP modelling 52
NLP modelling versus Analytical modelling 54
Unconscious assimilation in NLP modelling 57
NLP Ontology and Epistemology 60
NLP Presuppositions 61
Mind body as a system 62
NLP model of communication 64
Ghost in the machine 68
EMDR an NLP exemplar 73
NLP as Pseudo-Science 76
The Bandler effect 80
Summary of Chapter 2 86
Chapter 3. Methodology 87
Introduction 87
Sampling 89
Methodology and personal bias 92
Methodology and Validity 95
Action Research 98
Action Research continued 101
Action Research Diary 103
Action Research Outcomes 104
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, (IPA). Introduction 115
IPA sampling 116
The interview process 120
Grounded theory. Introduction 124
Key Features of Grounded Theory 126
Chapter 4. Findings 133
Introduction 133
Anonymity of NLP practitioners 133
The key research question driving data collection to inform theory 134
Extant NLP literature 135
A non NLP perspective 136
Coding 136
Coding Diary 140
Coding and software used. Nvivo and The Brain 143
Coding specifically speaking. 1. Commercially motivated 152
Discussion Category 1, commercially motivated 155
Category 2. Saturated in anecdotal evidence 156
Discussion category 2, Saturated in anecdotal evidence 159
Category 3. Lacking in published empirical evidence 161
Discussion category 3, lacking in published empirical evidence 167
Category 4. Historical and current disagreement 175
Discussion category 4. Historical and current disagreement 176
Category 5. Wanting to be accepted, but disappointed…. 179
Discussion category 5. Wanting to be accepted, but disappointed.. 182
Category 6. Development of break out groups 186
Discussion category 6. Development of break out groups 188
Category 7. Lack of standardized definition.. 190
Discussion category 7. Lack of standardized definition.. 193
Category 8. All practice generally associated with worst practice 197
Discussion Category 8. All practice generally associated with worst practice 199
What is a theory? 201
What is not a theory? 204
The utility of a theory of NLP 205
Grounded theory of NLP 206
Chapter 5. Concluding notes 217
Limitations of this research, A) Subjectivity 217
B) Disappointing feedback numbers 219
C) Self-Development 227
Conclusions 228
Ontology, epistemology and methodology 229
Action research, revisited 242
Predictions of this theory and road map for NLP 249
References 252
Appendix A. Standard pro forma read to NLP Participants before interviewing 266
Appendix B. Initial set of questions for NLP experts 267
Appendix C. A consumer guide through the multiplicity of NLP certification training, a European perspective by Peter Schutz, (with permission, Sun 28/12/2014 13.36). 269
Appendix D. Email letter sent to NLP Interviewees on 24th August 2014 273
Appendix E. Formal email to participants 276
Appendix F. Venn diagram version of NLP theory making more explicit areas of contribution. 277
Appendix G. Explanation to Participants in email of how grounded theory emerged from their data. 278

 

 

Table of Figures

Figure 1. The NLP communication model (Bodenhamer and Hall 1999 p65) 28
Figure 2. EAC (Eye Accessing Cues) 42
Figure 3. The Ultimate Frame (Grimley 2013) 47
Figure 4. Modelling methodology criteria (in Burgess 2014 p106) 54
Figure 5. Action Research from McNiff and Whitehead (2006) 108
Figure 6. Motivational Factors after Argyris (1957) 113
Figure 7. The research circle. Smith (2010) 120
Figure 8. Text search print out for “definition” Nvivo 146
Figure 9. Word frequency count Nvivo 147
Figure 10. Screen shot of “The Brain” used to do initial open coding alongside Nvivo 149
Figure 11. The practice that matters in Action Research 161
Figure 12. Number of all publications included in NLP Research Data Base in individual years as against the number of studies of Master Journal List. (Witkowski) 172
Figure 13. Portions of a public critique of NLP Leadership Summit 2014 189
Figure 14. Grounded Theory of NLP 211
Figure 15. Colour Coded model showing how an exemplar portion of transcript is coded into one of the 17 NLP concepts 212
Figure 16. Colour Coded model showing how an exemplar portion of transcript is coded into each of the LinkedIn concepts 213
Figure 17. Colour Coded model showing how NLP concepts are merged with LinkedIn concepts after triangulation with extant literature to provide 8 interacting categories of Grounded Theory of NLP 214
Figure 18. An Epistemological framework (Becker et al. 2005) 230
Figure 19. Cambridgeshire Athletic Association Championships, half marathon 2014 245
Figure 20. 2 sets of pre and post test scores on Quality of Life inventory for 2 NLP participants 246

 

 

Table of Tables

Table 1. Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology of Action research. McNiff and Whitehead (2006 pp22-29) 102
Table 2. Different types of Questions. (McNiff and Whitehead 2006 p8) 103
Table 3. A section of coding leading to the development of the category: Commercially motivated, with no coherent epistemology, ontology or methodology. 154
Table 4. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: Saturated in Anecdotal Evidence 157
Table 5. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: Lacking in published empirical evidence 164
Table 6. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: Historical and current disagreement 175
Table 7. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: Wanting to be accepted but disappointed 180
Table 8. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: Development of breakout groups 186
Table 9. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code. Critical of the discipline of Psychology 191
Table 10. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: All practice generally being associated with worst practice 198

 

 

Abstract

This thesis explores the question “what is NLP?” using a grounded theory approach. The intention in developing a theory of NLP for the author was to improve his practice as a psychologist who makes use of NLP patterns in his work. NLP has many definitions of what it is and it is this multiplicity which makes research into its efficacy difficult. Building on the recommendations of Einspruch and Forman (1985) this research seeks to understand what NLP is from the NLP practitioner’s perspective, and 15 experienced NLP practitioners from around the world were interviewed using Skype and the transcripts were used to generate this theory of NLP. In order to develop a theory based upon multiple perspectives, not only were 15 experienced NLP practitioners interviewed, but a 44,000 word LinkedIn discussion on the authenticity of NLP between 19 experienced professionals with a back ground in psychology was also used as data, with permission, to assist generate this theory. In order to get to the heart of the matter in the semi structured interviews, principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis were made use of, so meanings were unlayered and deeper understandings were explicated with new themes emerging.

The limitations of this study are discussed and the responses of some of the participants to the unfolding theory are explored and discussed also. As a result of this recycling of information it is shown how the theory was both developed and consolidated.

The resulting theory emerged as a model with 8 interacting dimensions and is believed to explain the practice of NLP over 40 years. As this model is perceived as both dynamic and stable it is also believed it can act in such a way that it will predict the future orientation of NLP. This theory is housed within a set of pre-suppositions which are characterised by the acronym P.E.A.S. A precis of the 8 interacting dimensions acting as a verbal definition of NLP is:

“NLP is a human development activity which is primarily commercial, controversial, and unproven. It borrows from psychology and other disciplines in an eclectic way to provide perceived gains in a short period. ”

As a piece of Action Research the author discusses how this research has improved his practice and developed him as a psychologist who makes use of NLP patterns in his professional work and personal life.

 

Chapter 1 Introduction

NLP is a popular practice started by John Grinder, Richard Bandler and Frank Pucelik in the early 1970’s. As a result of imitating well known therapists these people claimed to develop patterns of thought and behaviour that exceeded the effectiveness of the exemplars which they imitated. They later trained others in what became to be known as NLP and the workshops which followed became a profitable enterprise during the late 1970’s and 1980’s.

During the 1980’s 2 reviews of NLP were conducted by Christopher Sharpley. In 1984 he reviewed 15 Studies, (Sharpley, 1984). This paper was replied to by Eric Einspruch and Bruce Forman, (Einspruch & Forman, 1985) and in this paper a further 24 articles not reviewed by Sharply were used, identifying overall 39 reports of empirical studies based on publications from 1975 to April 1984.

Einspruch and Forman suggested a number of modifications could be made to improve designs of research conducted on NLP. Firstly that researcher should be trained by competent NLP practitioners. Secondly sensory-observable measures should be used. Thirdly evidence should be obtained at the individual level and summed to arrive at group data and finally studies should be conducted only when participants are experienced and have demonstrated mastery. (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 594).

The requirement for research into NLP being conducted by competent NLP practitioners was reiterated in the most recent publication concerning the application of NLP within a clinical context (Gray, Liotta, Wake, & Cheal, 2013, p. 201).

Sharpley replied to this paper in 1987 (Sharpley, 1987) reviewing a further 7 studies suggesting that NLP could be seen as a partial compendium of counselling practice rather than an original contribution.

The motivation to conduct this research is to improve my practice as both a psychologist and as an NLP practitioner. Action research as a form of professional learning asks:

What am I doing? What do I need to improve? How do I improve it? What is my evidence? The resulting accounts come to stand as practical theories of practice, from which others can learn if they wish” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006, p.7).

In this chapter I seek to position myself as a researcher who understands the NLP paradigm and how through asking important questions, recognised they were not answered fully and needed to be.

An introduction to NLP

To introduce readers who are not familiar with NLP, it has many definitions. The practice started in the early 1970’s and has as its core methodology that of modelling. Originally the type of modelling used by NLP was behavioural and imitative, (Bandura, 1977), however what NLP modelling actually is, is schismatic within NLP at present and will be discussed later. The first 3 people to be modelled by the Co-Founders of NLP Dr John Grinder, Richard Bandler and Frank Pucelik were the gestalt therapist, Fritz Perls, the family therapist Virginia Satir and the psychiatrist Dr Milton Erickson. These modelling projects were designed to produce the essence of these practitioners in the most elegant form so others could learn their skills. In reality at this time NLP had not been developed and to suggest anything was “designed” at this stage is to overstate the case. Richard Bandler’s “modelling” of Fritz Perls was an incidental product of working for Science and Behaviour books and putting together The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to therapy, (Perls,1973).

The NLP models were published in book form:

  1. a) The structure of magic volumes 1 and 2 (Bandler & Grinder, 1975b; Grinder & Bandler, 1976), known as the Meta Model.
  2. b) Patterns of the hypnotic techniques of Milton H. Erickson MD Volume 1 and 2 (Bandler & Grinder, 1975a; Grinder, DeLozier, & Bandler, 1977), known as the Milton Model.

NLP quickly developed into a popular practice and workshops began to emerge quickly teaching these skills to others who were interested in self-development. It was this expansion of NLP that prompted Sharply to review the evidence for NLP as he stated in his initial review of 1984 that proponents of NLP were teaching their skills for personnel training and marketing as well as counselling. However in spite of the increased interest and Sharpley presumed application, no review had been published of research evidence supporting NLP’s claim as an effective intervention procedure.

The practice of NLP around the world is not formally regulated and people can sometimes become practitioners after only 3 days training. However as can be seen in Appendix C the other end of the spectrum is 34 days training over 9 months with professional supervision. In order to deploy the NLP patterns coherently Grinder suggests a set of NLP presuppositions would satisfy the question “what would have to be true?” The most well-known of these presuppositions is The Map is not the Territory, a fuller representation being: “A map is not the territory it represents but if correct it has a similar structure to the territory which accounts for its usefulness.” (Korzybski, 1994, p. 58).

So when communicating with another person an NLP practitioner is aware that one error the person communicating with them possibly makes is they think their representation of the world is somehow true and cannot be changed on account of that truth. Holding to this presupposition then allows the NLP practitioner to work with the NLP techniques in a way that is particular to NLP.

This is a useful example of a presupposition as NLP is regarded as constructivist in orientation and Korzybski is often cited as the source of this orientation. Thus when talking about the theory which supports NLP, NLP practitioners will signpost the enquirer to the NLP Presuppositions

My Journey

My interest in Neuro Linguistic Programming, (NLP) started after completing my B.Sc. in Psychology (Open University, 1993). I became particularly interested in the unconscious mind and depth psychology at that time. I was interested in the deeper levels of consciousness that informed and sustained both behaviour and language and the mechanisms of how this occurred. NLP claimed to produce models of how experts operated and make explicit the structure of their subjective experience, so others could learn from this model and be trained accordingly. What I found interesting about this was the claim by NLP practitioners that excellent performers actually did not know how they did what they did, they were unconsciously competent and the pattern was both embodied and implicit. The key task of NLP, I was told, was to discover what this unconscious pattern was and somehow make it explicit, so others after training, could even exceed the expertise of the excellent performer. What made NLP even more tantalising for me at this time was the means by which an NLP practitioner executed this function. It was by turning off all their conscious understanding and through a process of unconscious assimilation, similar to the way in which a child would learn through imitation, allow the pattern to develop until one could accomplish what the excellent performer could do. Once this could be accomplished one then went about first of all coding this pattern and then putting it into a training format so it could be tested in transfer. As Bandler and Grinder had modelled Milton Erickson, a psychiatrist who practiced clinical hypnosis, NLP seemed to be a good place to continue my training and develop my understanding of the unconscious. I felt if I could train in NLP I would begin to understand more readily how people did what I regarded as extraordinary and develop myself more readily. Hypnosis was an area that fascinated me and ever since reading “Divided Consciousness, Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action”, Hilgard (1977), and the experimental demonstration of “The Hidden Observer”, I wanted to learn more. Hilgard through his work had demonstrated there is a cognitive process which he named the Hidden Observer. This process is aware of much of that which the conscious mind is not aware of and is the deepest level of control of human thought and action. His demonstration showed how a participant was truly not aware of blocks of wood being struck together after being hypnotised, however after regaining a fully conscious state and then being re-hypnotised, there was a deeper level not available to conscious perception that actually was aware of the noise. (Hilgard, 1997, p. 194). As someone who had studied psychology I had learned how most activities and people’s capabilities in those activities, given enough samples, would create a normal distribution with most people falling within one standard deviation of the norm. Thus my belief was, in some shape or form, excellence could be quantified, even if the process of being excellent may be difficult to measure, the results of excellence should be easy to measure. My thought process was maybe Milton Erickson successfully eliminated symptoms in 99% of his clientele putting him beyond 3 standard deviations of the norm where 65% of the sample population, (clinical hypnotherapists), would fall. Consequently if this performance was reliable he must consistently and probably unconsciously be doing something different to produce these results.

After my Practitioner in NLP, I completed an Advanced Practitioner, a Master Practitioner and an NLP Train the Trainer training in the hope of discovering what is on the cover of the very first book about NLP; The Structure of Magic (Bandler & Grinder, 1975b). My formal training thus was 30 days of training under supervision and with supervised practice using real clients, including 10 sessions of personal coaching/therapy, (NLP practitioner), 21 days of assisting NLP workshops and assessment, (advanced diploma in NLP), 21 days (Master Practitioner) and 10 days (train the trainer). As the first application of NLP is to oneself it is generally recognised that continued professional development means attendance at relevant workshops and conferences to build on these foundational skills.

During this time I also completed an M.Sc in Occupational and Organization Psychology (University of East London) and had become a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, (BPS). My Chartership route had taken the depth specialisation of one to one work within the context of the organisation. As the BPS did not have a psychotherapy section, I took the advice offered at the time by the Society and that was to register with an organisation which was a member of the United Kingdom Psychotherapy Council (UKCP), this happened to be the Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy and Counselling Association, (NLPtCA). Practicing psychology as both a Therapist and a Coach, helped me appreciate that many of the stresses which afflicted people within the workplace were often related to contexts from outside of the workplace or from contexts within their personal history from the past.

 

Recent Development

I was still fascinated with NLP at the end of this personal education in 2005 however was concerned that so many spectacular claims were unjustifiably made for its efficacy. In my reading of the psychological literature there was no support for NLP concerning its ability to do what practitioners said it did. I myself had not witnessed any magic in particular, other than that which could have been brought about by application of much of the psychology I had learned myself through my formal training as a psychologist. Clinical psychologist Alden argues when hypnosis is featured in the media it is often to report some miraculous cure. However in reviewing 4 of her own cases she found the relevant factors contributing to this apparent magic were the straightforward variables of expectancy, distraction, motivation, compliance, imagination, relaxation, attribution and cognitive change. (Alden, 1989).

During this time I worked at Royal Mail in the UK, initially as a Postman and later in management, namely; development and training, operational management and a small amount of consultancy work. I started publishing articles about NLP in peer reviewed Journals in 2007 and argued that “NLP, despite being with us since the 1970s, is not even in a position to be evaluated as it is too loosely constructed with little rigour or substance, in either form or content.” I went on to say; “NLP remains an exciting adventure which has yet to come of age … if it ever does.” (Grimley, 2007). I was also asked in 2007 to contribute to “Handbook of Coaching Psychology, A guide for practitioners. (Palmer & Whybrow, 2007, pp. 193-210). In this chapter and many subsequent chapters in other publications I wrote enthusiastically about the potential of NLP patterns when used effectively in coaching and other work, however was always concerned about the continued claims made by NLP practitioners publically and the lack of empirical evidence to support such claims.

 

I started my PhD studies under Dr Paul Tosey and Professor Eugene Sadler-Smith in January of 2008 at the University of Surrey, UK and became very interested in NLP as a research methodology, especially within action research, (McNiff, 2000). I became interested with the idea of using NLP to reduce stress within the workplace. During my first year I developed this topic and discussed it avidly with my supervisors. During my 2nd year I took a break to research independently whilst remaining at the school of management. In 2010 as a result of my time at Surrey University I became interested more in taking my ideas to the public by writing a book. I put a proposal into Sage Publishing and on 29th October 2010 contracts were exchanged. The book expressed both my admiration for the complexity, depth and potential of NLP, however it also expressed concerns about the lack of empirical support, lack of ethical and professional practice and definitional ambiguity. “Theory and Practice of NLP Coaching, a Psychological Approach” was published in January 2013.

This brings me to the present moment when I was encouraged to continue with my PhD studies by Professor Dr Karl Nielsen. I was asked to provide a Key Note talk at the 2012 Conference of the International Association of NLP Institutes (IN) and the International Association of Coaching Institutes (ICI), held in Biograd Na Moru, Croatia and presented the idea we can create workplaces where everybody would like to belong. I prepared the talk with the Presuppositions of NLP firmly in my mind however the key moment which really inspired me to develop a grounded theory of NLP was when after providing my talk I recognised, despite being an NLP Conference, what I had said could feasibly have been said at any Occupational Psychology conference around the world. The realisation for me that in fact NLP provides nothing new was a bit of a Damascus Road experience and I seek in this research to really find out what NLP is by talking to subject matter experts from around the world.

 

NLP in the Workplace

In my professional journey which has led to this research, I would like to explain how I seemed to fall into the trap of doing what I thought was NLP, when in fact I was merely taking principles from psychology and other related fields which are already well established.

Gregory Bateson (1972) pointed out humans do not behave according to dynamic laws in the same way an inanimate object like a billiard ball does. Their behaviour is based upon the ideas they have and these are always different from other people in one way or another (Bateson,1972, p. 229). Because all employees are different, it is inevitable that whatever environment is created, in that environment there will always be a percentage who will be dissatisfied. This means in order to create a workplace where every employee wishes to work means creating an environment which supports employees attempts to discover who they are as individuals and how they can best realise their innate potential at many different levels; Mission/Vision, Identity, Values, Beliefs, capability, behaviour and environment, (Dilts, 1990). In my talk I suggested in order to accomplish this, an organization needs to be characterized by 4 independent yet related process variables:

1)        Energy.

2)        Values.

3)        Communication.

4)        Self-Awareness.

I recognised in putting this talk together I was effectively experimenting with a systemic theme which is one characteristic of NLP. This was being done according to my own subjective experience within organisations and again the experimental aspect of my talk drew from the exhortation to try NLP out for yourself and see what feedback you get: “We strongly recommend that you read this volume carefully and that you spend time experimenting with each pattern” (Bandler & Grinder, 1975, p. 3).

This experimental aspect of NLP is put very well by NLP participant 15, she says:

“I have a … .as Bateson would say “a conscious purpose” and then there’s everything else that happens as a result too, of which some, I can’t have predicted, some I can’t have known, but they do, they do come out. So this is where you have, rather than a predictive approach, you have an ‘in-course correction approach’, so here it’s the idea, they say in Silicon Valley, you know, “Ready, Fire, Aim” (both laugh). I’ve got to get out there — and get going doing something, then I want to take the feedback from this particular situation” (NLP participant 15, 1:19:30)

As I continued my active experimentation I clustered my experimental variables into two sets of two.

Energy — Values.

As I continued I argued energy is the capacity for vigorous activity and needs the variable of values for direction and to steer the boat in a sea of many currents, Values need energy for self-expression and execution of appropriate behaviours. Values without behaviour are meaningless. To use a Metaphor, values are the compass which shows the captain of the ship which way he / she should set the rudder, energy is the horsepower of the engine transmitted through the propeller shaft.

Communication — Self-Awareness.

In my talk, I assumed that just as within the individual the unconscious and conscious mind need to communicate effectively to energise the individual system, so too the organisation needs to communicate horizontally and vertically across the organization and out into the world in order to express its brand and product in an authentic way. Without self-awareness at many levels, individuals and organisations cannot communicate effectively.

In my preparation I had recognised similar themes within my professional training as an occupational psychologist. Argyris (1957, 1964.) demonstrated how communication without self-awareness leads to Model 1 type of Organisations and a lack of appreciation for the difference between In Use theories and Espoused theories. Essentially in use theory is what we do and Espoused theory is what we say we do and is often different to what is in use. Model 1 type behaviour leads to the organisation being sealed into iterations of single loop learning. Just as Gregory Bateson, the teacher of both Grinder and DeLozier (1987, p. vii), developed the double bind theory of schizophrenia so too it seemed organisations could be bound in a similar way through adopting a model 1 culture. Argyris explained this in terms of single and double loop learning. As the work of Argyris seemed to me to be more developed in terms of the model I was experimenting with I made use of his work in the preparation of my talk.

Single and Double loop learning

The governing variables, (NLP would call these pre-suppositions) of a model 1 organization are:

  1. A) One must achieve one’s own goals as one sees them.
  2. B) One must win rather than lose.
  3. C) One must minimize eliciting negative feelings in relationships.
  4. D) One must be rational and minimize any emotionality.

 

Argyris (1957, 1964.) says that this leads to behaviour which is controlling of others, maximizes personal safety, and leads to minimum confrontation of any emotionally charged issues. If one is confronted by another it leads to defensiveness. This results in a self-sealing process or single loop learning in which one sets up the situation to confirm one’s own premises, but never learning whether or not these premises themselves are valid.

My talk in Biograd Na Moru suggested within a work environment, NLP as an Action Research based methodology would facilitate the development of what Argyris (1957, 1964.) would term a Model 2 Organization and what Senge (1990) would term a learning organization. When communication within an organisation is conducted in such a way that processes allow for self-awareness to develop then learning organizations emerge and systemically both individuals and the organization grow. This is characteristic of what Argyris would call a Model 2 Organisation. (Argyris, 1957, 1964).

From the perspective of Argyris the governing variables of a model 2 organization are:

  1. A) Action should be based upon valid information.
  2. B) Action should be based upon free and informed choice.
  3. C) Action should be based on internal commitment to the choice and constant monitoring of efforts to implement one’s choices.

This “organization” could be at the level of the individual, the family, the community or at the level of a Multi-National Organization.

I argued in this presentation at Biograd Na Moru, Croatia that NLP is a dynamic type of Action Research and each employee is personally responsible for being “Happy” within the organisation and that includes taking personal responsibility for employee engagement and development of the necessary skill set in order to produce stakeholder benefit, with the recognition that the individual employee is also a key stakeholder.

After this presentation it dawned upon me more fully my arguments could equally well have been made by any traditional Occupational Psychologist who had followed the appropriate curriculum and not only was there not an internationally agreed definition for NLP, there was neither an organised curriculum in NLP at undergraduate degree level attached to a state university anywhere in the world. Consequently I could not reference my work as inspired by NLP nor could I build argumentation based upon well written and tested research within the context of the organisation as little peer reviewed research existed. The little that did exist did not extend past small case study pieces which could not credibly be generalised to the larger population. It seemed that rebuttals by psychologists had silenced the NLP voice quite easily in the academic literature and consequently NLP has continued to be regarded as an “easy target” by psychologists who wish to “have a pop”, (Sutton, 2012, p. 813). Indeed when coding and analysing the data from psychologists this is one of the themes which emerged, that NLP is actually not even worth discussing. More of this will be discussed in Chapters 4 and 5.

Modern efforts to bring credibility to NLP

Efforts to bring credibility to NLP are beginning to emerge. NLP is taught in modular form within some coaching courses, for instance, 10 days during the MSc in Coaching and Organisational Behaviour at Henley Management College, and more substantially within the MA in Applied Coaching at Derby University. Oxford Brookes University has a one-day course in NLP for staff at their university to help them “Manage Change and Coach Themselves” (Oxford Brookes University, 2012). The ANLP (Association of NLP) has hosted Bi-annual NLP research conferences at UK universities for the last 6 years. At the University of Lincoln the Lincolnshire Leadership and Management Centre did have for a time in 2013 their own Master Practitioner NLP course run by Dr’s Jan and Graham Dexter.

UCN (University of Central Nicaragua) has a psychology department where post graduate students can research NLP under its own name, rather than as a pseudonym like 3rd wave CBT, or the application of NLP in coaching/counselling. Also the International Association of NLP Institutes (IN) has held an academic congress approximately every three years in different locations around the world starting in Berlin in 2006.

In Australia a Nationally recognised vocational Postgraduate Certificate offers a 40-day programme with eight units of five days in NLP. This is rated at level 8 in the Australian Qualifications framework which is the equivalent student level of a Bachelors Honours Degree. In Austria the Austrian Training Center for Neuro-Linguistic-Programming has had government licensing to provide coaching trainings since 1995. Finally the NLP research and recognition project was started in 1995 and their mission is to support, coordinate, and fund rigorous scientific research in the field of NLP.

Despite all of these efforts NLP is still regarded in academia by many as pop psychology and an adjunctive set of untested techniques which are used within the wider context of coaching, management, consultancy, sales, education, psychotherapy, health care and much more. The lack of peer reviewed research demonstrating the efficacy of NLP is one of the reasons cited for this state of affairs, however this research aims to dig deeper and interview current leaders of the NLP brand to understand what the other reasons are, if any. One data corpus for this research is a LinkedIn discussion between psychologists and proponents of NLP over 10 months (March 2013 to January 2014) which carries to 44,000 words, (Munro, 2013). The intention of including this data set was to tap into some of the more recent and live discussions to explore deeper reasons for the poor reputation of NLP from the perspective of the profession of psychology, as well as providing a different perspective thus preventing a possible positive schew.

In seeking to find out what NLP is, this thesis originally set out to explore what it would take for NLP to become a modality with its own body of evidence which stands up to academic scrutiny. For some this is to misunderstand NLP as from their perspective it comes from an anti-positivist epistemology and thus the relationship between objects are consistently changing as the dynamic of the phenomenological world under scrutiny changes, even moment by moment in the presence of the researcher. However this thesis explores whether such a perspective does in matter of fact render NLP patterns immune to testing in a sound way which can be peer reviewed in academic journals, a pattern itself which has been sadly missing over the past 40 years. As Dr Frank Bourke who has managed twelve psychiatric hospitals says; “While many NLP ‘experts’ have historically either ignored the need for research evidence for the effectiveness of NLP techniques or maintained the ‘un-measurable nature’ of NLP techniques, ‘knowing’ IS ‘measuring’ and useful knowledge must have standardized measures.» (Bourke, 2013, p. 280).

At present no undergraduate NLP degree attached to a recognised national university program has been developed. This thesis, in seeking to understand what NLP is, explores the idea that this can be addressed and should be addressed as one avenue by which NLP can begin to make a recognised and lasting contribution to modern human development in a variety of contexts.

Summary of Chapter 1

I have described my personal journey in both psychology and NLP and described one of the pivotal points which brought about this Action Research, a key note talk in Biograd Na Moru, Croatia. The inclusion of my personal journey as well as the use of the personal pronoun is to emphasise the ontological and epistemological frame of this research. That is, the realities we create are constructions to which we are emotionally attached. Despite techniques to assist us recognise the nature of how we distort and delete the sensory world about us, in order to create generalisations and our personal map of the world, when we research, despite these techniques, subjectivity is inevitable. The use of the personal pronoun also emphasises the Action research characteristic which asks us to recognise the effect our enquiry has upon those who provide us with data. McNiff and Whitehead cogently state the Action Research position:

“The stance of researchers working in these traditions remains external. They speak about research and ideas as things “out there”. What is known is assumed to be separate from a knower. Realities and ideas about reality are turned into free standing things, which can be studied, taken apart and put back together in new ways. Many researchers working in these traditions do not seem to appreciate that they are part of the same reality they are studying” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006, p. 41).

In this chapter I have also given the reader evidence to recognise I meet the criteria of both Einspruch and Forman (1985) and Gray, Liotta, Wake, and Cheal (2013) concerning the need for researchers to be trained by competent NLP practitioners for an appropriate period of time.

 

Chapter 2 Literature Search

Some current definitions of NLP

NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programing and was created by John Grinder and Richard Bandler in the early 1970’s at The University of California, Santa Cruz. A popular definition of NLP is “An attitude with a methodology which leaves behind it a trail of techniques”. This is attributed to Richard Bandler, however the uncertainty of what NLP is, is nicely portrayed by an email from Robert Dilts who had the quote down differently, he writes: “I believe it was Richard Bandler who said «NLP is an attitude and a methodology, not (emphasis added) the trail of techniques left in its wake.» But I don’t know if there are any books or other written references for either of these quotes.” (Dilts, personal communication, 2012).

A discipline which marginalises the techniques which flow from its epistemology is indeed a very different discipline to that which aggrandises such techniques and positions them as products which have high degrees of both reliability and validity. In defining NLP this is a key question which needs addressing and answering.

The attitude is formalised in what are called the Pre-suppositions of NLP, the method is that of modelling and the techniques are the patterns of human thinking and behaviour which emerge from modelling projects, (Grimley, 2012). The first two models were the Meta Model and the Milton Model, (Bandler and Grinder, 1975, 1975b; Grinder & Bandler, 1976; Grinder, DeLozier, & Bandler, 1977).

Dr Anthony Grant makes the point concerning Neuro-Associative Conditioning (NAC) which is Tony Robbin’s development of NLP

“The exaggerated claims made by Robbins as to the efficacy of NAC may well be harmful to individuals experiencing strong dysphoric states, and could increase their sense of failure when the promised results do not eventuate. Indeed, it could well be argued that Robbins’ marketing of NAC comes close to breaking the Code of Ethics of the Australian Psychological Society (1997)”. (Grant, 2001).

This perspective raises a couple of questions which need to be answered:

1)        Are Patterns which have been developed by NLP students representative of NLP and therefore testable as NLP or not?

2)        What is NLP? The popular definition mentioned above is one, however there are many more. For example:

  1. a) “Defies Easy Description” (Overdurf & Silverton, 1998, p.viii).
  2. b) “The unexpected by-product of the collaboration of John Grinder and Richard Bandler to formalize impactful patterns of communication” (Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, & DeLozier, 1980, p. ii).
  3. c) “In some respects it is simple. An internationally prominent practice in business, management development and professional education, a method used by facilitators of various kinds — coaches, trainers and consultants — who claim to offer some innovative and highly effective approaches to human development in other respects NLP resembles more of a mystery story.” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 3).
  4. d) “An explicit and powerful model of human experience and communication” (Andreas, 1979, p. i).
  5. e) “The study of the structure of subjectivity” (Dilts et al, 1980, p. ii).
  6. f) “A behavioural model that consists of a series of tools and techniques modelled on performance excellence” (Wake, 2010, p. 7).
  7. g) “A model from Cognitive Psychology” (James & Woodsmall, 1988, p. 3).
  8. h) “The art and science of personal excellence” (Alder & Heather, 1998, p. xii).
  9. i) “An extension of linguistics, neurology or psychology” (Dilts et al, 1980, p. i).
  10. j) “The Frankenstein Grandchild of Post Ericksonian Hypnosis” (Brown, 2007, p. 128).
  11. k) “It is not a set of techniques it is an attitude.” (Bandler, 1985, p. 155).
  12. l) “Whatever works” (Attributed to Robert Dilts by GrassRoots.com. 2013)
  13. m) “A user oriented metaphor designed to generate behavioural options quickly and effectively” (Dilts et al., 1980, p. 12).
  14. n) “A modelling technology whose specific subject matter is the set of differences that makes the difference between the performance of geniuses and that of average performers in the same field or activity. (Bostic St Clair & Grinder 2001, p. 50).

The above list of 14 definitions is by no means exhaustive; however it demonstrates the problem of being able to accurately define NLP.

Richard Churches in talking about researching NLP and in particular one of the NLP Models, the Milton Model says; “ Just this aspect of NLP alone, the fact that it has been a largely oral tradition for the last 30 years and a ‘community of practice’, provides enough ammunition for the critical academic to dismiss NLP” (Churches, 2013).

It seems logical that if we cannot effectively define something we cannot research it. This is because again it seems logical that the nature of our research will be shaped by the definition of that which we are researching. If what we are researching keeps on changing according to whom we talk to then the paradigm becomes incapable of falsification. Effectively one has a paradigm which on the back of slick marketing and unverifiable claims re-defines itself every time scientific research finds against it.

In the field of NLP this problem has a historical antecedent and we briefly touched on it within Chapter 1. In order to avoid going down the same road in this research it would be wise to look in some detail and learn some lessons from the problem posed by a review of 44 NLP articles between 1975 and 1986.

Lessons Learned

In 1984 Christopher Sharpley submitted a paper reviewing the use of preferred representational system (PRS) in NLP. After the Meta Model this was the second model of NLP (Bostic St. Clair & Grinder 2001, p. 164). Strictly speaking this was an example of NLP Design rather than a model as no single expert exemplar or group of expert exemplars were modelled.

The difference between an NLP model and NLP design is explicated for us by Bostic St Clair and Grinder when they talk about NLP design as: “The manipulation of the variables discovered in the original modelling studies and their use as essential design variables in the creation of new patterning” Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001, p56).

The NLP model of communication suggests we process data initially through our senses. Each of these senses is regarded as a representational system as the associated neurology does not just receive the information from the outside world, it also actively processes it. Just as type psychology suggests we have cognitive preferences (Brigs Myers & Myers 1980, Costa & McCrae 1994), so too Bandler and Grinder at this time suggested individuals had a preferred sense with which to represent the world and process information (Grinder & Bandler, 1976). This can be visually appreciated by looking at how Bodenhamer and Hall (1999, p. 65) represent the NLP communication model in figure 1 below. In a communication context NLP practitioners believed that if they could identify what this PRS was in another person, this would help them frame their communication in such a way that such a communication would be more easily and readily accepted and maybe even acted upon by another person.

Sharpley was concerned that NLP, which started as a counselling application, was being used in other fields such as Personnel training and Marketing, and up to that time no review had been published of research evidence supporting NLP’s claim as an effective intervention. He reviewed 15 studies. There was support for PRS in some studies. For example Birholtz (1981) found stability over one week for a Kinaesthetic preference in 27 participants. There was no relationship found however between this preference elicited through the use of predicate preference in response to neutral questions concerning negative and positive experiences and the participants self-report of their preferred PRS.

 

Figure 1. The NLP communication model (Bodenhamer & Hall, 1999, p. 65, with permission)

 

Yapko (1981) compared the relative effectiveness of hypnotic induction via verbal instructions in the subject’s preferred modality with similar instructions in a non-preferred modality. 30 participants demonstrated their PRS by answering open ended questions. Frontalis electromyograph (EMG) readings were lowest when relaxation instructions were delivered in their preferred modality (F = 3.55, df = 29, p < .05).

Finally Falzett (1981) had counselors match or mismatch predicates with 24 right-handed female volunteer college students whose PRS had been determined by eye-movement responses to questions prior to predicate matching. Subjects rated the counselor on the Trustworthiness scale of the Counselor Rating Form, with results indicating a significantly higher level of perceived trustworthiness when counselors matched predicates with clients (p < 001).

However as a result of the majority of research not supporting the experimental hypothesis Sharpley concluded;

“At present, there is no consistent support for the use of the predicate-matching process of NLP in either contrived counseling situations or actual clinical realities. Of most importance, there are no data reported to date to show that NLP can help clients change.” (Sharpley, 1984, p. 247).

This paper was responded to by Eric L. Einspruch and Bruce D. Forman 1985. They pointed out that NLP was an;

“Extraordinarily complex model of human cognition and behavior and of how to identify behavioral and communication patterns and interrupt these patterns in a deliberate way so as to achieve predictable outcomes.” They continued; “Eye scanning patterns and representational systems are an important, but small, part of NLP”. (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 594).

They suggested Sharpley 1984 failed to consider a number of methodological errors in the 15 studies he reviewed. These included the following;

“(a) Lack of understanding of the concepts of pattern recognition and inadequate control of context, (b) Unfamiliarity with NLP as an approach to therapy, (c) Lack of familiarity with the NLP «meta-model» of linguistic communication, (d) Failure to consider the role of stimulus-response associations, (e) Inadequate interviewer training and definitions of rapport, and (f) Logical mistakes.” (Einspruch & Forman 1985, p. 590).

Einspruch and Forman after reviewing 39 reports published between 1975 to April 1984 (24 of which were not reviewed by Sharpley) concluded; “On the basis of the research that has appeared in the literature, it is not possible at this time to determine the validity of either NLP concepts or whether NLP-based therapeutic procedures are effective for achieving therapeutic outcomes.” (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 594).

In order to address the perceived complexity of the NLP model Einspruch and Forman suggested 4 recommendations for research into NLP.

“1) Researchers should be trained by competent NLP practitioners for an appropriate period of time, they thought this was probably the most important recommendation. 2) Researchers wishing to study rapport should rely on objective, sensory-observable measures of their procedures. 3) Except in gathering information about sensory- observable outcomes of therapy, procedures should not be applied at the group level, but rather at the individual level, and calibrated to each person’s personal characteristics. Data on individual observations may then be summed to arrive at group data. 4) Any treatment studies should be performed only by therapists with demonstrated mastery of the model and its techniques, and outcome measures should be behavioral in nature. If comparisons are to be made with other treatment approaches, the therapists using the comparative model should be equally proficient.” (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 594).

In 1987 Sharpley responded to the research of Einspruch and Forman 1985 refuting many of their detailed criticisms and reviewing 7 further NLP studies.

Sharpley in commenting on the review of the NLP studies to date at that time suggested collectively they point to the conclusion that;

(a)       The PRS cannot be reliably assessed;

(b)       When it is assessed, the PRS is not consistent over time; therefore,

(c)       It is not even certain that the PRS exists; and

(d)       Matching clients’ or other persons’ PRS does not appear to assist counselors reliably in any clearly demonstrated manner.

Sharpley suggested.

  1. a) “The basic tenets of NLP have failed to be reliably verified in almost 86% of the controlled studies, and it is difficult to accept that none of these 38 studies (i.e. those with nonsupportive, partial, or mixed results) were performed by persons with a satisfactory understanding of NLP (or at least enough of an understanding to perform the various procedures that were evaluated).”….
  2. b) “Perhaps NLP principles are not amenable to research evaluation. This does not necessarily reduce NLP to worthlessness for counselling practice. Rather, it puts NLP in the same category as psychoanalysis, that is, with principles not easily demonstrated in laboratory settings but, nevertheless, strongly supported by clinicians in the field. Not every therapy has to undergo the rigorous testing that is characteristic of the more behavioural approaches to counseling to be of use to the therapeutic community, but failure to produce data that support a particular theory from controlled studies does relegate that theory to questionable status in terms of professional accountability.” (Sharpley, 1987, p.105).
  3. c) Sharpley suggested that the idea of mirroring has long been used in counselling and is effective for supporting clients and demonstrating empathy. In that predicate matching does this, it is useful. Also the idea of shifting sensory modality from visual to auditory to kinaesthetic is also useful and has a long tradition in Gestalt therapy in assisting clients understand an issue. Finally the practice of Reframing has been noted in at least 5 other therapies being most clearly presented by Frankl (1962) in focusing on the positive during his period as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Sharpley suggested that these 3 NLP techniques along with anchoring and changing personal history can all be found in a wide reading of the many counseling theories that abound and are by no means specific to NLP.

Sharpley concluded, without reply from Einspruch and Forman that

“As such, NLP may be seen as a partial compendium of rather than as an original contribution to counseling practice and, thereby, has a value distinct from the lack of research data supporting the underlying principles that Bandler and Grinder (1975b, 1976, 1979) posited to present NLP as a new and magical theory.” (Sharpley, 1987, p. 106).

Sharpley added;

“If, however, NLP is presented as a «theory-less» set of procedures gathered from many other approaches to counseling, then it may serve a reference role for therapists who wish to supplement their counseling practice by what may be novel techniques for them.” (Sharpley, 1987, p. 106).

Professor Sturt makes a point after a Freedom of Information request revealed that the NHS in the United Kingdom spent over £800,000 on NLP from 2006-9, and a further estimated £105,000 on training staff. She says; “the very fact that there is no agreed definition of NLP indicates how little evidence we have of its benefits.” (Sturt, 2012b). Definitional problems in the 1980’s were a key hurdle for NLP practitioners. We can see from Einspruch and Forman that they are concerned the reviewed papers did not “Understand NLP as an approach to therapy” (Einspruch & Forman,1985, p. 591). They point to one of the reviewed papers, (Hammer 1983) and point out; “This is a distortion of the NLP approach to therapy, which is generative by nature and makes use of questions designed to build a future that is appropriate for the client to move toward.” (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 591).

However nowhere in the NLP literature do we find NLP defined consistently in terms of being both generative and future oriented. It may indeed be the favoured personal definition for a group of practitioners, however it is not one that is traditionally used to define NLP such as “the study of the structure of subjectivity” (Dilts et al., 1980, p. ii). Whilst NLP continues to accept this definitional ambiguity, as Professor Sturt points out no meaningful research can be undertaken. In the order of things one needs a solid definition in order to develop patterns / techniques which are consistent with that definition, which can then be tested either quantitatively or qualitatively.

The definitional difficulty which faced NLP back in 1985 and still does today can further be explicated by Einspruch and Forman’s identification of research which is sensible in their opinion because it makes use of a physiological indicator of rapport. They tell us this physiological indicator of rapport is the measure of muscular relaxation. The research found that generally the 30 participants relaxed more to a taped hypnotic induction when the emphasised representation in the hypnotic induction matched their own PRS. (Yapko, 1981). The contextual variable of moving in and out of trance states, used by Milton Erickson to deepen trance, however was not controlled for in this research and in the opinion of Einspruch and Forman limited the degree one could generalize from these findings.

Whilst this research meets Einspruch and Forman’s criteria that sensory-observable measures of procedures are used, it raises more questions than it answers in terms of their critique concerning researchers not understanding the NLP definition of rapport. This leaves us with an expanded challenge in that not only do we not have a standard definition of NLP, neither do we have standard definitions of important concepts within NLP such as rapport.

To suggest that a measure of muscular relaxation is a measure of rapport is to misunderstand the concept of rapport when we put it against the definition of Rapport from the Encyclopaedia of NLP, “One of the most important relational skills in NLP is the ability to establish rapport with others. Rapport involves building trust, harmony and cooperation in a relationship.” (Dilts & DeLozier, 2000, p. 1051).

“Harmonious”, “mutual understanding”, “being in tune”, and “in accord” are some of the words used to describe the process or state of being in rapport with another. Indeed in the whole definition of rapport which runs to over a page in the Encyclopaedia of NLP, the word “relaxation” is not used once. For Einspruch and Forman to then say “Yapko’s results support Bandler and Grinder’s (1979) contention that matching primary representational systems enhances rapport” (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 592), seems to demonstrate a misunderstanding on their part of the concept of rapport. The research of Yapko may tell us generally when the PRS of the participant is used in a hypnotic induction greater levels of relaxation will be achieved compared with when a mismatched representational system is used, but one cannot then generalise that finding to mean they are in rapport with the person administering the hypnotic induction if one is to use the definition provided by the Encyclopaedia of NLP. Such a detail is important given the critique of Gray et al (2013, p. 207); “The definition of rapport utilized in studies is restricted to dictionary definitions or the author’s definition and is not discretely defined as a process in a way that it is experienced in NLP”

In reviewing these early papers it seems that the researchers took their lead from the extant literature on NLP at the time. If this information is elusive itself or even contradictory it supports the idea that definitional aspects of NLP need to be addressed in order to conduct satisfactory research and to establish the validity of its claims.

It can be feasibly suggested that if the NLP community had decided to pay attention to the research conducted by psychologists in the 1980’s then the Co-Founder of NLP, John Grinder would not have needed to say over 30 years later the below:

“I would unhesitatingly delete the remarks made by Bandler and myself about most highly valued representational system or sometimes preferred representational system. These terms first appeared in section I of the Structure of Magic, Volume II the presentation of representational systems. What could we have been thinking! The term is itself patently ridiculous.” (Grinder & Pucelik, 2013, p. 214).

The ambiguity of the nature of NLP and what precisely it’s tenets are, in this particular instance continue to be exacerbated when other first generation NLP practitioners tell me quite clearly they still believe in the primacy of PRS (Personal communication, 2014).

One of the main lessons thus learned from the Sharpley papers (1984 & 1987) and Einspruch and Forman (1985) is that in order to develop the credibility of NLP it is not sufficient to provide a rebuttal and then leave it at that. Einspruch and Forman could have replied to the 1987 paper of Sharpley, however chose not to. If they had kept the discussion going not only would NLP have been more fairly represented in the academic literature, but through the peer reviewed process its ideas could have been defined more effectively and good quality research might have been forthcoming as a consequence.

Einspruch and Forman in more detail

Einspruch and Forman (1985) open their rebuttal to Sharpley (1984) with an overview of NLP as a process model and explanation of logical levels, stating NLP operates at the 3rd of Batesons 4 logical levels of learning. In this opening they make claims which from a scientific perspective are not warranted; “NLP has been clinically demonstrated as a powerful technology for engendering change” (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 589).

From a scientific perspective in order to demonstrate something works one needs to be able to generalise from one particular instance to other contexts in a reliable and valid way. Usually this is done through the use of controlled research which compares the experimental method with other methods and a control. Paradoxically Einspruch and Forman recognise this and concerning NLP practitioners state; “Clearly these practitioners would provide a service to the field by presenting their data in the literature so they may be critically evaluated. (Einspruch & Forman, 1985, p. 590).

 

The first study Einspruch and Forman look at is that of Gumm, Walker, and Day (1982). Here Einspruch and Forman suggest the researchers engage in fundamental methodological errors.

Gumm et al., (1982). attempted to elicit PRS through three methods.

  1. Questionnaire.
  2. Self-Report Questionnaire.
  3. EAC (Eye Accessing Cues see figure 2 below) observation with heads fixed by means of a restraining device.

Even though in each method a bias towards a PRS occurred there was no agreement as to what the overall PRS for each subject was when comparing the results of all three methods of elicitation.

Sampling demonstrated further misunderstanding according to Einspruch and Forman (1985) as only right handed subjects were chosen as it was believed the model did not work for left handed people.

However when we look at the extant NLP literature in 1982 both the methodology and the sampling of Gumm et al., (1982) seem totally understandable. They were seeking to test a generalisation Grinder and Bandler explicitly make. Grinder and Bandler tell us in the section headed identifying the most highly valued representational system; “In order to identify which of the representational systems is the client’s most highly valued one, the therapist needs only (emphasis added) to pay attention to the predicates which the client uses to describe his experience” (Grinder & Bandler, 1976, p. 9).

What is being said is clarified later on in the text:

 

“We would like you to realise that very little of natural language communication is really metaphorical. Most people in describing their experiences even in casual conversation are quite literal. Comments such as “I see what you’re saying”, are most often communicated by people who organise their world primarily with pictures. These are people whose most highly valued representational system is visual” (Grinder & Bandler, 1976, p. 11).

In Patterns of the Hypnotic techniques of Milton H Erickson M.D. Volume 2 (1977) Grinder, DeLozier and Bandler talk of the PRS in terms of the 4-Tuple and the R Operator.

The 4-Tuple is the first notion in the Milton Model. (Grinder, De Lozier & Bandler 1977, p. 11). It is a representation of experience where:

V = Visual.

K = Kinaesthetic.

At = Auditory tonal.

0          = Olfactory.

1          = The referential index of the experiencer.

i and e in this representation will also refer to the origin of the data experienced. So i means the data is internally generated and e means the data is externally generated. So my experience behind my computer could be coded as:

<Ve the sight of the screen; Ke the feeling of my chair; Ati e the sound of my internal voice and the sound of the hum of the computer and the tapping of the keyboard; Oe the smell of my study> i

So even though < Ve,Ke,At‘ e,Oe> i may be the total 4-Tuple and sum of experience available to me in fact what I may experience is <0,0,Ati,0>i in other words I am only experiencing consciously the tone of my internal voice and not even paying attention to the feeling of my chair or the content of my words which would be indicated by a subscript of d standing for digital. Such conscious attention to only a part of the 4-Tuple is in itself regarded as a pattern by Grinder et al, (1977, p. 21) and is coded by reference to the R operator.

Concerning their own example they point out:

“The above example then represents a person who is attending solely to the visual component of the total experience — the person who typically attends primarily to what they see. Thus for a person whose most highly valued representational system is Kinaesthetic the application of the R operator would yield a different outcome, namely:

R <V,KAt,O>            > <0,K,0,0>

This operator creates an explicit representation for the notion of most highly valued representational system — specifically the person’s most highly valued representational system is the variable in the 4-Tuple which has a non-null value after the R operator has been applied to the 4-Tuple which represents the person’s total experience

In general (emphasis added) the person’s most highly valued representational system will coincide with portions of the external world which they are aware of — knowing this is of great importance in understanding how to communicate effectively with a client in the hypnotic encounter” (Grinder et al., 1977, pp. 21-22).

In this very short chapter on representational systems at no point do Grinder et al. talk of the PRS changing with context, only changing with the individual. Indeed as marked out in the reference by myself they use words such as typically, primarily and in general. They are thus emphasising the belief that PRS does exist as a generalisation. It is therefore quite appropriate for Gumm et al., (1982) to test the validity of this generalisation, especially when Grinder and Bandler state as mentioned above: “In order to identify which of the representational systems is the client’s most highly valued one, the therapist needs only (emphasis added) to pay attention to the predicates which the client uses to describe his experience” (Grinder & Bandler, 1976, p. 9).

Proponents of NLP may well indeed point out that in other parts of NLP literature PRS is regarded as context specific. For instance in Bandler and Grinder (1979, p.36).

“Our claim is you are using all systems all the time. In a particular context you will be aware of one system more than another. I assume that when you play athletics or make love you have a lot of kinaesthetic sensitivity. When you are reading or watching a movie you have a lot of visual consciousness. You can shift from one to the other. There are contextual markers that allow you to shift from one strategy (emphasis added) to another and use different sequences. There is nothing forced about that” (Bandler & Grinder, 1979, p. 36).

However even though Bandler and Grinder talk about the strategic use of making use of different PRSs in differing contexts they very quickly, 4 pages later, revert to the generalisation they explicitly refer to back in 1976:

“A lot of school children have problems learning simply because of a mismatch between the primary representational system of the teacher and that of the child. If neither one of them has the flexibility to adjust, no learning occurs. Knowing what you now know about representational systems, you can understand how it is possible for a child to be «educationally handicapped» one year, and to do fine the next year with a different teacher, or how it is possible for a child to do really well in spelling and mathematics, and do badly in literature and history.” (Bandler & Grinder,1979, p. 40).

In exactly the same way, by referring to the extant NLP literature at the time, Gumm et al., (1982) cannot be criticized for sampling error in ensuring participants were naturally right handed. Figure 2 below makes it quite clear Bandler and Grinder again are making generalisations when they refer to visual accessing cues for a normally organised right handed person. Bostic St Clair and Grinder re-emphasise their commitment to the model and refer to eye accessing cues as one of the few NLP patterns that can justly claim to be original discoveries by the Co-Creators of NLP

With the exception of the Basque, Bostic St Clair and Grinder say of this pattern: “They were struck with the simplicity of the pattern, while sensitive to handedness (a common measure of so called cerebral dominance) as well as its robustness — independent of culture and language” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 171).

One flaw in the review conducted by Sharpley and indeed similarly by Heap (1988, 1989, 2008) is the assumption of the primacy of PRS to the NLP paradigm. This is relevant to this research because had there been a consistent and singular definition of NLP agreed upon by NLP practitioners world-wide, it might have been easier to identify that PRS was simply one of the many designs to come out of NLP after the modelling of Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir rather than as Sharpley (1987, p.105) says a “basic tenet of NLP” or Heap (1988, p.268) “One of the important concepts of NLP”.

 

Figure 2. EAC (Eye Accessing Cues) (Palande, 2015. With permission)

 

Indeed Grinder does identify EAC as one of the few unique patterns to emerge from NLP and the apparent pride Grinder takes in saying this aligned with the unequivocal references by both Sharpley and Heap make it understandable why such an apparently testable hypothesis could be taken in isolation from the NLP paradigm as a whole.

“There are few NLP patterns that can be justly claimed to be original discoveries by the Co-Creators of NLP, (as opposed to modelling of patterning already present in the behavior of highly effective people albeit intuitively). The discovery of the Eye Movements represents one such original piece of research on the part of Bandler and Grinder.” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 171).

However had NLP been more developed as a paradigm at the time and if testing and standardization rather than ad hoc experimentation and commercial activity had followed on after the 1st generation of NLP work, then it may have been more possible for researchers of the time to recognise that modelling is at the heart of NLP rather than EAC or PRS.

To emphasise the point again that psychologists in the 1980’s were only taking their lead from NLP practitioners themselves, Grinder and Bandler are referenced by Sharpley (1987 p.103). Turning to the page number referenced we read;

“However we tend to use one or more of these representational systems as a map more often than others. We also tend to have more distinctions available in this same representational system to code our experience, which is to say that we more highly value one or more of these representational systems.” (Bandler & Grinder, 1976, p.8).

in the note appended to the last sentence they go on to elaborate and tell us; “By most highly valued representational system we mean the representational system the person typically uses to bring information into consciousness — that is the one he typically uses to represent the world and his experience to himself’ (Bandler & Grinder, 1976, p.26).

The very fact that one of the Co-Founders only now points out, nearly 40 years later the term PRS “is itself patently ridiculous” (Grinder et al., 2013, p. 214), could suggest NLP is still in its infancy in terms of being able to reflect on its own practice and critically evaluate the validity of its propositions.

NLP, Positivist or Anti-Positivist epistemology?

This is a similar question to; “Is NLP content oriented or process oriented?” The majority of NLP practitioners will say NLP is process oriented, however their practice is then very content oriented. They will act as though someone actually possesses an Away From MetaProgram or a Visual PRS, in NLP terms the Map has become the Territory and both the NLP Practitioner and client begin to live in an “Is” reality. A hardening of the categories occurs. These content offenders / perpetrators, as interviewee 14 calls them, restrict the potential flexibility of their client through labelling them as “having” one of the processes which are characteristic of the structure of subjective experience. So when Grinder and Bandler were talking in terms of PRS they too were guilty of a content offence. One possible commercial reason for this hardening of the categories is that it is very much easier to sell content contrasted with process and these and other themes are indeed the meat of this research and will be discussed in Chapter 4 and 5.

For those who have no training in NLP a Meta Program is regarded as a process that operates at a higher neurological level compared with that of primary processing. So in the well- known example of someone looking at a glass which is filled to the half way mark with water the Towards person will see the glass as half full as they are processing the basic sensory material as moving towards being full. However the Away From person will see the glass as half empty as they are processing exactly the same sensory material in terms of moving away from being empty. Meta Programs thus are ways in which we act upon the sensory information we receive to create another level and layer of experience and thus meaning. Individuals can therefore have exactly the same sensory experience, however when they then operate on that experience using different Meta Programs they create very different meanings and therefore speak and behave in a very different manner. As can be seen in figure 1 above Meta Programs in NLP are one of the filters which distort our primary experience.

Rosenthal experimenter effect

When NLP practitioners attempt to operationalize NLP within a positivist paradigm such is their enthusiasm for the effectiveness of their discovered NLP pattern that there is the danger of falling foul of the Rosenthal experimenter effect. An example of this is demonstrated by Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001, p. 87) when they attempt to provide an understanding of how a psychologist would approach the testing of an NLP Pattern.

They imagine a well-trained psychologist researching the NLP spelling strategy. They go on to describe exactly what psychologists often do find; support for a weak version of the hypothesis. In this hypothetical case the finding was, as a group, the NLP spelling strategy out performed both the control group and the phonics group. However what is not supported is the strong version of the hypothesis and that is all members of the NLP group will spell words perfectly. What the results of this imagined research actually show is that some people in the NLP group spelt words incorrectly, and also that some people in the control and the phonics group spelt more words correctly than those in the NLP group.

Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) say consequent to this hypothetical research an NLP researcher would review the video tapes independently of which group they were in, focussing attention on those who spelled words correctly. They go on to say; “ideally, she would discover that, indeed, all individuals who spelled all the words correctly used the Vi –Ki–Ad NLP spelling strategy”. (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, p. 89).

This does in fact set up the strong possibility the researcher will begin to fall foul of the Rosenthal experimenter effect which is something they correctly say a well-trained psychologist would actively avoid. In looking for evidence to support the hypothesis after the research has been conducted is to invite experimental distortion, albeit at an unconscious level.

What is necessary from a research perspective, if one wished to move forward with the NLP spelling strategy, would be to focus the attention on those in the NLP group who did not follow the NLP patterns, as this clearly would demonstrate a deficiency in NLP modelling.

A characteristic of an NLP pattern and modelling project is that it can be coded in such a way that the skill can be transferred to others, so participants can achieve similar excellence in a similar time frame when compared with the original exemplar. Dilts calls this designing of a training context the Design phase of modelling. (Dilts.1998, p. 57).

In this way the original material in the NLP spelling model could be refined so NLPtraining, which is about the transfer of NLP patterns to others according to Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) is improved. One would then expect in subsequent research with different participants an improvement in the direction toward the strong version of the NLP hypothesis. Of course if this did not happen, then that will provide us with evidence that the spelling strategy is only supported according to the weaker version, and strong claims for its effectiveness cannot be professionally or ethically voiced.

Tosey and Mathison say this type of propositional knowledge is not superior to more qualitative ways of knowing (2009, p.120) and other forms of research emphasise exploration rather than “proving”. What is possible given Ryle’s (1990) proposition that

1)        Knowledge-how cannot be defined in terms of knowledge-that and

2)        Knowledge-how is a concept logically prior to knowledge-that

is that NLP as a paradigm has begun to talk in terms of “knowledge-that” before demonstrating in the academic literature they fully understand in terms of “knowledge-how”. Thus there is an attempt by marketers of NLP to use inappropriate language to dress NLP up as more grown up than it really is, possibly leading to the increasing senses of failure when the promised results do not eventuate as Grant 2001 pointed out concerning the ethical considerations of NLP.

What I am keen to discover in this research is the nature of NLP in terms of its epistemology. This research will explore the nature of NLP knowledge, understanding indeed if it is possible that such positivist and propositional knowledge can form a sub set within the more dialectical forms of knowing as suggested by the Action Research approach. (McNiff 2000, p. 229).

In examining the present status of NLP Grimley (2013) places NLP squarely in the dialectical and qualitative side of the research divide as can be seen in figure 3.

The very fact that Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) can talk about positivist research in NLP as they do above, yet have never conducted and published any such research in peer reviewed journals suggests from their perspective that NLP is indeed a qualitative practice.

 

Figure 3. Grimley (2013)

 

This can be emphasised as the other Co-Founders, Richard Bandler and Frank Pucelik also have not published any such material. In this respect the words of Sharpley in his review of NLP in 1987 mentioned above are relevant; it puts NLP in the same category as psychoanalysis, that is, with principles not easily demonstrated in laboratory settings but, nevertheless, strongly supported by clinicians in the field” (Sharpley, 1987, p. 105).

From an ethical perspective it is very important not to miss Sharpley’s reminder concerning the lack of evidence to support NLP patterns; “. failure to produce data that support a particular theory from controlled studies does relegate that theory to questionable status in terms of professional accountability”. (Sharpley, 1987, p. 105).

The reason this is important from a professional practice point of view is that without such empirical evidence it is unprofessional and unethical to make generalisations concerning what an NLP model can accomplish.

NLP has been in existence since the early 1970’s, however despite being such a popular practice the empirical support for claims made by practitioners seems to be lacking. Even if it is accepted, the nature of Evidence to support NLP as an Anti-Positivist paradigm is different from the evidence required by practitioners from a positivist paradigm, there is a large gap in the peer reviewed literature concerning what NLP is and whether it works. This needs to be addressed. When Leading NLP Practitioners make statements which are of a positivist nature such as; “We can, reliably, get rid of a phobia in 10 minutes every single time” Bandler (2013a), it is then acceptable to critique the practice from a positivist perspective. If such gaps are left unaddressed then there are serious ethical and professional concerns which need to be tackled. This is especially so when such extravagant claims are then mimicked by Master NLP practitioners who make their living though NLP. For example Master NLP Practitioner Carol Richards is quoted by a BBC program investigating the use of NLP in the resolution of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

“The undercover veteran, who does not have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but described suffering some of the symptoms, was told by Carol Richards during therapy that it had taken her just 20 minutes to help one soldier who had seen many of his colleagues killed.” (BBC, 2013).

A further example might illustrate the difficulty of taking the exuberant claims of NLP at face value.

 

An NLP case study suggests that in one instance Myopia was temporarily cured through the use of Milton Model patterns and then more permanently with the use of concepts from what is known in NLP as the 6 step reframe, specifically by using the positive intention behind the limiting behaviour. According to the authors this case study prompted Angart (2005) to develop a treatment regime using the strategy used by John Grinder alongside other strategies (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 133). As is the case with NLP for professional psychologists, so it appears the case is with Angart’s model for professional ophthalmologists, on account of no supporting evidence in the peer reviewed literature.

In a popular TV show Angart was interviewed along with an ophthalmologist and two of his students. Despite anecdotal stories of improved eye sight, the student who actually had his eyes tested using standard procedures and instruments after the course said there was no miraculous improvement. The ophthalmologist commented on the exercises Angart uses saying they have been around for 100 years and there is evidence they assist in delaying the onset of using reading glasses. (BBC4, 2010).

In an extended correspondence with Angart by email, many interesting and relevant points were made by him concerning the testing of NLP patterns and NLP in general;

1)        Current scientific research generally is sloppy and methodologically unsound, citing “The Economist 2014.

2)        There is no commercial advantage to doing research on NLP as it will not increase the number of people attending workshops.

3)        There are general findings in favour of vision training, however no published evidence for Angart’s specific techniques.

4)        The current leaders in NLP are focused on building their own businesses.

5)        There is no desire to actually fund the research into NLP much less do it.

6)        Recently So and So threw in her towel citing that NLP training in the UK is currently conducted by people with between 20 days to 40 years of experience. If you have every Tom, Dick and Harry teaching NLP it is no wonder that NLP has such a bad reputation.

7)        Commercial forces dictate that you need to have something that people want before you can succeed. So if enough therapists want to have NLP validated and are willing to provide funding, then this project will succeed.

8)        Like NLP there is no real commercial benefit in doing research. It is more like a prestige thing. People do not come to the workshop because of the research. They come because they know someone who came before and succeeded. Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising. People are interested in what does it do for me. Lately I have 70, 80, 100 people in the workshops in each city. (Angart, personal communication, 2014).

The general exercises which both the ophthalmologist and Angart refer to are validated in scientific research as the conclusions below demonstrate:

“In response to the question, «How effective is vision therapy in remediating visual deficiencies?,» it is evident from the research presented that there is sufficient scientific support for the efficacy of vision therapy in modifying and improving oculomotor, accommodative, and binocular system disorders, as measured by standardized clinical and laboratory testing methods, in the majority of patients of all ages for whom it is properly undertaken and employed. The American Optometric Association reaffirms its long-standing position that vision therapy is an effective therapeutic modality in the treatment of many physiological and information processing dysfunctions of the vision system. It continues to support quality optometric care, education, and research and will cooperate with all professions dedicated to providing the highest quality of life in which vision plays such an important role. (American Optometric Association, 1985)

Angart was most forthcoming in discussing with me the above points, however what seems difficult to fully comprehend is why testing of these workshops and their claims is not pursued. On the TV show, the presenter made the simple point that Angart’s two students had been to the workshop and that objective testing would follow several months later to establish whether these vision training exercises, within the context of an NLP workshop, produced the spectacular results claimed.

When pressing Angart on this he replied:

“TV people are very fickle so there was never any follow up. Concerning the success rate, I sometimes meet people who came to my workshop 15 years ago and still do not wear their glasses. Success depends on the effort people put into the work and of how severe their problems are. It is like losing weight. Most people know how to lose weight, but it always seems to require too much effort.” (Angart,personal communication,2014).

Angart, like many NLP practitioners continue to run commercial practices on the premise that what they do works and their practices thrive on the basis of word of mouth testimonials and the usual marketing and sales practice. Even though in our email correspondence there was the hope of doing work in Stockholm with the Karolinska Hospital, the idea of robust testing as called for by the positivist paradigm in this case, as in the case for NLP, is not forthcoming, yet. When the claims of NLP are subjected to more objective criteria in order to partial out experimenter effects, the spectacular results seem to disappear for a host of reasons. As Angart points out in his TV interview, belief in a technique is a big variable in its eventual success. This raises the question of whether many of the NLP techniques are a function of a more general placebo where expectation is raised through the promise of spectacular success, cognitively reframing objections, and future pacing the “realities” of what can be accomplished and the rest is a numbers game.

NLP Modelling

Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) make it clear NLP is about modelling excellence and one of the pre-suppositions of NLP modelling is that just as language behaviour is rule governed, so too patterns of excellence in human behaviour are rule governed. What this paper seeks, in discovering what NLP is, is to explore assumptions by Bostic St Clair and Grinder, such as;

“… what we are actually proposing here is that an effective and useful methodology for analysing patterns of excellence in human behaviour is to assume that the behaviour we are observing in an individual is representative of an intact rule governed system and to ask the question; “What set of rules would account for the behaviour we are observing?” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p81).

The title of the first text book of NLP was Neuro-Linguistic Patterning, Volume 1. The Study of the Structure (emphasis added) of Subjective Experience, (Dilts et al., 1980).

The Co-Founder of NLP, John Grinder presently eschews any form of NLP that does not follow his particular format, explicitly saying it is not NLP. Specifically, he says:

“In the absence of guidance, well-intentioned people all over the world, who thought they were doing modelling, did a number of activities which I certainly don’t recognise as modelling in the NLP sense, but it certainly was an expression of their positive intentions to attempt to follow in the footsteps of a couple of strange people

from California who had developed this technology called modelling.” (NLP Academy, 2008).

Burgess makes a compelling case for modelling and discovering the structure of subjective experience using modelling formats of many kinds (Burgess, 2014). Her own modelling methodology has the important criteria of effectiveness and published experience (Figure 4). From her perspective under the heading of “effectiveness” there is a historical agreement that within NLP the output of an NLP modelling process is to enable a third party to acquire the ability of the exemplar. She quotes the mantra of the early days of NLP; “If it is possible to be done by one it is possible to be done by another”. Under the heading of “published evidence” she points to the need of the NLP modeller to provide tangible evidence of the effectiveness of their methodology. In the modelling framework of Burgess there are 4 classes of modelling; Intuitive modelling, Expressive modelling, Metaphoric modelling and Cognitive modelling. The “Real NLP modelling” of John Grinder is just one of 3 types of intuitive modelling. The tension this creates between the Co-Founder of NLP and the rest of the NLP community will be discussed in Chapters 4 and 5, however suffice to say the Burgess and Grinder modelling methodology agree on two important criteria, that the NLP model created needs to demonstrate effectiveness in learning as a result of acquisition and that the model needs to be published and coded in an explicit form in such a way that others have a representation of what to do in order to replicate the skill of the exemplar and so by implication can test the model.

 

Figure 4 Modelling methodology criteria (in Burgess, 2014, p. 106).

 

NLP modelling versus Analytical modelling

The Co-Founder of NLP, John Grinder makes a distinction between what he recognises properly as NLP and analytical modelling. Below is an extended quote from a workshop taken from a public video.

“The one distinction I am requesting is for this unconscious assimilation practise in parallel context strategy to not be lost historically. I think it’s important to find some way of making a distinction between analytic modelling and what I’m calling NLP modelling. The explicit criteria that distinguish the two are suspension of any attempt to understand, an unconscious assimilation without any filtering on the input side of it and using the criteria and being able to replicate the competencies, the skill sets and elicit from clients, in parallel contexts, the same thing that the genius, who’s the source of the patterns, gets. When you’ve used those two criteria for the assimilation and you’ve achieved the criterion of being able to replicate genius’ performance, this is the time to go click over here and switch on all those marvellous conscious, analytic, comparative processes that you’ve worked your whole life to use as a way of refining your internal maps and to seek a vocabulary to codify what you’re already able to do. You now, of course, have two points of reference — the source themselves, the actual genius and your own replication. By triangulating now you are faced with the task of dismissing those portions of the genius’ behaviour which are idiosyncratic and unnecessary to replicate the kind of consequences, results the person gets in the world.” (Inspiritive, 2008. 2:02 — 3:37)

Even if we put aside the fact not one model to date from NLP has passed academic criteria for validity, how an NLP model is created in such a way that it passes as “NLP” is important. A theological comparison is made by Grimley (2007)

“If one wanted to know what the Sermon on the Mount meant and Jesus was in the living room and St. Paul in the kitchen that person would probably talk to Jesus, even though what St. Paul had to say might be very interesting. One thing we forget when we talk about NLP is the people who created it are still alive, and seem to be saying very different things about their creation from the rest of us.” Grimley (2007, pp. 7980).

Even though there are traditionally 3 Co-Founders of NLP, John Grinder who was an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Santa Cruz University seems to stand out. C. Morris, when attending a talk by Frank Pucelik says:

“They set up a Gestalt practice group and it attracted other students and also a linguistics professor called John Grinder. John sat quietly for the first two sessions and then approached Frank and Richard with some observations and questions. Frank says that John was the real genius of the group. Frank and Richard originally pretended that they were aware of all the things John pointed out, but later they invited John to join them and the three of them began working as a close team.” (Morris 2010)

Similarly Grimley notes: “Grinder seemed to be the cohesive glue and if it was not for him NLP would not have come about according to Pucelik.” (Grimley, 2013, p. 12).

Given that Grinder is not only still alive but also very vocal about what NLP is and what it is not, it is necessary to look at what he says.

From the above reference one can understand Grinder sees the explicit distinction is in “Real NLP” there is a:

“suspension of any attempt to understand, an unconscious assimilation without any filtering on the input side of it and using the criteria and being able to replicate the competencies, the skill sets and elicit from clients, in parallel contexts, the same thing that the genius, who’s the source of the patterns, gets.” (Inspiritive, 2008. 2:02 — 3:37)

For Grinder, it is important to demonstrate the competency of knowing how to do a particular skill and achieve the same outcomes as the exemplar, before you turn on the analytical capabilities, generally in the left hemisphere of the brain, so you can begin to code in more explicit terms the skill which you can now perform. Also Grinder is quite explicit the NLP modeller will now have two models; the original exemplar and their own model which can perform the skill at the same level, but with a difference in the texturing of precisely how the performance is achieved. However, if one has learned how to run a start-up business and obtain a multi-million turnover within one year, this is the competency which is claimed will be obtained by learners of NLP after being trained in such a model, nothing more or nothing less. To say as Angart does above with vision training, failure is not a function of the model rather it is a function of the learner; “Most people know how to lose weight, but it always seems to require too much effort” (Angart, personal communication, 2014), is actually a failure in the design of the model. People are different and a part of a good NLP model is to design the training context in such a way that these differences are accounted for in transferring the explicit code of an NLP model to motivated learners.

Unconscious assimilation in NLP modelling

This ability to suspend any attempt to understand, becoming imitative like a child, so one can unconsciously assimilate the exemplar has been challenged by Steve Andreas another very experienced NLP practitioner, who transcribed and edited many of the earliest texts in NLP. In critiquing Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) he says while finding their book interesting and thought provoking a lot of it was difficult to understand and often contradictory in both form and content (Andreas 2003).

When talking about modelling, Andreas points to one of the apparent contradictions. He notes Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) write:

“Many students of NLP, especially in their initial enthusiasm for the effective use of the patterning, seize upon an epistemologically peculiar (and impossible) goal. The task they set about to accomplish is to free themselves from all perceptual filters, often stating that thereby they will appreciate the world without distortion. Such a naive project is surely incoherent.” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 247 in Andreas, 2003).

For Andreas, to suspend one’s perceptual filters not just at a linguistic level but also at a sensory level is unlikely as even the unconscious mind has perceptual and analytical categories. Andreas cites an article by Grinder where he talks about the distinction between Grinder’s “real NLP modelling” and analytical modelling and then critiques:

“ ‘This difference resides principally in the degree of imposition of the perceptual and analytic categories of the modeller during the modelling process—in the case of NLP modelling, the imposition is minimal; in the case of Analytic modelling, the imposition is maximal.’ (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2005, p. 3).

Firstly, this statement seems to assume that the unconscious does not have ‘perceptual and analytic categories.’ I think there is ample evidence from hypnosis and experimentation that the unconscious does have these, and they can be at least as biased as conscious ones. So even the ‘minimal imposition’ of the modeler in unconscious acquisition will be substantial.

Secondly, any relevant imposition will be evident and discernible in the outcome: the behavior of the person acquiring the model will be different from the behavior of the original expert model.

Thirdly, any ‘imposition’ can be either harmful or beneficial. If the modeler degrades what the expert model does (either through conscious or unconscious imposition), the person acquiring the model will not be able to produce results that are as effective as the behavior of the original expert model.” (Andreas, 2006).

Continuing to note contradictions within real NLP, Andreas goes on to critique the traditional first model of NLP, the Meta Model, challenging whether by the criteria of Bostic St Clair and Grinder it is in fact a model at all:

 

“The meta model is described as ‘the first model in NLP’ (Bostic St Clair & Grinder 2001, pp. 142-163), so it presumably satisfies their criteria for a new model. However, they repeatedly describe it as an application and adaptation of a model already existing in transformational grammar: The meta model can, for example, be usefully understood to be an application of the modelling of linguistic patterning inspired by Transformational Grammar (Bostic St Clair & Grinder 2001, p. 51). There already existed an explicit code for capturing verbal patterning: the descriptive and formal vocabulary for syntactic studies used by professional linguists (Bostic St Clair & Grinder 2001, p. 146)” (Andreas, 2006).

Not only does this research seek to understand the difficulties and tensions noted above concerning the key methodology of NLP, but it also seeks to understand how it can be that with testing being a key element of a successful NLP model, none of the clinical NLP models developed, nor any of the other models developed for other contexts have been supported in the appropriate academic journals. Testing is a part of NLP modelling and is clearly stated in the 2nd part of Grinders talk on “real NLP modelling” as well as in the Burgess model for NLP modelling (Burgess, 2014). Grinder continues:

“This is a complex process called ‘coding’. There must be a thousand effective codes, none of them true, all of them at variance with the reality, but your task is to develop those codes to the point where you can then pass the code to someone who’s interested in acquiring those patterns, those competencies, and you watch if there is a convergence within a reasonable amount of time of the performance of the particular person who’s been presented with the code, a convergence with the actual performance of the genius, you know you’ve got a code that’s worth considering. Otherwise, you go back to the drawing board.

The second part of NLP is application. There would be little point to the modelling other than self-indulgence, self-improvement on the part of the modeller, which is always worth considering, unless there was an actual coding and transfer of the patterns to that part of the public interested in having those skill sets. The sole, unique justification, in my opinion, for all application of NLP patterns is the creation of choice. That is the measure of the effectiveness of the application.” (Inspiritive, 3:40 — 4:51, 2008).

NLP Ontology and Epistemology

Ontology deals with the fundamental nature of existence and the very essence of the phenomena under investigation. It is concerned with the question, “what is there?” Epistemology deals with the grounds of our knowledge and is concerned with the questions «What do you know?” and “How do you know it?” A definition of NLP which allows me to move forward as both a professional psychologist and an NLP practitioner will need to account for both these concepts. Dilts and Delozier (2000, p. 363) describe Epistemology as that upon which we set our reasoning, the fundamental system of distinctions and assumptions upon which one bases and generates all other knowledge. They describe both the ontology and epistemology of NLP in unequivocal terms:

“NLP is both a way of being (an ‘ontology’) and a way of knowing (an ‘epistemology’). At the core of NLP as an ontology is a set of fundamental presuppositions about communication, choice, and intentions behind our behaviours. At the heart of NLP as an epistemology is modelling — an ongoing process for expanding and enriching your map of the world through awareness, flexibility, multiple perspectives, and personal congruence. Both the ontology and epistemology of NLP begin with the presupposition that “the map is not the territory” — each of us actualises possibilities in the world through the models or maps we create in our minds. NLP teaches that no one map is any more true or real than any other, but that your ability to be effective and evolve beyond where you are now is a function of having a map which permits the greatest possible range of choices. In NLP terms then a master is not someone who already knows the answers and has the solutions, but rather is someone who is able to ask worthwhile questions and direct the process of learning, finding solutions and creating new maps of the world that lead to useful new answers and possibilities” (Dilts & Delozier, 2000, p. 364).

NLP Presuppositions

Ontology and Epistemology are intertwined and are often so part of our everyday existence we do not even realise we have fundamental beliefs which support the majority of our reasoning. Bateson tells us:

“In the natural history of the living human being, ontology and epistemology cannot be separated. His (commonly unconscious) beliefs about what sort of world it is will determine how he sees it and acts within it, and his ways of perceiving and acting will determine his beliefs about its nature. The living man is thus bound within a net of epistemological and ontological premises which — regardless of ultimate truth or falsity become partially self-validating for him” (Bateson 1972 p314)

Tosey and Mathison (2009) when talking of the NLP presuppositions talk of how we take it for granted things fall down rather than up. They suggest in their chapter in answering their own question that the NLP presuppositions reflect the principles of first order cybernetics and being grounded in such, possibly offer a stronger theoretical foundation than is found in many other approaches to people development.

Mind and Body as a system

The way in which NLP sees the mind and body working systemically can be deduced somewhat by listening to how Bostic St Clair and Grinder position the NLP presuppositions within NLP. They say they are: “a pedagogical device to assist people new to the adventure called NLP in making the required transitions in their thinking to the new forms of perception and thought implicit in the technology” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 202).

Elsewhere when talking about the NLP presuppositions the Co-Founders sometimes call them ‘organizing assumptions’, (Bandler & Grinder, 1979, p. 137). However, what does not change is the purpose, which is that there are several organizing assumptions which NLP practitioners use to put themselves into a cognitive, emotional and physiological state which is useful to operate in and from

Other writers likewise point to the attitudinal heart of NLP. Linder-Pelz tell us she aims to reduce NLP coaching “to basics and principles rather than tools” (2010, p. 53). From a systemic point of view these basics and principles are of a different logical type and neurological level compared to the tools which are generated as a function of such principles. Hall makes a similar point and talks of the NLP presuppositions as devises to “suggest the kind of attitude or a meta-state frame that transforms us so that our practice of NLP moves to a higher level of mastery” (Hall & Bodenhamer, 2003, p. 40). Also as already mentioned the Co Founder of NLP, Richard Bandler draws our attention to “It is not a set of techniques it is an attitude.” (Bandler, 1985, p. 155).

Tosey and Mathison say that there is no definitive list of NLP presuppositions and that the number varies among training manuals. However they offer a list with sources, which is a translation from the German (Walker, 1996, p. 111):

“Every behaviour is potentially communication (Bateson, Perls, Satir, Erickson).

Mind and body are part of the same cybernetic system (Bateson, Perls, Satir, Erickson).

People have all the resources they need to make changes (Perls, Satir, Erickson).

People orientate themselves by their internal maps, their model of the world and not to the world itself (Korzybski).

The map is not the territory (Korzybski).

People make the best choices that present themselves to them (Satir).

Choice is better than no choice (Satir).

Every behaviour is generated by a positive intention (Satir).

The meaning of a communication is the response it elicits, not the intention of the communicator (Erickson).

Resistance is a message about the communicator (or therapist) (Erickson).

If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different (Erickson).

There is no failure, only feedback (Erickson).

The most flexible variable controls the system (Ashby’s law of requisite variety). Everything that a human being can do can be modelled (Bandler and Grinder).”

(Tosey & Mathison, 2009, pp. 98-99)

As Dilts and DeLozier (2000) point out NLP starts with the Presupposition “The map is not the territory” from Korzybski or the fuller representation:

“A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. … If we reflect upon our languages, we find that at best they must be considered only as maps. A word is not the object it represents; and languages exhibit also this peculiar self-reflexiveness, that we can analyse languages by linguistic means. This self-reflexiveness of languages introduces serious complexities, which can only be solved by the theory of multi-ordinality. The disregard of these complexities is tragically disastrous in daily life and science.” (Korzybski, 1994, p. 58).

In order to fully appreciate the nature of Mind and Body as a system within NLP it will be useful to revisit the NLP model of communication, (figure 1)

The NLP Model of communication

The NLP model of human communication assumes 2 levels of information processing or meaning making. Initially we take in sensory information through our sensory systems. These are not only receptors, but active processing systems. Thus we can receive and process visual information in a multitude of ways as we can also for the Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory systems. As soon as we go through this process we engage in a transformative process, we change something out there to something different in here and this is represented within our sensory systems. So between what is presented to us by the outside world and is received by our sensory receptors and our associated cortical structures are a series of neurological structures which transform that information. Once this process is complete there is a tendency to see “out there” in terms of what we have previously created “in here”. Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) provide the example of a child sorting out a pile of toys to clarify the distinction between first access, (FA) neurological transforms and linguistic transforms (F2). They say that when the toys are grouped on perceived similarity of size, shape or colour then this is representative of partitions based upon neurological transforms and calls these natural partitions /classifications. What is emphasised is this partitioning is not a function of the actual properties of the toys, but rather a function of how they are perceived subsequent to filtering through FA neurological transforms: the F1 transforms from receptor to FA.

An example of a linguistic transform which is regarded as an artificial partition / classification would be if the child sorted the pile of toys by price or manufacturer. This is regarded as artificial because the sorting would not be on the basis of sensory perception but rather categories which are developed and imposed upon those objects independent of any inherent perceived features of those objects. Thus artificial partitions and the resultant artificial sets are formed by set membership rules defined on criteria not necessarily available as a result of the neurological transforms. They are top-down distinctions.

In NLP therefore there are two sets of transforms which are of different logical types.

Korzybski refers to FA as “the unspeakable level” or the “objective level” according to Hall (Hall 2011):

“It is of utmost importance for the present A-system not to confuse the verbal level with the objective level, the more so that all our immediate and direct mental and emotional reactions, and all s-r states and reflexes belong to the unspeakable objective levels as these are not words” (Korzybski, 1994, p. 34).

According to the NLP communication model, a breakdown in communication occurs when we do get these two levels confused, thus the primacy of “The Map is not the Territory”.

In terms of the systemic relationship between the mind and the body, it was mentioned above that the conscious and typically linguistic representation of an experience was coded with reference to the R operator (Grinder et al., 1977, p. 21) however often what is communicated by an individual in totality to another person is much more than that. Grimley (2013) explains the solution to this communication difficulty:

“An R operator refers to the part of the four tuple at any point in time which has a greater signal level and consequently breaks through into consciousness. Difficulty in communication — and therefore life — occurs when the recipient picks up on only one part of the communication (four tuple), and takes this to represent the whole communication. If my wife says to me that was a great meal darling, as she gives half of it to the dog, I might delete the auditory message and focus on the visual message, and get upset. The answer in the early NLP days was to inculcate the C operator. This means that every part of a four tuple in communication at any point in time represents exactly the same message. In this case it does not matter which signal is picked up by the R operator of the recipient as all representations are communicating the same message. The same principle applies to the communicator. Often they may be aware of only one part of the message they are communicating (R operator) and the recipient picks up on the other parts of the communication of which they have no consciousness at all. Their belief then is something like, ‘He has no clue as to what I am trying to say’. Thus the NLP presupposition: the meaning of your communication is the response you receive.” Grimley (2013, p. 115).

The NLP communication model borrows from transformational grammar and suggests at each of the 2 levels of transformation material is deleted, distorted and generalised.

As humans do not have access to the outside world the question of truth is moot, what is more important is the quality of communication to ourselves and to other people in the context of utility and the achievement of what is important to us and them.

This proposition is eloquently expressed by Dilts et al.:

 

“Neuro-Linguistic Programming is the discipline whose domain is the structure of subjective experience. It makes no commitment to theory, but rather has the status of a model — a set of procedures whose usefulness not truthfulness is to be the measure of its worth” (Dilts et al., 1980, Forward to Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Para 2)

Often within NLP a similar sentiment is expressed by referencing Einstein:

“I see on the one side the totality of sense experiences and, on the other, the totality of the concepts and propositions that are laid down in books. The relations between the concepts and propositions among themselves are of a logical nature, and the business of logical thinking is strictly limited to the achievement of the connection between concepts and propositions among themselves according to firmly laid down rules, which are the concern of logic. The concepts and propositions get “meaning” or “content,” only through their connection with sense experience. The connection of the latter with the former is purely intuitive not itself of a logical nature. The degree of certainty with which this connection, or intuitive linkage, can be undertaken, and nothing else differentiates empty fantasy from scientific truth. (Schilpp, 1979, p. 11).

In the NLP model of communication then, people are continually communicating simultaneously at two levels. When these two levels are synchronised and working together effectively, there is an ecological and congruent communication, however, as Argyris (1964) noted in the context of organisational life, when the two levels are not synchronised there is an incongruent and un-ecological communication, with the recipient picking up on the communication from FA and weighting this more heavily than the more conscious communication from F2. What often prevents change within people and teams to a more ecological and useful operational model is nicely summarised by Bateson who talks about the tendency of humans to restrict the choices available to them:

“Now the major difference between people and Von Neumann’s robots lies in the fact of learning. To be infinitely intelligent implies to be infinitely flexible and the players in the dance I have described could never experience the pain which human beings would feel if continually proven wrong when they had been wise. Human beings have a commitment to the solutions which they discover and it is this psychological commitment that makes it possible for them to be hurt in the way members of a schizophrenic family are hurt”. (Bateson, 1972, pp. 241-242).

Bateson in his double bind theory of schizophrenia suggested the context which allows schizophrenia to be expressed and developed is when there is an important relationship and a member within that relationship is receiving two orders of messages and is then denied by the sender of those messages the opportunity to comment on the nature of the distinction between those two messages. Further the member is prohibited also from leaving the relationship as well. Essentially in such a relationship what is being attenuated is the individual’s capability to make accurate distinctions between the two orders of communication, initially from other people, but then eventually within themselves. This state of affairs eventually renders the individual incapable of any choice other than to continue as they are.

NLP claims to have developed patterns which can assist individuals and groups of individuals communicate more effectively both within themselves and with each other. This allows people to become more flexible in their existence, providing them with more choice to engage in useful behaviours and language when appropriate.

The Ghost in the Machine

If one of the accepted definitions of NLP is “The study of the structure of subjective experience” (Dilts et al., 1980), then one would expect NLP to describe both intelligence and effectiveness through procedural knowledge rather than propositional knowledge, which is simply descriptive and declarative. With one of the NLP presuppositions being the mind and body is a part of the same system, indeed NLP comes down on the side of Ryle (1990) in the discussion concerning Cartesian dualism. One of the main criticisms of propositional knowledge, and psychology from the NLP perspective is that it is effectively a “PsychoTheology”. Bandler and Grinder (1979) explain:

“There’s also a group of people who are theoreticians. They will tell you what their beliefs are about the true nature of humans and what the completely “transparent, adjusted, genuine, authentic,” etc. person should be, but they don’t show you how to do anything” (Bandler & Grinder, 1979, p. 5).

Ryle argues that there can be no disembodied intellectual process behind an intelligent action otherwise one gets caught in an infinite regress. He points out “efficient practice precedes the theory” (Ryle 1990) or, as mentioned above, Knowledge-how is a concept logically prior to knowledge-that. Concerning the infinite regress Ryle states:

“The consideration of propositions is itself an operation, the execution of which can be more or less intelligent, less or more stupid. But if, for any operation to be intelligently executed, a prior theoretical operation had first to be performed, and performed intelligently, it would be logically impossible for anyone ever to break into the circle” (Ryle, 1990, p. 31).

For Ryle intelligence is different from blind habit or as in the lower animals S-R responses, it is rather dispositional, however that disposition is not perceived through positing a ghost in the machine, but rather through the timely execution of certain behaviours. He explains:

“In a word he conducts his operations efficiently and to operate efficiently is not to perform two operations. It is to perform one operation in a certain manner or with a

certain style or procedure, and the description of this modus operandi has to be in terms of such semi-dispositional, semi-episodic epithets as “alert”, “careful”, “critical”, “ingenious”, “logical”, etc.” (Ryle, 1990, p. 48).

Much is made within NLP of its ideographic methodology, emphasising subjective accounts and different meanings. The assumption often is that individual practice cannot be generalised to other instances. Gray et al. put the NLP case for NLP in the context of psychotherapy:

“As to whether NLP “works” or not, we need to consider what we are testing. NLP techniques are open to many confounding variables as are many — if not all — psychotherapies. They appear in the performance of the practitioner, the “readiness” of the client, the relevance of the treatment to the problem under consideration, (inclusion and exclusion criteria), and the appropriateness of the environment. It is challenging to provide consistency across interventions and therefore difficult to “prove” that NLP works.” (Gray et al. 2013, p. 212).

Ryle however makes the case that such variability should not prevent the exercise of intelligent and effective practice, indeed the litmus test of efficacy is the ability to deal intelligently with such variability.

“… knowing how then, is a disposition, but not a single-track disposition like a reflex or a habit. Its exercises are observations of rules or canons or applications of criteria, but they are not tandem operations of theoretically avowing maxims and then putting them into practice. Further, its exercises can be overt or covert, deeds performed or deeds imagined, words spoken aloud or words heard in one’s head, pictures painted on a canvas or pictures in the mind’s eye. Or they can be amalgamations of the two.” (Ryle, 1990, p. 46).

This “knowing how” within the real NLP modelling school is assigned to the unconscious mind, the conscious mind just being too slow and not sufficiently effective to deal with such decisions. One of my interviewees (5) makes this quite clear in the transcript of our discussion:

“So a part of the way that New Code is used and applied in terms of self-application for example or the assisting of other people in the change process is to create consciously setting frames in order to engage the unconscious to generate the appropriate resources for the context now when working with people. What sort of techniques to use, I don’t think in terms of techniques now what happens is I simply put my attention to the other person and my unconscious mind selects the moves to make at that time. So really the answer to the whole idea, the frame is about the person’s personal organisation of the relation between their conscious and unconscious mind and having the background in terms of exposure to multiple patterns and multiple descriptions of patterns so that they have a repertoire to be able to generate from the unconscious mind the appropriate pattern and the appropriate combination of patterns for the context.” (Interviewee 5 1:22:21 — 1:23:26)

Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001, pp. 198-9) sum up the elements of every NLP pattern as a function of five strategies. Each of these strategies have nothing more than the manipulation of these unconscious representations as their core objective:

  1. The Meta Model, designed to verbally challenge the mapping between first access to the outside world through our senses (F1), and our linguistically mediated mental maps (F2).
  2. Operations defined over representational systems and their sub-modalities, for example the Swish technique.
  3. Reframing patterns, where representations are placed in a different cognitive structure.
  4. Anchoring, where undifferentiated groupings of representations are brought together for purposes of integration.
  5. The Milton Model, where representations at F1 (first access through our senses to the world) are shifted by using F2 (linguistically mediated maps) patterning without the need to map those representations into the client’s conscious understanding.

Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001, pp. 198-9).

  1. In an email to me John Grinder made the following comment concerning number 4).

“…they are not undifferentiated, on the contrary, they are rather precisely differentiated (far more so that a linguistic label would offer), but rather are unnamed, unlabelled, managed by the non-dominant hemisphere without (in fact, ideally better without) any left hemisphere intrusions — like labelling. This is, of course, yet another example of the essential role and power of both hemispheric functions and the crucial importance of calibration as the mother of all skills sets in the application of NLP” (J. Grinder, personal communication, 2014).

However the appropriate moves are made within a behavioural context, NLP still has yet to demonstrate within the academic literature that effective results have been obtained as a result of those moves. As Gray et al. (2013) point out, when applying NLP in a clinical context confounding variables are a challenge for all practices in the social sciences, however, many of those practices manage to produce data which demonstrate a particular technique for a particular problem will generally work. If the sole justification for all application of NLP patterns, including self-application, is the creation of choice then one would expect far superior results for NLP patterns in complex contexts with confounding variables. To date this is not the case and as mentioned in chapter one it was this paradox which in part was the motivation for this research.

EMDR an NLP exemplar

Eye Movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an example of how an NLP pattern can be taken and not only be accepted by National guidance organisations but also fulfil the potential of NLP to work quickly when compared with other treatments, despite all the confounding variables in place within PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Dr Roger Kingerlee, principle clinical psychologist of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS trust in the United Kingdom says:

“Beyond the numerous RCTs in its favour, EMDR has striking and novel features that stand out clinically. For one thing, actual trauma processing can, at best, be extraordinarily fast in EMDR. I personally have had various cases in which the traumatic memory was resolved in 10 minutes or under of actual processing — to the astonishment of all concerned. In such cases, it seems as if a bubble of consciousness, temporarily problematic due to trauma and often with significant somatic links to the memory, has been burst. This type of experience is not so unusual: I estimate that I hear a jaw-dropping EMDR story of rapid and/or deep symptomatic relief at least once a month.” (Kingerlee, 2014).

Shapiro who is credited with discovering the pattern worked with Grinder at Grinder, Delozier and Associates, Inc, in the early 1980’s. As an employee she attended workshops on various forms of phobia cure or patterning in the case of trauma given by Grinder and his trainers. Grinder explains, from his perspective, how he passed on the patterning to Shapiro:

«Francine Shapiro worked (administration and sales) in the Santa Cruz offices of Grinder, Delozier and Associates in the 80’s. She approached me one day and told me that a friend of hers from New York has been raped and she wanted to help her through this trauma and ensure that she exited cleanly and without scars. I told Francine to put her in resourceful state (anchored) and have her systematically move her eyes through the various accessing positions typical of the major representational systems (with the exception of the kinesthetic access). I suggested that she see, hear (but not feel) the events in question — obviously the kinesthetics were to remain resourceful (the anchored state) while she processed the event. She later reported that the work had been successful. You may imagine my surprise when I later learned that she had apparently turned these suggestions into a pattern presented in an extended training, with no reference to source, with a copyright and a rather rigorous set of documents essentially restricting anyone trained in this from offering it to the rest of the world.» (Fredricks, 2014; Grimley, 2014).

Shapiro went on to develop a model based upon dual attention (F1 and F2) put in the hard work to test this model and publish her findings in the context of PTSD and now NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) and National Guidance Organisations around the world recommend this pattern to treat PTSD. In emailing to confirm this account with Shapiro on 12th March 2014, I received no reply.

After writing so enthusiastically about NLP and publishing such words when talking about NLP as; “Since this powerful technology allows you to practically read minds” (Shapiro 1985, p43) and “We all want to communicate our ideas and be really received. Neuro-Linguistic Programming offers the skills and techniques. (Shapiro 1985, p43) and given one of the single original contributions to change work of NLP is an emphasis on eye movement (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001) it would seem strange that when walking in a park in 1987 none of the NLP trainings were related to Shapiro’s Eureka moment and the development of EMDR. However such denial of association with NLP when successful is a theme which I seek to explore in this research.

Despite such success EMDR is warned against the possibility of falling into the commercially attractive NLP type of Martini Solutions (any time, any place, anywhere) by Gurnani (2014);

“PTSD is the only psychological problem for which NICE recommends EMDR. Therefore to justify its extended application, which can’t be bad for business, EMDR practitioners such as Robin Logie (‘EMDR — more than a therapy for PTSD’, July 2014) must look for early trauma or negative life experiences as ‘causal factors in many psychological disorders’. McNally (2009) warns against an ever broadening definition of trauma, which he calls a ‘conceptual bracket creep’, by which ordinary stressors are deemed to be traumatic. Consequently, he points out that according to some surveys nearly everyone in the USA would count as a trauma survivor today.” Gurnani (2014, p. 638).

Besides mission creep into Martini Solutions Gurnani also notices some anomalies in the EMDR account;

“First, it will be recalled that the role of eye movements was discovered serendipitously whilst Francine Shapiro, its progenitor was walking in a park in May 1987. She noticed that disturbing thoughts were no longer troublesome and she related this to eye movements that had occurred concurrently (Shapiro, 1995). Curious therefore that no further reports have emerged of such unassisted recovery from disturbing thoughts whilst walking, even though the latter alone, without eye movements could constitute a form of bilateral stimulation presumed necessary for recovery. Second, in its early days, a unique selling point of EMDR was its brevity. Spector and Huthwaite (1993) reported successful treatment of a road traffic accident survivor with PTSD in one session of EMDR. Likewise Hassard (1993) reports successful EMDR treatment of a client with body-image problems in one session. So the question remains as to why the literature has not been replete with further accounts of such rapid successful outcomes with EMDR, especially considering the current cash-strapped state of the NHS.” (Gurnani, 2014, p. 638).

NLP as Pseudo-Science

NLP over 40 years has never developed an undergraduate degree in the discipline. As a result of this it can be argued it is poorly defined, poorly operationalized and the claims made for the efficacy of the patterns developed are not substantiated in the academic literature. NLP makes the claim to be useful however Professor Sturt as mentioned in Chapter 1 makes a point; . the very fact that there is no agreed definition of NLP indicates how little evidence we have of its benefits.” (Sturt, 2013).

Sharpley (1984) in reviewing the NLP idea of Preferred Representational System (PRS) concluded;

“At present, there is no consistent support for the use of the predicate-matching process of NLP in either contrived counseling situations or actual clinical realities. Of most importance, there are no data reported to date to show that NLP can help clients change.” (Sharpley 1984).

Refutation from Einspruch and Forman in 1985 met with a further rebuttal in 1987 by Sharpley without reply. The most recent rebuttal of the Sharpley critiques come from Gray et al. (2013). Firstly the authors say Sharpley relied too much upon secondary sources which made false assumptions. They draw upon parallel occurrences in psychology, for instance the misrepresentation of the famous conditioning experiment in 1920 conducted by Watson and Rayner in introductory psychology texts, (Harris 1979). The authors point to the assumption by Sharpley that PRS is a theoretical construct at the heart of NLP when it is not. They further suggest by defining such concepts as “rapport” themselves within the research rather than according to how it is experienced within NLP they further distance themselves from that which they seek to research. Concerning Eye Accessing Cues (EAC) the authors point again to a misunderstanding by Sharpley as it is assumed EAC’s are pre-determined constructs that relate directly to PRS. They point out this is not so and they are contextual and give an indication moment to moment of how a person is bringing to consciousness portions of unconsciously stored information. This is supported by research conducted by Robert Dilts in 1977 and published in 1983 which found in favour of PRS and EAC association and is not referenced by any of the critics of NLP during the 1980’s.

Dilts discovered that people have specific strategies for accessing sensory cognitions. For instance, in order to hear the engine of a car a participant may first experience the feeling of being in their car and then see themselves operate the ignition key before they could hear the sound of the engine of the car, which is what the experimental question required of them. It is this subjective differentiation of accessing the required sensory mode which makes this type of research very difficult.

Finally Gray et al. (2013) point to the inadequate training of researchers and thereby introducing inaccurately defined variables. In this sense they clearly disagree with Sharpley who says;

 

“The basic tenets of NLP have failed to be reliably verified in almost 86% of the controlled studies, and it is difficult to accept that none of these 38 studies (i.e,, those with nonsupportive, partial, or mixed results) were performed by persons with a satisfactory understanding of NLP (or at least enough of an understanding to perform the various procedures that were evaluated). (Sharpley, 1987, p. 105).

Elsewhere in his 1987 critique Sharpley does concede;

“If it is the case that NLP can be demonstrated as effective only by those who have undergone the «extensive training» that Einspruch and Forman (1985, p. 594) referred to as necessary for effective use of NLP, then NLP may well be a successful (if elusive) procedure. On the other hand, it may be an example of «E bias» in the evaluation of a specific psychotherapeutic environment, in which case it may be the conviction level of the counselor and not the specific treatment or approach to counseling used by the counselor that is the effective variable. (Sharpley, 1987, p. 104).

Many of these criticisms have been addressed above, pointing out that at the time Sharpley was reviewing NLP based upon the extant literature at the time and also drawing readers attention to contradictions within the NLP community at the time, which still exist today, making research into NLP difficult on account of definitional ambiguity.

The first academic review of NLP says NLP techniques have been “over-sold and undertested.” Tosey and Mathison (2009, p. 182). The authors go on to tell us NLP is at a crossroads. Despite being a commercially successful system of practical knowledge for 40 years it is in danger of entropy with its knowledge base being re-cycled more than being extended.

The resolution in the minds of Tosey & Mathison is that NLP is still a system of belief in which Guru like figures hold out the promise of changing lives possibly expecting allegiance to their authority (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 174). Elsewhere NLP is likened to Dianetics which also “worked” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 126) and popular self-help movements like Norman Vincent Peals “The Power of Positive Thinking” (1952) and Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people” (1953) (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 39). NLP continues to attract the label of pseudo-science even in the popular channels of communication with the Wikipedia entry describing and referencing NLP as a discredited pseudo-science: “The balance of scientific evidence reveals NLP to be a largely discredited pseudoscience. Scientific reviews show it contains numerous factual errors, and fails to produce the results asserted by proponents” (Wikipedia, 2013).

Others liken NLP to Cargo Cult science:

“The physicist Richard Feynman coined the term ‘cargo cult science’ (Feynman, 1985). In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people who, during war-time, observed lots of airplanes carrying goods. They wanted the planes to continue to land after the war ended and so set about reconstructing airports with fires alongside the runway, a wooden hut for the air traffic controller to sit in and antennas made of bamboo. Despite the form of the airport being right, the planes didn’t land! Feynman adapted the idiom of ‘cargo cult science’ to refer to research that follows all the form and pretence of scientific investigation yet is missing something essential.”(RoderiqueDavies, 2009, p. 62).

Roderique Davies suggests the use of NLP as an umbrella term only adds to the confusion and conveniently excuses its proponents from having to substantiate its claims. He Concludes:

 

“To adapt this term one more time, (Cargo Cult Science), NLP masquerades as a legitimate form of psychotherapy, makes unsubstantiated claims about how humans think and behave, purports to encourage research in a vain attempt to gain credibility, yet fails to provide evidence that it actually works. Neuro-linguistic programming is cargo cult psychology.” (RoderiqueDavies, 2009, p. 62).

In this research it is therefore important to understand the NLP answer to these criticisms by talking with experienced NLP practitioners, if I am to understand more fully the answer to the question; “What is NLP?”

The Bandler Effect

This research asks the question “what is NLP?” In order to triangulate sources of data and rather than relying on only sources from within the NLP community, one data source drawn upon has been a current live LinkedIn psychology discussion forum which has discussed the Authenticity of NLP between May and October of 2012. This discussion ran to 44,000 words, (Munro, 2013). One theme which emerged from this discussion was the behaviour and reputation of one of the Co-Founders of NLP in particular. In terms of the Halo and Horns effect, (a form of cognitive bias where we make either positive or negative attribution across the whole domain on the basis of a particular instance), this reputation certainly seems to generate a horns bias against NLP. However in seeking to understand “What is NLP?” understanding people’s perception of NLP is one of the keys. Tosey and Mathison (2009) warn against ad hominem arguments, however, in this case not only are arrogance and egotism regarded as characteristics which assisted in the formation of NLP by Grinder, (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, pp. 121-122) but on a more general level, NLP does not seem to distance itself sufficiently from them. This is especially so in its claims about the efficacy of NLP in the absence of published findings. George Berkeley’s dictum, “to be is to be perceived” is quite apt as his philosophy of immaterialism, like NLP, also insisted that reality is constructed within our minds. A blog which is entitled, NLP — training’s shameful, fraudulent cult, starts off:

“Know this guy? He was arrested for First Degree murder in 1988 and charged with the murder of his bookkeeper, who was also running a call-girl operation on the side. He had plunged headlong into cocaine addiction, and only he and his drug dealer (who was also the victim’s boyfriend) were present in her house when the shooting took place. He’s one of the founders of NLP — a crackpot of the first degree — Richard Bandler.” (Clark, 2006)

Writing publically again in 2012 Clark talks of NLP in vitriolic style talking about it as no longer plausible. The opening again refers to the incidents concerning Bandler’s past:

“…Richard Bandler, a cocaine addict, was arrested for murdering a prostitute by shooting her in the head, the girlfriend of his drug dealer. Despite the presence of her blood on Bandler’s shirt both he and the drug dealer admitted being in the room when she died but as each accused each other, both were acquitted. No one has been charged with the crime. He’s one of the founders of NLP. These founders and their heirs have been involved in incredibly bitter disputes about the so-called theory and ownership of the NLP brand.” (Clark, 2012).

This story is replicated again by Michael Hall a current NLP leader:

“. 1986: Bandler provided his own challenges to the field due to actions in his personal life. In the middle of the 1980s he was arrested, charged with an account of murder, and spent 120 days in county jail. That certainly didn’t do the field of NLP any good! Steve Andreas lead a defence fund for Richard and personally provided $60,000 to Richard for the trial. What happened? A young woman, Corine Christensen, was shot by a .357 magnum revolver, the only other persons in the house was Richard Bandler and James Marino, an admitted cocaine dealer and her boyfriend. Though it was Marino’s house and although they had been fighting, the district attorney decided that the evidence pointed to Richard than the drug dealer! Anyway this lasted from 1986 to 1988 and ended in the grand jury unable to decide, so the charge was dropped. But, of course, not without the trial hitting the headlines in many papers and journals– including a scathing review in Mother Jones magazine that you can still find on various websites.” (Hall, 2013a).

The bitter disputes referred to by Clark in his blog are explicated further by Michael Hall who was one of the John Does cited in a Law suit brought against the NLP community he writes:

“…It began in July of 1996 when Richard Bandler filed a $90,000,000 lawsuit as a civil action against John Grinder, Carmen Bostic St. Clair, Christina Hall, Steve and Connirae Andreas, and Lara Ewing and 200 John and Jane Does. In that lawsuit Bandler claimed exclusive ownership of the Society of NLP. Copies of the lawsuit are still available on various websites.” (Hall, 2013b)

Hall provides an interesting insight into the financial arrangements at this time. He writes:

“. This first affected me in early 1997. Having just completed another NLP Practitioner Course with 20 people, I sent a check for $4,000 ($200 per participant was the arrangement) and the certificates to the “First Institute of NLP” in San Francisco for Richard Bandler to sign. As an NLP trainer, this was the arrangement that I had been following for seven years, but this time Brahm von Huene returned the check and certificates and sent a new contract for me to sign. In the contract, I crossed out the section that said that anything I developed based on NLP would be considered the intellectual property of Bandler and the section that if he decided to sue me, I would assume responsibility for all legal bills. Of course, I would not sign that! I initialled both places, and then sent the money, certificates and the contract back. Shortly thereafter all was returned again with the statement that I was no longer an NLP trainer under the Society of NLP.” (Hall, 2013b).

Hall Started up Neuro-Semantics at this time with Dr Bob Bodenhamer and tells us also of how Bandler chased Tony Robbins away from the NLP brand through a similar law suit with Tony Robbins using a similar strategy and also re-branding what he did to ensure separation from NLP at an earlier time in 1988/1989. Referring to the Tony Robbins lawsuit after Bandler’s arrest for murder Hall says:

“…Another Bandler lawsuit occurred sometime later (1988 or 1989) against Tony Robbins. That one was against Robbins because he was not certifying people as NLP Practitioners or Master Practitioners through The Society of NLP. Settled in 1990 out of court with Tony promising to “certify people through the Society and pay his $200 for each one certified in NLP,” he promptly stopped training “NLP” as such and invented a new name, NAC– Neural Associative Conditioning.” (Hall, 2013a).

Finally Hall (2013a) conjectures it is possible these events led to the definitional problems NLP now has many years later he cites Gordon 1995:16-18; “While there was some degree of tracking each other’s innovations, the overall effect of the breakup of the original group was a diversification in the trajectories of NLP with a resulting blurring of its definition.” (Gordon 1995, p. 16 in Hall, 2013a)

And again:

 

There is no organization with the authority to pass judgment on the quality of the diverse NLP training programs currently being offered, or even to define what is, and what is not, NLP.” (Gordon, 1995, p. 17) .. For the field of NLP has no single voice, no universally agreed upon definition, no quality control over what is offered under its name. An outside entering these waters may encounter anything from the sublime to the ridiculous.” (Gordon, 1995, p. 18 in Hall, 2013a)

Tosey and Mathison tell us; “NLP’s body sometimes seems so fractured that it is difficult to imagine it recovering from its self-inflicted injuries. Due especially, we suspect, to the effects of litigation about intellectual property rights in NLP something appears to have died.” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 191).

From a scientific perspective Bandler continues to make statements which seem strange. On a BBC radio program recently he commented on the work of Allan, Bourne, Bouch and Churches et al. (2012) who researched the use of NLP in education.

Allan et al. (2012) conducted a typical piece of research such as other competent psychologists might conduct. Allan et al. took as a base measure, results of a mathematics test for three different groups: 1) No training, 2) Innovative maths pedagogy and 3) NLP and innovative maths pedagogy. His team then took experimental measures for the three groups of learners after instruction and found only the NLP group had sufficient confidence levels to reject the Null hypothesis. Research hypothesis A was that adult learners whose teachers are trained in innovative maths pedagogy attain higher maths results than adult learners whose teachers have had no training. Research hypothesis B was that training in NLP influencing skills enhances the maths attainment of adult learners whose teachers have trained in innovative maths pedagogy. The research team found that only the NLP group had sufficient confidence levels to reject the Null hypothesis. The 4 days NLP training provided for the teachers in the NLP group consisted of Milton Model, Satir Categories, and anchoring of positive emotional states with a noticeable absence of PRS which was the focus of research interest in the 1980’s as discussed above.

When Bandler was asked how he would do the research he said he would

“build a new school from the ground up, that’s how I would test it and you know and I would take lots of the kids that are doing badly in school and lots of the kids that are doing good in school and I’d mix them all up together in a new formula, and I’d get rid of the grade level notion, and I’d make a race to the end of the educational system and find out how fast, how many of these kids could hit the cross line” (Little, Radio 4, 2011).

Again, more recently, Richard Bandler is a noticeable absentee in a recent book about the origins of NLP edited by the other two Co-Founders of NLP Grinder and Pucelik, (2013). In this book Pucelik talks frankly about how his life changed abruptly late in 1976 and early 1977 when his “great friend and incredible life partner”, Leslie Cameron, became indifferent to him after having been invited to join Richard Bandler who then “within a couple of weeks informed Pucelik he was no longer welcome to be involved with the team or any of the team members in any way, for any reason”. (Grinder & Pucelik, 2013, p. 27-29).

Both Grinder and Bandler were absent from the 3 NLP leadership summits convened by Frank Pucelik and Michael Hall in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and are not currently expected to attend the 4th summit in 2016.

It is appropriate to put a small section in concerning the “Bandler effect” in chapter 2 as this does appear to be a strong theme running through the extant NLP literature that has adversely affected the image of NLP and will be discussed more thoroughly later in this paper.

Summary of Chapter 2

In Chapter 2 I have expanded on many of the unanswered questions which I asked in my personal and professional journey in Chapter 1 concerning the definition of NLP. I have looked in more detail at the criticisms of psychologists in the early 1980’s and looked also in more detail at the methodology of NLP modelling as well as the Ontology and Epistemology of NLP. I have also looked at some of the characteristics of NLP as described by people who do not practice it in order to provide a different perspective and balance the insider position which I have as both an Action Researcher and an NLP practitioner. In building a grounded theory of NLP in chapter 3 I will discuss what methodology I choose in this research and why I have chosen these methodologies and approaches in order to answer the research question, “What is NLP?”.

 

Chapter 3 Methodology

Introduction

All research design is divided into 4 components according to King et al: “the research question, the theory, the data, and the use of the data.” (King, Keohane & Verba, 1994, p. 318).

King et al. tells us that these components are not usually developed separately and scholars do not attend to them in any preordained order, they continue to say that often for researchers who begin their field work before choosing a precise research question, data comes first, followed by the others. In one sense this is how this research unfolded, my field work as mentioned in chapter one has been an apprenticeship in NLP, developing my own research questions implicitly as I developed my understanding. My initial round of interviews for this research were conducted before I even really had developed a complete methodology or considered the implicit theory that was directing my enquiry. On reflection the answer to me was almost so obvious from the very beginning that methodology seemed irrelevant. I had fallen into the trap of believing what I was investigating was unambiguous data with clear relationships, King et al. (1994) warns;

“Complexity is likely to make our inferences less certain but should not make them any less scientific. Uncertainty and limited data should not cause us to abandon scientific research. On the contrary: the biggest payoff for using the rules of scientific inference occurs precisely when data are limited, observation tools are flawed, measurements are unclear, and relationships are uncertain. With clear relationships and unambiguous data, method may be less important, since even partially flawed rules of inference may produce answers that are roughly correct” (King et al. 1994, p. 249).

I had started this research with the rather naive belief, that it was actually quite obvious what NLP was, and the reason it had not obtained significant funding nor mainstream psychological credibility was because no major scientific enquiry demonstrating either what it was or what it could do had been conducted. Going into research with this naive belief I implicitly believed, as King et al. (1994) suggest, that maybe methodology in such “straight forward” cases is not so important as the relationships I was investigating were very clear and left little room for interpretation.

It was only when I began to conduct my interviews I appreciated the vast diversity of opinion and understanding from my interviewees and recognised this data needed to be recorded, sorted and understood fully in order to derive any inferences. In order to do this I would need to adhere to a methodological procedure; “a dynamic process of inquiry occurs within a stable structure of rules” says King. (King et al. 1994, p. 302).

King et al. (1994) tells us that we should use data to generate inferences that are “unbiased,” that is, correct on average. What they mean by this is by reference to the quantitative paradigm. If one takes data from a single data source there will be both error of measurement and no doubt an element of error concerning inference too. However this error can be partially corrected by taking data from multiple sources and making inferences at the point these data points coincide. This created difficulty in terms of selecting my interviewees. Many senior NLP practitioners would come from either similar camps or opposing camps and finding a balance to represent NLP as broadly as possible was a challenge to this research. This is particularly important for researching the topic of NLP, as the opinions of the Co-Founders, although influential are only one voice in an expanding field, and often other voices are saying very different things. In a Grounded theory of NLP these differences need to be accounted for and if a very small number of sources were used the resultant theory would be biased in the favour of that small number. A part of methodological procedure is to avoid selection bias where possible as this leads to biased inferences.

Sampling

I believed a snowball sampling methodology would help me get to the heart of the matter more quickly. The strategy has been utilized primarily as a response to overcome the problems associated with understanding and sampling concealed populations (Faugier & Sargeant, 1997) and for this reason, given the diversity within NLP I believed this would be appropriate especially in the light of NLP practitioner’s concern researchers do not fully appreciate the NLP paradigm.

During the first interview, I was reassured by the participant that because it was me, she would be happy to support the research and was happy a university was giving me a PhD for it. I regarded initial interviews as scoping interviews.

Making use of a snowball sampling methodology, I mentioned another NLP practitioner, who in a scoping interview had given me a list of people who I should interview. In a similar way this participant, (who was on the list), provided me with her list of NLP practitioners I should speak to.

Specifically Participant 2 said:

“Given that it’s you doing that Bruce and you’ve got a grasp of the NLP basics I think that you could ask some marvellous questions and come up with some really helpful, what I would call, direction making findings. A lot of this that’s been done before, the people asking the questions didn’t have a clue what NLP was about and so they were putting into academia all sorts of ridiculous conclusions” (Participant 2, 2:35, 2014).

Participant 2 went on to talk about a recent publication which suggested NLP had potential and was a “radically client centred format that follows the client in a way that nothing else can or has to this point” (Participant 2, 4:45 2014)

At this point two considerations raised their head for me.

Firstly I was concerned that cooperation was a function of because it was me. I interpreted this in such a way that I felt I could skew my grounded theory of NLP in a way that was particularly favourable to NLP. I took this interpretation away and recognised that I need to pay attention to the data that emerges from my 3 data sources; Interviews with NLP practitioners, LinkedIn discussion in a psychology forum on the Authenticity of NLP, and the extant NLP and psychological literature relevant to my enquiry. When going back to interviewee 2 to bring this interpretation to her she told me this was not the case. I should report on what I find, however she was referring to the NLP research considerations of Einspruch and Forman (1985) which suggested researchers into NLP should have NLP experience.

Secondly when I asked participant 2 (who was on the list provided in the first scoping interview), for their list of NLP practitioners who I should interview, not one of the 10 NLP practitioners recommended matched the list of 14 NLP practitioners recommended in the first scoping interview. This brought about the possibility that NLP is such a diverse practice I literally could end up with an unmanageable number of interviews to conduct.

In continuing to pursue a snowball methodology I discovered further difficulties. One of the potential NLP practitioners recommended by Participant 2 would not talk with me, so I chose somebody who represented “their kind of NLP”. This Participant provided me with a list of 10 NLP practitioners who I should speak to and this time 5 of the NLP practitioners were the same as that of Participant 2. It was important to recognise at this point that the 5 participants who were similar were not from this similar camp of NLP. I felt that by taking the middle ground and using my own experience in NLP to cover the practice as best as possible I would end up with a manageable list of NLP practitioners to interview. Pursuing this method with a third NLP practitioner and Participant in this research their list converged with the other 2 participants on 5 out of 10 NLP practitioners. Using this methodology I ended up with 15 NLP practitioners who were willing to talk with me about their definition of NLP. I made use of my own expertise in NLP in selecting some participants in order to provide a voice not within the echelons provided using a Snowball methodology. For instance I thought it important to include an NLP practitioner who made their living from NLP and relied on the income, yet was simply an accredited NLP trainer who very few practitioners on the growing list of candidates knew about. This provided a perspective of an NLP trainer who simply made his living from the practice and was not really involved in the leadership of NLP.

One of the reasons no matches were made between the first scoping interview and the second interview could have been the first participant was very keen that his list represented an international flavour, including non-English Speaking participants. I felt in order to use this list, I would need to employ an interpreter and that was outside the financial scope of this research. Participants in this research come from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and these participants have trained people in NLP from all parts of the world. On that basis it was still felt that this research represents views from all around the world and has an international flavour. Also it is the case that even though I did not wish to limit participation because I wanted a theory that could generalise as much as possible, time taken to do transcriptions and interviews as well as coding transcriptions meant I needed a figure I could work with and was manageable. For many who I could have interviewed, their views and thoughts are transparently available in the extant NLP literature and on active blogs and social media which made up one of my data sources and these are referenced when used.

Methodology and personal bias

One of the aims of good qualitative research is to use a little to explain a lot. Traditionally in qualitative research leverage is low, however with good methodology this leverage can be increased and one can use a little to explain a lot, rather than as is often the case using a lot to explain a little. It is for this reason it is important that this research is also as open and transparent as possible as well as methodical.

King et al. (1994) tells us maximizing leverage is so important and so general that they strongly recommend that researchers routinely list all possible observable implications of their hypothesis that might be found in their data or in other data. In Qualitative research they make the point that some researchers refuse to make generalisations on the basis of their observations and inferences because of an insistence that the subject of their study is totally unique. Such researchers sit at the extreme of the anti-positivist — positivist epistemological continuum. However even unique events can be studied scientifically by paying attention to the observable implications of theories developed to account for them. So in this research as I am listening to my interviewees express themselves, I am listening specifically for observable implications of the research which asks “what is NLP?” My personal bias as a psychologist leads me to assume NLP will not obtain consistent mainstream funding from government and private agencies until it begins to demonstrate the validity of its knowledge through accepted methodological processes. However I need to ensure I pay just as much attention to counter evidence as my interviewees say such things as;

“I think NLP has not been interested in that because we see it working every day in people’s lives and our purpose has been to do business instead of doing research so there’s not been that much interest in it and somebody has to collaborate and create funding to be able to do that and that usually occurs at a university level where they’ve got the money and don’t have to worry about business and so once that happens once the people who are interested in that and will spend the time, the boring time to apply for grants and get that done then that will be done otherwise the marketplace is the place that test it.” (Interviewee 7, 21:05 — 21:52. 2013).

So, contrary to my prejudice, this is evidence that NLP does not need to develop academic credibility in order to obtain mainstream funding as such funding could come from the market place within business and the above transcript can be coded in multiple ways drawing out initial themes of “doing business” “working every day” “testing in the market place” “funding” and “university level”

The challenge, as a researcher, is to hold one’s emotions at bay when hearing such contrary views to one’s own and to recognise that this perspective needs to inform the answer to the research question as much as those answers that resonate with the researcher’s preferences. From the perspective of Grounded theory specifically, and qualitative research generally, it is necessary to be aware of these personal “sensitising concepts”, (Blumer, 1969) as they can impact upon the objectivity of theory that emerges from a systematic analysis of the data collected.

However, just as in the quantitative paradigm, one needs to take many data points in order to begin to extrapolate a pattern at a higher level of understanding which explains those data points, so too it is important to test the quality of those data points. All of my interviewees were NLP experts and it is possible they may have expressed contrary opinions at different times: in the interview, in published print, or on blogs posted on the World Wide Web. It is for this reason I have not only used my interviewees comments as source data, but also their words and the words of other experienced NLP practitioners who declined to be interviewed from the extant literature, carefully referencing such secondary data. The benefit of these multiple sources is that they assist in differentiating systemic and non-systemic variance. If I relied only on the data from my interviews it is possible that my NLP expert was expressing an opinion which was based upon their view at the time which could well be moderated by such personal circumstances as business relations, financial matters, personal relations, health, an opinion with which they wished to support a current training agenda and many more temporary factors. However by triangulating their words with historical data on the world wide web and from the secondary sources of extant NLP texts it is easier to understand the systemic variance which might answer the research question more comprehensively on account of using data not only from multiple sources, but also multiple sources along a time line and indeed with data from outside of the NLP community.

This research does not set out to test a theory even though an implicit theory is present in the exploration for a definition of NLP. A key concept of Grounded Theory, (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) is that, in the research, Grounded theory is appropriate when the study of social interactions or experiences aims to explain a process, not to test or verify an existing theory. The implicit theory that NLP does not have a definition and needs one to effectively develop, is very much “on hold” during this research, it may be the multiple definitions already in circulation suffice and indeed are characteristic of a gestalt which defies definition. It is important therefore that in this dynamic process of inquiry I adhere as closely as possible to the stable structure of research rules to ensure a systematic analysis of all comments from interviewees, contrasted with an analysis of data that only supports the implicit theories of the researcher. In this research it is important that any new theory that emerges, emerges from the data as much as possible, even if that data contradicts the implicit assumptions of the research question; “What is NLP?” As King et al. (1994) draws our attention to, the importance of listing all possible observable implications of the emerging hypothesis is that such procedure will produce useful information which can be tested at later times.

Methodology and Validity

Rigorous methodology is important as it helps validate the hypothesis you are proposing. McNiff and Whitehead make a useful distinction between valid knowledge and legitimate knowledge, they say:

“Validity and legitimacy are different things. Validity refers to establishing the truth value of a claim, its authenticity or trustworthiness. This is a matter of rigorous methodological procedure. Legitimacy refers to getting the account accepted in the public domain, by getting people to listen to you and take your work seriously in the hope that they may be open to learning from it or trying out something similar to it themselves. Establishing legitimacy is a matter of power and politics because people may or may not want to listen in spite of your having demonstrated the validity of your work.” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006 p. 157).

However even though a rigorous methodological procedure might provide a sense that the knowledge is somehow valid, this does not mean that knowledge assumes the properties of being set in stone, applying in all instances, and being unwavering. Knowledge from an antipositivist perspective is relativistic and constructed via individual frames of reference. This difference of approach, unless appreciated from the beginning, can lead to frustration when attempting to get to “the beef’ of what a piece of research is attempting to provide. This is metaphorically described very well by Etienne Wenger:

“One day I was talking about my research with someone who is in charge of designing information systems, and he asked me: “That’s very nice, but I’m interested in change, in design, so where’s the beef?” As sympathetic as I am to his question, I had to first try to make clear that this is not just beef; it is more like a cow, a living cow: one can make beef with it, of course, but one can do many other things: one can pull a plough, milk it, breed it, show it in country fairs. What I am trying to develop is not a recipe or a method; it is a discourse, a perspective, a way to look at the world. But it is a discourse that has wide-reaching practical implications, especially for design endeavors. I will actually suggest that it may cause us to reconsider what we mean by design. The validity of such a discourse can in fact be said to reside in its ability to inform a variety of activities” (Wenger, 1991, p. 4).

One of the approaches used in this research is Action Research. A principle feature of Action Research is that through this approach your work is validated within validation groups as colleagues ask questions of how you arrived at certain pieces of knowledge, a bit like a group supervision process. Once validated it is the story which is offered to the world, not as propositional knowledge, but as a story of how it has assisted the researcher improve their practice within a particular domain or sector. One would hope there is a relationship between validity and legitimacy in that the greater attention paid to ensuring the knowledge is valid— as a result of adhering to research methodology—the greater the legitimacy. However this is not necessarily the case, knowledge is seen through the filters of individual frames of reference. NLP participant 5 makes an interesting observation from the field of technology to illustrate the point:

“You can have a poor idea, an awful product that is marketed very well compared with a great idea that is marketed very poorly. Was it Beta Max or was it VHS I think Beta Max was a better product, but VHS was better marketed. I think when you compare the original Microsoft operating systems—MS-DOS compared with Apple’s graphic user interface—Microsoft had a big advantage over Apple and that became the industry-standard, and other people would agree with me that was the inferior product.” (Interviewee 5, 35:15 — 35:53. 2014).

However, the dynamic nature of social and technological systems (as well as knowledge generally and it’s observable implications), is revealed when interviewee 5 points out the following:

“… and to extend that metaphor, VHS is now dead and rather than just have one medium for recording, let’s say video, we have DVDs, hard disks, material up in the cloud on the Internet, so you can download a show to watch or a film on the Internet if you have the benefit of living in a country that has high-speed broadband. The fact is there are multiple ways now, there is a range of choices with that now, and I think this is may be how NLP in some respect develops.” (Interviewee 5, 1:08:00 — 1:08:30. 2014).

The idea therefore that this dissertation can produce knowledge that is finite and valid for all times is rejected from the outset. This research is indeed like a cow, different people will take from it different things. You will get more out of the cow if you respect it and allow it to live, even though eventually it will die, even in its death it will provide the seeds for new growth which will be beef of various cuts.

This research, however, does not adopt the extreme anti-positivist epistemology which suggests that because each event is unique no generalisations can be made. In looking at my data I can make historical summaries of the data based upon the outcomes that I wish to describe or explain. This information will need to be simplified, however in making the data simpler, it is important to ensure this reduction of information adequately represents all the historical data. Further I can make descriptive inferences based upon this simplified data. King et al. (1994) explain that descriptive inference is the process of understanding an unobserved phenomenon on the basis of a set of observations.

Action Research

In this research as I am listening to my interviewees express themselves I am listening specifically for observable implications of the research which asks “what is NLP?” Schon (1983) believed that those who researched in the “swampy lowlands” of everyday practical research should create their own knowledge through investigating their practice and submit their own emergent personal theories to the same rigorous process of testing and critique as that of the high ground of abstract conceptual technical knowledge often pursued at university.

Action researchers, unlike positivist researchers, embrace the fact that their research is value laden and will often make their values explicit at the beginning of their research so readers can hold them accountable. To think that talking in the third person and using a statistical paradigm somehow indemnifies a researcher from contaminating their topic of research with their own values and personal “map of the world” is clearly not accepted. The very fact that a researcher from a positivist epistemology believes such “objectivity” exists and therefore the scope and validity of the knowledge they uncover is therefore greater, is evidence of a fundamental difference of ontology. Action researchers always see themselves in relation with others in terms of their practice and their ideas. Their world is a dynamic world and it is always probabilistic. They can divide the world into apparently systematic and non systematic components and consequently improve on prediction, however, there will always be a significant amount of non-systematic variation. This means that even the predictions they make are probabilistic. This anti-positivist approach assumes an open system which is consistently reinventing itself. This is to be contrasted with the world of the positivist who sees the world more in terms of a closed system. For the positivist, the fact that our world, and especially our social world, is not entirely predictable is only due to stochastic variation that we as yet have no explanation for. When we do have an explanation for it, as our understanding develops, then we too will have greater predictive power, until eventually we can predict everything perfectly.

King et al. (1994) make the point that these two perspectives can be regarded as observationally equivalent. Because of this equivalence a choice between the two perspectives depends rather on faith or belief rather than on empirical verification.

Whether we decide to be certain and deluded, or paradoxically, certain yet not certain is nicely portrayed when Joseph Schumpeter cites Albert Einstein, who said “as far as our propositions are certain, they do not say anything about reality, and as far as they do say anything about reality, they are not certain” (Schumpeter, 1936, pp. 298-99).

Tosey and Mathison (2009) in their academic review of NLP suggest a range of research options for those who wish to take NLP down that route. Reviewing the 40 year history of NLP they point out that within NLP lies both the seeds of its own destruction and also the potential for further adaption and survival. They cite 8 areas of research they believe are likely to be fruitful:

“a)       Action Research by Practitioners

  1. b) Case studies and evaluations.
  2. c) Modelling projects.
  3. d) Review and testing of specific NLP models and techniques.
  4. e) Surveys of the incidence and use of NLP.
  5. f) Elaboration and critique of the underpinning philosophy and epistemology of NLP.
  6. g) Studies of NLP as a social phenomenon.
  7. h) Use of NLP to enhance existing research methods.” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 195).

Grimley (2013) commenting on this list of proposals says:

“I think we still need firstly to understand and agree on what NLP is, this will pave the way for modelling and then testing of those techniques. This provides us with the simple answer to the question that most people want to know: ‘What is NLP and does it work?’ If NLP had already done this and we found it did work, then the other areas of research would be interesting. If we engage in those other areas of research before we know what NLP is and whether it works there is the likelihood the fog of NLP will continue. It will then be supported by interesting and good quality qualitative research which investigates a social phenomenon that has no evidence of utility in specific contexts.” Grimley, (2013, p. 190).

This research therefore is indeed embedded within some of the researcher’s assumptions, and the above opinion is just one of the values being made explicit. Having these assumptions challenges the notion in Grounded Theory that a person can come to a research area with a Lockean tabula rasa mind set, formalised in the methodology of delaying the literature review until after forming the analysis. To think one can, is to fall into the same trap of the positivist who thinks he / she is examining the world objectively from a fly on the wall perspective.

In this chapter I would like to talk about the 3 approaches I have taken in collecting data, analysing data, interpreting data and coming to conclusions. These are Action Research, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, and Grounded Theory.

Action Research continued

I started my Ph.D. journey in the January of 2008. During this time I have been aware of the transformative influence my research activity has had on me, both personally and professionally. Action research, which is also referred to as community based research, participatory action research, or collaborative inquiry, (Gibson, Gibson, & Macaulay, 2001), is not done on participants. Rather research is designed, carried out, and integrated by the researcher in partnership with the participants. Based in emancipatory social theory and designed to democratise the research process, action research is an iterative process in which researchers and practitioners act together in the context of an identified problem to discover and effect positive change within a mutually acceptable ethical framework. Action research is also regarded as a new scholarship which helps reduce the theory — practice gap. It sees knowledge creation as a collaborative process and recognises that knowledge created by humans is created through the filters of values and beliefs and these need to be explicitly stated from the outset. The Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology of Action research is laid out by McNiff and Whitehead in table 1 below:

Table 1. Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology of Action research. McNiff and Whitehead (2006, pp. 22-29).

Ontological Assumptions.

  • Action research is value laden.
  • Action research is morally committed.
  • Action researchers perceive themselves as in relation with one another in their social contexts.

Epistemological Assumptions.

  • The object of the enquiry is the “I” in relation to other “I’s”
  • Knowledge is uncertain. Answers are created through negotiation. Often answers cannot be negotiated so people have to learn to live with the situation.
  • Knowledge creation is a collaborative process.
  • Knowledge is a property of individuals, so it is often subjective and biased. Individuals have to negotiate their meanings with other knowing individuals.

Methodological Assumptions.

  • Action research is done by practitioners who regard themselves as agents.
  • The methodology is open ended and developmental.
  • The aim of the research is to improve learning with social intent.

What is particularly powerful about Action Research is that it emphasises personal agency and a key characteristic of this research is discovering the answer to what can I do in relationship with other people to improve my practice as an NLP practitioner and an Occupational Psychologist. The research thus is offered to the wider NLP community and others as a consequence of researching within that community what NLP is and examining the assumptions of the research question. However what happens after this research is published is my responsibility. Whether I act on our findings or not is totally my responsibility. Action Research is consequently an empowering research paradigm which necessarily encourages action as demonstrated by the contrasting questions in table 2 below.

 

Table 2. Different types of Questions. (McNiff and Whitehead, 2006, p. 8).

Social Science Questions Action Research Questions
What is the relationship between teacher motivation and teacher retention? How do I influence the quality of teacher’s experience in school, so they decide to stay?
Does Management Style influence worker Productivity? How do I improve my management style to encourage productivity?
Will a different seating arrangement increase audience participation? How do I encourage greater audience participation through trying out different seating arrangements?

Action Research Diary

A diary of the research journey was kept to note learnings of significance. This was fed back into my professional practice as a researcher. For instance I noticed early on in my interviewing that it appeared I did too much of the speaking and framing of questions. On becoming aware of this, in subsequent interviews I allowed the participant to talk more freely, asking only the occasional open question. This resulted in transcripts which strayed from the original questions which had been created specifically for this research, but provided a much richer picture of what the participant felt and thought about specific topics. In discussion with my supervisors, the methodological benefits and shortcomings of such a change were examined and evaluated. In terms of personal development such discussions assisted in the development of a greater understanding of how the framing of our own questions can influence the responses of the participant. Also discussions concerning how not only the framing of the words which are used, but also the framing of how the words which are used influences responses was discussed. “What do you think of that?” emphasising “You” generally seemed to generate answers based around the participant and were more subjective. The same question, however, emphasizing “that” generally and understandably seemed to produce a more task oriented answer with less emotion attached to it.

Action Research Outcomes

This whole dissertation is an Action Research outcome. It tells the story of a Postman who wanted to learn more about the workings of the unconscious mind and discovered the paradigm of NLP. However in qualifying as a Chartered Psychologist he recognised what he regarded as huge gaps in the quality of knowledge NLP practitioners promulgated. He recognised much of what was in NLP was in fact already in existence within the framework of traditional psychology and within that frame it was subject to much greater scrutiny and the emergent knowledge was practiced within professional and ethical frameworks that did not exist within the NLP world. Understanding these frameworks often necessitated many years of undergraduate and post graduate university education in nationally accredited universities. My quest in this research, with other practitioners within the NLP community, is to understand how NLP can raise the quality of the knowledge it offers and critically examines whether other people think this is necessary. In my research journey I have found that there is so much ambiguity concerning what NLP actually is, it is currently very difficult to develop credible research into NLP that is falsifiable.

In writing my dissertation I have needed to understand who my audience is. Habermas (1987) says our account should be comprehensible, truthful, authentic and appropriate. However in order to be all these things I need to understand whom I am addressing. Writing about my research and experiences is very different to experiencing my research and experiences.

McNiff and Whitehead (2006) say we need to use the language of practitioner researchers, but must not avoid scholarly issues. Thus, the form of written expression needs to be appropriate for the, practitioner — scholar, rather than the, scholar — practitioner. The communities that I am addressing are both the NLP communities and the professional Psychology communities; I belong to both. However, the other communities I would like to write for are those communities of other professionals that wish to make use of NLP. It is for these reasons the written expression is informal and not particularly academic in nature. It is hoped that this dissertation will be read by a wide audience and in order to achieve that outcome it is necessary that the work be sufficiently compelling to that wide audience to warrant turning over the next page.

Action Research seemed to me a very appropriate paradigm for NLP as I learned about it during my apprenticeship as outlined in Chapter 1. It is a style of research rather than a specific method, and although not synonymous with qualitative research, it typically draws on qualitative methods such as interviews and observation. Meyer maintains the strength of Action Research is in its focus on generating solutions to practical problems; this seems to resonate well with NLP’s focus on utility. However the second part of Meyers belief concerning Action Research might be sadly missing from NLP, if one regards the knowledge coming from Action Research as needing to be valid. Action Research is strong insofar as it empowers people by encouraging them to engage with research and the subsequent development and implementation activities implied thereby. (Meyer, 2000).

First used in 1946 by Kurt Lewin, researchers work explicitly with and for people rather than undertaking research on them according to Meyer, again this is very attractive to NLP as it suggests rather than creating theories about people and then applying those theories to people Action Research co creates the future as the practitioner works with the person and their phenomenological experience.

Myer (2000) believes that most definitions of action research incorporate three important elements: its participatory character, its democratic impulse, and its simultaneous contribution to social science and social change. These 3 elements sit very well with the tenets generated in the Kurt Lewin-style encounter groups / T groups. The groups created by Bandler, Grinder and Pucelik in the early 1970’s were similar to this; for this reason, Action Research again seems to be an appropriate approach to use in discovering “What is NLP?”

The participatory aspect of this research is that experienced NLP practitioners have been willing to talk with me concerning the research topic. In action research, the clear cut demarcation between “researcher” and “researched” that is found in other types of research may not be so apparent. Indeed, the NLP practitioners themselves find themselves in negotiation with myself concerning how the data will be used, what the ethical rules are as the conversations we have, themselves produce a dynamic that leads to unforeseen questions to which we do not fully understand the answers.

According to Lewin, change goes through the process of first of all “unfreezing”, then change is applied and “refreezing” takes place (French & Bell, 1995, p. 81). However, Argyris, who was greatly influenced by Lewin, a significant figure in the creation of T groups and Organizational Development (OD) as a discipline, pointed out that if we attempt to change without first of all unfreezing, we end up in a single loop learning experience and change does not occur, (Argyris, 1957). Learning and change then is achieved as a consequence of intervening in the system and this research, irrespective of the findings, is an intervention that will create results, some foreseen and some unforeseen. Lewin introduced the idea that any situation is a product of opposing forces and developed the idea of force field analysis. In an organisation for instance, there is one force pushing for higher productivity and other forces pushing for lower productivity. The actual productivity is a function of the interaction of these forces. All of these forces need to be addressed to successfully introduce change. The challenge is disconfirmation of the current state of affairs as we see it is very difficult to accept, and there is a tendency to create confirmatory beliefs distorting, deleting and generalising, creating an experience which supports what we already know. Researching this dissonance became the work of Leon Festinger who was recruited by Lewin at the Research Center for Group Dynamics in 1945. The challenge in interviewing my participants and engaging with this research was creating as much as I could an interview culture whereby they felt they could unfreeze and explore some of their own thinking and the premises for those thoughts. Indeed it is this experience which I have experienced which allows me to put this research into Grounded theory terms. Even though I came into this research with quite strong views, through interviewing my 15 participants and over 5 years engaging in extended email discussions as well as face to face conversations I myself have changed, understanding the different needs of others in making use of NLP and applying it to their personal and professional lives. These dynamics and personal changes have been written up in coding diaries and personal logs as I have continued with this research. For example I remember on one occasion getting very angry (under my breath so to speak), when I asked one participant about the definition of NLP. The conversation went:

Bruce: “If we say NLP works, it’s useful to know what NLP is. I know there are many definitions of NLP, but what is your definition of NLP and why?”

Interviewee 6: “Before I answer that I’m also going to say I don’t like that phrase, I know a lot of NLP’ers use it, because it’s too general and that’s probably what you’re getting at with the definition, I think. I would rather we talk about interventions that work, that we have evidence for, and I would also like us to talk about how NLP helps influence language patterns, etc. It’s like saying, ‘Psychology works,’ to say, ‘NLP works.’ So, for me, that’s one of the things that’s got us into trouble, saying a blanket ‘NLP works’ frame.” (Interviewee 6: 21:48-22:31)

Even though later on when coding I began to understand, and more importantly appreciate exactly where this participant was coming from, I remember in the moment being quite incensed at the first words of his sentence and not really being able to concentrate afterwards as a consequence, or more accurately only concentrating on how incensed I was. I have found being able to stick to a methodological process which requires me to code all my data, forces me into a position of recognising the value of what another is saying even though my initial impulse is to delete it from my memory. In terms of Action Research this process has been invaluable in allowing me to follow the typical Action Research Process in figure 5 below.

Like NLP, the Action Research family is wide and so there are many perspectives depending upon who you talk to. However, Action Research is regarded as insider research rather than professional researchers from the outside looking in and trying to understand. This was one of the research criterion of Einspruch and Forman (1985); “Researchers should be trained by competent NLP practitioners for an appropriate period of time”, (Einspruch & Forman 1985, p. 594).

 

Figure 5 Action Research from McNiff and Whitehead (2006)

 

Einspruch and Forman thought this was probably the most important recommendation. This insider research needs to be a disciplined and systematic procedure and the basic and notional pattern suggested by McNiff and Whitehead is as follows:

  1. Take stock of what is going on.
  2. Identify a concern.
  3. Think of a possible way forward.
  4. Try it out.
  5. Monitor the action by gathering data to show what is happening.
  6. Evaluate progress by establishing procedures for making judgements about what is happening.
  7. Test the validity of accounts of learning.
  8. Modify practice in the light of the evaluation.

As can be appreciated from figure 5 not only does this incorporate the dynamic encounter group approach of Social psychologist Kurt Lewin who was one of the first to embrace Action Research, but the output is a double loop learning contrasted with the less productive single loop learning.

Following McNiff and Whitehead (2006) in figure 5, my observations are based upon being involved in NLP since 1995 and psychology since 1987, my reflections have been summarised to date in chapters 1 and 2 of this dissertation, my action is to talk with NLP practitioners as well as other professionals, looking also at the extant literature and understanding what NLP is, developing my own grounded theory. I am also interested, based upon my experience and reflections, why many academics talk so poorly about NLP and why it has not been incorporated into mainstream provision of psychological services.

My evaluation is to use qualitative methodology and software to organise and make sense of the feedback I obtained from the NLP experts I spoke with and other data within the data corpus of this dissertation such as a transcription of Linkedin discussions between psychologists on the subject of NLP, emails requesting answers and the extant literature which discusses the topic of NLP as well as my personal coding diaries and research logs. Modifications are the suggestions I make consequent to this research to enable my practice of NLP to identify itself, according to my Grounded Theory, and moving in the new direction is the direction I will take and the direction I will encourage other NLP practitioners to take based upon the evidence I find. Action research is particularly suitable for NLP on account of the shared systemic ontology. Both do not believe that researchers can sit outside of the world in which we live and “objectively” observe and measure it, as researchers too are part of the world and indeed as they interact with their subjects this changes their responses. The purpose of all action research is to generate new knowledge; however, action research creates a particular type of knowledge. As the name implies it is linked to real action in the world, rather than the kind of knowledge which gets put in a university library and gathers dust. Concerning dead dogma, J.S. Mill writes:

“However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”(Mill, 1859).

It seems often in my reflection of 20 years within the NLP community the dogma of NLP is indeed fearlessly and frequently discussed, however it is not fully discussed and this is my own prejudice as a psychologist which I bring to this research. The methodology of this dissertation does not assume a static social world that can be categorized accurately and counted, with the assumption that those numbers will continue to be valid the next day. The next day literally the world has moved on; different people enter the research space and they answer the same questions in a different way on account of a different emotional state, a different span of attention, a different attitude towards the research, different beliefs as to what the researcher’s intention is, a different level of compliance, and different priorities, to name just a few. Action research places the individual, the “I” at the centre of the investigation; it does not attempt to create the myth of objectivity as only objects can produce objective data. Not only does the output of action research provide answers to the question “How do I?” rather than “Why is?”, but the nature of such answers almost compel action on behalf of the action researcher rather than propositional and technical knowledge which simply tends to stimulate further debate as a result of its abstract and theoretical nature. This is very similar to aligning with Ryle’s, “Knowledge How”, contrasted with “Knowledge That” and how the nature of Action research as different in this respect is illustrated again for emphasis in table 2 below.

 

Table 2 Different types of Questions. (McNiff & Whitehead 2006, p. 8).

Social Science Questions Action Research Questions
What is the relationship between teacher motivation and teacher retention? How do I influence the quality of teacher’s experience in school, so they decide to stay?
Does Management Style influence worker Productivity? How do I improve my management style to encourage productivity?
Will a different seating arrangement increase audience participation? How do I encourage greater audience participation through trying out different seating arrangements?

 

In examining other theorists McNiff and Whitehead point to Chomsky who, according to Bostic St Clair and John Grinder (2001), influenced NLP more than any other. They say;

“Processes of coming to know (learning) are complex. One view is that we raise our deep tacit knowledge. This idea can be linked with Chomsky (1965) and Goethe’s (1988) ideas about generative transformational capacity a developmental process that allows a present form to emerge as a new form. Combining these ideas gives rise to a theory of learning that accepts the infinite capacity of humans to create an infinite number of new forms of knowledge and to transform their existing knowledge into new improved forms. This means that each person should be recognised as having the capacity for creative choice and for making original contributions. Now let’s link this with an idea from Habernas (1975), that people are not capable of not learning, that is, we must learn as a part of our genetic make-up” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006. p. 52).

Interestingly for McNiff and Whitehead in our relations to others, the above provides one of two choices, that is to firstly use our influence to respect each person’s uniqueness of mind or to influence them in such a way as to deny them that uniqueness. Addressing this dynamic has been interesting in interviewing, with an intention to respect the other person’ s uniqueness; through respecting that uniqueness and asking clarifying questions, material which is more difficult for the interviewee to articulate develops. It is at this stage the possibility for development occurs, both for my interviewees and also for me. A key factor in attempting to interview NLP practitioners who would then provide good data and the possibility for such development was my ability to follow Argyris (1957) model of motivation pictorially displayed in figure 6 below.

The third of Myer’s important elements in Action Research is simultaneous contribution to social science and social change. As Professor of adult nursing and working in a clinical environment, she points out that there is increasing concern about the “theory-practice” gap. What “should” work according to the technical, rational and propositional forms of knowledge implicit within a positivist epistemology actually, in real life, does not work in the messy, uncontrollable and unpredictable world of “real life”. Ever since NLP began this has been an area NLP has exploited with Bandler and Grinder (1979) often being critical of academic psychology.

 

Figure 6 Motivational Factors after Argyris (1957)

 

These 3 don’t work — and yet companies keep using them.

+ Only this one creates positive, sustainable motivation.

 

In this dissertation my bias is this: I am not disputing the legitimacy of NLP as it clearly has been accepted by many people all over the world, what I am suggesting might be missing is validity and in talking to experienced NLP practitioners from around the world I am testing my belief in answering the question “What is NLP?” and developing an operational epistemology to allow me and potentially other NLP practitioners and psychologists to move forward. As McNiff and Whitehead point out valid knowledge only comes as a function of rigorous methodological procedure and this procedure is accepted within academic circles as having specific steps to follow to ensure rigour. NLP cannot claim to provide a contribution to Social Science if it has not demonstrated the methodological rigour which is regarded as appropriate to produce valid knowledge. It may be NLP is a paradigm that only tests for validity in the moment based upon anecdotal evidence. In defining and understanding NLP it is these questions I wish to pose and the answers I receive in my Action Research assist me develop my theory of NLP which can inform my practice and provide other people with a model to use should they wish to. As McNiff and Whitehead say:

“Action research is a form of enquiry that enables practitioners everywhere to investigate and evaluate their work. They ask, “What am I doing?” “What do I need to improve?” “How do I improve it?” Their accounts of practice show them how they are trying to improve their own learning and influence the learning of others. These accounts come to stand as their own practical theories of practice, from which others can learn if they wish. (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006, p. 7 ).

A large part of this research has been involved in travelling this journey with fellow NLP practitioners and as my theory has developed I have fed this back into the community to which I belong, not only to test the theory and request feedback but also to inform and assist in its development. An email from the Managing Director of ANLP concerning this process provides a sense of the utility this provides:

“Hi Bruce, Thank you for the long and detailed email, much appreciated.

… .your email has some interesting thoughts within in that match what Andy Coote and I have been discussing from an ANLP/NLP marketing perspective. Would you mind if I shared the information with him for two reasons:

 

  1. It could be useful and relevant information to a paper Andy is currently preparing for the NLP Conference.
  2. It could be considered as an interesting topic for a future issue of Rapport (either research or author interview or just within the NLP section).

Of course, if we were to use anything in the paper, it would be referenced back to you…Thanks Bruce” (Personal communication, Mon 1st September, 2014 10:58).

Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, (IP A)

Introduction

The commitment in phenomenology is to discover interviewees’ meanings and respecting their views of the world. It was thus believed that IPA would be an ideal methodology to discover the true definition of NLP, with one data stream being interviews of a selection of NLP practitioners, many of whom were taught directly by the Co-Founders of NLP and were practicing NLP in the 1970’s when NLP originated.

The theoretical underpinnings of IPA are Phenomenological, Interpretative and Idiographic and whilst the method started in health psychology it is now used in management, counselling, medicine and the humanities. Smith (2010) says IPA prioritizes a rich idiographic account, after which patterns are explored, also allowing a dialogue with extant literature on the topic under investigation. In the example he gives of pain management he states that IPA provides data that simply cannot be obtained with a quantitative instrument. (Smith, 2010).

A core principle of phenomenology is to go back to the things themselves and focus on experience in its own terms. The ontology of NLP is similar to the ontology of IPA, as Heidegger argued, phenomenology is hermeneutic and literally to perceive is to project our own interpretation onto the thing perceived. Thus, there is no objectivity as we, as researchers, are a part of the field we are investigating, influencing it and being influenced by it.

IPA takes great care with each case and is slow to move towards general nuanced accounts of similarities and differences between cases. Being the opposite to the nomothetic paradigm which tends to analyse at a group level and comparing means.

IPA Sampling

IPA makes use of purposive sampling (Smith, 2008, p. 56, 2010) and can be described in the following way: “Purposive sampling, also known as judgmental, selective or subjective sampling, is a type of non-probability sampling technique. Non-probability sampling focuses on sampling techniques where the units that are investigated are based on the judgement of the researcher” (Lund Research Ltd, 2012).

Within the wide range of sampling strategies open to an IPA researcher I made use of expert sampling. Lund Research Ltd (2012) provides examples of the many different types of purposive sampling and below I explain why I reject others in favour of Expert purposive sampling:

  1. Homogeneous sampling is a purposive sampling technique that aims to achieve a homogeneous sample. With a 40 year history of disputing behind NLP, it was not my expectation that I would obtain a homogeneous sample. From the outset, I began to discover that if I did make use of this sampling technique, using a snowball methodology, I would inevitably skew my sample towards a particular clique within a paradigm which is noted for its diversity.
  2. Typical case sampling is a purposive sampling technique used when you are interested in the normality/typicality of the units. As interviewee 10 puts it:

“I said everybody there runs some sort of training company they all have a commercial interest, we all have a commercial interest in NLP. They have a commercial interest at the moment; they have a commercial interest in their type of NLP working, their type of NLP being more successful than somebody else’s type of NLP. And we are not ready for that yet as a field because the field is not widely recognised enough outside of the field. So I think the analogy I used in my book was about food, Sainsbury’s and Tesco and Aldi can all scratch each other’s eyes out because we all know we need food, we know that so they can overtly compete with each other and they do say in their adverts our Price is better than Sainsbury’s, we’ll price match Tesco’s. They can do that because they are actively competing for our attention because we know we need food. We are not yet in a position as a field for people to know that we are a solution, when we get to the stage that NLP is recognised as a solution, a potential solution for whatever it is, then we are at a stage when we can say then my solution is better than your solution” (Interviewee 10, 21:35-22:53)

As an insider to NLP myself I suspected, in the sense used above, that there was no “normality” currently for NLP so typical case sampling was rejected for this reason.

  1. Extreme (or deviant) case sampling is a type of purposive sampling that is used to focus on cases that are special or unusual, typically in the sense that the cases highlight notable outcomes, failures or successes. As an NLP insider for 20 years I felt that as interviewee 10 pointed out, NLP is not sufficiently recognised as a solution, and coming into this research I would suggest, not sufficiently developed, in order to have a deviation from any norm.

Indeed, this research seeks to understand if there is a norm concerning exactly what NLP is and in listening to experienced NLP practitioners within the field and triangulating their data with other sources I might be able to detect some patterns of note. It is for this reason extreme case sampling was rejected.

  1. Critical case sampling is a type of purposive sampling technique that is particularly useful in exploratory qualitative research, research with limited resources, as well as research where a single case (or small number of cases) can be decisive in explaining the phenomenon of interest. Even though there were many characteristics of critical case sampling that were attractive to me, it was rejected on two inter-related counts. It is limited to a small number of cases and consequently its generalizability is usually low. Further, given that NLP appears to be such a diverse field, if I had too few samples it could be the case that I would increase the probability of missing a crucial element which made up NLP’s ontology, methodology or epistemology and consequently develop a grounded theory which missed key elements.
  2. Total population sampling is a type of purposive sampling technique where you choose to examine the entire population (i.e., the total population) that have a particular set of characteristics. This was rejected quite simply because it was beyond the scope of this research to interview every NLP practitioner around the world.
  3. Expert sampling is a type of purposive sampling technique that is used when your research needs to glean knowledge from individuals that have particular expertise. This expertise may be required during the exploratory phase of qualitative research, highlighting potential new areas of interest or opening doors to other participants. Alternately, the particular expertise that is being investigated may form the basis of your research, requiring a focus only on individuals with such specific expertise. Expert sampling is particularly useful where there is a lack of empirical evidence in an area and high levels of uncertainty, as well as situations where it may take a long period of time before the findings from research can be uncovered. Therefore, expert sampling is a cornerstone of a research design known as expert elicitation.

Expert sampling seemed to meet all the criteria of this research. By talking with experts I could realistically reduce the number down from the “total population” without missing anything. My operational assumption is experts with their experience would collectively cover the huge scope of activity within the NLP community, without the need to talk, hierarchically speaking with people lower down on account of less experience and possibly less understanding. In this sense a grounded theory could still generalise with credibility. Also it was important not to use NLP experts as the sole data point for a grounded theory of NLP. Thus this research falls very much into the category of developing a grounded theory which is exploratory in nature rather than definitive. As interviewee 10 pointed out above a characteristic of NLP is its commercial nature and many NLP practitioners could have a commercial incentive to bias their interpretation for commercial reasons. Also as pointed out by interviewee 10 there are many competing theories of what NLP is. Data sources from the extant NLP literature and from a group of motivated and interested professionals outside of the field of NLP would provide the opportunity to triangulate interpretations and consequently develop a theory which is more robust and less subjective.

The disadvantages of purposive sampling is it is difficult to defend against researcher bias. However a characteristic of IPA is that it is insiders who conduct the research on the premise they understand the domain at a higher level than an outsider and therefore can develop greater rapport and elicit meanings which have greater explanatory value and validity. Having researchers who understood NLP on account of training and experience was very much the concern of both Einspruch and Forman (1985) and Gray et al. (2013) and it was felt in order to “build bridges” between the psychology community and the NLP community and hopefully begin to develop some cross fertilisation this criterion should be adhered to. As Smith and Osborn point out:

“At the same time, IPA also emphasizes that the research exercise is a dynamic process with an active role for the researcher in that process. One is trying to get close to the participant’s personal world, to take, in Conrad’s (1987) words, an ‘insider’s perspective’…” (Smith & Osborn, 2008).

The Interview process

The relationship between the “Insider” and the field of research is visually represented by Smith (2010) below in figure 7

In talking about this relationship Smith points to a double hermeneutic, the participant is attempting to make sense of their experience and what they mean, and the researcher is attempting to make sense of the participants making sense of their experience. As already mentioned this can be a mutually influencing process in meaning making and consequently as a dynamic process both researcher and participant can emerge with a more evolved thinking.

 

Figure 7. The research circle. Smith (2010).

 

Whilst interviewing my Participants often the experience was a whole body experience, beliefs were questioned with the intention of understanding more fully so as to represent not just superficial understandings and positioning concerning what NLP is, but also to understand the deeper positions which were foundational.

Psychophenomenology offers refinements to IPA (Smith & Osborn, 2008) and Tosey and Mathison tell us psychophenomenology (Vermersch, 2004) offers enhancements to phenomenological interviewing. They say:

“It is a form of guided introspection that seeks to develop finely-grained first-person accounts by using distinctions in language, internal sensory representations and imagery that have been incorporated from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) (Bandler & Grinder 1975a). It is also a participative, relational and developmental form of interviewing, in the sense that the interviewee can gain significant insight into their experience; the process is not concerned purely with data gathering.” (Tosey & Mathison, 2010).

Interestingly Tosey and Mathison conclude:

“We have argued that in psychophenomenology the researcher needs insights into the epistemological dimensions of different syntactical structures and levels of abstraction, and skills in the subtleties of questioning, directing, commanding, suggesting and giving permission to explore further. These are subtleties which may be lacking in more conventional approaches to phenomenological inquiry such as IPA. Psychophenomenology therefore represents an interesting attempt to bring greater rigour to the use of guided introspection to organizational research. (Tosey & Mathison, 2010).

They argue that Psychophenomenology offers refinements to the precision of phenomenological methods such as IPA and psychophenomenology has innovated by drawing from NLP.

I thus paradoxically find myself using a methodology that possibly benefits from NLP in order to fully understand what NLP is. However like NLP this approach suffers itself from a lack of scientific support:

“Despite a long tradition of phenomenological research, Gibson and Hanes acknowledge (2003, p. 193) that it has no prescribed method. Giorgi (1985, p. 25) ascribes the lack of a clear methodology for such research to the notion that phenomenology itself is an emergent knowledge system: ‘Neither psychological phenomenology nor psychology as a human science is as yet a well-founded, fully mature discipline; both are only in the process of coming into being’.” (Tosey & Mathison, 2010).

In discussing phenomenological approaches Tosey and Mathison (2010) point out that a psychology that looks at brain states and behaviour but misses out on how people experience the world cannot be complete and cite Velmans (1999). Often psychology as a discipline mistrusts first-hand accounts because of the unreliability of them. Tosey and Mathison argue that this missing gap of experience can be more reliably filled when psychophenomenology focuses on the subtleties of language and the associated inner landscapes. By doing this, it is argued the researcher can distinguish more accurately between their own constructs and those of the interviewee. They critique existing phenomenological methods, saying: “It also highlights the risk that existing phenomenological methods may be gaining imprecise accounts, or inappropriately interpreting accounts through the researcher’s constructs and presuppositions despite their conscious intent to do otherwise.” (Tosey & Mathison, 2010)

It is quite clear that Tosey and Mathison (2010) themselves believe that the improved Psychophenomenology methodology which draws from NLP assists the researcher in dealing with the double hermeneutic described above.

In understanding what NLP is IPA has been used in this research as a methodology despite its lack of development and no prescribed method because, firstly this research rejects the idea a researcher can stand outside of his / her field of interest and objectively observe without influencing and being influenced, and secondly because of the assumption the more we embrace the qualitative side of the research spectrum and the associated assumptions, the more we can develop ways of understanding more precisely the experiences of people and groups of people and how this experience interacts with the dynamics of such systems as measured in more positivist ways. This is a very different set of assumptions from the researcher, who in seeking to understand the structure of subjective experience, believes through using questionnaires which have undergone a comprehensive item analysis, factor analysis and standardisation of both materials and administration and by adhering to this bubble of “objectivity” they somehow will obtain more objective data that will reliably understand and validly predict performance through the intervening fuzzy variables of attitude, personality, ability, motivation, character and context to name a few. Such approaches may get us in the “Ball park”, however they do not account for the theory- practice gap so often experienced in real life as a result of the exacerbation of the “knowing that” and “knowing how” dichotomy. McNiff and Whitehead cite Schon (1995) who says: “It is time to develop a new scholarship which demonstrates a new epistemology, a new way of knowing that meets the everyday needs of people working in real-life situations.” (McNiff & Whitehead 2000, p1).

Introducing myself to my NLP expert participants I did develop a standard pro forma to read from in order to provide the frame (see appendix A) and standardise the questions (see appendix B). However as I became more adept at interviewing and after consultation with one of my supervisors in particular, as mentioned above I developed a more open approach, allowing the NLP participant to talk more freely and not being concerned myself with getting all of my questions in.

Grounded Theory

Introduction

What Tosey and Mathison (2010) propose NLP brings to psychophenomenology is an emphasis on process and structure in the interview process rather than on content. One criticism of NLP is that in terms of its own structure and process there is no unifying Meta Theory, which ties NLP all together, identifying it specifically as NLP. Grimley says:

“Having a theoretical orientation is important if any discipline is to grow. If this were not the case we would still think Malaria was caused by bad air, (Methane). Even though shutting windows reduced the incidents of Malaria it did so for the “wrong reasons”. Only when Alphonse Laveran developed the theory that Malaria was caused microscopic parasites carried by Mosquitoes could more effective advances be made. This is very much the current case with NLP.” (Grimley 2013 b)

One of the Participants in the psychology forum discussing the authenticity of NLP puts it this way:

“The swish technique is in fact cognitive psychology, nothing specific to NLP. The mere fact of bringing together techniques based on several theoretical backgrounds does not make it a theory, it just makes it a bunch of techniques. Moreover, the NLP «practitioners» do not have a theoretical background to substantiate their «techniques». Actually, this is my last comment on NLP as I do not think it is worth a debate.” (Ouellette in Munro, 2013)

In analysis not only was this comment coded as “theory” and “techniques” but also it was coded as “NLP not worthy to discuss”.

It is probably worth reiterating what Dilts says about NLP at this juncture:

“Neuro-Linguistic Programming is the discipline whose domain is the structure of subjective experience. It makes no commitment to theory, but rather has the status of a model — a set of procedures whose usefulness not truthfulness is to be the measure of its worth” (Dilts et al. 1980, Forward to Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Para 2)

However as is often the case concerning the paradox of NLP other well-known figures within the NLP community say the opposite. It is important here to make use of a full quote in order to appreciate the difference and also the challenge of creating a coherent grounded theory of NLP which accounts for these differences:

“In the field of NLP, there is no consistent use of the term, model, patterns, techniques, etc. In this volume we have attempted to use the following as a way to distinguish a small-caps model and a big-caps Model (a Model with a capital M). First there has to be a theory which establishes the theoretical descriptions, background, foundation, hypothesis, etc. and which offers an explanatory model for how the model or a system works. An explanatory model will involve the governing ideas of the model and how to test and how to test and refine the ideas that will then lead to the creation of new applications. A model will present an idea (a hypothesis) that can be tested and falsified and can answer the why does this work questions. What explains this experience or process? Does the model have construct validity?

A theory functions as a way of bringing together a multitude of facts into a comprehensive order and when it does, it allows us to make reasonably precise predictions. A theory then is a tentative expression of a regular pattern.

Now, in spite of possible protests to the contrary, NLP does have a theory. Declaring that NLP was a model and not a theory was perhaps good public relations, but it doesn’t exclude the model from having a theory behind it. The hidden theory in NLP can be seen in the ‘NLP presuppositions’ and as such establishes NLP on the premises of constructionism, phenomenology, and on cognitive psychology” (Hall & Rose Charvet, 2011, pp. 365-366).

Grounded theory was developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967) its main idea is to develop higher level understanding that is “grounded” in, or derived from, a systematic analysis of data. Grounded theory is appropriate when the study of social interactions or experiences aims to explain a process, not to test or verify an existing theory. Researchers approach the question with disciplinary interests, background assumptions and an acquaintance with the literature in the domain, but they neither develop nor test hypotheses. Rather, the theory emerges through a close and careful analysis of the data.

Key Features of Grounded theory

Grounded theory methods emerged from the sociologists Glaser and Strauss’s collaboration during the 1960s. Interestingly this was the time that quantitative methodologies were beginning to become popular and the contrast to that approach and epistemology becomes clearer as one contrasts the positivist epistemology as described by Charmaz (2008) with the features of grounded theory outlined in this section. Charmaz (2008) says of the positivist paradigm:

“These methods were rooted in positivism, or the assumption of a unitary scientific method of observation, experimentation, logic and evidence. Positivistic beliefs in scientific logic , objectivity and truth supported and legitimized reducing qualities of human experience to quantifiable variables. Positivistic methods assumed an unbiased and passive observer, the separation of fact from value, the existence of an external world separate from scientific observers and their methods, and the accumulation of knowledge about this world. Hence, positivism led to a quest for valid instruments, replicable research designs, and reliable findings.” Charmaz (2008, Kindle location, 1737).

Lindard et al. (2008) tell us the key features of grounded theory are its iterative study design, theoretical (purposive) sampling, and system of analysis. An iterative study design entails cycles of simultaneous data collection and analysis, where analysis informs the next cycle of data collection. Analysis of the subsequent phase of data collection will lead to further adaptations of the data collection process to refine the emerging theory. In keeping with this iterative design, the sampling process proceeds on theoretical grounds. The sample is not set at the outset but is selected purposefully as the analysis progresses, participants are chosen for their ability to confirm or challenge an emerging theory. The central principle of data analysis in grounded theory research is constant comparison. As issues of interest are noted in the data, they are compared with other examples for similarities and differences. Through the process of constant comparison, for which a number of formal approaches are available, emerging theoretical constructs are continually being refined through comparisons with fresh examples from ongoing data collection, which produces the richness that is typical of grounded theory analysis. Iterative study design, theoretical sampling, and system of analysis are intimately related. An iterative study design requires theoretical sampling for iterations to be meaningful, and constant comparative analysis allows the integration of new and existing data in this iterative cycle, towards a well-grounded theory. Therefore, a study must use all three of these features to allow the emergence of new conceptual models that extend beyond conventional thinking.

Charmaz puts the challenge of undertaking Grounded theory well, characterising the double hermeneutic in IPA described by Smith (2008): “How can you give all your data a fair reading, rather than selecting only what interests you? How can you recognize multiple frames of reference and avoid misinterpreting data which flow from a frame of reference different from your own? (Charmaz 2008)

The distinguishing characteristics of grounded theory methods (see Glaser, 1992; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) include:

  • simultaneous involvement in data collection and analysis phases of research
  • developing analytic codes and categories from the data, not from preconceived hypotheses
  • constructing middle-range theories to understand and explain behaviour and processes
  • memo-writing — that is, analytic notes to explicate and fill out categories
  • making comparisons between data and data, data and concept, concept and concept
  • theoretical sampling — that is, sampling for theory construction to check and refine conceptual categories, not for representativeness of a given population
  • delaying the literature review until after forming the analysis. (Charmaz, 2008).

Where this research has strayed from the above is in delaying the literature review until after forming the analysis. As already mentioned it seems if someone engages in action research and already has disciplinary interests, background assumptions and an acquaintance with the literature, effectively being an insider on account of examining a subject which they hold a strong interest in, it will be inevitable that they will have strong biases and even unconscious beliefs concerning the research area. This is recognised by Blumer (1969) who coined the phrase ‘senisitizing concepts” to characterize the research interests and set of general concepts which grounded theorists often begin their studies with. Even if they are relatively new to the subject they research, life experience will inevitably provide a set of filters which are idiosyncratic, deleting some themes and expanding on others which resonate with previously filtered material. It seems much better to formally acknowledge this and declare it where possible and then correct for it in the coding, memo writing, comparison and theoretical sampling, rather than pretend it does not exist, paying homage to such a stance through the simple delaying a literature review. By using this method, the reader can then see more clearly how the researchers biases have pushed the research in a certain direction and make their own adjustments, if necessary, in their interpretation of the research. This method is much more in tune with an ontology which insists we construct our knowledge and are intimately connected to our field of research in a dynamic way. Interestingly the notion of soaking and poking (Fenno, 1978), or as Rock (1979) describes it “immersed in field experience” and relying on a kind of implicit uptake as in NLP, was superseded by Glaser and Strauss (1967) and a texturing of positivism, as Charmaz portrays:

“Glaser and Strauss built on their qualitative predecessors’ implicit analytic procedures and research strategies and made them explicit. Earlier qualitative researchers had taught generations of students through mentoring and immersion in field experience (Rock, 1979). Glaser and Strauss’s written guidelines for conducting qualitative research changed that oral tradition. The epistemological assumptions, logic and systematic approach of grounded theory methods reflects Glaser’s rigorous quantitative training at Columbia University. Strong links to symbolic interaction, with its stress on human reflection, choice and action, stem from Strauss’s training at the University of Chicago with Herbert Blumer and Robert Park.” (Charmaz, 2008)

The ontology of the self can to some extent be appreciated when one sees how the founder of symbolic interactionism regarded its formation and by implication the questions such a self would generate:

“The self is something which has a development: it is not initially there at birth but arises in the presence of social experience and activity, that is, develops in a given individual as a result of his relations to that process as a whole and to other individuals within that process… The self… is essentially a social structure and it arises in social experiences”. (Mead, 1934, p. 135).

Contrasted with the more asocial trait theory in traditional psychology, the self is constantly developing in the presence of social experience and activity, as indeed are the meanings created and the questions which arise. Despite the positivist influence of Glaser, Grounded theory and its links to symbolic interactionism suggest the self and associated meanings are constantly being constructed in a social manner and any impermeability of these are more linked to the emotional considerations which Bateson above commented on than the existence of hypothetical structures such as “intelligence” or “personality”.

Mead of course recognised that there is an element of permanence to the self and Damon (1983) succinctly puts this observation into written form:

“Although a person’s self-knowledge is socially influenced, nevertheless selfknowledge is not totally dependent, at least from moment to moment, upon the views and opinions of others. Although self-knowledge is diverse and multifaceted, there is also coherence and stability in a person’s identity over time and context” (Damon, 1983, p. 12).

Mead made his own process / content distinction to overcome this paradox, calling the “I” the self as subject, and the “Me” the self as object. Whilst the “Me” described what was known about somebody; their clothes, possessions, manner of thinking, religious beliefs and so forth, the “I” described the active process of experiencing contrasted with the content of that experience which is the “Me”. It is therefore possible within a Grounded Theory methodology, especially when supported by IPA and the suggested benefits which Tosey and Mathison propose in focusing on process rather than content, that during the interview process a dyadic interaction occurs whereby the “I”, is changed and new meaning, the “Me” emerges for both parties.

It is important to recognise when using Grounded Theory that it is not a preliminary exercise in refining a quantitative approach, but an epistemology and ontology that sits at the opposing end of the of the epistemological spectrum. Having said this it is clear with the influence of Glaser concessions are made to positivism in generating an ultimate theory, which in the moment is expected to have an element of predictive power.

One of the limitations of a positivist approach to scientific enquiry is that it can quite easily become stuck within the limits and range of that which can be quantified through a statistical paradigm, this experience is nicely alluded to by Neisser in the context of psychological research into memory:

“In short the results of a hundred years of the psychological study of memory are somewhat discouraging. We have established firm empirical generalizations, but most of them are so obvious that every 10 year old knows them anyway. We have made discoveries, but they are only marginally about memory; In many cases we don’t know what to do with them, and wear them out with endless experimental variations. (Neisser, 1982, p.11).

Striking a balance between what is unique and excellent and what is statistically probable and therefore predictable is needed when working with Grounded Theory. Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) misunderstand psychology when they critique it saying:

“It is patently absurd to collapse the performances of a number of different subjects and average across their responses to determine whether there is a pattern. In fact to collapse such performances and average them guarantees that any pattern that may be present will be obscured” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 82).

Psychologists using a positivist paradigm generate these data sets, not in order to collapse the performance of a number of different subjects, but to create a context where they can identify excellence and then if possible benchmark it. This misunderstanding of Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) demonstrates a lack of knowledge concerning the practice of psychology.

It is within the possibilities that a dynamic paradigm which emphasises meaning and seeks to elicit it from experts in the field, yet despite the ontological position that knowledge is individually and socially constructed, seeks also to work in a methodical way and generate a meaningful Grounded Theory that will predict and possibly even create future events that this research is carried out. Working in this way there is a recognition that one is not discovering “truth”, however rather in a social process creating “truth”. This will be my truth and in line with Action Research, others are free to learn from it and create their own truths about NLP and what it is. My responsibility is to move forwards on the basis of the “truths” I have discovered about both NLP and myself.

Chapter 4 Findings

Introduction

In this chapter I will present a grounded theory of NLP and describe how I arrived at this theory using the methodologies described in chapter 3. Inevitably using an interpretive approach this theory is only one of many competing theories which could be drawn from the data. However by being as methodical as possible I am hoping to make a case that the theory has validity. Further I intend to use this grounded theory as evidence within the profession of psychology that I am using NLP in both an ethical and professional way.

Anonymity of NLP practitioners

As someone who had practiced NLP for 20 years I already had a large degree of insider information to call upon. In writing up my dissertation I quickly made a decision to keep the identities of the contributors anonymous. This decision was partly to emphasise the positivist aspect of the research which attempts to get at the “beef’ and to marginalise that within NLP which is based rather on personality. Brown writes:

“If we remove from the NLP equation the grinning, flaccid course junkies, delusional flower fairies and ridiculous tactile businessmen, and some of the taken-as-read wild claims made by NLPers at all levels, there are some sensible enough tools and techniques from that world which are worth knowing about, as long as you don’t become a true believer” (Brown, 2007, p. 186).

And again later in the same text: “The shining stars of NLP thus are tagged with the buzzword ‘genius’ and become the sum of their anecdotes.” (Brown, 2007, p. 129).

Brown points out that within NLP the subject of testing is generally mocked and that personality is what seems to dominate what he calls powerful change: “It’s not hard to take people from a group of suggestible, enthusiastic believers and have them experience what appears to be powerful change in front of an audience. That comes down to understanding charisma and performance. He (Bandler) certainly excels in those areas” (Brown, 2007, p. 175).

By keeping contributors anonymous it is hoped that the reader’s attention can focus on the quality of discussion, rather than who said it. It is also hoped that anonymity will provide a context where the NLP practitioners who participated can talk more freely about what they believe NLP is, knowing that they will not be identified in the text.

The key research question driving data collection to inform theory

As mentioned above, King et al. (1994) tells us the 4 components of qualitative research are usually not developed separately or in any preordained order. My first point of call after developing a research question was to talk to an NLP practitioner who was also a research psychologist. At this time I rather naively wanted to jump in with my own biases and ask the research questions “What is missing from NLP and what would be needed to develop a university curriculum?” Indeed my interviews, although asking the question “what is a definition of NLP?” asked this question in the context of many other questions, concerning NLP curricula, missing elements within NLP, and why, despite 40 years of history NLP was still regarded by many professionals as Pop Psychology. However as time passed I recognised my original questions provided too large a research project and settled for what I believe was the most foundational of the questions to form the basis of this dissertation: “What is NLP?”

Extant NLP literature

The reason for using extant NLP literature was to triangulate with the data provided in the interviews. For instance on one occasion, when contrasting and comparing data, I provided an NLP practitioner with a particular point of view. They got back to me telling me I was completely wrong. When I pointed out these were their exact words, providing both text, edition and page number, they were put into the interesting state mentioned in chapter 3 where new meaning can emerge, providing individuals are open to the ongoing process of meaning making. On some occasions this was a difficult process in getting to “the beef’, however in order to stick to a methodology that sought systematic variation as a basis for a grounded theory of NLP, it was necessary to be quite vigilant in this respect.

Another reason for using extant NLP literature as a secondary source for this research is that in building a grounded theory it provided me with material to compare and contrast the primary data of what NLP practitioners actually said during their interview. Given that interviewing and transcribing is a time consuming practice, it also provided me with an alternative to conducting a complete second round of interviews to expand upon points made in the first interviews. Where I felt it was necessary to contact the participants again to clarify a particular point of view, or indeed put to them an alternative perspective to either develop or consolidate a direction the theory was taking I did so on an ad hoc basis. Having this secondary data source available in this research, capitalised on my own understanding of NLP as required by Einspruch and Forman (1985) and also expanded the scope upon which a grounded theory could be built.

A non NLP perspective

The purpose of including a data stream from outside of NLP was to offset a possible bias in building a grounded theory of NLP based solely on adherents of NLP and their writings. As Brown, who is not an adherent of NLP, notes above: there is the possibility that the nature of NLP is such that adherents provide a perspective that is highly subjective and not based upon a full critical evaluation of the process and evidence. By including a discussion in a psychology forum which ran to 44,000 words, I felt this was an opportunity to draw from professionals who had been trained in psychology to comment upon the feasibility of NLP and what it was from their perspective. It was an informed perspective, as being practitioners of the science of thinking and behaviour, they were familiar with some of the tenets of NLP and many of the theoretical strands NLP had drawn from within psychology. Some also had read classic NLP texts and in some cases were trained in NLP themselves. There were 19 contributors to this forum, the majority coming from a psychology background. As Sharpley noted in 1987 and when replying to Einspruch and Forman (1985), it is feasible that when commenting on and even researching into NLP, one does not need the training Einspruch and Forman suggested, merely an understanding of the particular aspect of NLP under investigation. Indeed it is possibly this more objective assessment of NLP that was not influenced by the kind of charisma and performance that Brown (2007) mentions within NLP, was responsible for the findings that there is no such thing as preferred representational system (PRS) as demonstrated by the review of empirical research, and as recognised by Dr John Grinder some 40 years later (Grinder & Pucelik, 2013, p. 214).

Coding

Coding is the method by which the data corpus is abstracted conceptually and then reintegrated into a grounded theory. There are two types of coding in grounded theory.

Substantive coding works on the data directly, fracturing and analysing it so core categories and concepts can emerge through open coding. Subsequently selective coding is used to inform theoretical sampling and bring the analysis to a point when, through constant comparison of the data, no further concepts can be derived, this is known as theoretical saturation. This could be likened to the rotation of factors within Factor Analysis in order to develop themes within a data set, asking the question which rotation most effectively accounts for the data or is the best fit. Even when one finds the most effective rotation, other rotations will uncover themes in the same data not accounted for by the most effective rotation. This indeed is one of the limitations of Factor Analysis, which is a key method in questionnaire construction within the positivist epistemological camp. Kline points out: “In principle components for example it is an artefact of the method that a general factor is produced, followed by a series of bipolar factors. Thus interpretation of these components as reflecting anything but their algebra is dubious” (Kline, 1994, p. 56).

Kline explains that there is no one perfect or ideal solution in factor analysis as there is almost an infinity of mathematically equivalent sets of factors. In a similar way just as the extraction of themes is a function of the underlying algebra being projected onto the data set, to believe that somehow we can suspend our own neurology and not interpret the data we experience in grounded theory is feasible, is to stretch credibility. Thus different individuals with different topics of interest and unconscious filters will not only code the data differently, but will, through their questioning and observation extract the data from the field differently too. Essentially the pure concept of an inductive theory has to be rejected as indeed the idea within NLP of a “know nothing state” is rejected by some. Glaser tells us:

“In grounded theory the analyst humbly allows the data to control him as much as humanly possible, by writing a theory for only what emerges through his skilled induction. The integration of his substantive theory as it emerges through coding and sorting is his verification that the hypotheses and concepts fit and work and are relevant enough to suggest. They are not proven; they are theory” (Glaser, 1992, p.87).

Within each category, instances, known as indicators provide the texture to help us understand the properties and dimensions of each emerging category. In this way categorical themes emerge from concepts which have certain characteristics based upon the data corpus from which they are drawn. These instances which inform the emerging category to use Factor Analytic terms, “load” into the category differentially. Some will be good examples and others not so good, but nevertheless examples, which texture the emerging category in a particular way. So for example under the category “conscious and first attention”, Interviewee 5 said: “We Live in a Society That’s Very Unbalanced as a Result There Is This over Emphasis on Conscious Knowledge, on Categorisation and rather than Attending to Something Which Is in First Attention, that Is Our Sensory Experience” (Interviewee 5, 1:31:30)

When put together with other instances this helps us appreciate that from the perspective of Interviewee 5, NLP can assist us in re-balancing an over-emphasis on conscious knowledge in present society. Thus, in understanding the answer to the question what is NLP? We have a clue that (for at least one practitioner) NLP should attend more to information which is at First Attention. This initial coding later became subsumed into the category “NLP epistemology”. In comparing this with other Participants and the extant literature one discovers First attention is often unconscious. The more other participants mention something similar, the stronger this category becomes textured in this way. For instance Participant 1 spoke of NLP in terms of category which very generally is linguistically mediated conscious material, and referred to as categorisation by participant 5, and also scope which is usually more sensory based and unconscious. She says concerning NLP: “So on a very crude level scope is the unconscious and category is the conscious.” (Interviewee 5, 26:28).

And slightly later on in the context of psychotherapy:

“Most of the things that bring people to therapy are unconscious responses that they have no control over, they don’t have any conscious control over it. Most therapy tries to deal with this using conscious thinking and this is not where the action is. Just changing the punctuation of a sentence that someone is saying to themselves or changing the tonality as they say something to themselves, that is all unconscious as it is a basic small scope of experience… that, for people is very impactful. Cognitive behavioural therapy for instance takes the conscious statement of somebody who is say depressed, and they play with the words of it they write down the words on a piece of paper, they write counter words down which is supposed to counter that and they write that down on a piece of paper and they tell people to say that all day long without anything to do with the tone of voice they use, like a sarcastic tone or a Mandarin Chinese tone and they have no idea how impactful that is” (Interviewee 5, 27:04).

So initially I can tentatively begin, to create a theoretical category of “Epistemology of NLP” and within that category the theory that NLP practice is defined by a focus of attention on scope of experience rather than / as well as categorisation of experience. However as I continued to code I discovered other NLP practitioners emphasised a more content oriented approach, training their NLP trainees in Meta programs and specific NLP patterns which were claimed to work, so the epistemology of NLP from this wider perspective became problematical and was one aspect of this research which loaded into the final theoretical category of “Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code. Critical of the discipline of Psychology”

Coding Diary

These emergent ideas and thoughts were put into a coding diary to diarise the process and the thinking behind it, known as memoing in Grounded Theory (Holton, 2010). Memoing is described by Holton thus:

“Grounded theory’s tandem processes of coding and memoing help to alleviate the pressure of uncertainty by challenging the researcher to stop coding and capture, in the moment, their conceptual ideas about the codes that they are finding. As coding and memoing progress, patterns begin to emerge. Pattern recognition gives the researcher confidence in the coding process and in his or her innate creativity; it encourages the researcher to continue while offering guidance on where to go next in the data collection, coding, and analysis process.” (Holton, 2010)

The above two transcripts could have been coded very differently, however as the object of my research was to discover “What is NLP?” it was regarded by me as appropriate to form a theoretical category of epistemology, so that in answering the research question I can begin to answer it in epistemological terms. In terms of observable implications of such coding, one would thus expect to see such a focus and emphasis on the unconscious and First Attention. However on other occasions within NLP I could also expect to see a more content oriented approach with an emphasis on following the listed techniques correctly;

“Then when somebody asks you, ‘What is NLP?’ you can say, ‘This is what we consider NLP,’ and it can also include different levels of technology. So, it can be assumptions or anchoring as a principle or collapsing anchors as a technique, the steps. So, that can all be thrown into this list, because it’s that we, as NLPers agree, yes, yes, and yes and maybe it will have 100 items.” (Interviewee 14, 48:45).

Holton says:

“Many who attempt grounded theory are captured by the energy of conceptual emergence at the substantive level and settle for a few good concepts but do not sustain the discipline and patience to systematically integrate those concepts through theoretical coding. This task is made more difficult if they have neglected the important process of memoing in conjunction with coding and analysis.” (Holton, 2010)

Interestingly, just as a positive response to ambiguity and vagueness was a characteristic instrumental in the creation of NLP; Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001, p123), So too the analytical temperament for a grounded theorist seems to be something similar: “The required analytic temperament will allow the researcher to maintain analytic distance from the data, tolerate regression and confusion, and facilitate a trust in the power of preconscious processing for conceptual emergence.” (Holton, 2010).

What is clear is that both NLP and Grounded Theory like to act “As if’ they can be conceptually neutral and rely on preconscious / unconscious processes to organise the sensory material in an emergent way.

However Andreas makes a telling comment when talking about the difference between NLP modelling and Analytical NLP modelling. The very same could be said for the grounded theorist attempting to code inductively:

«The essential difference of consequence between the process of NLP modelling and Analytic modelling is the relative contributions of the model and modeller to the final work product. This difference resides principally in the degree of imposition of the perceptual and analytic categories of the modeller during the modelling process—in the case of NLP modelling, the imposition is minimal, in the case of Analytic modelling, the imposition is maximal. Firstly, this statement seems to assume that the unconscious does not have «perceptual and analytic categories.» I think there is ample evidence from hypnosis and experimentation that the unconscious does have these, and they can be at least as biased as conscious ones. So even the «minimal imposition» of the modeller in unconscious acquisition will be substantial.” (Andreas, 2006).

My reasoning in emphasising the subjective nature of this research is the intention to allow the reader to continue to appreciate the nature of this research. With the positivist emphasis of Glaser within Grounded Theory, there is a danger that after reading the chapter on methodology in this research one somehow believes subjectivity is partialled out through the imposition of specific procedures, this really is not the case in my opinion. It is for this reason both Action Research and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis are called upon. I recognise this is my interpretation of ambiguous material and the meanings derived form the basis for my future actions. My use of grounded theory is in order to assist my interpretation be as valid as possible.

Abbott, in Saldana, likens the process of coding to decorating a room. However much one may arrange and re-arrange, the end result which makes sense is still to a great extent subjective, however that is OK as it is the researcher who has to “live with it” and indeed validate to visitors: “As you progress toward Second Cycle coding, there may be some rearrangement and reclassification of coded data into different and even new categories. Abbott (2004) cleverly likens the process to «decorating a room; you try it, step back, move a few things, step back again, try a serious reorganization, and so on» (Saldana, 2009. p. 10).

The coding diary assisted me in the decoration of my room so to speak. As themes emerged and concepts began to develop into categories my diary provided space to compare and contrast, rearrange and view.

Coding and Software used; Nvivo and The Brain

Nvivo was used in order to do the intial substantive coding. What was found, as described above was the scope of my initial enquiry was too great and the assumptions which informed that scope consistently were challenged in my interviews, so I recognised the words of Glaser (1992) “In grounded theory the analyst humbly allows the data to control him as much as humanly possible”

My initial research question at Surrey University “Can NLP patterns be effectively used to reduce stress in the workplace?” had altered through “what is missing from NLP and what would be in an NLP curriculum to create a degree?” and “What is the definition of NLP?” to simply “What is NLP?”

During the coding process the concept of a definition was challenged on many counts: “Definition can be narrow, and is itself a nominalisation. I would suggest that for me its more important to know the principles, postulates, applications, epistemology (sic), historical context of discovery in a cultural sense, , and so on.” (Authenticity, Russel Dexter, 2014).

And again:

 

“Bruce: If we say NLP works, it’s useful to know what NLP is. I know there are many definitions of NLP, but what is your definition of NLP and why?

Interviewee 6: Before I answer that I’m also going to say I don’t like that phrase, I know a lot of NLPers use it, because it’s too general and that’s probably what you’re getting at with the definition, I think. I would rather we talk about interventions that work, that we have evidence for, and I would also like us to talk about how NLP helps influence language patterns, etc. It’s like saying, ‘Psychology works,’ to say, ‘NLP works.’ So, for me, that’s one of the things that’s got us into trouble, saying a blanket ‘NLP works’ frame. (Interviewee 6, 21:48-22:31, 2014).

As a result of these and many more observations suggesting the word definition is not useful for descriptive purposes, I settled for a research question of just “What is NLP?” recognising that this could embrace evidence for NLP interventions which work, through the principles and epistemology of NLP, to NLP in a cultural and social sense, however allowing the coding process to determine exactly what those categories should be.

When cross referencing with the extant NLP literature I noticed that Tosey and Mathison, (2009) also refer to “NLP as a movement” examining the culture of “NLP as self-help”, “NLP as a pursuit for excellence”, “NLP as the Wild West” and in rejecting NLP as a cult noticing that it can be seen as “a system of belief in which Guru-Like figures hold out the promise of changing lives and the hope of acquiring wealth and happiness, and may expect allegiance to their authority and their own brand of truth.” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 174).

As a result of the substantive coding and subsequent theoretical coding of 15 transcripts from NLP practitioners and The Authenticity Forum Linked In discussion, 8 conceptual categories emerged. These were:

NLP “defined” by 1) Commercially motivated, with no coherent epistemology, ontology or methodology

2)        Saturated in Anecdotal evidence

3)        Lacking in published Empirical Evidence.

4)        Historical and current disagreement

5)        Wanting to be “accepted”, but disappointed with the continual pattern of not being accepted by “mainstream”

6)        Development of break-out groups, dissatisfied with the culture of disagreement within NLP, sometimes using a different brand.

7)        Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code. Critical of the discipline of Psychology

8)        All practice generally being associated with worst practice

Given a concern by some Interviewees was that definition has the effect of narrowing down the practice of NLP in an inappropriate way it was an interesting finding that in conducting a word frequency count in the data corpus the word definition did not appear in the top 100. In fact it occurred only 150 times with the word psychologist appearing 151 times, (weighted percentage 0.07%) A possibility that it is psychologists who are more concerned with definition than NLP practitioners would be a useful avenue to explore, especially as we see in the developing epistemology of NLP that there is a concern for First attention at a sensory level rather than categorisation.

In order to develop these categories and compare them I found the moving between boxes and files in Nvivo rather cumbersome and found some software that allowed me to visually see the association between concepts and also make notes and import social media and web material. “The Brain” has been used for qualitative research by others and not only was it a useful piece of software for myself to help develop the substantive codes into concepts and finally categories, but also to disseminate this research around the world to those who might be interested to see how I developed my Grounded theory from the substantive coding.

 

Figure 8. Text search print out for “definition” Nvivo. (15 & 19 Participants)

Figure 9 below provides a visual portrayal of the word frequency count.

 

Figure 9 word frequency count Nvivo. (15 & 19 Participants)

 

Below, in figure 10, a snap shot of the early substantive coding in “The Brain” can be seen. It will be appreciated by being able to see on one screen how coding an instance in many ways assisted in facilitating the emergence of higher level concepts and categories and eventually a grounded theory. By clicking on a particular concept this made it central on the screen and all the instances related to it became visible along with notes and associated web material imported. These instances could then be explored further by clicking on them. In this way not only was it possible to chunk down from concept to instance, but it was also possible to see how both the particular instance was also related to other concepts coded at that time as well as other instances within that concept. So not only were instances related to multiple conceptual codes, but also they were related to each other and through this relationship further conceptual codes emerged.

Throughout the substantive coding process new categories would appear as new instances fitted into existing categories, creating different categories at different levels. For instance the following transcript of a public Video by Richard Bandler was initially coded in multiple ways; 1.NLP definition, 2. NLP practice, 3. NLP beliefs.

“Neuro-linguistic programming came out of the work I did modelling the way people thought. What we did is solely unique. When I started out there were 40 schools of psychotherapy all arguing about who had the right approach when none of them could reliably do a single thing. They couldn’t fix phobias, they couldn’t do this, they couldn’t do that. Every once in a while they were successful, but most of the time they were so busy arguing about the theories.” (NLP life training, 2008).

And

“We can, reliably, get rid of a phobia in 10 minutes every single time, because we found out, not by studying people that had phobias, but by finding people who had gotten over phobias and finding out how they did it, what they did at the neurological level and at the subjective level.” (NLP life training, 2008).

However, on reflection after coding many other similar instances, the interaction of this “practice” “definition” and “beliefs” brought about other categories at different levels which subsumed these levels. These were “NLP as defined through professional relationships and within that “professionalism”. This in turn, when compared and contrasted with other instances became: NLP as a personality and within that; “Not taking enough consideration of the presuppositions of NLP” Eventually these two concepts converged to create the final category within the grounded theory of

“Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code. Critical of the discipline of Psychology”

 

Figure 10 Screen shot of “The Brain” used to do initial open coding alongside Nvivo

 

As this constant comparison generates more conceptual codes which can inform an answer to the research question, also it can help see if the data does indeed continue to support these emerging higher conceptual codes. The concept of professionalism in NLP was supported for instance by Interviewee 10:

“I don’t class myself as an NLP person at my identity level but probably what I do class myself at an identity level is a professional so I apply my professionalism to whatever field I happen to be in at the time so I was a professional as an accountant and therefore professional is knowing my scope of practice as an accountant I knew what I could do what I couldn’t do I wouldn’t stand there and say I can do a really complex tax return which has got inheritance tax and capital gains etc. etc., if you really want me to do your tax return the first thing I will say is I am not an expert on tax returns if you still really wanted me to do your tax returns I will do it if you have just got a P 60 and that’s all that goes on your tax return fine but I knew my scope of practice I knew what I could do I knew what I couldn’t and that is part of being a professional which I am.” (Interviewee 10 1:04:57 to1:05:48. 2014)

For Interviewee 10 a part of being a professional was to know his scope of experience, many of the conceptual codes which emerged from the open coding characterised other ways NLP practitioners generally seems to deal with this higher level concept of “professionalism”. For some they break out into groups where they can have greater control and impose professional and ethical standards as well as an epistemological and methodological base from which to work, for others there is continual disagreement as to what NLP is all about, and it is almost as though an argumentative culture is thrived upon, yet professionalism for many NLP Interviewees is displayed through an earnest desire to change this and provide standards. Tosey and Mathison observe:

“NLP’s body sometimes seems so fractured that it is difficult to imagine it recovering from its self-inflicted injuries. Due especially to the effects of litigation about intellectual property rights in NLP (Hall 2001), something appears to have died. The legal matter may have been resolved but it’s impact persists. To use an English cricket metaphor, NLP has been knocked for six” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 191).

Others quite simply proclaim the commercial market place is the area where validation occurs and NLP, being legitimately accepted across the world means it works, otherwise why would people spend good money to be involved with it? In this sense they see themselves as being fully professional.

When contrasting the comments of Bandler above with the substantive codes from the LinkedIn discussion it seemed quite clear from both a professional and scientific perspective the above statements displayed a lack of professionalism in terms of Interviewee 10’s framing and that is to work within the scope of what one knows.

Grant and Cavanagh, (2004) summarize professional status as defined by several key criteria: “(1) Significant barriers to entry

(2)       A shared common body of knowledge rather than proprietary systems

(3)       Formal qualifications at university level

(4)       Regulatory bodies with the power to admit discipline and meaningfully sanction members

(5)       An enforceable code of ethics

(6)       Some form of state-sanctioned licensing or regulation for certain professions or parts of professions.” (Grant and Cavanagh, 2004, p. 3).

What was important in this research was to suspend personal bias and recognise that professionalism for NLP practitioners could be something else and indeed this research demonstrates that it is, and such a difference in perspectives leads to the formation of category 7 in the grounded theory.

In the next section I will explicate how precisely I came to the 8 core categories which have informed this grounded theory.

 

Coding specifically speaking Category 1 commercially motivated,

A quick search on the World Wide Web will demonstrate you can easily pay over £3,000.00 for an NLP practitioner course, so for those at the top of the tree it is a very profitable venture to such an extent some have likened NLP to pyramid selling. A couple of comments from an on line blog signposted by participants in the Authenticity forum put such views into a typical perspective:

“ … I watched as line managers (not HR) and a third party NLP Master deceptively structured an NLP course under another guise, to avoid «forcing» staff into the training. That plan was scuttled when their deception was revealed by one of their targets.

That said, I don’t believe that it’s a cult. But it should be prosecutable as a pyramid scheme.” (comment in Clark 2006)

“NLP is like financial pyramid, first two guys have idea how to manipulate a few people to make one million U.S. dollars, next of them like to be manipulated as they believed that there is so many others which follow them and also pay millions for that “wisdom”, problem is that at the end is a lot of NLP gurus and nobody new to manipulate — frustrating, what a drama for fanatics, they spent so much money and time to stay NLP guru and now what? They only can attack and fight to the last” (comment in Clark 2006)

Even though the above blog was designed to debunk NLP the ambivalent attitude towards the educational value of NLP courses is alluded to in a further comment:

 

“I well remember, when I worked for a giant further education (FE) college, the sense of chilled embarrassment that spread round the room when its Director of Human Resources, whom I reported to indirectly (whilst also representing over 1000 teaching staff in a trade union role during a period of very strained industrial relations), told us in complete seriousness that he was a Certified NLP practitioner.” (Schmoller, 2006, in Clark 2006).

For those interested in NLP it is difficult to see past the possibility that the main driver and focus of developing NLP courses is commercial rather than educational. Historically the 1st and 2nd generations of NLP practitioners very quickly turned to selling training courses and it was this diaspora which led Sharpley to reviewing the research into NLP in 1984. If the heart of NLP was valid practice then one would have expected, in the wake of the Heap and Sharpley reviews an upturn in research, clarifying precisely what NLP was and good quality research which tested some of the NLP patterns. However as Witkowski, (2010), demonstrates, after the 1980’s there was a downturn into NLP research and the interest has never returned, (figure 12), with an instance in the “Saturated in anecdotal evidence” category suggesting the topic is not even worthy of debate.

Tosey and Mathison (2009) point out the emphasis on modelling excellence and genius within NLP circles probably resonated with the commercial potential of NLP and they suggest NLP, in being packaged and sold as a commercial product, may lend weight to the view that NLP is a part of the self-help movement. This is congruent with the idealism of the American Dream and the promise of freedom and choice in one’s life. Dale Carnegie taught us how to win friends and influence people, Norman Vincent Peal taught us how to think in a positive way, now NLP apparently teaches the masses how to model excellence. Multimillionaire Tony Robbins would be the poster boy for NLP if he did not fit into category 6 of this grounded theory of NLP; “Development of break out groups, dissatisfied with the culture of disagreement within NLP sometimes using a different brand.” Instances which brought about the 1st Category in this theory are exemplified below.

 

Table 3. A section of substantive and theoretical coding leading to the development of the category: Commercially motivated (with no coherent epistemology, ontology or methodology)

Property of concept Data Source Example
NLP as a product, like any other which competes in the market place NLP Interviewee 5 (34:00) I suppose you think about it more from a free market point of view you think about all these different views and NLP is competing in the marketplace.
Awareness and emphasis on the importance of marketing in commercial success, independently of the quality of product. NLP Interviewee 5 (35:15) You can have a poor idea, an awful product that is marketed very well compared with a great idea that is marketed very poorly. Was it Beta Max or was it VHS I think Beta Max was a better product. But VHS was better marketed.
The implication currently it is more economically viable to do things inappropriately and unethically and this is how NLP sells its benefits. It is not economically viable to do things appropriately. NLP Interviewee 6 (17:40) Find a way of selling the benefits of doing it more ethically and looking at other ways that we might do it. And it’s possible that, even with other things going on, there’s going to come a point where it’s actually economically viable to do things appropriately, because it will become more mainstream.
What constitutes knowing what one is doing in NLP is determined by the marketplace. NLP Interviewee 7 (22:21) We just do it and the marketplace will put out of business those who don’t know what they are doing and don’t have good protocols and who may try to do it based upon their personality rather than the process itself.
The purpose of NLP is to do business instead of doing research. NLP Interviewee 7 (21:05) I think NLP has not been interested in that because we see it working every day in people’s lives and our purpose has been to do business instead of doing research
Some people in NLP are practicing NLP as a way of making money quickly with no quality or testing associated with the program. NLP Interviewee 8 (11:30) But where it is now I think it’s in quite a dangerous place with what it appears to be some people almost abusing what I see as the philosophy of NLP and doing a quick win a quick moneymaking, I don’t know, I find it hard to describe it but it worries me when I see things like online practitioner for you know hundred quid or whatever when there’s going to be no face-to-face there’s going to be no possible measurement of competence.
NLP definitions possibly designed to boost attractiveness and sales, rather than describing accurately what its purpose and mechanisms are. NLP Interviewee 8 (31:45) No I mean I sometimes I can reel off some of the official ones but I think sometimes some of those are more about marketing than actual definitions
Small businesses who run NLP courses are focused on the practice of business and not research. NLP Interviewee8 (43:55) Bruce: I guess really one of the questions I have here is what do you see as the challenges of robustly testing an NLP pattern, you have already answered that finance is a big one.

8: I think finance is big one and while it is individual people running their own businesses that is not their focus their focus in a business is making money not proving it works.

People will write cheques for thousands of pounds for dodgy everyone passes courses. Strong marketing and sales practice perceived by observers. Authenticity Hammond The discussion has also pointed out the very strong marketing machine. I have attended several free events just to observe the techniques and am amazed to watch people writing cheques for 1000s of pounds for dodgy- everyone-passes courses (that was actually a coaching course, but they’re pretty indistinguishable in content). But go back 2 hours, and they had been subjected to full-on ‘don’t let them tell you you can’t do it’. ‘no one holds you back but yourself’ ‘seize your dreams’ sort of stuff, plus of course the Olympian soaring music. And of course the groupthink stuff is also going on here — I wonder if there are twenty or so stooges who rush up straightaway to create a social norm of ‘yeah do it!’
NLP practitioners with commercial organisations are more interested in customer satisfaction than with what actually works. NLP Interviewee 9 (26:00) Here is an important distinction. One of the things which I got from NLP, and especially Bandler was that what satisfies people is what satisfies them it doesn’t have to be true, it doesn’t have to be proved, it just has to be plausible to them and therefore a lot of the NLP trainings give stuff that satisfies the answer when even though it’s rubbish, they give that and it satisfies people.
NLP although commercially motivated is not sufficiently organised as a field to convince the world they are a solution, but rather are perceived as weird, lentil eating, NLP Interviewee 10(21:35) Everybody there runs some sort of training company they all have a commercial interest, we all have a commercial interest in NLP. They have a commercial interest at the moment, they have a commercial interest in their type of NLP working, their type of NLP being more successful than somebody else’s type of NLP. And we are not ready for that yet as a field
sandal wearing freaks who operate from a personal commercial interest

perspective suggesting their type of

NLP is better than somebody else’s type of NLP.

  because the field is not widely recognised enough outside of the field. So I think the analogy I used in my book was about food, Sainsbury’s and Tesco and Aldi can all scratch each other’s eyes out because we all know we need food, we know that so they can overtly compete with each other and they do say in their adverts our Price is better than Sainsbury’s, we’ll price match Tesco’s. They can do that because they are actively competing for our attention because we know we need food. We are not yet in a position as a field for people to know that we are a solution, when we get to the stage that NLP is recognised as a solution, a potential solution for whatever it is, then we are at a stage when we can say then my solution is better than your solution. Whereas what we’ve got is that mentality where everybody accepts and understands, because were in the field, and we know how good NLP is, and we accept that about NLP we don’t look outside the fields and say everybody else just looks at us and says we are all weird, lentil eating sandal wearing freaks
NLP attracts people in its sales model who have a mind-set that marginalises academic science. NLP Interviewee 12 (9:22) Its attractive because, I think, of So and So and So and So’ s attitudes and what they promulgate as their sales model, it’s attracted a certain mindset that marginalises itself against academic science.
NLP chose to be a sales oriented activity rather than an academic one early on in its history. NLP Interviewee 12 (11:37) So and So and So and So were positioned to go down an academic route, however they chose a workshop sales model early on.
Certain people in NLP are perceived as only being interested in commercial gain as their prime motivator for doing work. NLP Interviewee 12 (18:32) Unless So and So and So and So are going to make money out of something they are not going to be interested
NLP is polluted with marketing material. NLP Interviewee 12 (20:21) NLP has become polluted with so much marketing material.
NLP is a highly competitive field. NLP participant 14 (17:24) I think there are many factors. Of course, the crisis, so people don’t have the money or don’t want to spend the money. Also, we have 50 institutes that provide NLP practitioners in a small country like ours, so there is a lot of competition.
NLP has made money from claims, but not put in the hard work and discipline to support those claims over the years.

This is a modern trend in Academia which is another story.

Authenticity Munro and Shannon. Munro:This is where I think NLP comes under a bit of pressure, ie much money made from the claims but little evidence of outcomes.

Shannon :The problem is one of the choice of, and measurement of, the criterion or outcome and control of extraneous variables. What is observed in the “lab” may or may not be replicated outside it. With rigorous practice over time a body of evidence can be built up that people could find convincing. But it takes hard work and discipline, and some one has to do that and get paid for it. This is where NLP falls short. The work has not been done to support the claims. However, NLP is not the only place where this happens. The politicisation and monetization of academia threaten the integrity of research. But that is another story.

Cognitive dissonance at work in the sales model means everybody is satisfied. Some psychologists might be tempted to adopt the way NLP promotes itself. Authenticity Williams Who in their right mind would be stupid enough (sorry, an accurate, but not politically sensitive term) to pay this kind of money and then have the guts to admit they were scammed? Come to my house instead and I’ll throw-in an open bar and endless gourmet buffet. Participants will be so crocked and stuffed they won’t remember a thing.

(Note to self: Change the way you promote yourself)

In 1996 Bandler perceived the NLP brand to be worth a lot of money and took what could be regarded as action which evidences the real motivation for engaging in the practice of NLP. Hall M (2013b) “It began in July of 1996 when Richard Bandler filed a $90,000,000 lawsuit as a civil action against John Grinder, Carmen Bostic St. Clair, Christina Hall, Steve and Connirae Andreas, and Lara Ewing and 200 John and Jane Does.”

Discussion category 1, NLP as commercially motivated.

In researching what NLP is, what struck me during the research period was not so much that people who trained NLP wanted to be paid for their work, but rather how they were so competitive with each other and could not evidence in the psychological literature what was so wonderful about NLP compared with any other paradigm. However much NLP practitioners insist they have nothing to do with psychology, on a daily basis they are actually training people in psychological techniques modelled from people initially trained in and practicing psychotherapy / psychiatry. Given this lack of evidence which is alluded to by NLP Interviewee 10, the practice of NLP becomes a marketing and sales exercise and as NLP Interviewee 5 points out those with the best marketing and sales strategy and execution are the winners irrespective of content.

This state of affairs can be contrasted with the coaching industry which has grown exponentially over 10 years. Unlike NLP, however, coaching recognises the place psychology has in its profession with some writers pointing out psychology is the profession that most influences coaching, (Brock, 2006). Coaching too is commercially motivated with post graduate courses costing anything between £10k to £30k. Coaching, however, recognises that in order to work ethically and professionally in human development, it needs to incorporate research practice into its curriculum. Academic journals and conferences now address and discuss the emerging profession of coaching and many of the emerging challenges. These act as professional forums which test new coaching models and coaching practice in a peer reviewed milieu, ensuring critical examination of claims made and also ensuring that ethical and professional practice standards are adhered to.

It is the exclusion of this critical examination of practice, and development of an evidence base that throws the commercial aspect of NLP so much to the fore that it does become a defining feature of NLP in this grounded theory.

Category 2. Saturated in Anecdotal evidence

This category was very much the other side of the coin of category 3. NLP attracts its customer base through stories, or anecdotal evidence. It is not necessary that these stories are true either, as for NLP there is no truth, only subjective maps of the world which are the product of distortion, deletion and generalisation and are more or less useful. The key question for NLP is are these “lies” useful? Below in table 4 the reader can get a sense how this category became populated and textured through coding.

 

Table 4. A section of substantive and theoretical coding leading to the development of the category: Saturated in Anecdotal Evidence.

Property of concept Data Source Example
Competency obtained through anecdotal evidence. NLP Interviewee 4 (4:20) So you get reports back of people generalising themselves using the pattern out there in the world. That is one example of evidence that demonstrates to me that they are getting it
Recognition by NLP practitioner of the anecdotal nature of NLP evidence to date and the need for empirical evidence. NLP Interviewee 6 (34:10) Bruce: When you mention the ‘swifter intervention’, is it important to have

the empirical evidence to support those claims?                Participant 6: I think it

is, I think it’s essential, because otherwise it’s just anecdotal and it’s just us saying, ‘It’s this, it’s that,’ or whatever. It just doesn’t stand up. We have to have some empirical evidence,

Behavioural evidence obtained by

the observations of one assessor

without consultation from other perspectives nor a behaviourally anchored template

NLP Interviewee 5 (56:12) So one I am observing and listening to the patterns that they are demonstrating, to me that is the most important form of evidence it is behavioural.
NLP is interested in doing business rather than testing its product. NLP Interviewee 7 (21:05) I think NLP has not been interested in that because we see it working every day in people’s lives and our purpose has been to do business instead of doing research
Not interested in the validation of NLP generally, validation occurs on an ad hoc basis at the individual level. A preference for individual anecdotal validation over validation through accepted psychological protocols. NLP Interviewee 15 (1:50:05) …it’s not my mission on this planet to validate NLP. I actually, you know….if it works, great, you know. I know….(laughs) I know from the work that I do with people, and I don’t care if some study came out and said that this wouldn’t work,
NLP totally ideographic, generalisations cannot be made because each event happens for the first time. NLP Interviewee 15 (1:17:48) There is no statistic on it because it is the first time that it’s happening so it’s the first time it is happening for this person
Anxiety that NLP patterns might not generally work as a barrier to doing scientific research thus the practice of only relying on anecdotal evidence. NLP Interviewee 9 (1:03:35) we have to play the game and I think one of the things which has held us back is this kind of belief that NLP is that much better than everything else but let’s not actually test it in case it isn’t and the way you can get around that is that you don’t have to do comparative studies to prove that NLP is valuable
NLP Practitioners are not interested in research or intellectual history. NLP Interviewee 15 (1:43:00) So what you do, is you don’t just tell stories, you also are going to have certain (laughing) you know stuff that either it’s been filmed or it’s been written, or you have a data. .da da. .you have witnesses, you have this, you’ve got this, you’ve got this and that’s how you establish the intellectual history of something. But I think that people who do NLP are not that interested in intellectual history, frankly, (laughs) that’ s part of the

which is again. it’s not just they’re not interested in research, they

don’t care where it came from . .I also can understand that academics, you know, don’t like that               I don’t particularly like it —

Critical of psychological practice as a possible excuse for not conducting good research which can be generalised. NLP Interviewee 1 (51:40) 90% of All Psychological Research Is either Done on College Sophomores, Naive Rats.
Critical of psychological practice as a possible excuse for not conducting good research which can be generalised NLP Interviewee 1 (51:15) She did her Ph.D. she had psych students coming in and was doing research on eye accessing cues, all the students had to come as a requirement of their psych course, a lot of them came in stoned
A recognition currently the certified NLP trainings are not based upon material that has been researched. Participant 2’s comment on my interpretation: “Page 176 Your use of my quote to support “Saturated in Anecdotal Evidence” negatively skews my well documented opinion that the huge amount of anecdotal evidence put forth from NLP experts whose personal integrity NLP Interviewee 2 (6:30)

and clinical skills, I have firsthand knowledge of, such as Professor Emeritus William McDowell, Steve Andreas, Robert Dilts, Judith DeLozier, Richard Bolstad, Tim Hallbom and Professor Richard Gray, indicates sufficient promise in

People like Me Say This Has to Be Researched and There has to be Certified Training Programs for the Materials that Are Researched.

the NLP materials to warrant further research.” (see p224 for discussion)

NLP testing is done anecdotally and in an idiographic way. It is consistently experimental. NLP Interviewee 5 (1:23:30) You can apply and test a pattern in a range of different contexts and find where does it work and where doesn’t it work so it’s very much, a part of this is doing it yourself is up to the person who is learning NLP to take a pattern and tested it in a range of context to find out where it applies and where it doesn’t.
NLP practitioners would love to see research done, but do not seem prepared to do it themselves. NLP Interviewee 6 (41:00) I would love to see some research done where people take the original modelling skills and pick something else where they model on someone who’s excellent and then, maybe, take several people: someone who is in the same field but not at the same standard and teach them; then take someone who is at the beginning of that field and teach them; and have some control people who are similar levels and measure their progress — maybe a longitudinal study
NLP practitioners know that NLP patterns are amenable to testing. There is nothing about NLP which makes it intrinsically untestable. NLP Interviewee 6 (42:15) We can even take something as minor as phobia cure, where we could find 60 spider phobics and have 20 of them with an NLP approach, 20 of them with cognitive and 20 we don’t do anything with. So, we could take an intervention and really, really test it and compare it to other approaches.
Acknowledgement NLP is not doing what would be “nice”. NLP Interviewee 13 (19:55) The way I would like to see it done is it would be nice to have some clinical studies done. I acknowledge the difficulty in setting them up but it would be nice to have some randomly allocated patients to 2 or three different treatment groups one in NLP one cognitive behavioural intervention probably the other just received counselling and I’d like to see that done
Empirical Evidence does not change the way someone thinks about a topic   So why bother? NLP Interviewee 14 (36:26) There is evaluation research in Romania and So and So in Finland; they compared NLP with control groups and other types of therapy. They had positive results. It is clear to me that, although they did that, it will have nil effect on your opinion. Social psychologists know that opinions are not changed by proof, because identity is much stronger in this field, so the way you identify and how you define accounts is strong. If you see one piece of research that is totally significant and proves NLP works, ‘OK, what did they do wrong? What did they manipulate or what is wrong with the design?’ That’s the first thing you think when you are opposed to that.
It takes too much money and effort to warrant good quality research NLP Interviewee 14 (36:00) So, I know how to do research, but, for instance, to do evaluation research on things of NLP performance, I could do that and know how to do that, but it takes a lot of money and effort.
Good quality research limits what you can discover because of modern professional constraints. NLP Interviewee 8 (30:08) I mean I guess if you imagine Bandler and Grinder way back being tied down to a strict methodology thinking through ethics to getting ethics permission they may never have discovered some of the stuff they discovered because you know we all know they were doing it in pretty way out ways, they were really pushing the boundaries of ethics at times, but they were exploring at the edges of new knowledge and understanding and they probably pushed themselves further than a strict research methodology would have allowed them to do.
NLP uses “scientific language” therefore to be congruent it “should” make use of scientific evidence. Linked in Discussion. Munro By using the vocabulary of Neuro Linguistic Programming, the project seemed to want some kind of scientific association. It could have labelled itself Magical Mumbling Jumbling and gone down the route of many other New Age-isms and -ologies of the 70s. And no one would have batted an eyelid. But it didn’t, so it shouldn’t be too surprised when the sceptics ask about evidence — of the conventional kind.
NLP is more likely to be World 2 and put two fingers up to World 1 with NLP practitioners as secular priests popularising a “wheeze”. Linkedin Discussion. Munro World 1 is the abstract world of NLP: concepts, constructs, theory, research and building an evidence base, etc. Some of the language is baffling to me — but that’s me. But it’s not a world that connects too much with heavy duty and mainstream scientific thinking or debate. And NLP theorists (Bruce, yourself apart) seem to maintain a distance from the world of mainstream publications, intense social media debate, etc. Here NLP has to work out a story: is it part of the scientific enterprise, or does it sit outside it? World 2 is the one in which NLP practitioners are untroubled by World 1: they know NLP works because their client said how much the session/workshop/ etc helped them. Here NLP is part of their belief system and faith. That’s OK if NLP advocates and practitioners want to be secular priests. But here they remain subject to the same criticisms of any other wheeze that says «it works because I and my followers (clients) say it does». History is full of wheezes that «worked»; some were inconsequential and trivial, some were harmful. NLP needs to make its mind up: Does it take the best of World 2 and integrate it within World 1 (and lose its identity)? Or, more likely, decide to go down the route that maintains World 2 (and retains the NLP brand and its commercial variations) and puts two fingers in the air at World 1. And as I say, NLP is not alone in this field of having to working out how these two worlds come together. The closing 20 seconds of Burn After Reading, which should be shown at the conclusion of every management meeting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOOdSwFgSec
NLP is short in hard research facts, but long in opinions and anecdotes. Authenticity. Williams it looks like this thread is about to break a world record for duration…Lot’s of opinions and anecdotes…few hard research facts…That should tell us a lot about the subject.
NLP is just a series of techniques taken from psychology and unless one has a discipline which is theoretical it cannot ipso facto be authentic. NLP not worthy of debate. Williams and Ouellette Williams: I don’t think you could even pose a question about the authenticity of something that is atheoretical.

Ouellette: Mark, the swish technique is in fact cognitive psychology, nothing specific to NLP. The mere fact of bringing together techniques

    based on several theoretical background does not make it a theory, it just makes it a bunch of techniques. Moreover, the NLP «practitioner» does not have a theoretical background to substantiate their «techniques». Actually, this is my last comment on NLP as I do not think it is worth a debate.
Historically NLP has never done research despite always talking about it and this is a pretty strong pattern. NLP Interviewee 9 (21:25) One of the things which we need to learn is what has actually happened and for example in terms of your thing, people have talked about doing research in NLP since the day I arrived in NLP and we are still talking about it, so it is a pretty strong pattern.
NLP does not attract people who are interested in research. It attracts people who eclectically find out the best way to help people reach their goals. NLP Interviewee 15(01:22:10) but I do think then, maybe the problem with NLP is that it tends to attract people who are more into, like I was saying — that are more like coaches — a coach doesn’t look at the statistics — you are talking about a person who has a particular goal and you’re just trying to eclectically find what’s the best way to support that particular person to reach their particular goals. Yeah and maybe that’ s where NLP tends to attract that kind of people and those people — none of them do research. Maybe CBT tends to attract research / researchers — you get a lot of research

 

Discussion category 2, NLP defined as Saturated in anecdotal evidence

The importance of this theoretical concept is that it well could be that given the epistemological stance:

“There is no statistic on it because it is the first time that it’s happening so it’s the first time it is happening for this person”,(NLP Interviewee 15 1:17:48)

anecdotal evidence is the only evidence available for NLP. If NLP really does believe one cannot generalise patterns which work from one instance to another due to the heterogeneity of both person and context then this is what should be made clear. However the stance of the extant literature is that this is not the case and an NLP model is defined as being an explicit representation of the implicit structure of a genius which can be transferred to others in such a way that in a specified context and upon congruent application of such a pattern the same results as that genius will be forthcoming. Category 3 clearly discounts such a proposition so the interaction of an expectation there should be empirical evidence to support NLP and the fact there is only anecdotal evidence brings about a 3rd concept which is internal inconsistency and this is represented in both categories 4 and 7 feasible leading to category 6 as one way of dealing with the resulting tension.

Action Research which also seeks to close the practice-theory gap and develop a new scholarship has a similar stance to NLP. Action Research, however, does not put the emphasis on the product of model making, but rather the process. McNiff and Whitehead (2000) say that much of what informs practice is tacit and that in order to understand how we might improve actions we need to tap our deep tacit knowledge and raise it to explicit levels of awareness. However being aware of the nature of our transformative processes is a very different product from an explicit representation of a tacit structure which is transferable to other people and testable. For Action research, what we do in the process, moving from the tacit to the explicit, is the practice which matters. This is visually represented below in figure 11. Leaders of NLP who suggest they can reliably get rid of a phobia in 10 minutes every single time imply that NLP practitioners can produce an explicit representation of a tacit structure which can be taught to others so that, in the context of a phobia, upon congruent application of this pattern, a phobia will always be cured in 10 minutes. Those within the NLP world however who believe this statement /approach to be a misrepresentation of NLP, (a similar example is NLP practitioners who believe the practice of determining a lie by observing eye accessing cues), leave themselves open to misrepresentation by not publically distancing themselves from such claims and making it clear what the evidence base for their practice is. Currently it seems throughout all echelons of NLP the best evidence for what is practiced and marketed as NLP is only anecdotal and this is a part of both NLP culture and NLP practice.

 

Figure 11. The practice that matters in Action Research.

After McNiff and Whitehead (2000 p51)

Explicit Awareness

Transformative Practice

Deep Tacit Knowledge

Category 3 Lacking in Published Empirical Evidence

This category was not, as some may think, regarded as necessarily negative within NLP. It only became negative when attempting to develop an understanding of NLP while factoring in the input of the LinkedIn discussion and some of the extant literature on NLP. Thus, it did not become a defining character when talking with NLP practitioners alone. It only began to develop as a category when introduced by other professionals, some of whom were psychologists.

For many NLP practitioners empirical evidence was not really consistent with NLP as it was more about doing business (Category 1):

“Bruce: So the question is: in terms of moving forwards … over the previous 30 to 40 years what has happened is that we have had protocols written up which are very creative and have tremendous potential but they haven’t actually been developed to the extent that any person, as far as I can understand, could congruently say yes this does work in this context and we can predict to a great degree of probability this is the result we’re going to get.

 

Interviewee7: Yes well what you are talking about is interest and funding I think NLP has not been interested in that because we see it working every day in people’s lives and our purpose has been to do business instead of doing research so there’s not been that much interest in it and somebody has to collaborate and create funding to be able to do that and that usually occurs at a university level where they’ve got the money and don’t have to worry about business and so once that happens once the people who are interested in that and will spend the time, the boring time to apply for grants and get that done then that will be done otherwise the marketplace is the place that test it.”

NLP Interviewee 7 (21:05-21:52)

Another NLP Interviewee had learned from Bandler that doing NLP business was not about validity and proof, it was more about plausibility:

Bruce: Can I ask a question around…., you mentioned quality within NLP, my guess is, please correct me if I’m wrong, maybe collaborations which already are happening and building on those collaborations would be one thing which would increase the quality of NLP, I don’t know, but what did you mean when you said increasing the quality of what we are doing?

Interviewee 9: Okay, I agree collaborations are one way to do that, and in a way, you mentioned about criticism, one of the way the academic community builds its quality is through self-criticism. I think it can take it too far and I think it can be horribly painful, but the bottom line is if you don’t examine the holes or the false statements, or the statements that don’t have any backing then they just carry on, and that’s kind of low quality. A lot of the statements which are made about NLP and are trundled out under the guise of NLP have no basis whatsoever, they are nice marketing statements, no wonder NLP is accused of psychobabble. Here is an important distinction. One of the things which I got from NLP, and especially Bandler was that what satisfies people is what satisfies them it doesn’t have to be true, it doesn’t have to be proved, it just has to be plausible to them and therefore a lot of the NLP trainings give stuff that satisfies the answer when even though it’s rubbish, they give that and it satisfies people. That’s fine, but what you are discovering is that won’t satisfy the academic community and what we haven’t addressed is what we need to do to satisfy them and it isn’t necessarily any more true, it just has different criteria. NLP could have been an established methodology by now, but the reason it couldn’t is historical, we know because the founders had an anti-academic position, and mummy and daddy have influenced the entire field ever since, and they went further they even rubbed academics noses in it, they rubbished academia they made fun of professors, so you don’t win friends like that. (Interviewee 9, 24:10-26:11)

What both of these NLP practitioners have in common is while recognising academics need a different kind of evidence, a different kind of criteria to meet the standards of being valid, within the context of doing business, providing it “satisfies” or in terms of Interviewee 7 “we see it working every day in people’s lives” there is no business reason to develop this type of academic evidence because it is perceived as costly.

What is interesting is that whilst expressing the above there is another dialogue, (meme or narrative) within the NLP community which simultaneously seeks this type of evidence. Thus one of the characteristics of NLP is an internal schism of marginalising the need for academic evidence in practice, yet also insisting that it would also be both useful and desirable. NLP finds itself in the typical double bind which Argyris (1957) noticed in so many organisations.

Below is an example of some of the coding which developed category 3, Lacking in published empirical evidence, followed by a discussion of this coding.

 

Table 5. A section of substantive and theoretical coding leading to the development of the category: Lacking in published Empirical Evidence.

Property of Concept Data Source Example
Anecdotal evidence does not stand up NLP Interviewee 6 (34:10) I think it’s essential, because otherwise it’s just anecdotal and it’s just us saying, ‘It’s this, it’s that,’ or whatever. It just doesn’t stand up.
Academia building quality through self-criticism. This can be painful. NLP Interviewee 9

(26:00)

The academic community builds its quality is through self-criticism. I think it can take it too far and I think it can be horribly painful
Lack of interest in research in NLP and a lack of interest concerning the source of research. NLP Interviewee 15 (01:43:00) But I think that people who do NLP are not that interested in intellectual history, frankly, (laughs) that’s

part of the             which is again…it’s not just they’re not

interested in research, they don’t care where it came from

A lack of self-criticism leads to low quality NLP Interviewee 9

(26:30)

But the bottom line is if you don’t examine the holes or the false statements, or the statements that don’t have any backing then they just carry on, and that’s kind of low quality
Publication bias, poor reputation of NLP, resources of cost, need for resilience and hard work NLP Interviewee 14 (40:10) Yes, well, I think one of the reasons I couldn’t do it is that I did once spend so much time and money, because I saw no resources there other than mine. My colleague, So and So, he tried to apply for a European grant. I think he’s been 10 years trying to do some research and he finally had to do one trial, but he couldn’t get it into any journal. So, this is something, when you hit on that a couple of times and you see how hard it is or when it’s named NLP — which is why I like your reasons, that you will put NLP in the title — when you put NLP in the title the chances you’re not accepted in any journal are huge.
No interest within NLP concerning grappling with the serious questions. NLP Interviewee 1 (18:40) I didn’t get anything back nobody is ready willing to really grapple with the serious questions in NLP
NLP not being a content model means it is not amenable to a quantitative methodology NLP Interviewee 8 (56:58) So Ohhh am I going to say this out loud, it’s almost you learn the process but actually you are not really competent until you can go away and play with the process and do something individualised and different
Not knowing what specifically to research. (Evidence of what, see below in Authenticity) NLP Interviewee 5 (16:10) The concern I have about that is I talk to various NLP trainers and a lot of trainers I’ve spoken to don’t even have a definition of NLP that fits with my understanding of what it is, NLP definition
Lack of interest in research. Perceived as boring. NLP Interviewee 7 (21:05) once the people who are interested in that and will spend the time, the boring time to apply for grants and get that done then that will be done otherwise the marketplace is the place that test it.
The lack of empirical findings in psychology as commensurate with the lack of empirical findings in NLP? and a possible reason/excuse as to why there is a lack of published evidence for NLP? NLP Interviewee 6 (24:20) Yes. Having said that, I work with a lot of scientists and there are a lot of scientists who think the whole of psychology is crack-ology.
Sales people who partially develop and generate business do not have to validate their product to the standard required by Academics. Participant 2’s comment on my above interpretation is: “Page 162. Your use of my quote to support ‘Lacking in Published Empirical Evidence’ negatively skews my well published opinion (Publication details) that there is sufficient published studies to warrant further research into NLP materials.” (see pp.223-224 for email discussion) NLP Interviewee 2 (5:37) You are not a salesman, you have to validate that what you are saying has some validity in terms of you can compare across these people and make some informed opinion
Good quality NLP research is wanted by Practitioners. This research is difficult to set up. NLP Interviewee 13 (19:55) The way I would like to see it done is it would be nice to have some clinical studies done. I acknowledge the difficulty in setting them up but it would be nice to have some randomly allocated patients to 2 or three different treatment groups one in NLP one cognitive behavioural intervention probably the other just received counselling
NLP is a generative discipline and statistics cannot assist in the moment NLP Interviewee 15 (1:17:48) Which sometimes is the case, right, you’re entering into a situation where nobody’s ever been before. There is no statistic on it because it is the first time that it’s happening so it’s the first time it is happening for this person, so there’s that whole aspect where you enter into
                    and it is a more generative space….and then past

statistics don’t offer you that much

NLP only interested in what satisfies even if that is rubbish. NLP Interviewee 9 (25:10) One of the things which I got from NLP, and especially Bandler was that what satisfies people is what satisfies them it doesn’t have to be true, it doesn’t have to be proved, it just has to be plausible to them and therefore a lot of the NLP trainings give stuff that satisfies the answer when even though it’s rubbish, they give that and it satisfies people.
Published evidence but not of sufficient scientific quality to warrant serious consideration. Empirical evidence or a clear scientific rationale, appears to be beside the point. Rhodes, Authenticity. Errr what evidence would that be Mark? It’s similar to the evidence for EI, once you take a close look at the claims, none bear critical scrutiny (see Murphy’s book on that issue, a Critique of Emotional Intelligence-Wiley). There is seemingly a vast and unappeasable appetite in the HR community for techniques which are superficially attractive and which claim to deal with important workplace issues (communication, influencing, interpersonal relationships etc). Whether they are supported by any empirical evidence or a clear scientific rationale, appears to be beside the point. And being able to become an ‘expert’ quickly, with a credit card is attractive. But importantly this access is without any proper grounding in the philosophy of science, logic etc, and it means practitioners being ill equipped intellectually to deal with its truth claims.
Generalisations made concerning the character of NLP possibly leading to “deletion” of any published material out there. See: http://cdn.cfbt.com/~/media/cfbtcorporate/files/research/2013/r- raising-maths-attainment-2013 .pdf Rhodes. Authenticity. But there is still some poor soul out there who has an ‘Msc’ in the subject. This must be one of the exemplar examples of the continuing degradation of British Higher education- a chequebook MSc in a bogus subject. But like many fads it makes seductive claims, highly relevant to the world of work but with no science to back its claims. But, why would you want to be involved with a subject whose founder tried to attach his stepfather to the national grid?
Lack of evidence on account of NLP being poorly defined. A confusion of the phenomenon that needs, explanation (of what; NLP) and the explanation itself, (for what; a comprehensive description) O’Connor.

Authenticity

Such is the circularity of arguing evidence when we haven’t looked at «Evidence for what?» — a question which might be more important than its easier cousin, «Evidence of what?»
Lack of evidence on the basis of NLP being too broadly defined Rodgers, Authenticity By taking a broad title and sketchy definition it makes it easier to discredit from a common sense and a statistical perspective. Just like saying that all assessment interventions are nonsense when used to measure ‘leadership’. Some might be, some not but by using labels like leadership (vague and poorly defined) it makes it easier to discredit. If we use one label i.e. NLP then we lump visualisation, goal setting, mirroring, building rapport etc under the same umbrella as curing cancer or increasing breast size which is surely doing the bits of NLP that are useful a disservice.
Lack of evidence on the basis on NLP not being defined at all Sturt (2013) the very fact that there is no agreed definition of NLP indicates how little evidence we have of its benefits
Lack of acceptance and credibility on account of little published research Tosey and Mathison (2009 p125) The lack of a credible, public evidence base is one of the most significant barriers to more widespread acceptance of NLP.
No need to publish because “it works” and meets the business criteria of NLP practitioners Tosey and Mathison (2009 p126) “A common tactic however is simply to assert that ‘NLP works’… .Martin Gardner points out that L.Ron.Hubbard, the founder of Dianetics, relied on exactly the same mantra (Gardner 1957 p279). The claim it works should therefore be treated with scepticism, and not be accepted at face value.
NLP does not need to publish empirical evidence as its culture does not call for it. Linder-Pelz (2010 p103) NLP is based largely on intuitive and authoritative knowledge rather than scientific knowledge based on observations in which observers’ subjectivity was limited.
Published evidence but not of sufficient scientific quality to warrant serious consideration and much of the evidence not supporting the tenets of NLP. Tomasz Witkowski, (2010) Huge popularity of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) therapies and training has not been accompanied by knowledge of the empirical underpinnings of the concept. The article presents the concept of NLP in the light of empirical research in the Neuro-Linguistic Programming Research Data Base. From among 315 articles the author selected 63 studies published in journals from the Master Journal List of ISI. Out of 33 empirical studies 18.2% show results supporting the tenets of NLP, 54.5% — results non-supportive of the NLP tenets and 27.3% brings uncertain results. The qualitative analysis indicates the greater weight of the nonsupportive studies and their greater methodological worth against the ones supporting the tenets. Analysis results contradict the claim of empirical bases of NLP.
Lack of Empirical verification as standard within NLP Tomasz Witkowski When analysing how the NLP concept was formulated, it
  (2010) is worth indicating analogies between the manner in which it had been developed and the research methodology applied in social psychology proposed and defined by Cialdini (1980) as a full-cycle approach to social psychology. Bandler and Grinder followed the full-cycle method, but regrettably they omitted the stage of empirical verification of their assertions.
Decline in the interest of researching into NLP. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) Of interest are the findings of quantitative analysis of publications in individual years. By reference to the diagram including all 315 studies, it is clear that scientific activity peaked in the eighties of the 20th century. (see Figure 1). It experienced a minor renaissance at the beginning of the present century. Based on the diagram, one may assume that as a research issue NLP enjoyed immense popularity in the period directly following the formulation of its empirical underpinnings in the seventies of the 20th century. In the subsequent years the research interest in NLP was decreasing
Unreliability concerning the majority of research into NLP. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) Although there are many doubts raised to this list, magazines from the Master Journal List are much less likely to have published unreliable articles than others. As a result of the initial selection, of 315 articles I had 63 — accounting for 20% of the entire base — left for further analysis.
Lack of controls in research into NLP which generally lacks sufficient standard to be cited in reputable journals. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) It is most likely that any type of intensive 21-day effort undertaken on self-development, based on any concept, would result in similar changes as those measured in the quoted research.
Research which did test specific NLP patterns / concepts when tested against controls did not find NLP any more effective than the control. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) Studies on the effectiveness of specific therapeutic techniques failed to provide data supportive of the NLP tenets, too. Krugman, Kirsch and Wickless, (1985) tested Bandler and Grinder’s claim for a single-session cure of anxiety. They did not find any support either. Similarly, Matthews, Kirsch and Mosher (1985) verified the effectiveness of double hypnotic induction. Comparison of the experimental group against the control group did not yield findings supporting the hypotheses. In addition, application of pacing and metaphor to overcome client resistance did not prove the reliability of Bandler and Grinder’ s claims (Dixon, Parr, Yarbrough and Rathael, 1986). Additionally NLP proved to be of little use as a method of enhancing human performance considered by the US Army (Swets & Bjork, 1990). “The conclusion was that little if any evidence exists either to support NLP’s assumptions or to indicate that it is effective as a strategy for social influence.” (p. 90)
Research which is not supportive of NLP is of a much higher methodological standard. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) The studies classified into the non-supportive category are marked by a much higher methodological level. The majority allow for the comparison against the control group, provide measurement of a number of variables and use a higher number of indicators. Among the studies are two articles offering extensive and reliable reviews of research. Most results of research from this category were replicated.
Publication Bias. (File drawer effect) Tomasz Witkowski (2010) When evaluating the whole empirical research devoted to NLP, one should also consider the file drawer effect (Rosenthal, 1979). In view of which, the NLP supportive studies should have a greater chance for publication then those showing lack of support. It may be easily assumed that a part of the studies, which did not find any support for the NLP hypotheses was filed away in researchers’ drawers.
Lack of motivation to research Tomasz Witkowski (2010) It looks as if the world of science was losing its interest in the concept of Bandler and Grinder, having confronted it with the research findings, and the concept proponents lack motivation to undertake any type of research into, for instance, the effectiveness of methods offered by the concept.
Lack of motivation to do the ground work comprehensively in research within the NLP community. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) The base is commonly invoked by NLP followers and indicated as evidence for the existence of solid empirical grounds of their preferred concept. It is most likely that most of them have never looked through the base. Otherwise they might have come to the conclusion that it provides evidence to the contrary — for the lack of any empirical underpinnings. Moreover, they not only fail to browse through the database, dare I say, but they also do not read articles available therein.
Claims within NLP for validity of concepts not derived from NLP Tomasz Witkowski (2010) While reading such articles I strengthened my belief that it was only due to some single key words that the NLP related status of those papers was approved. This gives
    rise to the suspicion that even the database administrators do not read articles, not to mention the abstracts.
Cargo Cult Science. NLP as masquerading as scientific but actually not being so. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) All this leaves me with an overwhelming impression that the analyzed base of scientific articles is treated just as theater decoration, being the background for the pseudoscientific farce, which NLP appears to be. Using “scientific” attributes, which is so characteristic of pseudo-science, is manifested also in other aspects of NLP activities. It is primarily revealed in the language — full of borrowings from science or expressions referring to it, devoid of any meanings whatsoever.
NLP in the context of therapy discredited by experts. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) Instead we find NLP on the list of discredited therapies. Norcross, Koocher and Garofalo (2006) sought to establish consensus on discredited psychological treatments and assessments using Delphi methodology. A panel of 101 experts participated in a 2-stage survey, reporting familiarity with 59 treatments and 30 assessment techniques and rating these on a continuum from not at all discredited (1) to certainly discredited (5). Neuro-linguistic Programming for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders was averagely assessed 3.87 (SD=0.92).
NLP has had enough time to collect evidence to either support or annul their propositions. Tomasz Witkowski (2010) In 1988 Heap passed a verdict on NLP. As the title of his article indicated, an interim one. In the conclusions he wrote: If it turns out to be the case that these therapeutic procedures are indeed as rapid and powerful as is claimed, no one will rejoice more than the present author. If however these claims fare no better than the ones already investigated then the final verdict on NLP will be a harsh one indeed (p. 276). I am fully convinced that we have gathered enough evidence to announce this harsh verdict already now.
No A studies yet and Researchers are in need of both justification and motivation to engage in rigorous scientific research Wake et al. (2013 p1) The purpose of this book is to present sufficient evidence of the clinical efficacy of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) techniques to justify and motivate rigorous

Scientific research              There are no A studies yet

completed for NLP techniques.

Cargo cult science. NLP as masquerading as scientific but actually not being so. Roderique-Davies, G

2009 p62)

To adapt this term one more time, NLP masquerades as a legitimate form of psychotherapy, makes unsubstantiated claims about how humans think and behave, purports to encourage research in a vain attempt to gain credibility, yet fails to provide evidence that it actually works. Neuro-linguistic programming is cargo cult psychology.
NLP emphasis on saleability (satisfaction see Interviewee 9 above) despite lack of validity. Heap (1989b p13) Is it reasonable then to regard NLP and indeed Milton Erickson (the phenomenon and not the man himself) , very much as products of our consumer culture? A culture that puts a premium on the saleability of a commodity rather than it’s real value to the purchaser (two different things); A culture with an eager curiosity for the magical and the miraculous, and one that promotes the celebrity and the ‘cult figure’? To the present author these questions seem at least as interesting and relevant as any of those posed by the NLP model; but it is often the case that what a person says is less fascinating than why he says it.
NLP tenets not verified in publications which have been accepted by journals. Sharpley (1987 p105) The basic tenets of NLP have failed to be reliably verified in almost 86% of the controlled studies, and it is difficult to accept that none of these 38 studies (i.e,, those with non supportive, partial, or mixed results) were performed by persons with a satisfactory understanding of NLP (or at least enough of an understanding to perform the various procedures that were evaluated).

 

Discussion category 3, NLP defined as Lacking in published empirical evidence

One striking feature in the above excerpts is the amount of coding taken from Tomasz Witkowski’s Paper. One of the reasons for this is it is, as far as I can see the only review of the scientific evidence of NLP since Sharply (1987) and broadly speaking Witkowski arrived at very similar conclusions. Also this review is regarded by proponents of NLP as having a methodology which is “fairly exemplary” (Wake et al. 2013, p. 203).

However the critique by Wake et al (2013) signpost Witkowski making the same mistakes Sharpley made in assuming PRS and EAC are central tenets in the NLP model.

Given that Wake et al. (2013) regard Witkowski’s comment; Argumenta ponderantur, non numerantur -the force of the arguments lies in their weight, not numbers as apt, it seems strange a characteristic of NLP is not to engage in these weighty arguments. Specifically given that back in 1985 after being concerned that researchers did not fully understand the NLP model Einspruch and Forman (1985) pointed out:

“Sharpley reports that the amount of published data supporting NLP as a viable model for therapeutic change is minimal. Nevertheless, many skilled NLP practitioners have a wealth of clinical data indicating that this model is highly effective. Clearly these practitioners would provide a service to the field by presenting their data in the literature so they may be critically evaluated.” (Einspruch &Forman,1985, p. 590).

In chapter 2, I presented the case that the researchers in the 1980’s were only researching on the basis of the extant NLP literature of the time and consequently their research methodology was generally acceptable. If, despite the recommendations of Einspruch and Forman (1985), NLP practitioners over 40 years have not explicated precisely what NLP is, the mechanisms for change and evidence for its efficacy in a variety of contexts then researchers can either say as Bourke says:

“I believe strongly that a ‘statistical system of analysis’ that develops validation and replication measures for outcome measures of psychotherapy research based upon individual clients outcomes will be able to be developed. While many NLP ‘experts’ have historically either ignored the need for research evidence for the effectiveness of NLP techniques or maintained the ‘un-measurable nature’ of NLP techniques, ‘knowing’ IS ‘measuring’ and useful knowledge must have standardized measures.” (Bourke, 2011).

Or as a Gestalt therapist at the time of the emergence of NLP:

“To justify his hire, the therapist must be able to assist the patient to move in the direction he wishes, that is, to accelerate and provoke change in a positive direction. We are rapidly leaving the time when the therapist, in the absence of more specific knowledge, relies on “something” in the relationship that will result in “something” happening. We are approaching the time when the therapist can specify procedures that promote rapid change in a way that the patient can experience directly and others can observe clearly” (Fagan, 1971, p 96)

Or as Witkowski concludes concerning 40 years of NLP:

“The analysis of the Neuro-Linguistic Programming Research Data Base (state of the art) by all measures was like peeling an onion. To reach its core, first I had to remove some useless layers, and once I arrived, I felt like crying. Today, after 35 years of research devoted to the concept, NLP reminds one more of an unstable house built on the sand rather than an edifice founded on the empirically based rock.” (Witkowski, 2010).

In researching other psychological sources I discovered Wiseman, Watt, ten Brinke, Porter, Couper, and Rankin (2012) researched a practice which had become wide spread within NLP training. They say: «Although the originators of NLP didn’t view ‘constructed’ thoughts as lies, this notion has become commonplace, leading many NLP practitioners to claim that it is possible to gain a useful insight into whether someone is lying from their eye-movements.» (Wiseman, Watt, ten Brinke, Porter, Couper, & Rankin, 2012).

They concluded as a result of their research which tested these propositions that there was considerable grounds to be sceptical of such a notion and that it is irresponsible for NLP practitioners to continue to encourage people to make important decisions on the basis of the claims eye movement up and to the right are indicative of lying.

In terms of NLP being defined as lacking in empirical evidence one would have thought it is up to the Leadership of the NLP brand to address the anomalies uncovered by both Wiseman et al. (2012) and indeed Sharpley in the 1980’s rather than allow the brand to be diminished by shoddy practice or to blame researchers for not understanding NLP. Indeed an inability to shake off the shoddy practice (category 8) by which NLP is generally defined has been a characteristic of NLP throughout its history, and especially so in the context of academic psychology. Why this continues, according to this emerging grounded theory of NLP, will be discussed later.

 

As discussed within this paper another interacting characteristic of NLP is internal conflict (category 4) and this conflict partially is about the very nature of NLP and what is “real” NLP and what is not. If within the field of NLP leaders cannot agree precisely what NLP is then, as Sturt (2012b) points out, one is not in a position to develop research to test NLP. Even if NLP adopts a process position where, in a particular context, the choice of pattern to use is provided by the unconscious and therefore unpredictable, what should be predictable is the result of such a process when used in a particular context by a trained NLP practitioner, whether that be therapeutic, sports, business, education or another.

The lack of organisation and motivation within the NLP brand to generate published research in quality journals is characterised by the comments of an Interviewee who would like to see this happen:

“ Yes, well, I think one of the reasons I couldn’t do it is that I did once spend so much time and money, because I saw no resources there other than mine. My colleague, So and So, he tried to apply for a European grant. I think he’s been 10 years trying to do some research and he finally had to do one trial, but he couldn’t get it into any journal. So, this is something, when you hit on that a couple of times and you see how hard it is or when it’s named NLP — which is why I like your reasons, that you will put NLP in the title — when you put NLP in the title the chances you’re not accepted in any journal are huge.” (NLP Interviewee14. 40:10-40:50)

In my coding I made the comments that this category is characterised by publication bias, poor reputation of NLP, Cost, need for resilience and hard work. However as NLP Interviewee 7 tells us:

“once the people who are interested in that and will spend the time, the boring time to apply for grants and get that done then that will be done otherwise the marketplace is the place that test it. (NLP Interviewee 7. 21:40-21:52)

It seems clear that after the peak of research in the early 1980’s (see figure 12) Not only is there a lack of quality concerning research into NLP, there is also a lack of interest, despite protestations and hopes to the contrary by a small minority.

When Tosey and Mathison (2009), both Practitioners of NLP make the point “the lack of a credible, public evidence base is one of the most significant barriers to more widespread acceptance of NLP. (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 125). I do not think they understate the case.

Figure 12. Number of all publications included in NLP Research Data Base in individual years as against the number of studies of Master Journal List. (Witkowski, 2010)

 

 

As can be seen above in table 5, NLP as being defined as not having a substantial empirical evidence base is textured in many different ways through differing instances in this research.

There were many other instances which loaded into other concepts before ultimately being subsumed under the concept of “Not having a substantial empirical evidence base”.

For example “NLP as secret information”; When Interviewee 5 said: “The concern I have about that is I talk to various NLP trainers and a lot of trainers I’ve spoken to don’t even have a definition of NLP that fits with my understanding of what it is.” Interviewee 5 (16:10)

I interpreted this as meaning different trainers have their own, (secret), definition of NLP and there is a lack of standardisation. However when critique from outside of NLP began to point out that this lack of standard definition was related to the lack of empirical research I considered that at a different level such a concept as “secret information” was more usefully subsumed into the category of Lacking in published empirical evidence. So in researching NLP in a more open sense, contrasted with the original and more constrained; “a definition of NLP”, when considering interventions or patterns that “work” we still discover NLP lacks a credible empirical base from which to operate and this is problematical from both an ethical and professional perspective as originally noted by Sharpley (1987)

Also the comment; “So Ohhh am I going to say this out loud, it’s almost you learn the process but actually you are not really competent until you can go away and play with the process and do something individualised and different” Interviewee 8 (56:58)

Was coded in multiple ways conceptually:

  1. NLP Epistemology
  2. Distinctiveness of NLP
  3. NLP as Psychology

 

However I believed that, despite NLP being portrayed as a dynamic and process-oriented epistemology, and distinct in this way, did not absolve NLP from providing quantitative evidence that the patterns they say exist and when appropriately made use of in the context they are designed for, would produce sensory based evidence. Indeed this is one of the criteria of an NLP model. It is for this reason such a comment was ultimately subsumed into the theoretical category of lacking in published empirical evidence as it is one of the reasons often given within NLP as to why there is not an empirical evidence base. Bostic St Clair and Grinder put it thus: “ … the use of statistical tools — in general, those methods of analysis associated with probability — as a strategy for description, analysis and explanation is entirely inappropriate” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, pp. 81-82).

However, in explaining that the appropriate method of description for NLP is a formal system of well-defined recursive rules from which behavioural acts emerge, Bostic St Clair and Grinder admit, in a footnote, that there is much work to do in understanding what portions of human behaviour need to be assigned to rule systems and which to analogue processes. Which portions are discrete and which are assigned to continuous paradigms also need to be differentiated. Irrespective of what answer practitioners of NLP may come up with, the fact of the matter is the behavioural acts which do emerge from the apparently identified formal system of well-defined recursive rules are amenable to statistical analysis and the fact that there is a lack of published empirical evidence within NLP is an identifying feature which has both professional and ethical implications. In keeping with the Action Research spirit this sentiment was emailed to Dr Grinder:

“Good Morning John… Just a reflection on your last email: “use corrupting

patterns of thinking such as Cause-Effect.” I suspect even Real NLP is still guilty of shoddy epistemology. Whilst you purportedly eschew a positivist paradigm your

whole raison d’etre is to make explicit the implicit, code it and then upon congruent application of such a code predict what will happen. Sounds pretty cause and effect to me John. Best wishes, Bruce.” (Personal communication, 2014).

Category 4 Historical and current disagreement

As previously signposted, Tosey and Mathison (2009) tell us “NLP’s body sometimes seems so fractured that it is difficult to imagine it recovering from its self-inflicted injuries. Due especially, we suspect, to the effects of litigation about intellectual property rights in NLP something appears to have died” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 191).

As well as Bandler instigating litigation against the NLP community he was also responsible for ousting Pucelik from the early core group of developers. In modelling, both himself and Bandler, Grinder notices one of the characteristics they share in common is being arrogant and egotistical. These characteristics are probably not very conducive to harmony and Grinder himself is very critical of all who practice NLP contrary to the way he believes it should be done, publically criticising the work of Hall and Dilts to name two, (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001). Grinder, after describing what NLP is, tells us that for 99% of the people in the world NLP has nothing to do with what he describes as NLP, (Inspiritive, 2008b). Below in table 6 is some of the coding which textured this concept.

 

Table 6. A section of substantive and theoretical coding leading to the development of the category: Historical and current disagreement.

Property of concept Data Source Example
NLP is fragmented and the practice of NLP involves NLP sometimes and sometimes does not. NLP Interviewee 1 (10:26) It is very fragmented and people here and there doing various things they call NLP some of which is and some of which isn’t
People possibly afraid to talk about the serious questions in NLP and to “rock the boat” NLP Interviewee 1 (18:40) I didn’t get anything back nobody is ready willing to really grapple with the serious questions in NLP
NLP is characterised by discussions around personalities rather than issues of substance. NLP Interviewee 1 (15:25) About six years ago I think I put forward the proposal to have a more spirited dialogue to focus on issues rather than personalities and basically nobody was interested
NLP as fragmented NLP Interviewee 5 (14:50) How do I see the future of NLP well if it continues the way it is it could continue to be fragmented
NLP as too willing to mount legal attacks Munro Authenticity The other big misgiving I have about NLP is its willingness to mount legal attacks (why am I thinking Scientology?) See the story of the editing of Darren Brown’s book.

 

 

NLP as a dog’s breakfast NLP Interviewee 5 (24:30) That’s okay that’s how I see NLP now, I see it as being a bit of a dog’s breakfast
Arguing within NLP is leading to barriers and preventing building rapport with other approaches. NLP Interviewee 6 (17:04) I think we could do more to build rapport with the other approaches, people doing other things, and, from a position of rapport, we can have more influence. Because I think, all the time we’re arguing, that’s actually creating more barriers.
NLP divided amongst themselves a little bit NLP Interviewee 6 (13:02) That’s an interesting question. Divided amongst themselves a little bit, because I think we have three groups: the ones that are interested in the respectable side of NLP, that are wanting to legitimise and get us accepted as an ethical, appropriate way forward; there are another relatively noisy group who do not plug in to any kind of community at all, but seem to be, and I’m mind-reading here because I don’t know them, more interested in making money and not particularly concerned at what happens to their

students after qualifying    Then there’s the smaller group

of NLP trainers out there who have got no idea at all about the politics that are going on, doing their own thing and, again, not plugged in.

Some Leaders in NLP who are expert insist NLP has to be practiced in their particular way. NLP Interviewee 8 (11:50) So I think somewhere along the line with some people, values of what I hold as NLP and what it stands for have kind of been lost but then I also see at the other end some people who are leaders in NLP who I believe are doing almost as much damage by saying that now they have become expert they are the only ones that understand it properly, and you have to do their style of NLP or it’s not really NLP either.
Divisiveness within NLP takes a lot of energy away which otherwise could be put to good use. NLP Interviewee 10 (38:18) But if We Could at Least Move that Barrier of the Community Being Divisive Saying It’s not Needed It’s Needed It’s not Needed It’s Needed that Will Take a Lot of the Energy Away and the Energy Can Be Put to Good Use
Ethical use of NLP is tainted by others who practice and have different values and beliefs. NLP Interviewee 10 (40:30) Because that is the point at the moment we’re so tainted by the likes of those people, NLP is for manipulating science, NLP is going to make you 100 grand a day, in less than a month and those sorts of things we’ve got to crawl out from underneath that and that is where I think it comes back to baby steps
Confusion of empowerment and omnipotence by some in the NLP community. NLP Interviewee 10 (13:33) NLP teaches us about empowerment, it is about empowerment of self and empowerment of others and I do think that sometimes with some people they get slightly confused between empowerment and omnipotence.
A lack of loyalty and support within the NLP community regarding those who intend to develop NLP NLP Interviewee 14 (43:30) But, if you are an NLP loyalist, which is the problem — I feel there is some paradox, because I have always been an NLP loyalist, but then I found NLP, let’s say So and So and So and So and many of the first generation of NLPers, that they are not so loyal to me. So, when you develop something in NLP they will not pay any attention, they will not give any support. So and So, for instance, who I respect a lot, but he is only trying to prove that other things than what he did are not NLP.
NLP is missing some form of aggregation. NLP Interviewee 15 (2:01:56) What It’s Missing Is the 4th Condition Which Is Some Form of Aggregation. (the 1st 3 being diversity, autonomy and decentralisation)
NLP is not respectable NLP Interviewee 6 (11:38) Provided NLP becomes respectable, I think it’s got a bright future
The squabbling by leaders gets in the way of the good sell and what works. Munro, Authenticity. It’s a good sell; after all we don’t have to worry about the dynamics of context that will shape the efficacy of this thing. And it certainly has been a great commercial success for NLP — although amusingly enough the founders seem to keep squabbling and suing each other. And in the process, the what in fact did work when, is lost.
Recurring themes of power, control and manipulation within NLP. O’Connor, Authenticity. Given the recurring themes of power, control and manipulation within NLP, I was thinking — even if it did work — would it be an authentic approach to success?

Discussion category 4, Historical and current disagreement

It is well known by people inside of NLP that the two Co-Founders acrimoniously split and, on publication of The origins of Neuro Linguistic Programming (2013), it was finally made public that Bandler asked Pucelik to leave in what appear to be acrimonious circumstances. The Bandler effect has already been discussed in Chapter 2, however the publically declared characteristics of arrogance and egotism in leaders do not lend themselves to development of harmonious teams.

It is possible the leadership of NLP is attempting to turn over a new leaf. Under the auspices of Michael Hall and Frank Pucelik an NLP leadership group emerged in 2012 and have met annually at the NLP conference in London with the intention of working effectively together. A web-site has been created (http://nlpleadershipsummit.org/ ) and definitions, values and mission statements have been posted. Characteristically though, and in accordance with the concept of historical and current disagreement, many NLP leaders including Bandler and Grinder are missing from the list of contributors. Only time will tell if this is indeed a significant turning point, history is against it being so; however, with good leadership anything is possible.

One of the telling characteristics of this concept in this research is that much of the disagreement is a function of those who possibly practice NLP in such a way that they themselves do not live their personal and professional lives according to the presuppositions of NLP. Interviewee 6 says:

“That’s an interesting question. Divided amongst themselves a little bit, because I think we have three groups: the ones that are interested in the respectable side of NLP, that are wanting to legitimise and get us accepted as an ethical, appropriate way forward; there are another relatively noisy group who do not plug in to any kind of community at all, but seem to be, and I’m mind-reading here because I don’t know them, more interested in making money and not particularly concerned at what happens to their students after qualifying, some of whom have actually gone through accreditation with people at NLP, even. So they’ve jumped through the right hoops for that, but they seem to be more about cranking the numbers through and not, necessarily, working anywhere else. And, of course, unfortunately, one of the founders is a numbers man as opposed to anything else, and I would say it’s only one of them in all of us. Then there’s the smaller group of NLP trainers out there who have got no idea at all about the politics that are going on, doing their own thing and, again, not plugged in. So, it would be nice if we could find a way of helping them to get plugged in, because I think there are probably quite a few of them that might be very ethical and be prepared to actually do things in the right way.”. (Interviewee 6: 13:02-14:30)

So within groups there can be agreement, however, NLP, in becoming fragmented, has NLP groups which are united, publically disagreeing with other groups of NLPers. Looking in from the outside this is more visible as from the “helicopter view” one can more easily see the separate groupings contrasted with those who are associated into their particular group where there may be great agreement. For instance in talking about NLP, Interviewee 8 says: “So I think somewhere along the line with some people, values of what I hold as NLP and what it stands for have kind of been lost” (NLP Interviewee 8, 11:50-12:01).

Clearly Interviewee 8 sees himself and those in his group as practicing NLP from a place of integrity and professionalism, however, in looking at the wider picture, one sees this is not so for many others. From insider and associated perspectives NLP can be seen to be ethical and maybe even valid, however from the wider perspective the cracks and disagreements quickly appear and characterise the field. What is especially noticeable for NLP is that these differences of opinions have not been aired in the appropriate academic literature and given a chance to develop, as for instance Grounded Theory has.

An interesting point is raised by Interviewee 6 when she says: “from a position of rapport, we can have more influence. Because I think, all the time we’re arguing, that’s actually creating more barriers.” (NLP Interviewee 6, 17:00-17:04 ).

The name of the flagship NLP magazine of the ANLP in the UK is “Rapport”, such is the significance of the process within the NLP paradigm, however, it is as though those who practice NLP are not using NLP within their own communications. The category of historical and current disagreements in the grounded theory was informed by sub-categories or concepts during substantive coding and emerged from such themes as; “The specific behaviours within NLP”, “NLP as a personality” and “NLP as defined through professional relationships”. Even earlier in the substantive coding a concept which emerged was “Not taking enough consideration of the presuppositions of NLP”. Within the multiple groups there can be the seeds of good practice, however when one takes a ‘helicopter view’ and also looks at NLP using a time line, one sees that internationally NLP is characterised by friction and fragmentation. Essentially the NLP brand appears to lack organisation, whether this is by design or a function of poor organisational practice, like the definition of NLP will differ according to whom you speak.

Category 5. Wanting to be “accepted”, but disappointed with the continual pattern of not being accepted by “mainstream”

In many ways this category was related to category 7 “Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code, critical of the discipline of Psychology”, and also related to a growing awareness within the NLP community that psychology and other professions are re-owning the patterns borrowed from them over the last 40 years by putting them into different contexts. For instance positive psychology is recognising the benefit of studying the habits of effective people, rather than understanding what is wrong with clinical populations (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In researching, the feeling was that this concept is either a blind spot for the NLP community, a fundamental flaw in their ability to model academic practice, or a recognition that NLP fundamentally is anti-academic. As a defining feature of NLP, the prevalence of this concept could represent a strategy to court respectability and thus market share and this would be commensurate with NLP as a commercial practice. A part of the “blind spot” could simply be the anti-academic and antipsychological stance NLP has taken from the beginning, as Interviewee 9 told us:

“NLP could have been an established methodology by now, but the reason it couldn’t is historical, we know because the founders had an anti-academic position, and mummy and daddy have influenced the entire field ever since, and they went further they even rubbed academics noses in it, they rubbished academia they made fun of professors, so you don’t win friends like that.” (NLP Interviewee 9, 25:45-26:11).

Whatever the reason for this prevalence, NLP seems to be characterised by a war with the traditional science of thought and behaviour, yet paradoxically also wishing to become more a part of that community. Interviewee 6 tells us: “We do want to grow as a field, but we need to do it in a way that is going to meet the academic rigour.” (Interviewee 6, 50:25-50:31).

Some of the instances which informed and developed this concept are below:

 

Table 7:A section of substantive and theoretical coding leading to the development of the category: Wanting to be “accepted”, but disappointed with the continual pattern of not being accepted by “mainstream”

Property of concept Data Source Example
Currently there is no official body of NLP nor a list of things that are generally accepted by NLP as constituting NLP practice. Also currently there is no mechanism to achieve this and NLP is in danger of becoming a stagnant field. In order to grow as a field, NLP needs to adopt a way that will meet academic rigour. NLP Interviewee 6(50:05) I think that, at some point, we need to have a list of things that are generally accepted by the community and an official body as these are definitively already accepted as part of NLP and this is how you apply to add something to the field. I think that should come hand -in-hand, so we have a mechanism, because otherwise we’ll become a stagnant field. We do want to grow as a field, but we need to do it in a way that is going to meet the academic rigour.
Negative behaviours do not endear proponents of a discipline to those who would like to support it. NLP Interviewee 6(20:50) But my understanding is there was an opportunity in the United States, when NLP was fairly new, for it to have been taken into the whole education system. Someone very senior was very interested in it and thought, ‘This would be great, we need to take it into schools.’ There were some negative behaviours engaged in by the people that were running the NLP at that point, which completely turned them off and that’s when the reputation started going downhill as well.
Whilst NLP has some unique characteristics it has some unethical practices which persist. ( possibly it is the non-addressing of these unethical issues which prevent assimilation into mainstream practice.) NLP Interviewee 6 (32:57) So, although we will visit the past, we will do that without restimulating too much. I think that, possibly, is one of the most unique things, actually, thinking about it, that we recognise that there’s an anchoring that goes on when people assess negative experiences. And it is swift to change, as are many other approaches, however I’m almost loathe to say, on our negative end we’ve got people saying one session, and stuff like that, which I’m uncomfortable with. Although there might be one or two minor issues people can clear with a session, it doesn’t seem ethical to say, ‘Off you go, goodbye.’ Having said that, two or three sessions on some minor things I think is realistic.
“Mainstream” generally may be quite left brain in orientation. NLP being a more experiential and generally right brain activity may generally belong to a group of studies which is marginalised by “mainstream” on account of its epistemology. NLP Interviewee. 8 (34:36) I don’t think I have done any development the same level as NLP that really challenges the very core of who I am and how I am so I don’t know that I can compare it to anything else I have done. An awful lot of the other development I have done has been head based academic, knowledge based, critical thinking based it’s interesting it possibly enhances my knowledge base, does it actually change how I do life? No. So I think that is what distinguishes it from me.
Current NLP courses for whatever reason integrate other unverified “new age” content into the curriculum meaning NLP essentially becomes anything you wish to put in a curriculum. Also what is supposed to be the key methodology in NLP is either not taught or taught badly. NLP Interviewee 8 (54:30) However my training also included some quite peripheral things which I would question are not a part of NLP and I don’t know what the heck they were doing in there, so things like Chakras, like auras, things like Organ language to some extent where it is an interesting aside but it is not NLP. So I think that is where I come back to I think you could develop an agreed list of competencies that you would have to be competent in, but it will have to be tools based. I think the harder part would be how do you ensure competency in the process of modelling which in mine I think was done less well, really modelling wasn’t covered in any real depth until master practitioner and then was specifically related around board breaking and it wasn’t done well I don’t think.
NLP is not sufficiently, specifically and loudly defined as a discipline nor researched for it to be incorporated into mainstream as something which is radically different from what psychology already offers. (Although the claim is NLP is radically different on account of working directly with inner worlds, there is no evidence it is radically different, nor produces outcomes which are radically different either as noted in category 1) NLP Interviewee 9 (47:39) So the psychoanalyst, they talk about it, they analyse it, they discuss it, they don’t work in a direct way as we do. So if you take as an example of the swish pattern the idea of moving around elements of your inner landscape in your inner world, this is radically different to what most other practitioners do. It’s radically different of course people borrow it from NLP.
NLP would be more easily identifiable if its practitioners lived by the presuppositions which implicitly are regarded as the supporting theory of NLP. The fact that generally they do not markets NLP to the world as something rather fake. NLP Interviewee 10 (15:13) And the silly thing is some of the reasons we don’t recognise that is because we are not taking enough notice of our own teachings. The presuppositions of NLP, one of the key presuppositions of NLP is meeting people in their model of the world and that is one thing I think that NLP as a field doesn’t necessarily do very well.
NLP is not sufficiently, specifically and loudly defined as a discipline nor researched for it to be incorporated into mainstream as something which is radically different from what psychology already offers. (Again the claim is it is different, but the difference is only anecdotal and not supported in the academic literature as noted in category 1) NLP Interviewee 13 (18:37) To me it is principally the use of sub modalities that’s what I would say sets it apart because if you look at other psychological interventions in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, REBT, EMDR I suppose may have a little bit of an overlap to me it’s working with the patient’s mental pictures how they structure their memories of past and future.
The basics in NLP are not integrated into one training and tested as NLP to see if what it is that NLP does differently really does make a difference. Consequently no case can be made for NLP being anything other than what it has modelled from what we already have. NLP Interviewee 13 (25:50) The thing is Bruce a lot of the other stuff bleeds across into other therapies doesn’t it? That is what I would say that caught me on the hop really. I’d like to give presuppositions: no failure only feedback, the meaning of the communication is the response you get and so frequently when I work with students on my courses who come from other backgrounds those things that we take for granted are often quite extraordinary things for them they find that a really big learning. When you start saying that and if you can accept that, even something simple I would have thought everybody did this, is looking for deletions distortions and generalisations. I think the important thing for me if it was NLP I would make sure again, it is a bit of a negative, a lot of clients come to me because what they have is they’ve been looking in the past. That is the big difference for NLP, although we acknowledge the past but principally we focus on what are we getting now and what do we want in the future?
Beliefs such as these prevent integration with mainstream development and mental health practice as it sets up barriers and predisposes those insulted to look for faults in what NLP does. NLP Interviewee 1 (43:05) The way I put it is the whole of psychology and psychotherapy establishment is a shameless fraud
NLP has never been a part of mainstream psychology. Not being so enables small groups to develop quickly. NLP Interviewee 1 (1:06:25) Take So and So and So and So they are not part of mainstream psychology at all and never have been, maybe never will be, and because they had a small group that were somehow connected enough, they could make quite a lot of development unhindered by the larger community
Despite wanting NLP to be a distinct discipline and a respected profession, this is not possible as there is no definition of NLP. NLP Interviewee 5 (18:00) I’d like to see NLP nicely established as a distinct discipline and secondly from that as a profession and for that to be achieved I think there needs to be an agreed-upon, first of all definition of what NLP actually is
Again as above the difference which makes a difference that is NLP is not made sufficiently explicit to be tested as NLP and consequently be seen to be a significant advance on what we already have. NLP Interviewee 14 (27:12) Although I have been learning about it, I have never done anything hands on with it. So, using anchoring purposefully is only done in behavioural therapy and in a more static way.
NLP cannot become a part of mainstream provision until it becomes something other than a community of practice with a largely oral tradition. Churches (2013) Just this aspect of NLP alone, the fact that it has been a largely oral tradition for the last 30 years and a ‘community of practice’, provides enough ammunition for the critical academic to dismiss NLP.
Despite the more ethical and professional efforts of some in the NLP world, this is still at “Grey Literature” stage and is not sufficient to offset the poor reputation of NLP generally. Churches (2013) Alongside this, the first peer-reviewed NLP research journal is now in existence and the second edition is now in press. Furthermore, it is also clear that much university-related NLP research has taken place but has not been published in journals (so called ‘grey literature’ — conference papers, PhD theses etc.)
NLP seen as a marketing success, which generates cult like behaviour, in followers (Lalich and Langone 2006) rather than educational success which is validated through appropriate testing and publication. Williams, Authenticity This all goes to show that if someone comes up with a theory, gives it a scientific-sounding name, surrounds it in mystery, and writes a book; there exists a ready audience of gullible people who will snatch it off the shelves and sing it’s praise to the high heavens. Once a critical mass of believers is reached, it will take on a life of its own and defend against all infidels. Marketing trumps critical discernment every time.

 

Discussion of category 5. Wanting to be “accepted”, but disappointed with the continual pattern of not being accepted by “mainstream”

In developing this concept as defining NLP it has been impossible to ignore the lack of critical discussion in the academic literature concerning either the status or definition of NLP and testing of any propositions which may flow from such a definition. Given the 40 year history of NLP it would seem strange that NLP practitioners should ever think they could be a part of mainstream education with such a track record.

This concept seemed to be characterised in a few ways.

First, generally speaking, NLP practitioners as seen in category 1 see NLP primarily as a commercial activity. The majority are happy for research to be done on NLP, but it is not an activity which they either do, enjoy, or can afford. Interviewee 7 regarded such work as “boring”. When Interviewee 14 wished to do research work she discovered there was no support from the NLP community. Concerning being a part of mainstream, NLP seems to be rather a “…baby in the bathwater” (NLP Interviewee 2 4:10) than “…being at a crossroads” (Tosey and Mathison 2009 p188).

(In feedback NLP Interviewee said the following about my use of her words in this section of the dissertation. The email discussion can be seen on p. 225.

“Page 198 Your statement “Concerning being a part of mainstream, NLP is rather a ‘baby in the bathwater’ (NLP Interviewee 2 4:10) rather than ‘being at a crossroads’ (Tosey and Mathison 2009 p188) completely misses my intention to communicate that mainstream academia/professional critics are throwing the baby out with the bathwater when they dismiss ALL of NLP practitioners and materials. My analogy carries the meaning of destroying something very young, vulnerable and valuable, while doing the housecleaning chores to most readers. The Research and Recognitions Projects early research results are substantiating that analogy.”)

Tosey and Mathison (2009) say at the crossroads there are 3 roads available for NLP in their opinion;

1          Entropy? Where energy is lost as the knowledge base is simply re-cycled rather than extended.

2          Seeds of its own destruction? As a result of diversity of opinion and dissent it is suggested NLP has been knocked for six.

3          Renaissance? Where NLP rediscovers and reasserts its identity as essentially a pragmatic system of knowledge.

Interviewee 13 uses the metaphor of crossroads in a different way to describe NLP:

“Where do I see NLP now? I see personally it is a set of very useful strategies personally for myself and useful to teach to clients I think it’s a useful intervention for self-development, I think there is a very useful set of tools there to help people overcome difficulties and problems they have in their lives, and I think they are understandable, I think they’re nicely presented so the man in the street can generally make sense of them if they’re presented well. I think it is at a crossroads really between psychology and populist self-help.” (NLP Interviewee 13, 6:45-7:15).

Interviewee 13 seems to be happy with NLP remaining at the crossroads in between psychology and populist self-help seeing this as fitting the criterion of NLP as being essentially pragmatic, it would seem, however, from the perspective of Tosey and Mathison (2009) that if this road is taken then entropy is the inevitable consequence.

It seems from talking with NLP practitioners, good quality research has not even got off the ground, while Wake et al. are saying that their research volume, looking at the application of NLP to psychotherapy, is designed to justify and motivate rigorous scientific research into NLP (Wake et al. 2013, p. 1). Even though these considerations are more aligned with category 3; “Lacking in published Empirical Evidence”, it is coded here as it really seems to characterise the internal confusion of NLP as a paradigm. NLP either models excellence and makes explicit patterns which can be transferred to others so they too can become excellent, which is testable, or it is as Sharpley suggest a partial compendium of practice taken from other disciplines. Without possession of a robustly agreed-upon definition of what NLP is and a theory of NLP and without any empirical research to support the claims of NLP it seems paradoxical that any NLP practitioner would seek to be a part of mainstream education, however the dream does seem to persist. Even if NLP was accepted as a dynamic discipline NLP would be difficult to define because of internal diversity of opinion. Again the coaching world provides an exemplar. There is no agreed-upon definition of coaching (Gormley & Van Nieuwerburgh, 2014), yet post graduate degrees and journal articles abound internationally. Links with universities and psychology departments exist all around the world and a critical body of evidence is being amassed. Much of this may be of a qualitative nature, however it is being evidenced according to the methodologies appropriate to the subject matter. Consequently, coaching as an important HR and OD activity is becoming commonplace within organisations internationally.

A second characteristic of this concept seems to be that historically, NLP never has been a part of mainstream education. It has remained that way as it is characterised by small partnerships engaged in commercial activity. Because they remain independent of the mainstream, they can flexibly retain a commercial focus as the market place shifts and new needs become apparent. In this way, NLP can continue to be a Martini solution for anyone, any time, at any place in the world, providing they have the funds to pay. Their offerings are not slowed down or hindered by ethics committees, bureaucratic processes, or propositional knowledge which seems to have no application in the “real” world. Also in this world and from this perspective they are free to provide promises to clients which are not supported by evidence in academic journals. As already mentioned, Tony Grant makes the following observation concerning Anthony Robbin’s Neuro Associative Conditioning (NAC), one of the offshoots of NLP who is discussed in category 6: “Indeed, it could well be argued that Robbins’ marketing of NAC comes close to breaking the Code of Ethics of the Australian Psychological Society (1997)”. (Grant, 2001).

The third characteristic seems to arise from the helicopter view. As one attempts to reconcile these two apparently opposing features of NLP (wanting to be professionally accepted and being disappointed by rejection) we must ask the question ‘Where is the leadership within NLP that will ensure that some consistency does emerge so that one can at least understand what NLP is seeking to achieve?’ Those outside of the NLP community do not even see the better quality of NLP which runs NLP research conferences and encourages the Grey literature which Churches (2013) speaks of; they just see the marketers and their exaggerated claims in accordance with category 8.

A possibility is that at a group level the intention is commercial; in order to court legitimacy and make the marketing appear more credible to the lay public an association with research is nominally desirable. This strategy allows potential clients to suspend disbelief sufficiently to ensure the cheque clears. What is clear is that throughout 40 years of existence NLP practitioners have not put in the hard work that Francine Shapiro and her colleagues did in order to become a mainstream solution to a specific problem.

 

Category 6. Development of break out groups, dissatisfied with the culture of disagreement within NLP sometimes using a different brand

In talking with NLP practitioners, it became clear that one way to deal with the legal disputes and culture of disagreement within NLP was to depart from NLP and go it alone. This punctuates all 3 data sources sufficiently to warrant a category of its own. Below is some of the coding which supported such a category in a theory of NLP.

 

Table 8: A section of substantive and theoretical coding leading to the development of the category: Development of break out groups, dissatisfied with the culture of disagreement within NLP sometimes using a different brand.

Property of concept Data Source Example
NLP is fragmented and some groups do things which are not NLP. NLP Interviewee 1 (10:26) It is very fragmented and people here and there doing various things they call NLP some of which is and some of which isn’t
NLP is very fragmented and produces very mixed results NLP Interviewee 5 (18.27) Well, I see it as being very fragmented with very mixed results in terms of quality of practitioners which are out there.
There is not much agreement between influential people in NLP. NLP Interviewee 5 (33:55) I don’t know if there ever is going to be much of agreement between influential people in the NLP community
Evolution of new groups dissatisfied with the original group is a function of Western Epistemology. NLP Interviewee 5 (37:12) NLP is just an expression of a bigger pattern. This state in the NLP community in my view is an example of a problem and that is Western epistemology.
EMDR developed from an original pattern developed by John Grinder (Fredricks, 2014, Grimley 2014 p561) Francine Shapiro worked (administration and sales) in the Santa Cruz offices of Grinder, Delozier and Associates in the 80’s. She approached me one day and told me that a friend of hers from New York has been raped and she wanted to help her through this trauma and ensure that she exited cleanly and without scars. I told Francine to put her in resourceful state (anchored) and have her systematically move her eyes through the various accessing positions typical of the major representational systems
A group wanting to call their discipline something other than NLP NLP Interviewee 12 (20:21) We don’t really want to call it NLP. We are not going to market it under NLP. We are going to call it something different. We will honour where it came from.
Emphasising the difference between NLP and Neuro Semantics. Akademi NLP (2010) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= 0hAON4wK8c &index=7& list=FL8DkNuJiPmKdNTrMepPDfLO
Denial by Francine Shapiro (EMDR) that John Grinder had a conversation with her about how to treat a rape victim. The Psychologist vol 27 no 9 september 2014 (p63 8) The British Psychological Society. Bruce Grimley’s letter in the August issue of The Psychologist in response to my article (‘EMDR — more than a therapy for PTSD’, July 2014) includes a claim byDr John Grinder that he suggested to Francine Shapiro a way to treat a rape victim and that he is therefore the originator of EMDR. According to Dr Shapiro (personal communication), no such conversation ever took place.
Re-labelling of NLP has happened in multiple places. NLP Interviewee 12 (19:45) So while they are openly acknowledging part of its kind of history as NLP they have pretty much set it up as something quite different so yes you could lose, and I could certainly see one or two generations down, that a ***** trainer who wasn’t an NLP trainer could just talk about the ***** part rather than the NLP part, for sure. But that is what has happened in other places we talk of Neuro Semantics we talk of New Code. So many people have gone on to relabel and just tweaked it a bit and then called it something else, but at least with *****it is something quite different, it is not stuff that you would have learned in NLP
Development of break out groups and rebranding for different reasons NLP Interviewee 9 (39:40) There was a time when So and So was trying to sue everybody So for his own safety it was a sensible thing to call it something else. We weren’t in that position, ours was a more philosophical distinction there was so much in NLP, at the least in the way that it’s was done, the way that it was taught that didn’t align with **** that we decided to call it something else however I have always said I don’t see any incompatibility at a fundamental level.
Specific patterns taken from NLP and relabelled as something else on account of independent research. The Human Givens Institute.The fast cure for phobia and trauma: evidence that it works. Retrieved on Friday 28th November 2014 from:

http://www.hgi. org.uk/archive/re windevidence.htm#. VHiBtjGsXh 4

The rewind technique, also known as the fast phobia cure, evolved from the technique developed by Richard Bandler one of the cofounders of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). He called it the VK dissociation technique (the V stands for visual and the K for kinaesthetic – feelings). The version recommended by the European Therapy Studies Institute has been refined and streamlined, as a result of its own research into why and how best it works.[2]
Development of a different branch of NLP which encourages research and testing of NLP patterns. Personal email from Dr Karl Nielsen Tue 30/09/2014 18:46 bruce@achieving-lives.co.uk We decided to found **** on our 3rd NLP & Coaching World Congress in Croatia 2012. **** is designed so that only NLP Trainer with an academic Master in Psychology and a Psychotherapy qualification according to WCPC standard (NLPt level) are accepted as “**** Master Trainer, IN”. The content of **** trainings is defined as scientifically proven applicable Psychology knowledge and scientifically proven NLP.
Different NLP trainers have different definitions of NLP that to not fit together NLP Interviewee5 (16:10) The concern I have about that is I talk to various NLP trainers and a lot of trainers I’ve spoken to don’t even have a definition of NLP that fits with my understanding of what it is, NLP definition
NLP practiced under a different name on account of legal proceedings. (Hall 2013a). Another Bandler lawsuit occurred sometime later (1988 or 1989) against Tony Robbins. That one was against Robbins because he was not certifying people as NLP Practitioners or Master Practitioners through The Society of NLP. Settled in 1990 out of court with Tony promising to “certify people through the Society and pay his $200 for each one certified in NLP,” he promptly stopped training “NLP” as such and invented a new name, NAC– Neural Associative Conditioning.
It takes energy to remain divisive and this energy could rather be put to good use. NLP Interviewee 10 (38:18) But if We Could at Least Move that Barrier of the Community Being Divisive Saying It’s not Needed It’s Needed It’s not Needed It’s Needed that Will Take a Lot of the Energy Away and the Energy Can Be Put to Good Use
Informal aggregations already exist in NLP, however this needs to happen more, but not to the extent that we obtain centralisation. NLP Interviewee 15 (2:01:56) You can’t have just, you know, So and So people, just So and So people. You’ve got to have diversity, you’ve got to have people to be autonomous, and that has to be decentralised — great NLP’s got all those things — what it’s missing is the 4th condition which is some form of aggregation. Right now it’s aggregated, not formally, you know there’ s some certain informal aggregations, but … and then you have to have aggregation that doesn’t become centralisation, otherwise you kill the wisdom again, so I don’t know….how
There was an NLP summit in 2012 which looked at the possibility of collaboration between groups. There are bits of collaboration between groups in NLP. But the proof is NLP organisations don’t survive very long and either disappear or tear themselves apart.

There is a pattern within NLP that has lasted 30 years where different groups are still arguing about standards and marketing.

NLP Interviewee 9(22:25) You know So and So’s summit last year where we were all talking about collaboration. One of the things I said that is let us find out what collaboration is already happening because I see lots of little bits of collaboration I would rather go well let’s build on those rather than have some huge thing where we all have to collaborate. The proof of the matter is that most NLP organisations don’t survive very long, either they literally disappear like all the American ones have, or they end up tearing themselves apart or being in the hands of a small number, we might not like that truth but it is the truth. I travel around the world and it may not be an absolute, but nearly all the NLP organisations I talk to are suffering from that same issue if you like and they are all still arguing about exactly the same thing standards, marketing, exactly the same things of 30 years ago.
In response to the question: “how do you see NLP getting from where it is now to where it needs to be in the future?” Different Groups are not working together and if this does not happen then the patterns of disagreements and break out groups will continue. NLP Interviewee 7 (3:55) Well the only way it is going to happen is if we begin working together and collaborating and if we don’t do that it will continue as it has been for three decades

 

Discussion of category 6 Development of break out groups, dissatisfied with the culture of disagreement within NLP sometimes using a different brand

NLP is regarded as very fragmented, which in itself is not problematical, however when this characteristic is put alongside a culture of disagreement, even concerning the fundamentals of what NLP is and what should be in an NLP curriculum it would seem difficult to present NLP as a field, especially in the light of being described as an “oral tradition” (Churches 2013) and having no A standard research to support any of its patterns. (Wake et al. 2013). Standing back and looking along the NLP time line, we see disagreement as standard and, despite efforts to rectify this, somehow systemically within NLP there appears to be a propensity for disagreement. As already mentioned recently, a series of NLP Leadership Summits have been convened in an attempt to deal with this, (http://nlpleadershipsummit.org/ ), time will tell what impact these will have. However only weeks after the latest Summit held in London, experienced trainers are publically denigrating it on account of some attendees not displaying the values the summit purports to have. Figure 13 taken from Facebook provides the rationale behind the critique and a sense of NLP conversation.

There are now many brands which have their roots in NLP, but choose to call themselves something different for a host of reasons: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), Developmental Behavioural Modelling, (DBM), Clean Language, Symbolic modelling, Neuro Semantics, Multiple brain integration techniques (Mbit), Neuro-Associative Conditioning (NAC), Human Givens, New Code, Design Human Engineering (DHE), Neuro Hypnotic Repatterning. Each of these groups have broken away from the title “NLP” to develop something similar, however rather than communicating with each other, it seems the gestalt is they compete commercially, emphasising their difference from each other and individual unique selling points.

 

Figure 13. Portions of a public critique of NLP Leadership Summit 2014.

(Retrieved on Friday 5th December 2014 from https://www.facebook.com/)

 

NLP Interviewee 5 in the above instances from interview transcripts gives an opinion that this dynamic could just represent the Western Epistemological tradition of labelling and separating and then looking at the individual labels contrasted with the more holistic view of looking at and understanding the bigger picture of how these individual parts relate to and communicate with each other. (NLP Interviewee 5 37:12-37:22) However, the question remains: if NLP prides itself on being able to take this more holistic perspective, being rooted in systemic thinking, how is it that its history is characterized by a lack of appreciation for the wider system. A further question is suggested: what is the source of the apparent inability to make use of this this holistic perspective to effectively relate to each other and to the wider world of formal education?

Category 7. Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code

One of the many changes which took place during the course of this research as a result of listening to the NLP practitioners was to change the research title from “What is the definition of NLP?” to “What is NLP?” The word definition besides being a nominalisation was also regarded by some NLP practitioners as restrictive. However for Sturt (2013) the very fact NLP does not have a definition which is accepted by all, demonstrates that research cannot be done. She says: “the very fact that there is no agreed definition of NLP indicates how little evidence we have of its benefits.” (Sturt, 2012). A similar concept was recorded in the words of O’Connor of the LinkedIn group: «Such is the circularity of arguing evidence when we haven’t looked at «Evidence for what? A question which might be more important than its easier cousin, «Evidence of what?» (O’Connor in Authenticity, 2014). If NLP has no figure in the world of Human Development (HRD) or Organisational Development (OD) and is so similar to all we presently have on account of borrowing from other disciplines then there is indeed nothing to research. We know the extent to which “NLP patterns” work on account of research in psychology and practice by professional psychologists. If NLP is ever to exist as a profession in its own right the words of Interviewee 5 are probably very relevant:

“I’d like to see NLP nicely established as a distinct discipline and secondly from that as a profession and for that to be achieved I think there needs to be an agreed-upon, first of all definition of what NLP actually is” (NLP Interviewee 5, 18:00).

However what NLP has presented us with over 40 years is a history of internal discord with Interviewee 6 telling us: “from a position of rapport, we can have more influence. Because I think, all the time we’re arguing, that’s actually creating more barriers.” (NLP Interviewee 6, 17:00-17:04).

In researching “what is NLP?” I was hoping to also understand what a standardized curriculum in NLP might look like too, and within that question there was an assumption that currently there is something missing in NLP, otherwise it would indeed have been accepted within mainstream social science a long time ago. However a development of this theme seems to be bringing about the recognition that there is nothing in NLP to address anything which is not already in psychology, apart from the very eclectic and experiential way in which NLP practitioners work with a focus on untested application rather than theory building. In developing this theme further the acronym PEAS emerged with eclectic and experiential along with others being represented by the “E”. I discuss the role this acronym plays within the grounded theory in Chapter 5.

Below are some of the instances which developed this category.

 

Table 9:A section of substantive and theoretical coding leading to the development of the category: Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code. Critical of the discipline of Psychology.

Property of concept Data Source Example
NLP needs theoretical background as well as an evidence base to substantiate NLP patterns and be regarded as having substance. Ouellette, Authenticity, The mere fact of bringing together techniques based on several theoretical background does not make it a theory, it just makes it a bunch of techniques. Moreover, the NLP «practitioner» does not have a theoretical background to substantiate their «techniques»
NLP techniques may work, but not understanding how they work, why they work and the theoretical underpinnings prevents development. Grimley (2013b) Having a theoretical orientation is important if any discipline is to grow. If this were not the case we would still think Malaria was caused by bad air, (Methane). Even though shutting windows reduced the incidents of Malaria it did so for the “wrong reasons”.

Only when Alphonse Laveran developed the theory that Malaria was caused microscopic parasites carried by Mosquitoes could more effective advances be made. This is very much the current case with NLP.

Perceived bad practice in psychology used as an excuse not to engage in good research practice within NLP. NLP Interviewee 1 (51:15) She did her Ph.D. she had psych students coming in and was doing research on eye accessing cues, all the students had to come as a requirement of their psych course, a lot of them came in stoned
Perceived bad practice in psychology used as an excuse not to engage in good research practice within NLP. NLP Interviewee 1 (51:40) 90% of All Psychological Research Is either Done on College Sophomores, Naive Rats.
In talking about NLP we should concentrate on interventions that work and that we have evidence for. NLP Interviewee 6 (21:58) Before I answer that I’m also going to say I don’t like that phrase, I know a lot of NLP’ers use it, because it’s too general and that’s probably what you’re getting at with the definition, I think. I would rather we talk about interventions that work, that we have evidence for, and I would also like us to talk about how NLP helps influence language patterns, etc. It’s like saying, ‘Psychology works,’ to say, ‘NLP works.’ So, for me, that’s one of the things that’s got us into trouble, saying a blanket ‘NLP works’ frame.
At the moment there is not an agreed upon working definition of NLP and that is needed to see NLP change in a revolutionary way. NLP Interviewee 5 (25:05) Look I’d like to see a revolution take place in the NLP community, what do I mean by that, that people will become aware of how important it is to have an agreed-upon working definition of NLP
Currently the NLP practitioner frame is inappropriate as it does not represent NLP at a high enough logical level which is NLP as an operational epistemology. Consequently even though internationally there is a format of teaching applications of NLP in therapy, self development and coaching, this actually is not a curricular that represents what NLP really is. The fundamental patterns of NLP can be generalised to multiple contexts. NLP Interviewee 5 (27:10) The whole idea of training people as practitioners, it’s still operating inside an old frame where people think of NLP as a therapy or now may be as a form of coaching and so if you think about it that way you are turning out NLP practitioners with the skill to coach others that’s all fine but that’s just one area of application of NLP so if you are to teach NLP, what are the fundamental patterns that would be appropriate to teach somebody? I don’t know if you could even call them a practitioner however there are some fundamental patterns that are a part of the body of NLP and when people incorporate those pattern they can generalise those patterns to a context whether it be therapeutic, educational, personal relationship, self-management, intra personal creating a distinction between conscious and unconscious mind and how they live in the world and so on I think there are some fundamental patterns and maybe if there was a clean sweep, a whole redesign in terms of what is taught maybe not even calling it practitioner who knows and it would need to be at a high enough logical level, in terms of the patterns, rather than a format approach my concern is a number of and people get to churned out, quicky trainers, and they may not even be aware of the issue of NLP as an epistemology as an operational epistemology so there is not that much interest in a broad sense.
NLP does not need to furnish people with a complex theory if the “technology” they give them is simple and it works. NLP Interviewee 15 (1:36:48) So, for me this is the whole idea, when you have a sufficiently developed technology and this is why I was struck with something like the meta-model, hey — I don’t have to have the 40 years of intuition that somebody else does in order to be able to help somebody else in a very profound way.
An NLP curriculum depends upon agreement amongst the NLP community. Bits need to be agreed upon and put in a location where internationally people can refer to. NLP Interviewee 14 (49:00) So, that can all be thrown into this list, because it’s that we, as NLPers agree, yes, yes, and yes and maybe it will have 100 items. It can be put somewhere, like the safe of the International Association of NLP in Switzerland, where organisations say, ‘Yes, that’s what we agree on.’
Many NLP statements are not subjected to criticism and are marketing statements rather than statements which emerge from a solid body of evidence and a theoretical position. NLP Interviewee 9 (24:30) One of the ways the academic community builds its quality is through self-criticism. I think it can take it too far and I think it can be horribly painful, but the bottom line is if you don’t examine the holes or the false statements, or the statements that don’t have any backing then they just carry on, and that kind of low quality. A lot of the statements which are made about NLP and are trundled out under the guise of NLP have no basis whatsoever they are nice marketing statements, no wonder NLP is accused of psychobabble.
NLP defies easy description even by NLP experts. (Overdurf and Silverton 1998:viii) NLP ““Defies Easy Description”
There is a lack of motivation to do decent research within NLP. NLP Interviewee 6 (38:49) We need to find a way to motivate some people to do some decent research. So, I think that’s the idea. Every now and then I have an idea myself, for a research topic, and then I think, ‘But I haven’t got the time to do it,’ so I’ m unlikely to do it, although I might do a PhD at some stage, so who knows. I don’t know whether, as a community, if we could get to a position where everybody’s really keen to support what we’re doing, could we help students get grants, for instance, or maybe even people of our age who want to go and study and get grants, so they can be paid to live whilst they’re doing research. So, that would be a way the community could help it. Whether or not that would then become another criticism, of course, like the cigarette industry funding research, it’s a challenge all round, really.
NLP is a mystery story when one attempts to conduct evidence based research on it. Tosey and Mathison 2009:3 “in other respects NLP resembles more of a mystery story.”
NLP is more about generation than it is about prediction which is regarded by Grinder as a “Passive Activity”. NLP Interviewee 15 (1:17:48) There is no statistic on it because it is the first time that it’s happening so it’s the first time it is happening for this person, so there’s that whole aspect where you enter into              and it is a more generative space….and then past statistics don’t offer you that much
There is insufficient interest in creating the funding for and doing research within NLP. NLP Interviewee 7 (21:05) Yes well what you are talking about is interest and funding I think NLP has not been interested in that because we see it working every day in people’s lives and our purpose has been to do business instead of doing research so there’s not been that much interest in it and somebody has to collaborate and create funding to be able to do that and that usually occurs at a university level where they’ve got the money and don’t have to worry about business and so once that happens once the people who are interested in that and will spend the time, the boring time to apply for grants and get that done then that will be done otherwise the marketplace is the place that test it.
There is no point in looking for evidence NLP works, until we have looked at the evidence for NLP existing as a separate discipline in itself. O’Connor Authenticity Such is the circularity of arguing evidence when we haven’t looked at «Evidence for what?» — a question which might be more important than its easier cousin, «Evidence of what?»
We cannot research something if we do not know what it is. This implies a definition is important. Sturt 2013 “the very fact that there is no agreed definition of NLP indicates how little evidence we have of its benefits.”
Within NLP there is a lack of integration with the areas modelled and the focus is simply on the practical applications which are derived from them. NLP Interviewee 9 (1:28:12) I think NLP in general and So and So in particular has this brilliant option to take theoretical models and turned them into practical applications that’s an area that most other processes can’t do as well as us but I also think our relationships with other models needs to be open and just saying if it works it’s NLP I don’t think is good enough. It certainly upsets other people and there has been a long-standing thing about lack of quoting other models and this is great to see So and So going back and finding for example some of the core stuff of the humanistic movement and things like this where some of the presuppositions come from.
Disagreements about what should be within an NLP curricular and the reasons for inclusion / exclusion. Again language about “it working” without any accepted research being performed, reviewed and published. NLP Interviewee 5 40:45 Well once again here’s an example of a problem state and a number of people in the NLP community say we don’t teach six step reframe any more. I say really, how come? It’s been superseded by the Swish. I say how has it been superseded by this Swish. Ah with the Swish you can change behaviours faster than with a six step reframe. Now that tells me straightaway that they have no idea about the patterns which constitute the six step or N step reframe
An operating definition of NLP is “it is whatever works”. However this does not seem to work as you do not know whether something that has worked in one context will work in another context, as Interviewee 15 points out, the transfer often is not effective. Thus there could be an element of the post hoc fallacy here? NLP Interviewee 15 01:25:50 Certainly my original operating definition of NLP was that “it is whatever works”. Then you could go “oh, then it’s just appropriating from other places” Well, yeah, except that, you know, there’s a lot of things that people do, that the way that they try to transfer isn’t effective, you know, it’s. you get mired down in a whole lot of other stuff.

 

Discussion of category 7 Lack of standardized Definition, curriculum and professional practice code

In looking through a sample of the substantive and theoretical coding above the reader can see how this category is textured in many ways. Also there were many instances which have been coded to other categories that were also coded to this category. This demonstrates the final grounded theory consists of 8 categories which though regarded as discreet for explanatory purposes are also interrelated to a great extent, however not to the extent of multicollinearity. I would like to explore some of the ways in which this category is textured in more detail below.

  1. Lack of standardized definition.

In psychometrics standardization is the procedure of establishing the initial set of norms for a test so as to define the conditions under which it should be used and also for determining the assessment of reliability and validity. As Sturt (2013) has pointed out the very fact NLP does not have a standardized definition demonstrates how little research we have concerning the benefits of NLP. An evidence base and standardization go hand in hand. As O’Connor (Authenticity) mentioned there is a circularity of arguing for evidence of, (emphasis added), NLP before we have established the evidence base that NLP actually exists and what it is… evidence for, (emphasis added), NLP? (O’Connor in Authenticity, 2014.)

  1. Curriculum and Professional Practice code.

In the sample above I have included two quotes from NLP practitioners which demonstrate a fundamental divide in NLP as a discipline. Is it a process or content model? The reason this is a pivotal question is that, depending upon the answer, one will end up either with one curriculum and associated professional practice or another. The fact that most proponents of NLP will argue it is formally a process model and then when one looks at their curriculum one sees a set of content models, some which many NLP practitioners do not even recognise as NLP is a fundamental difficulty NLP needs to overcome it would seem.

Interviewee 5 talks of NLP at a higher logical level, she says:

“The whole idea of training people as practitioners, it’s still operating inside an old frame where people think of NLP as a therapy or now may be as a form of coaching and so if you think about it that way you are turning out NLP practitioners with the skill to coach others, that’s all fine but that’s just one area of application of NLP so if you are to teach NLP, what are the fundamental patterns that would be appropriate to teach somebody? I don’t know if you could even call them a practitioner however there are some fundamental patterns that are a part of the body of NLP and when people incorporate those pattern they can generalise those patterns to a context whether it be therapeutic, educational, personal relationship, self-management, intra personal creating a distinction between conscious and unconscious mind and how they live in the world” (NLP Interviewee 5, 27:10).

If we take NLP to be as above, then NLP Interviewee 5 says we need to agree on the fundamental patterns which constitute the NLP processes and through these we can generalise them to a variety of other contexts. The testing of NLP then becomes the testing of the generalisations made to the specific contexts. Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) give us a clue as to what some of these NLP processes could be. They point out the Meta Model was already well developed and rigorously coded in the language of the transformational syntacticians. However, the non-verbal patterning which had been modelled had no comparable initial stable code to utilize. These NLP design variables were arrived at inductively and include rapport, manipulation of state, the use of multiple perceptual positions, certain anchoring formats and framing.

However when we look from the perspective of NLP Interviewee 14 we appear to have a more content oriented approach with maybe 100 or so items on the NLP list:

“So, that can all be thrown into this list, because it’s that we, as NLPers agree, yes, yes, and yes and maybe it will have 100 items. It can be put somewhere, like the safe of the International Association of NLP in Switzerland, where organisations say, ‘Yes, that’s what we agree on.’ (NLP Interviewee 14. 49:00-49:20)

In researching what NLP is, what seemed to be the case was because there had been an avoidance of getting to the beef and arguing critically the difficult and important questions NLP had not evolved past the baby in the bathwater stage and consequently still appeared to be a bit of a playground where anybody with an opinion had as much right to call themselves an NLP practitioner as anybody else. Consequently, for over 40 years, NLP has been characterised by various practitioners claiming that their version of NLP worked better than anybody else’s, however these have always been marketing statements without empirical evidence to support them.

This has created the overriding characterisation of NLP as a field which is:

1)        Commercially motivated

2)        Saturated in Anecdotal evidence,

3)        Lacks published empirical evidence and therefore also has

4)        Historical and current disagreement.

This is emphasised nicely by Interviewee 10: “they have a commercial interest in their type of NLP working, their type of NLP being more successful than somebody else’s type of NLP. And we are not ready for that yet as a field because the field is not widely recognised enough outside of the field.” (Interviewee 10, 21:40-21:55).

When talking about the inductively-created NLP design variables, Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) also recognised that the demand for trainings at that time provided a financial opportunity which was seized. This opportunity distracted from the modelling projects, such as the development of the Milton Model (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001). Interestingly, it also provided a challenge; how do you modify the NLP patterns in such a way that the patterns can be transferred effectively to a wide range of paying customers? Implicit in this challenge, of course, is the design of a pattern so that upon its congruent application, predictable results are forthcoming. It is this aspect of NLP which is almost totally missing, thus the characterising categories of 2), 3), and 4) above.

Category 8. All practice generally being associated with worst practice

As has already been discussed, the NLP world is not homogeneous. The ANLP have hosted Bi-annual NLP research conferences at UK universities for the last 6 years. Some NLP training organisations will insist on 35 days training for an NLP practitioner certificate with external testing, supervision with a 5 to one ratio, and the course stretched over approximately one year. However, what was interesting in coding the Linkedin discussion (which represented an outside perspective on NLP) was the way in which even these sincere efforts were tarred with the same brush as those at the other end of the NLP training spectrum. At this end, commercial companies may cram 500 people into a hotel for the same “qualification” in only 4 days with no testing or supervision. This range of training is alluded to, with interesting comments by Schutz (2014) in appendix C. He points out,

“While in the world of lawyers, cardiologists, Airline Transport Pilots, Aikido teachers, clinical social workers, Zen Monks, Judges …. because of tradition, standardized access criteria, length of training, etc. the average minimal knowledge and competence is quite high and standardized, in NLP all these parameters vary much in diversity, and a profound discussion about them is rare.” (Schutz 2014)

 

Such confirmation bias is of course a well-known phenomenon, (Kahneman, 2011) and even though there may be different motives for making use of the worst possible practice in NLP to represent the whole field, in this research it was a characteristic which stood out.

Below is some of the coding which led to such an emerging theme.

 

Table 10. A section of open coding leading to the development of the category: All practice generally being associated with worst practice

Property of concept Data Source Example
The majority of NLP practitioners do not mis-market, but these people are associated with the minority who do misrepresent NLP. Currently NLP as a brand is not in a position to do anything about this. NLP Interviewee 7 (24:30) So most NLP people don’t miss market, but there’s enough who do that creates the bad publicity for us and so what we lack is a community that can police itself and kick out those who are doing the misrepresentations.
Wikipedia currently runs a very negative representation on NLP. This is on account of there not being sufficient within NLP which is of educational value. NLP Interviewee 6 (18:15) But it will be more available from an educational perspective and they won’t go on Wikipedia and see a negative story on there, which is what we’ve got on there at the moment, of course.
NLP is easy to discredit. O’Connor, Authenticity Also to Andrew for leaving the oh-so-easy cudgels to one side and asking if it is possible to separate out that which is consistent and reliable in the fabric of NLP from the other, especially with the passage of years and much usage.
The editor of “The Psychologist” in the UK refers to this article as having a pop at NLP which is an easy target. The particular property of this instance is that bad NLP press can now quickly reach a large population.( the editor’s views and signposting were in a popular professional publication going to 50,000 professionls internationally.) Poole (2012) Your brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks in The New Statesman retrieved on 7th June 2013 from: tinyurl.com/8jkndqc “the field (or cult) of “neurolinguistic programming” (NLP) sells techniques not only of self-overcoming but of domination over others. (According to a recent NLP handbook, you can “create virtually any and all states” in other people by using “embedded commands”.) The employee using such arcane neurowisdom will get promoted over the heads of his colleagues; the executive will discover expert-sanctioned ways to render his underlings more docile and productive, harnessing “creativity” for profit.” (Poole 2012)
It is easy to set up Straw-man arguments against NLP as the Brand does not regulate the practice of NLP effectively. Wiseman,R., Watt,C., ten Brinke, L., Porter,S., Couper,S., & Rankin,C. (2012). The Eyes Don’t Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Retrieved on 1st June 2013 from: http://www.plosone.org/article/inf «Although the originators of NLP didn’t view ‘constructed’ thoughts as lies, this notion has become commonplace, leading many NLP practitioners to claim that it is possible to gain a useful insight into whether someone is lying from their eye-movements.” Wiseman et al. (2012)
o%3 Adoi%2F 10. 1371%2Fiourna l.pone.0040259
The founders of NLP, some of their enthusiasts and their behaviours over 40 years have become inextricably linked with the field of NLP Authenticity. Munro Peter’s point though is valid. There is a real sense of “fake” associated with the founders and many of the enthusiasts of NLP — and it is an issue. Try typing: how do I become a master NLP practitioner into Google.
Even though concluding NLP is not a cult, Tosey and Mathison say there are many behaviours within NLP which are characteristic of the cultic. Others often say these behaviours are sufficient to generalise to NLP as a cult which is good copy for detractors of NLP. Tosey, P. & Mathison, J. (2009) Neuro-linguistic programming: a critical appreciation for managers and developers. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. “One characteristic cited by Lalich and Langone (2006) that seems relevant to NLP is, ‘The Leader is not accountable to any authorities’       There are also adherents who sometimes appear to display ‘unquestioning commitment’ to their leader and regard his or her ‘belief system, ideology and practices as the Truth, as law’ (Lalich and Langone 2006)” Tosey and Mathison (2009pl73)
Provocative statements and colourful past history make the Co-Founders of NLP and thus NLP easy prey for Ad Hominem arguments, which though not sound, influence people away from NLP. NLP training academy (2014) retrieved on 25th September 2014 from https://www.facebook.com/ and Clark (2006)
“Know this guy? He was arrested for First Degree murder in 1988 and charged with the murder of his bookkeeper, who was also running a call-girl operation on the side.

He had plunged headlong into cocaine addiction, and only he and his drug dealer (who was also the victim’s boyfriend) were present in her house when the shooting took place. He’s one of the founders of NLP — a crackpot of the first degree — Richard Bandler.” (Clark 2006)

 

Discussion category 8, All practice generally being associated with worst practice

Wanting to believe in the wonders of NLP, but then on looking in the academic literature and not seeing any substantial support for any of the NLP patterns in any professional context makes it difficult to support NLP or NLP patterns as a valid practice. With the continued existence within NLP of such beliefs as looking up to the right is correlated with telling lies, it is easy for psychologists to hit back at NLP and discredit it. NLP itself will hold that one of the modelling principles for creating our maps (which we often mistake for the territory) is generalisation and this process along with distortion and deletion create the confirmation biases which have emerged as definitional for NLP. For those who have an agenda to discredit NLP, it is all just too easy to do just that on account of the many who practice NLP in an uninformed way and the inability or an unwillingness of the leadership within NLP to effectively address this dynamic.

The comments from the NLP Interviewees who did speak up on this topic though, were very telling. Interviewee 7 acknowledged NLP is not a community that can police itself and this is one reason the bias occurs. Another reason for NLP being defined in this way is that currently, according to Interviewee 6, there is a lack of genuine education within NLP. As a consequence, this makes it very easy for people who are interested in the field to believe the frame currently presented on Wikipedia which concludes; “The balance of scientific evidence reveals NLP to be a largely discredited pseudoscience”(Wikipedia 2013).

The first research-based examination of NLP by Tosey and Mathison (2009) also highlights certain characteristics of NLP which are described as characteristic of cults. It may be worth exploring the possibility that the very public display of poor practice in NLP is quickly discerned and generalised, almost as a form of defence. As a species, it may be that humans are primed to attend to the negative in order to survive, fearful faces break into consciousness more quickly than happy expressions during continuous flash suppression, (Pessoa and Adolphs, 2010, p. 773). Tosey and Mathison (2009) tell us that, in their opinion NLP is not a cult. Unlike cults, within NLP people are free to come and go and do not have to cut family ties in order to practice. What NLP holds in common with cults, they tell us, are themes of control, influence and manipulation and that these certainly abound within NLP. Tosey and Mathison (2009) suggest that even though NLP may not set out to be a pseudo-religion, some people may use it to meet equivalent needs. The experiential nature of many NLP group meetings certainly may be enough to scare many into tarring the whole enterprise with a cultic brush, just to be on the safe side.

McClendon’s book on the early days of NLP talks about activities which on one occasion involved tying a blindfolded group member to a cross, pouring lighter fluid at the bottom and setting it ablaze. When it was clear she could smell the smoke from the fire that John Grinder had lit, Richard Bandler asked the member if she would like her gift. This happened to be a knife with which she could cut herself loose. Apparently the anxious Interviewee never forgave Bandler, (McClendon, 1989). McClendon recounts other strange encounters in those days, for instance he talks of the group experimenting with negative hallucinations at the Alba Road training. McClendon describes using the deep trance phenomenon of developing negative hallucinations to partially undress women and then tell them what colour their underwear was (McClendon, 1989). In writing a forward for the book Bandler points out that in some cases the recollections do not match his precisely but what McClendon has done in his opinion is capture beyond dispute the: “spirit of adventure that gave birth to NLP and continues to energise it” (McClendon, 1989, p. ii).

There are many people within NLP doing what would be regarded by some as a very good job, however an outsider perspective seems to be very unaware of this good work, (see appendix C) and understands NLP through the practice and communication of a possibly very vocal and visible minority. This possibility, along with the lack of empirical evidence and internal discord within NLP, often leads to the whole field being regarded in an ambivalent way at best and a negative way at worst.

What is a theory?

This research claims to create a new theory of NLP, so it is useful to understand what a theory is. The Co-Founders of NLP were unequivocal that they took an atheoretical approach

“Neuro-Linguistic Programming is the discipline whose domain is the structure of subjective experience. It makes no commitment to theory, but rather has the status of a model — a set of procedures whose usefulness not truthfulness is to be the measure of its worth” (Dilts et al. 1980, Forward to Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Para 2)

Grinder and Bostic St Clair (2001) tell us the work product of NLP is a model and this is different from a replica in that there are a reduced set of elements in a model. Grinder and Bostic St Clair (2001) tell us also that a model is not as complex as a theory which requires internal consistency, explicitness, elegance and a fit with reality. An informative email discussion with Interviewee 2 addressed the topic of theory head on. In an email discussion (Personal communication, 8th June 2015 12:52) Interviewee 2 said:

“I do not think you have presented a theory of NLP at all. Without a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based there is no theory. A theory of education provides guidelines to produce “educational activities”. Your description of NLP’s practice as “commercial, controversial, and unproven” are good facts about many of its’ current practitioners, their motivation, their professional standing as well as the basic reason for that professional standing, but it fails to set forth a set of principles on which the practice of NLP is based and does not comprise a theory.”

My response to this feedback was that the sense of theoretical alluded to in this research was not only propositional (the 8 propositions acting as principles of explanation) but also both explanatory and predictive. Using a more simple definition of theory I suggested:

“Going to www.dictionary.com for ease of access a ball park definition there is a theory is:

“A coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena:

There is more, however I thought the above would suffice for my purpose.

When I say “Theory of NLP” I mean it in the sense the 8 dimensions are from my research a group of general propositions which can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena, in this case the practice of NLP. I accept that these propositions are not tested generally, however I have tested them within this research using grounded theory and I have made explicit this theory of NLP is my own subjective theory which I will use in order to inform my practice of NLP as a chartered psychologist. As is the case with Action Research the intention is to improve one’s own practice, however also to inform others how one goes about this. My theory therefore is not offered as a claim to understand what NLP is all about, but is offered in consideration that it is what I have found it to be about, and this may be useful for others in coming to their own conclusions.” (Personal communication, 13th June, 2015. 10:40)

Testing in the context of this email means re-cycling the emerging concepts back to the Interviewees for clarification, validation or rejection.

It would seem clear that “being saturated in anecdotal evidence” (category 2. Fig14) indeed could not only be descriptive of NLP, but also could be a principle which is invoked on the basis that a more positivist orientation which seeks to make generalisations and create general laws which explain in a cause and effect way the workings of individuals or groups of individuals is antithetical to NLP as discussed in this research. The same could be said for each of the other categories within this theory of NLP. For instance having historical and current disagreement is not only descriptive and propositional, but also leads to a general principle within NLP which could be argued is responsible for the creativity and eclectic nature which pervades NLP and makes it so attractive to a great number of adherents. Being primarily commercially motivated is not only a descriptive proposition to emerge from this research, but also a principle which informs the practice of NLP as it currently is, predicting too how it will continue to be characterised and generally representing the values of those practicing NLP.

What is also made clear in my response to Interviewee 2 is that this research proposes a personal theory of NLP. In this research I have made it clear that the idea another researcher would take my data and arrive at a similar theory is incorrect, simply on the basis that the other researcher would be different from me and consequently would look at the data with a totally different set of filters. This is despite the rigorous coding protocols implicit within a Grounded Theory approach. As soon as one moves away from very basic sensory description to interpretation one will delete, distort and generalise. When one appreciates the data one handles in the social science of psychology is in itself a secondary representation, the idea one can arrive at some form of objective theory using a grounded theory approach supported by IPA is unsound. This social character of the scientific endeavour is well summarised by King et al:

“Understanding the social character of science can be liberating since it means that our work need not to be beyond criticism to make an important contribution–whether to the description of a problem or its conceptualization, to theory or to the evaluation of theory. As long as our work explicitly addresses (or attempts to redirect) the concerns of the community of scholars and uses public methods to arrive at inferences that are consistent with rules of science and the information at our disposal, it is likely to make a contribution.” King,G., Keohane,R,O., and Verba,S. (1994, Kindle Locations 237-241)

What is not a theory?

Turning the question on its head, a theory is not a theory when it’s explanatory power is based only on implicit or fragmentary evidence. One characteristic of a psychological theory is that it refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of human activity that is supported by a considerable body of evidence. In order to develop a grounded theory I ensured I selected a range of subject matter experts who I knew held a range of perspectives which covered the domain of NLP. I also selected subject matter experts who did not have a vested interest in a theory which flattered the practice of NLP thus correcting for a possible positive schew. It is also important in developing a theory to make use of selection and interpretation protocols to minimise subjectivity. A theory is not a theory when it does not have these characteristics and it has been developed in a haphazard way. All of us have implicit theories which are generalisations on how the world works. Some of these are useful; “It is good to stop at a red traffic light” some are not so useful; “I am useless at this and will never be any good”. These are not theories in the scientific sense in that they have not been developed in the above way. Rather they have been developed through personal experience and usually it is the case they have not been rigorously tested in a variety of contexts. In NLP, practitioners recognise this lack of testing is antithetical to personal development and the Meta Model challenges are designed to test these implicit theories and through dialogue maybe even develop more robust theories which support the intention of the individual.

The Utility of a theory of NLP

The utility for developing a grounded theory of NLP is that it can be used as a stimulus to look at the practice of NLP using a frame which is valid, yet also a frame which invites development. By making such undesirable themes as “lacking in empirical evidence”, “historical and current disagreement” and “having no coherent epistemology, ontology or methodology” explicit this research also acts as an invitation. The invitation could be to demonstrate how this theory is flawed. The invitation could be to professional practice which moves towards agreement, coherence of methodology and consequently good level A research published in appropriate journals. The important factor which emerges from this research is that if such an invitation is taken up, it is done so within the context of scientific enquiry and inevitably that discourse is within good quality peer reviewed journals.

 

Grounded Theory of NLP

In this section I talk a little about what has emerged from this research moving in a funnel like way towards a greater focus on a more precise new theory of NLP.

NLP is an unregulated commercial practice which makes use of patterns borrowed from psychology and other professional disciplines. Its unique contribution to human development is the way in which it uses these patterns to follow a client’s experience and facilitate movement towards what NLP calls a well-formed outcome. NLP has developed a dual processing model of human cognition (First Access F1 and F2). The former attends generally to scope and sensory experience and the latter attends generally, through language, to categorisation and organisation.

The only model, related to NLP, which has been formally approved by a national body is EMDR and the founder of this model denies any claim by John Grinder that he provided an original pattern for her to develop.

NLP is currently divided in terms of epistemology. Some claim NLP models work, and make generalisations and claims for effectiveness. These people have not published any empirical evidence which has been replicated to show whether they work, neither have they identified the contexts within which they do work. Others claim NLP is not characterised by the models it produces, but a dynamic epistemology which makes use of these models and is characterised rather by principles of relationship, perception, cognition and behaviour, the pre-suppositions associated with these principles and their effective operationalization in each evolving context which is always different in some way from before. Thus an NLP trained person can make use of such principles as rapport, sensory organisation, framing and anchoring, in a flexible way to consistently produce a result within the framework of an NLP model. However such NLP trained people again have not produced any published empirical evidence which has been replicated to demonstrate this is the case in any particular context.

The methodology of NLP is regarded as modelling. How one goes about modelling is something which has not been addressed historically and is rarely taught. A recent author, Burgess (2014, p. 14) who has explicated thirteen methods of modelling within NLP is concerned very few people in the NLP community will read her book, despite the efforts to match and pace the NLP emphasis on practicality over academic theorising. This concern represents another characteristic of NLP and that is a focus on the commercial benefits of NLP rather than rigorous examination and review of its propositions, claims and evidence base.

In the 1980s psychologists could not find evidence of an NLP proposition, that people have a preferred representation system. Another proposition they could not find evidence of is that this preferred representation can be identified through observing eye accessing cues. Recently one of the Co-Founders agreed the concept of a preferred representation is ludicrous. (Grinder in Grinder and Pucelik, 2013:214). Since the 1980’s interest in researching the claims of NLP has reduced, Witkowski (2013).

NLP as a commercial practice satisfies customers and for this reason it still exists. However there is no evidence it works more effectively than any of the models within the disciplines it has borrowed from. This was the conclusion of proponents of NLP; Einspruch & Forman (1985), who replied to the reviews of Sharpley (1984) in the 1980’s. It was also the conclusion of a more recent review in 2013, Witkowski (2013). In 2006 a Delphi Poll suggested NLP stood midway between being possibly and probably discredited with a score of 3.57 on a 5-point, Likert-type scale where 1 was not at all discredited, 2 was unlikely discredited, 3 was possibly discredited, 4 was probably discredited, and 5 was certainly discredited. To put this into some very general perspective the panel scored Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for assessment of personality at 2.6 and Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) for the treatment of trauma at 2.88. (Norcross et al. 2006)

This grounded theory of NLP suggests the dynamic within figure 14 will continue until a significant change occurs at an international level. It also suggests the dynamic in figure 14 represents a stable system and to that extent is predictive of future occurrences within the world of NLP and associated parties.

The below theory, (figure 14) accepts that NLP practitioners have made use of psychology research and it is possible that by offering an eclectic mix of what psychology has uncovered, NLP practitioners can work in a much more flexible way, taking the cream of psychology and developing techniques from each psychological modality which can be creatively used to deal with different situations as they arise. However, irrespective of what has been “modelled” from psychology over 40 years, there is no level A evidence that this material has been assembled to create an NLP pattern which can be tested in a particular context. Allan et al. (2012) have produced research showing the use of Satir Categories, anchoring of positive emotional states, and use of Milton model patterns creates improvement in the teaching of mathematics. Stipancic, Renner, Schutz and Dond (2010) have shown how Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy has treatment effects similar to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) when compared with a control, however over 40 years these are the exceptions which prove the rule and have not been replicated by other researchers to examine and test the specific claims made. Even the above exceptions to the rule are critiqued. Allan et al. (2012) is a part of what Churches (2013) refers to as Grey literature and Stipancic et al. (2010) was regarded as having a high risk of bias, (Sturt et al. 2012). Indeed the research of Sturt who could only use 10 of 1459 NLP citations received suggested as a result of her review: “This systematic review demonstrates that there is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health- related outcomes. The study conclusion reflects the limited quantity and quality of NLP research” (Sturt et al., 2012, p. 762).

Concerning the problematical area of not being able to define NLP sufficiently Sturt et al. (2012) simply took the Interviewees word, that irrespective of what they were using as an intervention it was NLP.

Even though Wake et al. (2014) hope that their volume presents sufficient evidence of the clinical efficacy of NLP to justify further research, the findings of Sturt and colleagues (2012), on the basis of their review, is unequivocal. They point out what would need to be done in the future and what many would argue is what should have been done from the outset in the early 1970’s:

“There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend use of NLP for any individual health outcome. Neither this review, nor the FOI NHS trust data, point strongly to appropriate populations for further research. Use of NLP in specific settings may be vindicated in future, and preliminary data from its use in MRI/claustrophobia may justify a sufficiently powered RCT to clarify its role for these patients. Discussions with NLP key informants identified populations, for example allergy sufferers, who they felt were a strong target population for further NLP-based research. A formal stakeholder consultation with a range of NLP master practitioners would be an important next step for identifying such target populations for research. The strength of evidence for CBT would suggest it as a possible comparison group. The risk of bias assessments point to the need to develop a fully-specified and replicable intervention protocol for evaluation in a sufficiently powered RCT.” (Sturt et al., 2012, p.763).

 

Shapiro who did work for John Grinder and attended lectures by him on the treatment of trauma has developed a model and a theory to support that model and has researched this model in the context of PTSD thoroughly, and consequently such a model has been accepted by NICE. This model has won over the support of some clinical psychologists as mentioned in Chapter 2 as well as the critique of the same and warning against mission creep.

In developing a grounded theory of NLP, it has been apparent that if, within the domain which was first “modelled,” that of counselling and therapy, which can be argued is the most developed area of NLP application, no substantial evidence to justify the use of NLP can currently be found, it is unlikely there will be in any other domain. For example, in order to be licenced as an NLP psychotherapist in Austria for instance one needs 2400 hours including 800 hours practice. Thus a 37 day NLP practitioner certification and a 37 day master practitioner certification are only about one third of the requirements on account of such a domain having government sanction in Austria. In the UK there is a national voluntary register and the title psychotherapist is not a protected title, however one still needs 500 contact hours of formal NLP / NLPt training and 450 hours of supervised practice using NLPt.

 

Figure 14. Grounded Theory of NLP.

Examples of how the transcripts were coded allowing the concepts and then categories to emerge can be seen in figures 15 to 17 below.

 

Figure 15. Colour Coded model showing

how an exemplar portion of transcript is coded into one of the 17 NLP concepts

 

 

 

Figure 16. Colour Coded model showing how an exemplar portion of transcript is coded into each of the LinkedIn concepts.

 

 

Figure 17. Colour Coded model showing how NLP concepts are merged with LinkedIn concepts after triangulation with extant literature to provide 8 interacting categories of Grounded Theory of NLP.

 

 

It is clear from talking to NLP practitioners from around the world, NLP is still regarded as the human development modality of choice and it would appear each practitioner works within a loose network to market NLP for themselves in a way that is useful. However as a brand which has anything new to offer, this would seem problematical.

In talking with NLP practitioners it is also clear there are certain characteristics which seem to define NLP, the acronym PEAS may serve here; NLP is Process oriented, Pragmatic, Positive, Playful, Phenomenological, and elicits Patterns, Practicing within the Presuppositions of NLP. It is also Eclectic, Experimental, Experiential, with a focus on obtaining Elegance in all practitioners do. NLP also has a focus on Application rather than theorising, however evidence for the effectiveness of such application is mainly Anecdotal. Finally NLP is Systemic in orientation, focusing on Structure, with a strong emphasis on Sales in the market place for ideas and utility. As a result of NLP practitioners borrowing from the vaults of other disciplines and applying that work to develop themselves and others, it is not surprising that benefits are forthcoming, however there is no substantial evidence that any one combination within NLP does a job any better than those who work and practice within the professions from which NLP has “borrowed”. The dynamic created through the interaction of the above variables does mean the culture of NLP is very buoyant and practitioners of NLP do talk with positive expectations of the future. Along with the belief that the first application of NLP is to ourselves, this provides a tool box meaning NLP practitioners can be in the most resourceful state for a significantly greater time than those who do not practice NLP, (yet to be significantly evidenced). This is where the enthusiasm within NLP comes from, however a more critical examination does find NLP wanting.

A precis of this theory of NLP when one talks in terms of propositions which act also as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena is:

“NLP is a human development activity which is primarily commercial, controversial, and unproven. It borrows from psychology and other disciplines in an eclectic way to provide perceived gains in a short period. ”

Within this chapter I have given the reader a sense of how 3 sources of data; Interviews with 15 NLP practitioners, a LinkedIn psychology Group of 19 professionals, and the extant literature on NLP have been coded to develop a personal grounded theory of NLP. Tosey and Mathison (2010) suggest that NLP skills can be used to effectively develop IPA explication interviews and I have done my best, using “NLP” skills to extract the core meaning concerning what Interviewees communicated to me.

It has been my intention when interviewing to interpret as little as possible and allow the data to speak to me, however as mentioned in the previous chapter even when using “NLP” skills within an IPA methodology an element of projection and thus interpretation is inevitable.

In developing the concepts arising from the 2 data sources and triangulating with the extant literature on NLP, 8 categories emerged. These categories related to each other in such a way that what is perceived as a stable system emerges and it is this system which accounts for NLP in the world today. As this system is regarded as stable and derived in a bottom up way, it is also predicted that it will inform future events within the “field” of NLP.

 

Chapter 5 Concluding notes

Limitations of this research

  1. Subjectivity

One purpose of using Grounded Theory as an approach was that I wished to build a theory of NLP that satisfied me within the context of an Action Research approach. IPA as a methodology is more concerned with extracting the individual meanings of NLP for my Interviewees personally and of course these meanings can change as a function of many variables. Despite wanting to get to the beef of the matter and looking for systematic variation I am too aware the data in this research could have been compiled and interpreted in many ways. I would like to repeat the words of Wenger when asked where the beef was (1991):

“As sympathetic as I am to his question, I had to first try to make clear that this is not just beef; it is more like a cow, a living cow: one can make beef with it, of course, but one can do many other things: one can pull a plough, milk it, breed it, show it in country fairs. What I am trying to develop is not a recipe or a method; it is a discourse, a perspective, a way to look at the world. But it is a discourse that has wide-reaching practical implications” (Wenger, 1991, p. 4).

In a similar way this research is a discourse, a personal journey, which others may be able to learn from, validate or invalidate, and develop their own personal perspective on NLP from. In this sense this research which has drawn from the opinions of 15 NLP Interviewees, 19 professionals in a psychology forum and the extant NLP literature, cannot and should not be taken to be a map of NLP set in stone for everybody. However for me personally and working as a professional psychologist it is my map of the world of NLP. In this map I recognise the lack of an empirical evidence base for NLP and need to help develop one. For my NLP courses I need to continue to demonstrate and make explicit the links between NLP and the psychological literature and develop an evidence base to demonstrate to my peers that a commercial investment in NLP for my customers has in the past been associated with improvements in life as measured by standardised instruments. I need to continue to write in the academic literature to demonstrate how my use of NLP meets professional standards, building my own epistemology, methodology and ontology, making it explicit, grounded in experience and comprehensively referencing the psychological literature. All of these things mean this is the beginning of a journey for me and not the end of it.

Having said the above I have made the efforts to validate my research and personal theory. In reading Einspruch and Forman (1985) I have gone to the trouble of attending training in NLP to the highest level in order to familiarise myself with the approach. I have taken care to talk to some of the most experienced practitioners in the field to obtain multiple perspectives, I have allowed myself to be influenced by the data rather than impose my high regard for the potential NLP has onto the data. I have attempted to use my own NLP skills to enhance the interviewing process in accordance with Tosey and Mathison (2010). Finally and not least in my coding I have meticulously gone over the transcripts, contrasting, comparing and even dreaming about emergent properties which inform my theory. If this theory makes sense to me, it is feasible others when looking at it will see sense there too.

 

  1. Disappointing feedback numbers

In order to test the concepts which were emerging from open coding I sent emails to Interviewees and experienced NLP practitioners from around the world in order to obtain feedback. More formally I sent an email to all 15 NLP practitioners and other experienced NLP practitioners on 24th August 2014, (see Appendix D), requesting feedback. From this email I only received replies from 4 Interviewees with one of these being a request to use some of the ideas rather than offering any feedback. Again I sent a formal email out to all Interviewees on 31st May 2015, (see Appendix E) this time I got 5 replies. Along with this email was an attachment which attempted to demonstrate how the 8 categories had emerged from coding their words, (see Appendix F). This lack of involvement from many in the Interviewee pool is one limitation of this research. For some it seems as though they just did not have the time. Interviewee 10 was professional and explained his inability to comply:

“I am really sorry, I simply do not have the time to devote to reading it thoroughly and commenting… I do hope you will understand — I just didn’t appreciate the enormity of what I had agreed to when I was first interviewed!” ( Personal correspondence, 16 June 2015, 14:15)

Interviewee 1 after pointing out I would get a lot of different answers if I asked “what is Physics” with blurring of boundaries replied:

“I don’t think I have time for this. I’ve had my say. All good wishes.” (Interviewee 1 personal correspondence, 31st May 2015, 13:35)

 

Likewise time constrained Interviewee 5 suggested:

“This looks very interesting I will get back to you with some comments. I have been extremely busy with training and consulting and frankly have had very little time.” (Personal correspondence, 26th August, 2014. 00:42)

For others the reticence seemed to be more because they did not have much more to add to the views they had given already and were happy with my interpretation of what they had said and integration of that material into the new theory. Interviewee 6 said:

“I wanted to come up with something helpful to add but I’m not sure I can. I agree with many of your points and am not emotionally (or anything else) attached to resisting research. I’m with you on this and think even the patterns need testing which I think a lot of people in NLP are wary of.” (Personal correspondence Tue 26th August, 2014 12:17)

Some Interviewees in emails directly and positively addressed the question as to whether I had used their materials appropriately and the choice of anonymising Interviewees seemed to have been vindicated:

“So — firstly — happy with quotes against my number — forgotten I had said many of them — but fine — just as well they are anonymous!” (Personal correspondence, 3rd June 2015 01:14)

Interviewee 8 made the point that he assumed some aspects of the theory was provided more from those outside of NLP rather than from within NLP and along with discussion with my supervisors this led to the model in Venn form which makes clearer the direction of this weighting, (See Appendix F). Specifically Interviewee 8 assumed category 8 was from the psychology group … not what the public or NLP practitioners thought.

Interviewee 8 provided some useful qualitative feedback as well. He pointed out that concerning category 3 there was a peer reviewed journal and some research articles had been run in Rapport, the ANLP magazine. My response to Interviewee 8 was in an email reply:

“As an academic you know Interviewee 8 there are journals and there are journals. There are even peer reviewed journals and … peer reviewed journals. Academics know which journals they want their papers published in. Rapport, the conference and the “pockets of practice” all fall into the Grey literature which I comment on in the dissertation and what Richard Churches mentioned as being the “gold standard” of NLP currently. The default though and most common practice is Facebook and verbal testimony. It is for this reason, some psychologists would regard NLP as not even worthy of discussion.” ( Personal communication 4th June 2015)

Other interesting points raised and replies by myself illustrate a sense of the dialogue:

Interviewee 8: “I think for some it is primarily commercial — but for many of us that does us a huge dis-service…” (Personal communication, 3rd June, 2015)

Grimley reply:

“What put the commercial aspect into such focus was the lack of an educational element, re: empirical evidence, standardized practice, stable definitions, standardized protocols, lack of university association over 40 years, an enforceable ethical and professional code, etc. NLP has not developed these over 40 years to any significant extent; however it does continue to attract many thousands of pounds for 21 day courses. (Personal communication, 4th June, 2015).

 

Interviewee 8: “While I agree on comments re short courses — time in a class room does not ensure competency either — so it is about finding ways to ensure competency that is not hours based” (Personal communication, 3rd June 2015)

Grimley reply: “I agree, however why in 40 years has NLP not done this? I would suggest again it is to do with the commercial nature of the beast.” ( Personal communication, 4th June, 2015)

Even though Interviewee 8 was not only very supportive of this research and in his busy schedule could make time to provide extended comments upon the theory, only one iteration of discussion ensued.

Another NLP Interviewee gave her answers however again with only one iteration of dialogue For instance Interviewee 2 in response to question 3 in the formal email (see Appendix E), remarked:

“My personal experience of NLP has led me to the conclusion that NLP is a collection of largely un-researched pre-suppositions and behavior change procedures, which contain the basic components of a remarkable behavior change orientation and practice and that there is more than enough anecdotal evidence and pilot studies to warrant further research. When the basic components and clinical protocols are rigorously researched and organized into clinically oriented behavior change algorithms, I believe they will comprise the largest advance in clinical psychology in the last fifty years.” (Personal communication, 8th June, 2015)

My reply to this interesting point in the context of the emerging theory of NLP was:

I take on board this belief Interviewee 2. However my theory suggests that in 40 years of existence such beliefs have not been tested and there are reasons for this. I further suggest my theory is a possible explanation. When one component of NLP was reviewed by Sharply in the 1980’s no evidence for PRS was found and there was little rebuttal to his findings. We now hear, 35 years later, in an NLP book, that one of the Co-Founders of NLP regards the idea of PRS to be untenable. If NLP proponents had continued to engage through the pages of peer reviewed journals in the 1980’s my contention is NLP would be in a much healthier state now. Again I would suggest my theory provides an explanation as to why this “healthier state” has not eventuated. (Personal communication, 13 th June, 2015)

Interviewee 2 was interesting as she singularly was the one NLP Interviewee who felt I had misused her words in coding the transcription. However again only one iteration of dialogue ensued despite an invitation to rebut my answers further. After answering question 3 she pointed out: “I also need to note disagreement with all four uses of my statements as Interviewee #2”.

My replies were interspersed in the below email of 13th June, 2015:

Interviewee 2: Page 92. As per your email suggestion, you need to omit the quotations as there was no recording of my words and you were constructing my responses from memory.

Grimley: This was part of our recorded interview Interviewee 2, however I am happy to take the quotation marks out if you wish.

Interviewee 2: Page 162. Your use of my quote to support “Lacking in Published Empirical Evidence” negatively skews my well published opinion (Publication details) that there is sufficient published studies to warrant further research into NLP materials.

 

Grimley: Ok in my comments on my interpretation I will include your own interpretation of your words. However I would still hold that published studies are a different category to published empirical evidence. In Lisa’s book you mention there are no Level A studies into NLP despite NLP being an inherently empirical discipline. This is after 40 years. I contend my theory explains why.

Interviewee 2: Page 176 Your use of my quote to support “Saturated in Anecdotal Evidence” negatively skews my well documented opinion that the huge amount of anecdotal evidence put forth from NLP experts whose personal integrity and clinical skills, I have first-hand knowledge of, such as Professor Emeritus William McDowell, Steve Andreas, Robert Dilts, Judith DeLozier, Richard Bolstad, Tim Hallbom and Professor Richard Gray, indicates sufficient promise in the NLP materials to warrant further research.

Grimley: I cannot find anything of page 176 Interviewee 2, however on page 175 I find “People like Me Say This Has to Be Researched and there has to be Certified Training Programs for the Materials that Are Researched.” If this is what you are referring to I will again include your own interpretation. However even in what you say in interpretation it still holds that it is still anecdotal evidence. The fact that it is a “huge” amount supports the NLP theory that the evidence base of NLP is anecdotal and not empirical. Again over 40 years even though such anecdotal evidence does warrant further research during this time no such research has been published at level A. Again I would suggest my theory of NLP would explain this phenomenon.

Interviewee 2: Page 198 Your statement “Concerning being a part of mainstream, NLP is rather a “baby in the bathwater” (NLP Interviewee 2 4:10) rather than “being at a crossroads” (Tosey & Mathison, 2009, p. 188)” completely misses my intention to communicate that mainstream academia/professional critics are throwing the baby out with the bathwater when they dismiss ALL of NLP practitioners and materials. My analogy carries the meaning of destroying something very young, vulnerable and valuable, while doing the housecleaning chores to most readers. The Research and Recognitions Projects early research results are substantiating that analogy.

Grimley: Again Interviewee 2 in my consideration of interpretation I will include your comments in this portion of the dissertation. However I feel that my interpretation does not miss the point. A baby cannot make a choice at the crossroads, it is not cognitively advanced so as to make a “choice”, the way the baby goes will probably be a function of chance more than anything else. Thus choice implies a level of maturity. I suggest despite 40 years in existence NLP is still a baby in the bathwater and my theory provides an explanation as to why.

I really appreciate you getting back to me with a considered response. I feel that dialogue like this can really take us to the next step. I have already published in a peer reviewed journal about my research, as a part of my PhD Journey and as expected I am obtaining a mixed response from the other Interviewees. Some very positive and some curious and seeking further explication. Please feel free to get back to me if you have further questions or need further clarification on any of the above.” (Personal communication, Sat 13th June, 2015)

It was gratifying to have such email comments as…

“Thanks for sharing your draft. I think you hit the nail on the head . I agree with you when you say that many in the NLP “community” (if there is such a thing) won’t really like what you are saying (and will try to dismiss it). But because of your background in NLP, this should be more difficult to dismiss than other articles, such as the one Witkowski wrote.” (Personal communication, Mon 6th July, 2015)

“Hey Bruce, I can imagine that there will be quite a few people in the NLP «community» that won’t be happy with your theory, but nevertheless, science is all about determining a veridical model of the world, and I believe you have developed quite an accurate representation of how things stand with the history, development and ongoing nature of NLP.” (Personal communication,15th June, 2015)

“Some amazing stuff there — very powerful — especially from psychologist’s side … certainly going to a make an interesting debate” … (Personal communication, 25th August, 2014)

“Yes it is certainly obvious to me that you have already invested probably more thought, reflection, study, interviewing into your doctoral studies than most people! (Personal communication, 26th August, 2014)

“I have read your Ph.D. dissertation. I reached the end of it this morning.

First I want to compliment you very much with this work. I think your writing was very good. I could follow 98% (as a foreigner). I have spent some intense hours of reading with it. Most of your conclusions I do agree with.

The argumentation is sound. The methodology takes much space, but it is worthwhile to support your work so good. It is more a point of readability, to maybe put in some more examples regarding NLP, so that the reader does not lose track in believing that it about the method used.” (Personal communication, 24th January, 2015)

and there were more. The real “beef’ of developing a grounded theory is in rigorously testing the theory as it emerges from the substantive coding by contrasting, comparing and obtaining feedback from experts in the field. The fact that so few could find time to get back after given the opportunity and that I did not pursue with more vigour the conversations where I did have engagement as per the motivation model I was using after Argyris (1957, figure 6) is a limitation of this research.

  1. C) Self Development

Another limitation of this research is my inexperience as a grounded theory researcher, an interviewer and someone who uses Action Research to generate ideas which can be explored and acted upon then learning from the feedback and modifying ideas accordingly. As a psychologist with 20 years’ experience, I have of course conducted research in my undergraduate and post graduate degrees, and with my continual professional development read about research methods and attended workshops on them. However my perception of myself is not that of a seasoned researcher, I see a PhD as the beginning of a research career. Initially I was sure a snowball methodology would work well, however I soon had to change tack as initially Interviewees did not agree on whom I should talk with, the consequence being my list of potential interviewees began to escalate beyond the scope of this project. Consequently I had to make use of some personal knowledge of NLP and my lists of people who I should talk with began to converge. Thus there are many NLP people who I have not been able to speak to, notably, John Grinder and Richard Bandler, but also many who practice NLP from many parts of the globe and who may practice in a way not covered within the theory developed. As far as possible this shortcoming has been addressed by referring to the extant NLP literature which makes quite clear what the views of some of these missing people are and also selecting practitioners who are generally regarded as leaders within the NLP community and who have worked with the Co-Founders and travel internationally training in NLP.

Also I believe my style and ability to interview changed and improved with practice throughout the research. Initially I adopted a semi structured format as I wished to appropriate answers concerning multiple topics to do with definition, curricula, what was missing from NLP and the future of NLP, (See appendix B). However after talks with my supervisors I was encouraged to make more use of my NLP skills and within the frame work of IPA seek for deeper meanings behind the surface structure. What this resulted in was much longer interviews, in some cases over 2 hours and a more open interviewing format. I believe this was beneficial to the research as it allowed me to really develop an understanding of the systemic features which have characterised NLP over the last 40 years and indeed these are those which are represented in the final grounded theory. During some of these later interviews there were genuine expressions of anger, sadness, and disappointment as well as hope and joy and I felt as though I was assisting the Interviewee explicate that which was at quite a deep level on account of them being able to speak more freely about what was important to them concerning NLP.

Conclusions

It was very apparent when talking with individual NLP practitioners they put up a very good case for the validity of NLP. They spoke clearly concerning their own methods and the epistemology which vindicated such methods and often spoke in terms of Ontologically NLP providing a different way of being. I did not doubt the satisfaction of their respective customers; however this all fell into the bracket of anecdotal evidence. It is as though as soon as NLP practitioners get together, they have difficulty communicating and reaching agreement with the consequence that they work individually, running small companies and do not collectively bring their talents together to build a coherent brand in the same way for example that EMDR has. There seems to be some evidence that this is on account of NLP being more commercially motivated than educationally motivated.

There have been changes in my personal perspective throughout this PhD. I started naively going to my supervisor saying I want to explore the hypothesis that NLP patterns can reduce stress in the workplace and consequent to supervision I have ended up asking the research question “what is NLP?” As an NLP advocate my filters were in fact biased to wanting to find data to support NLP, however as Witkowski (2013) points out it is a bit like peeling away the layers of an onion and when you get to the centre there actually is very little there. This for me is a huge disappointment and I know 5 years ago it was not what I expected. The data has spoken to me and changed me quite profoundly. As I reached saturation point, I kept going back to the data to look for something that could possibly put a more positive spin on what NLP is, however for me I could not find that there, in terms of the systematic variation, contrasted with the unsystematic variation, it was the 8 categories in figure 14 that emerged for me. What frustrates me and delights me in equal proportion and has done so over the last year is that the data tells me what my grounded theory does, Saturation to my mind has been reached and I am ready to defend that in my Viva Voce examination.

Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology.

At the heart of any field lies a robust Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology and this research suggests on account of this being very muddled, NLP cannot call itself a field yet. Below in figure 18 is a framework which takes apart and thus explicates the idea of epistemology.

In the early part of The structure of magic (1975b, p6), which is the book form of the Meta Model, Bandler and Grinder talk about Vaihinger’s concept of ‘the logical function’.

 

Vaihinger, was making the same point as Korzybski and that is, ‘Where the logical function actively intervenes, it alters what is given and causes it to depart from reality’ (Vaihinger, 1924, p. 159). Where Vaihinger seems to differ from Korzybski is in the belief that objective reality does not consist of any logical function and the real clue to the development of religion, ethics, science and mathematics is rather to be found in the development of fictions, rather than a mathematically based language which maps the world more accurately than natural language (Morris, 1932, p. 280). What these authors are saying is: we cannot interface with the ‘real’ world without dramatically changing it into a personal map of that world and each of our maps is different from the world and different from the maps of other people.

 

Figure 18 An Epistemological framework (Becker et al. 2005)

[I]

What is the object of cognition? (Ontological aspect)

(Onfologica!) realism.

A world exists independently of human cognition, i. e. independent of thought and speech processes [cp. e.g. Bunge (197?)].

(Ontological) idealism.

The „world» is a construct ‘ depending on human consciousness [cp. e.g. ‘/onFoerster (1996)].

[II]

What is the relationship betwe en cognition and the obje ct of cognition ?

Epide mological realism. objective cognition of an independent reality is possible . It claims the possibility of eliminating subjec t-dependent distortions of the cognition of reality, as soon as suitable measures for the removal of appropriate intervening variables are found [cp. e.g. Loose (1972)] Constructivism.

Co gnition in is subjec tr/e, i. e. „private». The relationship of cognition and tire object of cognition is thus determined clearly by the identifiable subject [cp. e.g. Glasersfeld (1986, 1987), Lorenzen (1987), Wyssusekand Schwartz (2003)].

[III]

What is true cognition ? (Concept of truth)

Correspondence theory of truth.

True statements are those which correspond with „real world facts» [see below].

Consensus theory of truth

A statement is true (for a group), if and only if, it is acc eptable for the group [se e below].

Semantic theory of truth.

A requirement for true statements is tire differentiation of an obj ect and a meta language [see below].

[IV]

What is the origin of cognitionlknowledg e?

Empiricism.

Ex perierice -based knowledge is called a posteriori or empirical knowledge [Alavi et al., 1989, Berkley, 1975, Hume, 1978, Locke, 1982, Carnap, 2003, Quine, 1961, Carnap et al., 1929]

Rationalism. Non-experience -based kno wledge is re fe rte d to as a p riori kno wledge. [Leibniz, 1962, Chomsky, 1965, Spinoza, 1992, Hanson and Hunter, 1992, Descartes, 1996, Bonjour, 1998] Kantianism.

Conciliating positions recognize both experience and inte llect as source s of c ogrution. Thoughts are meaningless without content, cognitions are blind without being linked to terms [Kant, 1999]

[V]

By what means c an cognition be achieved? (Methodological aspect)

Inductivism.

Induction is understood as the ex tension from individual cases to unive real phrases, the ge totalization. An inductive conclusion means the transfer from stateme nts via (obse rved, e mpirical) individual cases to a universal law a state ment on tire basis of an assumption of homo geneity on nature [cp. e .g. Ro tt (1995), Seiffert (1996)].

Deductiwsm.

Deduction is seen as tire derivation of a statement (thesis A) from other statements (hypothesis Ai, …, AJ with tire help of logical conclusions . It is the derivation of the individual from tire universal and is applied, for example , in mathematical axiom systems [cp. e .g. Gethmarm.(1995)].

 

The basis of all our behaviour therefore is to be found in these maps of reality, not in reality itself.

It is worth re-stating how Einstein makes the same point slightly differently:

“I see on the one side the totality of sense experiences and, on the other, the totality of the concepts and propositions that are laid down in books. The relations between the concepts and propositions among themselves are of a logical nature, and the business of logical thinking is strictly limited to the achievement of the connection between concepts and propositions among themselves according to firmly laid down rules, which are the concern of logic. The concepts and propositions get “meaning” or “content,” only through their connection with sense experience. The connection of the latter with the former is purely intuitive not itself of a logical nature. (Emphasis added). The degree of certainty with which this connection, or intuitive linkage, can be undertaken, and nothing else differentiates empty fantasy from scientific truth.” (Schilpp, 1979, p. 11).

Interviewee 1 gives us his view of the NLP Epistemology: “Epistemology is how do you know what is real and what is true, how do you test” (Interviewee 1, 22:40) and, “What the epistemology as I see it, basically radical empiricism.” (Interviewee 1, 32:40)

So the key to NLP according to Interviewee 1 is in the Berkley, Hume and Locke camp in the figure 18. However this would be contrary to those who regard NLP as constructivist calling for a Kantian mixed epistemology, rather than a radical empirical A Posteriori epistemology.

Again within NLP it is not made explicit what the nature of this constructivism is. Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) interpreting Korzybski tell us, “There is an ambiguity in Korzybski’s writing as to whether the territory he referred to is what we call here FA or the actual world itself.” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 46).

However Hall (2011) is quite explicit in his interpretation of Korzybski:

 

“Are you wondering about building a system on a negative premise–on a negation? The power of this is that if it is not so, then all you need to do to contradict the system or show where and how it breaks down is to produce one example of the opposite. What symbol is the thing itself? This “denial of identity” as Korzybski called it distinguishes “objects” that appear to us in our neurology via our nervous systems and the “events” out there in the world (the territory, reality) that we cannot know and experience directly.” (Alfred Korzybski Series #4, para 8, Hall, 2011).

Even though, as Bostic St Clair and Grinder point out, the more general point is that the distinction between the neurological transforms and linguistic transforms is independent of which way you read Korzybski; the implications of the author’s ambiguity in their reading of Korzybski has profound epistemological consequences.

If the territory is read to mean what NLP refers to as FA, then there is no objective world as in the ontological idealism of Von Foerster in figure 18. However, if the territory is read to mean the objective world “out there” which we cannot know and experience directly then one has a very different Ontology and the possibility of entertaining an empirical stance where maps which have a similar structure to this territory and can be tested, makes sense.

For Bateson, who is regarded as the early mentor to both Bandler and Grinder, ontology and epistemology were inseparable. Charlton writes:

“Hence, Bateson’s ontology is inseparable from, and required by, his epistemology. His understanding of the process of perception is basically phenomenological. Our senses assemble images or representations of the world, but we have no access to the formative processes themselves. What we have to deal with is the report, not the direct perception of objects, processes, and (according to Bateson) mental «going on.»

The reports are filtered through our presuppositions and through selective habits and assumptions formed from personal and cultural experience.” Charlton (2008, p. 44).

Bateson merges his understanding of what is there to be known in the world with his understanding of how we can know about it, for him what can be known about the world is equivalent for all practical purposes to what is understood to exist and in unifying epistemology and ontology he transcends the whole idealism/realism argument. Bateson called the physical world, characterised by the natural sciences Pleroma, whereas Creatura is the realm of mind and mental systems. In determining the characteristics of mind, he held that one of the essential aggregating factors for a system to be regarded as a mind was the interaction between parts of mind must be triggered by difference. In the realm where distinctions are drawn, difference can be a cause. However within the world of Pleroma forces and impacts are the causes of events and difference can never be a cause.

In explaining the thinking of Bateson, Charlton tells us:

“The Gnostics, he said, accepted much earlier Pythagorean thought in which the world of mind was separate from the world of matter insofar as it dealt with differences within the material realm. Differences are not material things; they have no location. Location is a mental distinction, and so differences can only exist in Creatura.” (Charlton, 2008, p. 44).

Bostic St Clair and Grinder (2001) state their position more clearly in discussing the limitation of a Jackdaw epistemology that can only appreciate one perceptual position, one description of reality. They comment:

“…Such a position is fully congruent with the epistemology developed in Chapter 1. The question is NOT what is real? But, rather How many ways can we appreciate what surrounds us? Triple Description itself is the ability to enter into three distinct and highly valued perceptual positions…” (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 249).

For Grinder et al. it is the syntactical nature of the F2 transforms and those limitations which tends to direct humans to this Jackdaw Epistemological stance of only being able to appreciate what surrounds us from one perspective. (Grinder & DeLozier, 1987, p. xix).

This research suggests that NLP indeed may have moved its practitioners away from a Jackdaw Epistemology, however, they have replaced that with another ornithological metaphor, that of a Magpie Epistemology:

“ Magpies, as we all know, like shiny things which often makes them symbols of superficiality. As Handler and Gable wrote in their wonderful book The New History in an Old Museum about Colonial Williamsburg, “a magpie is a bird that weaves odd trinkets–tinfoil, gum wrappers, coloured yarn–into its nest.” (Para 4, Rizzo, 2013)

It is this lack of critical analysis, and attention to detail as well as the lack of credible research and discussion in the academic literature which prevents NLP from becoming a field which can be tested alongside other paradigms in HRD, OD, consulting, and Therapy / Counselling to name a few. It is beyond the remit of this research to provide further examples of the internal inconsistency within NLP which is reflected in the Grounded Theory category of (1), however it is this lack of attention to detail which leaks out into the professional world and is picked up on very quickly, leading to the categories of (7) and (8) in the Grounded Theory.

After an article by Linder-Pelz and Hall (2007), a book by Wake (2008) on Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy, and the special issue of The Psychotherapist (2008) on Constructivism, Rowan (2008) noted all NLP authors made the same claim — that NLP is based on constructivism. Rowan points out that nowhere in the NLP literature is reference made to such well known constructivist authors as Danziger (1997), Gergen (1997), Davidson (1984) or Greer (1997).

Not only does NLP ignore these authors whilst claiming to be based upon constructivism, it also does not address the well-known distinctions within constructivism such as constructivism / constructionism, light constructionism / dark constructionism, weak social constructionism / strong social constructionism,

Rowan makes the point:

“This actually claims that NLP is not only constructivist but actually postmodern. There is, however, no evidence of this in the book itself, which is quite extreme in its attempt to include anything and everything and claim it for NLP. This is not a work of constructivism, it is a work of bricolage. (Rowan, 2008, p. 161).

Later on in the same paper he re-emphasises the point, “ … it has to be said that they seem to want to include everything: this is not constructivism, but something different, and highly dubious. (Rowan, 2008, p. 162).

Even though individual NLP practitioners create their own NLP epistemology, making that quite explicit and working from that, for example, Andreas in his two volume, Six Blind Elephants, (Andreas 2006b and Andreas 2006c), Hall in Self-Actualising Psychology and NeuroSemantics (2008), Bolstad in Resolve (2002) and Derks in Social Panoramas, (2005), to name a few, there is no overarching curriculum telling us precisely what the founders and developers of NLP agree on and precisely what the ontology, epistemology and methodology of NLP are.

 

For instance not only does Grinder withdraw his idea that there is such a concept as PRS now, he goes further and points out one of the key mechanisms of NLP, the NLP strategy where a series of representations are anchored together as in classical conditioning to create a strategy, is also now something that needs to be investigated on account of such a linear sequencing being a function of the restrictions of the conscious mind and in fact being “arbitrary” (Carroll 2014). Grinder writes:

“I urge a systematic investigation of the actual or illusionary sequencing to ensure that the enterprise has some relationship with what is actually going on. These are the arguments that I find compelling and the invitation to explore the foundations of strategies — I am, of course, proposing that the sequence is an illusion — before making the assumption that strategies have anything to offer to the study of the patterning of genius — the appropriate focus of NLP in my opinion.” (Grinder 2007)

There is a further fundamental difficulty within NLP epistemology and something which could be regarded as an elephant in the room.

When Interviewee 1 tells us the fundamental epistemology of NLP is “radical empiricism” this seems to be in keeping with the key stages of the methodology of NLP. This methodology which is unequivocally represented as NLP modelling by Bostic St Clair and Grinder is critiqued by Grimley (2013)

“i) Selection of expert and rationale as to why this person is regarded as an expert and how this person has demonstrated excellence over an extended period of time compared with other experts in the field.

  1. ii) Unconscious uptake of the pattern. How was this done? Methodologically, how is it possible? Even if, as Andreas points out, it is not possible (Andreas, 2006), to what extent has ‘unconscious uptake’ been successful or not successful? If analytical modelling has been used, how explicitly is this related to the NLP literature? How were NLP design variables used in the modelling project? Why were these particular design variables chosen rather than others?

iii)        Deployment of the pattern. How has it been demonstrated that the modeller can now achieve the same outcome as the exemplar within the same context and time frame? How does this compare with a base measure of the modeller’s competence and the competence of other experts in the field? How are these comparisons made and what is the evidence for any claim?

  1. iv) Codifying the pattern. Where is this model written up in such a way that following the reduced set of elements others can now learn how to perform as well as the exemplar? What is the context for learning? Are any groups of people excluded from the learning process for this model? Can the model be refined into a design so as to include those who would ordinarily be excluded from learning?
  2. v) Testing of the model. Where is the evidence that people who have been exposed to the model and who are motivated to learn the skills do perform as well as the exemplar in similar contexts and time frames? What is the nature of this evidence? How reliable is it? How valid is it? What methodological processes have been followed? What are the benefits and drawbacks of such a methodological approach? Do the learners now perform at a higher level compared with other experts in the field? What is the evidence for this?” (Grimley 2013, pp. 166 — 167).

Despite NLP formally having a methodology which encourages coding, testing, specifying a context, and predicting, there has not been one model in the history of NLP according to the NLP Interviewees interviewed nor in the extant literature of NLP that has accorded with this methodology, with Andreas critiquing even the first model of NLP which arguably is the most comprehensive and the only one that obtained favourable comments from Bateson. Again in concluding it may be useful to re-emphasis this critique from Chapter 1:

“The meta model is described as «the first model in NLP» (Bostic St Clair & Grinder 2001, pp. 142-163), so it presumably satisfies their criteria for a new model. However, they repeatedly describe it as an application and adaptation of a model already existing in transformational grammar:

The meta model can, for example, be usefully understood to be an application of the modelling of linguistic patterning inspired by Transformational Grammar (Bostic St Clair & Grinder 2001, p. 51).

There already existed an explicit code for capturing verbal patterning: the descriptive and formal vocabulary for syntactic studies used by professional linguists (Bostic St Clair & Grinder, 2001, p. 146)” (Andreas, 2006).

My overall sense after having conducted this research is that the majority of NLP interventions fit into the magpie ontology, epistemology and methodology which is characterised more obviously by the second model of NLP according to Grinder and Bostic St Clair (2001)

“We were Jamming-we seemed to do little but eat, drink and sleep patterning-well, maybe there were a few other things. As Richard stepped back into the car, interrupting my reverie, he was laughing. I asked what was so funny. He said (more or less),

 

You know, John, people say the weirdest things, the woman I was talking to at the counter. She said, “I see what you are saying.”

He then relapsed into convulsive laughter. As I pulled onto Highway 9 heading for Santa Cruz, I watched him in my peripheral vision, wondering to myself what it was that made the statement so funny to him. After several moments, I said to him,

Does the statement, “I feel that what you are saying is unclear.” Strike you as funny as well?

Bandler looked at me sharply, appearing to be simultaneously bemused and startled”. (Grinder & Bostic St Clair, 2001, pp. 164-165).

With Grinder being insistent that the other 12 types of modelling which Burgess refers to in her latest research of 15 years, (Burgess 2014) having nothing to do with NLP, (Inspiritive 2008b) then NLP seems to be at odds with itself and is neither elegant nor congruent. The essence of what is under investigation (Ontology), how we know it is real and how we test it for “reality” (Epistemology) and how we investigate and obtain this knowledge (Methodology) not only is quite different for each person you speak to, but not thoroughly discussed, evidenced and shared in the appropriate journals for the contexts within which such NLP patterns operate.

For Grinder who is insistent one must suspend one’s map of the world and enter a “know nothing state” as much as possible in order to assimilate whole the structure of another person’s subjective experience if one is to engage in NLP, he leaves other more conscious and analytical methods of data gathering (modelling), as something outside of NLP. This state of affairs cannot continue because if NLP is the former, this says something fundamental about Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology. Essentially, Grinder’s stance is that the conscious mind will only generalise distort and delete in order to assimilate that which is consistent with what is already known as is the case of the Jackdaw.

Bolstad (2002, p. 5) tells us NLP is a Meta discipline (a way of analysing and describing other disciplines). He goes on to suggest that it is the research of these other disciplines which have been independently tested. He cites Cheek (1981), in the field of clinical hypnosis, as providing validation for the NLP modelling of Erickson’s use of ideomotor signalling in light of no research being available using NLP language. However, he does not tell us precisely how NLP is different from anybody else who would wish to study clinical hypnosis. Either NLP practitioners who study and practice clinical hypnosis can provide evidence such that NLP study, (modelling), creates students who are more competent compared with psychology students and others not using NLP but specialising in clinical hypnosis, or they can’t. This would be tested using standardized outcome measures. At the moment it is very much the case that NLP cannot do this exercise for any of the disciplines it has borrowed from and encourages people to practice with members of the public on the basis of comparatively very little training.

The above is just one of the Elephants in the room concerning NLP ontology, epistemology and methodology. According to this grounded theory of NLP, this is one of the Elephants that means that this theory which is based upon a stable system, will remain in place unless / until a significant change occurs within the world of NLP at an international level. Hopefully, this research can act as an irritant to motivate the NLP system to demonstrate that I am wrong, however, my overall feeling (having come to the end of this part of the research) is this is not the case. As is the case at the moment, it is not possible to comprehensively and in a nutshell define NLP, however a definition which incorporates the 8 categories which have emerged from this research would be as accurate as any other: “NLP is a human development activity which is primarily commercial, controversial, and unproven. It borrows from psychology and other disciplines in an eclectic way to provide perceived gains in a short period. ”

Category 4 in this grounded theory points to the history of disagreement amongst leaders in the practice of NLP to the point of litigation. Much of this disagreement seems to be based upon not paying attention to the very tenets of NLP. A passage from a well-known NLP text, Turtles all the way down, seems to point to the paradox that is NLP.

“Don Juan said then that in strategic inventories of warriors, self-importance figures as the activity that consumes the greatest amount of energy, hence, their effort to eradicate it. One of the first concerns of warriors is to free that energy in order to face the unknown with it,» Don Juan went on. «The action of rechanneling that energy is impeccability.» (DeLozier & Grinder, 1987, p.148).

In explaining the conversation Don Juan and Carlos Castaneda were having De Lozier and Grinder point out:

“The argument between Don Juan and Carlos could only proceed from Carlos’s presupposition that he and Don Juan had to agree about their perceptions of the world. And that’s exactly one of the self-indulgent qualities of first attention. Why not embrace the difference?–and from the difference discover new information, a synthesis. Answer: Because of his predilection for self-importance. His perception, his description, has to have priority. Or, alternatively, he has to come to an agreement with Don Juan about their perceptions. They have to agree on a single description of reality–a Jackdaw epistemology–which is exactly what Juan is talking about.” (Grinder and DeLozier 1987, p. 149).

If NLP really was about communication as NLP Interviewee 10 suggests: “therefore would a better definition of NLP rather than be modelling be something around communication” (NLP Interviewee10. 57:51)

One would expect an eliminating of self-importance, so the self-indulgent qualities of first attention could not stand in the way of generating new patterns of understanding that worked within a context and could be shown to work through testing. The findings of this research is in fact category 4 does exist, and the fact that systemically NLP practice cannot role model its own pre-suppositions, is problematical for the practice of NLP; ontologically, epistemologically and methodologically.

Action Research, revisited.

I started this research 8 years ago wanting to understand if NLP worked and have ended up asking what is NLP?

As my theory of NLP began to take place, it was increasingly incumbent upon me to change how I practiced as a psychologist.

Since January 2008 when I first started my PhD studies and as I explored the topic of NLP I chose to continue to write in psychology journals and psychology books helping fill a perceived gap. After writing my first chapter on NLP in Handbook of Coaching psychology (Palmer & Whybrow 2007) I have contributed to 5 further psychology chapters on NLP as a part of my PhD studies (Cox et al. 2010, McMahon and Archer 2010, Wake et al. 2013 Cox et al. 2014, Palmer & Whybrow 2015) and have written my own book, looking at the topic of NLP in coaching from the perspective of psychology; (Grimley, 2013). In 2010 and 2012 I wrote in a popular NLP magazine first asking where is the research in NLP (Grimley, 2010) and then providing signposts for those who would wish to engage in qualitative research, in a series designed to promote research: “Research in practice” Qualitative Research, (2012b). Papers have also been published where the promise of NLP is explored in a coaching context; “NLP a promising coaching paradigm” (Grimley, 2012) and the findings of this research are discussed in the context of understanding NLP more fully; “NLP: Misunderstood by psychologists”, (Grimley, 2015). All of these writing projects and others as well I believe are necessary to ask the “difficult” questions which are not presently being asked. NLP Interviewee 1 said: “I didn’t get anything back nobody is ready willing to really grapple with the serious questions in NLP.” (NLP Interviewee 1, 18:40)

I believe as a result of these writings and my current research I have grappled with some serious NLP questions and have formulated a theory which allows me to move forward both as a professional psychologist and as an NLP practitioner and trainer. My developing theory in practice continued as in Croatia I was present and instrumental in forming NLP as an applied psychology.

Professor Dr Karl Nielsen writes:

“           we decided to found Neuro Linguistic Psychology (NLPsy) on our 3rd NLP & Coaching World Congress in Croatia 2012. NLPsy is designed so that only NLP Trainer with an academic Master in Psychology and a Psychotherapy qualification according to WCPC standard (NLPt level) are accepted as “NLPsy Master Trainer, IN”. The content of NLPsy trainings is defined as scientifically proven applicable Psychology knowledge and scientifically proven NLP.” (Personal correspondence. 30th September, 2014)

It was decided by Dr Nielsen that P should stand for Psychology rather than the computer term Programming and was more in keeping with the academic beginnings of NLP.

The quality standard of trained NLPsy content includes:

  1. NLP training content connected to fundamental psychological schools of thought
  2. NLP training content connected to fundamental psychotherapeutic schools of thought
  3. Scientific findings regarding NLP and procedures of proofing Scientific Effectiveness

Being a part of the above adventure allows me to take part in many of the multiple perspectives and multiple descriptions NLP has usefully brought to the fore and integrate them into a psychological framework, which has a practice which flows from an ontology, epistemology and methodology which I intend to write about in the future and publish in the academic literature for peer review, but more importantly will be tested using traditional scientific methodology. Making use of our sensory experience to calibrate whether or not a well-formed outcome has been achieved is not at all incompatible with writing this up and testing the validity of such sensory calibration. These tests would include the reports of others, psychometric assessment / testing, self-reporting and eventually comparisons with other modalities which seek the same outcomes for clients / patients within prescribed contexts.

Action research is an approach which enables practitioners to rethink theory as a practical discipline oriented towards social renewal rather than a static thing. As such the last 8 years for me have been a lived experience as I have spoken to people from all parts of the world in an attempt to articulate a theory of NLP. Consequent to my research I have embarked upon personal testing of what I have found.

For example as I have lived my learning, I have over 3 years “modelled” an ex international athlete in an attempt to improve my own athletic performance, both training and racing with him over this time. Such an endeavour has not proved NLP “modelling” works better than any other approach, however over 3 years I have developed from being ranked at the 90th percentile in 2012 to 97th percentile in 2014 within the UK, (N=10,980 Run Britain, veteran athletes 50yrs — 59yrs. 6th December 2014). Figure 19 below sees me on my way to becoming the Cambridgeshire County Champion for the half marathon in 2014 (50-59yrs). During 2015 I became the County road running champion for athletes aged 60 and over and the Eastern Counties 5 mile road running champion in the same age group.

 

Figure 19 Cambridgeshire Athletic Association Championships, half marathon 2014

As my research pinpointed some of the gaps within NLP practice, I began to change how I trained delegates in NLP and in 2014 ran a pilot 8 day NLP practitioner course at the Huntingdon Marriott, where standardised measures were taken at the beginning, at the end and at 6 months follow up. This was supported by a more qualitative approach where interviews explored how the improvement occurred, from a more subjective account in an attempt to validate the response sets and research which parts of NLP worked and which parts did not. Interviews were also conducted with a third party who had previously agreed to provide a further perspective of change during the 6 months immediately after the 8 day NLP training course. In figure 20 the reader can see pre and post test scores from 2 very different NLP delegates, one of whom on the standardised form scored initially as being within a clinical population. As a form of practical theorising in action it has been important for me to put into practice what I have learned as a result of 8 years researching and this process continues to be a dynamic form of learning and theorising for me.

 

Figure 20. 2 sets of pre and post test scores on Quality of Life inventory for 2 NLP participants

 

As Dilts has said in the past NLP can be defined as “Whatever works”. (grassrootsnlp, 2013) I use the word borrowed rather than modelled as the modelling process within NLP is far from clear with Burgess (2014) recently offering 13 different versions of what it is to model. The very first descriptions of NLP modelling were unambiguous and clearly relied on a process of unconscious assimilation in the same way that the participants in the research of Bandura (1977) learned through modelling behaviour towards a bobo Doll, whilst playing with toys. Research into mirror neurons provides a possible mechanism as to how it is possible to gain insights into the actions of others without going through cognitive/rational pathways of information processing, (Rizzolatti et al. 2001, in Mathison, 2007). However this method has not provided anything new in 40 years of NLP. Using this process there has been no demonstration a human can move from the norm to excellent, either through the process of modelling in this way, nor as a result of undergoing any training by an NLP trainer claiming to train in any such model. Consequently there seems to have been shifts within the rank and file of NLP. For some NLP may still be a meta-discipline for building models of human excellence (NLP participant 5.45:50) However for others it is simply about doing something different, “For me, NLP, the definition was never modelling ‘excellence’. Excellence, I mean you can say somebody who does something remarkable. Remarkable doesn’t necessarily mean excellent — it means different” (NLP participant 15 49:50)

NLP participant 15 elaborates on what she means later in the interview:

“it’s not excellence versus average — it’s what is the distribution among a certain class of people that this particular process is going to work for? I mean, I go to different cultures all the time; I have no illusion that the same thing works in different cultures as it would work in the United States — that would be insane.” (NLP participant 15 54:30)

 

However there has been no consistent flow of empirical evidence over 40 years in any domain to evidence positive outcomes of any significance even for this lite version of NLP.

It appears even the word modelling no longer needs to define NLP; we can simply rest with the word “study” or change the focus to communication. Many of the NLP practitioners interviewed believed by opening up how an NLP practitioner comes to appreciate the structure of subjective experience makes the “field” less limited. For instance it provides an opportunity to “model” people who are deceased on account of second-hand accounts. Eventually, this attenuating process could render NLP quite similar to any lay person picking up a book on psychology, or an area of interest, reading some tips on how to do something, developing their own interpretation and then giving it a go and, consequently, talking in enthusiastic terms concerning the results he / she has obtained. On the front of a popular NLP magazine is a picture of someone who is internationally regarded as excellent and remarkable, Paula Radcliff the world record holder of the Marathon for women. One would expect to find some mention of NLP within the magazine article, however on the inside is a two page spread written by staff writers on tips from everything from running technique, through goal setting, to keeping warm in the winter, diet, training tips and race pacing. (Little and Menezes Cunningham, 2007). The marketing association between NLP and excellence is clear for all to see visually on the front cover, however on reading the article, it is not even clear whether Radcliff was even interviewed by the staff writers; there is no evidence Paula Radcliff had heard of NLP, let alone made use of it. By dropping the emphasis on specified kinds of modelling, by moving from a study of excellence to just increasing performance through doing something differently, and by continuing to side step the issue of empirical testing, NLP as currently practiced does fit very well into the grounded theory produced.

NLP certainly has moved away from a Jackdaw epistemology, however according to this research it has moved towards a magpie epistemology, with a little of something for everyone with no coherent ontology, epistemology, methodology nor evidence to support the marketing rhetoric. In the words of NLP participant 5 (24:30) NLP currently is a bit of a dog’s breakfast, which is, in the words of NLP participant 15 (2:01:56) lacking in aggregation.

Predictions of this theory and Road Map for NLP

Predictions

This theory of NLP claims both to describe NLP historically and currently and consists of a group of 8 interacting propositions about NLP practice which can be used as principles for both explanation and prediction. The theory predicts that even though NLP is seen by many as the practice of choice, adherents of NLP will practice according to an interaction of the 8 categories within this theory. That is they will continue to have as the main evidence base anecdotal material and will not systematically develop an evidence base within the appropriate peer reviewed journals to support the claims they will continue to make about their practice. The main motivation to practice NLP will be to create an income stream rather than to educate people in the application of practical psychology. As has historically been the case NLP will continue to be defined in apposition and opposition to the social science of psychology and those who wish to improve the scientific credibility of what they do, will move away from the NLP brand using different identifiers. These groups will produce their own ontology and epistemology in a coherent way and will seek to develop an evidence base for what they do. The incoherent epistemology, ontology and methodology within NLP will continue and thus standardization will not be forthcoming as NLP continues to be highly attractive to a variety of people around the world as an unfalsifiable pop psychology practiced by energetic marketeers who have both charisma and commercial savvy.

Road Map for NLP.

I believe the road map for NLP is of course dependent on where it wishes to go. If it ever wished to develop into a credible scientific modality there are the options to research in the way Tosey and Mathison (2009, p. 195) suggest. However if it wishes to remain a highly popular form of practical pop psychology it should continue according to the principles of this theory. By not having a standard definition, NLP can claim to be both process oriented and multi-paradigmatic and use whatever is believed is needed for the job in hand without providing the evidence that in such a context the desired outcome is indeed probable. Such behaviour will provide satisfied customers and multi-level marketing strategies will ensure continued adherence to the brand. The NLP leadership Summits convened by Hall and Pucelik have created an association of experienced NLP practitioners and it will be interesting to see what direction this group take. In terms of addressing category 4 of this theory the NLP leadership summit is indeed a significant step. It is possible the theory of NLP will be substantiated if only on the basis that NLP can thrive according to the context within which it stands and that is the context of the acronym PEAS. As mentioned above it is entirely consistent for NLP to be defined both in terms of the theory of NLP and in terms of PEAS which describes NLP as Process oriented, Pragmatic, Positive, Playful, Phenomenological, and eliciting Patterns, Practicing within the Presuppositions of NLP. Also Eclectic, Experimental, Experiential, with a focus on obtaining Elegance in all we do. NLP also has a focus on Application rather than theorising, however evidence for the effectiveness of such application is mainly Anecdotal. Finally NLP is Systemic in orientation with a focus on Structure and a strong emphasis on Sales in the market place for ideas and utility. Indeed Participant 12 said concerning the success of NLP:

“While the nature of NLP has led to the fragmentation and issues that the field currently has, I believe it may have also been directly responsible for NLP being a huge and successful field. I say this to mean that NLP was always commercial, eschewed science (while borrowing eclectically and heavily from it) and didn’t try to self-regulate. This meant it has really become quite a big field over the last 40 years. There aren’t many other personal development modalities that have quite so many trainers, so many practitioners and made such a huge impact across so many domains. You find NLP now being used in or accepted by HR, Leadership, Coaching, Psychotherapy, Training, Education, Negotiation etc. etc. Indeed, I can’t think of another Personal Development modality that is as big or as extant. So while the commercialisation etc. of NLP has been bad from one perspective it has helped the promulgation of NLP, it’s take up by Trainers (looking to make a buck doing something they’ve become infatuated in) and its spread around the world. (Personal communication,15th June, 2015 00:48)

 

 

Appendix A.

Standard pro forma read to NLP Participants before interviewing.

  1. The purpose and nature of the study is to explore and understand more fully from the perspective of Senior NLP Practitioners what the future for NLP is, what they would like it to be and what needs to be done in their opinion to secure that future. What I am particularly interested in exploring is whether a standard curriculum fits into that future, along with internationally agreed standards, or whether the present trajectory is acceptable to such people.
  2. This interview and all outputs can be in total confidence. The reason I say CAN is it is possible some people may wish to go on record. I intend to make my dissertation widely available and the intention is to make clearer to people strategically what options are currently available to NLP practitioners concerning the future of NLP according to the present leaders. It is hoped that this will facilitate high quality discussions and consequent appropriate action to further NLP education and practice. Readers may wish to know who has contributed to this discussion. If you wish this interview to be confidential you can be assured of total anonymity concerning this recording and any written output of this work.
  3. Some of my questions may appear strange, provocative or even leading. The reason for this is no two people are the same and what might be the right question for one participant will not be for another. I intend to ask specific questions to each NLP expert based upon their speciality, however also, for comparative purposes wish to ask the same questions to all participants. Please answer freely as I am only interested in your opinions and experiences.
  4. Please feel free to interrupt me, ask for clarification, criticize a line of questioning or whatever you need in order to be heard in this interview.
  5. Finally I would like to record this interview for transcription by myself at a later time. Do I have your permission to do this?
  6. Do you have any questions?

 

Appendix B

Initial set of Questions for NLP experts.

Altogether there are 19 questions 4 on Vision, 7 on NLP definition and 7 on NLP university curricula. Finally there is one general questions

VISION.

  1. What do you see as the future of NLP as an international movement, realistically.
  2. Where would you like NLP to be in the future?
  3. Where do you see NLP now?
  4. How does NLP get from where it is now to where it needs to be in the future? DEFINITION
  5. If we say NLP works it is useful to know what NLP is. What is your definition of NLP?
  6. What practices naturally flow from such a definition?
  7. How does that differentiate the practice of NLP from other developmental/educational activities taught within many psychological curricula?
  8. How would you test whether the application of an NLP pattern is more effective than the application of another intervention?
  9. Can such fundamental differences within NLP as Content / Process, “real” NLP modelling / analytical modelling be appropriately and credibly explained within a single definition of NLP?

Also

Can you give me an example of an NLP pattern (a) finding of an excellent exemplar, (b) unconscious uptake (or assignment of NLP design variables to modelling project), (c) application of pattern with demonstrated and measurable results, (d) coding of pattern in such a way congruent application of such pattern provides predicted results which are verified by some form of measurement (e) transfer of the pattern to other students and testing of the transfer in such a way the pattern is demonstrated to be robust across a population of students and results are measurable and take students from within one standard deviation from the mean to over 3 standard deviations?

  1. NLP has been described as the study of the structure of subjective experience and its stated concern is with modelling excellence and then transferring this to other students. What has prevented NLP demonstrating whether it has or has not been able to do this in appropriate scientific journals?
  2. Are there lessons that can be learned from the past?

 

CURRICULAR

This research is looking at what a curriculum for NLP would look like at University.

In your opinion;

  1. What must be on that curriculum in order for it to be recognised as NLP?
  2. Is there anything that should not be on an NLP curriculum?
  3. Can NLP credibly be taught at University level with the poor reputation it seems to have in the scientific community?
  4. Is there anything within the NLP epistemology / pre-suppositions which suggest it should not be studied at University.
  5. Would such a curricular benefit NLP in any way or could it be counter-productive?
  6. With so many NLP Associations around the world, how could a unified NLP curricular be decided upon, especially when in the history of NLP there appears to be a history of Mismatching?
  7. My research question is “what is missing from the NLP paradigm”. How would you respond to that assumption?

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE WHICH I SHOULD HAVE ASKED WHICH I HAVE NOT ASKED?

 

Appendix C

A consumer guide through the multiplicity of NLP certification training — a European perspective by Peter Schutz, (with permission, Sun 28/12/2014 13:36)

NLP certification training, following a U.S. professional tradition, (practitioner of law, practitioner of medicine…) are usually named «NLP-Practitioner», however they extremely vary in profile, length, in depth, content and style. Lacking professional and credible standards, the same interestingly enough is true for NLP trainer certificates. So if you meet people who describe themselves as NLP practitioners or trainers it’s not easy to discern what may be expected from them in terms of competence, skills and attitude.

NLP focuses on the structure of subjective experience and its change and development, meaning, thoughts, feelings, and social roles of people and — quite frequently — their spiritual understanding. NLP training partly focuses on knowledge, skills and procedures (mainly Learning I), and partly on values, beliefs and deep personal change work (learning II+III).

Therefore it might pay off to very carefully take a look, whom do you entrust your social, emotional, psychophysical and spiritual wellbeing in a professional and ethically sound way.

NLP courses and books very often promise instant healing and change procedures. So many people seek these courses as «therapy in disguise.» More than in many other methods in the field of psychology and human resources the power hungry and needy are attracted by NLP courses both as participants and to quickly become trainers.

Of course many professionals take up NLP as professional training for coaching, consulting, counseling and therapy.

Because of that variety in attendance it might be wise to very thoroughly check out the qualification of the trainers and the specific typical clientele of their course. You may also check out whether and how screening processes are applied.

Some courses may be used within a state education credit system for coaching or counseling licenses or universities.

With some exceptions the rule applies: the shorter the program, the more you pay per day, and the less professional soundness can be expected. Watch out for marketing ploys of «accelerated learning» — as an argument for shorter NLP courses versus longer courses. Any validation for that has yet to be made.

Of course it is possible to profit from every form of NLP training and to have deep and valid human experiences. Following an NLP tradition it may be sad that there is a positive intent of organizing the courses in any specific format.

One of the key positions in NLP culture is to bring out the best in everybody and put emphasis on the good features and the good intentions of behavior.

Incidentally over the last 15 years this attitude has practically blocked a traditional 2nd position format of evaluation and assessment of different types of training, as it is common standard in other educational settings (grad schools, Science, flight training centers,.., Aikido, Tai chi, sports).

While in the world of lawyers, cardiologists, Airline Transport Pilots, Aikido teachers, clinical social workers, Zen Monks, Judges …. because of tradition, standardized access criteria, length of training, etc. the average minimal knowledge and competence is quite high and standardized, in NLP all these parameters vary much in diversity, and a profound discussion about them is rare.

This has led to quite unfortunate occurrences in several countries, i.e. NLP getting associated with cults like scientology, getting labeled in unfavorable political ways (nazilinguistic programming) and — mainly because of not pacing the established scientific community — not getting respected by them for what NLP could contribute, which actually is quite a lot.

While looking at content and wealth of NLP materials and curriculums it could be expected that an NLP trainer has very high and over and above average levels of personal stability, experience in psychosocial work, proficiency and knowledge in humanities, the current reality does look quite different.

Money hungry quick certification centers are widely available for the status hungry.

Esoteric bankruptees, who achieve their trainer certificates with a few weeks of attending training, are to be seen on one side of the curve, and more often than not create a difficult public image of NLP. Well educated consultants and psychiatrists with a 5 year + >300 day solid trainer education are to be found on the other side of the continuum, however, as most of their work is evidently more on the quiet side, it also is by far not so well known and PR effective.

From a socio-anthropological perspective the following areas in a portfolio of NLP teaching institutes can be described. They do resemble the 4 types of Francis Bacons typology of idols.

A Fragmented esoteric NLP

Length of training varies, dancing, singing and a quite animistic approach are in the foreground. Semi-reflected quasi-spiritual work on self esteem has a much higher emphasis than methodology, occasionally even quite science phobic notions are carried.

B Power guru clubbings ( «soft fascist») NLP

Rather short courses with a happening character, very alpha type leader behavior of trainers. Large to very large groups, emphasis on power and empowerment. Young power male oriented, short term power up, very often targeted to sales persons, scientific quotes out of context are used to legitimize hyping up unecologically.

C Visionary spiritual dogmatic NLP

Usually Block courses over a month, with a lot of structured and sound material, a very positive attitude, and while basically methodical, a lot of emphasis on relationship, values and a structured spirituality, as a basis for growth.

D Scientific pragmatic organized NLP

Courses with longer perspective, orientation on both personality development and evidence based proven methodological competence within a framework of values and a strong emphasis on state of art didactic tools (video), well connected to traditional government and educational systems.

Training styles and orientations may only partly be judged on the appearance of brochures. It usually pays off to research more in depth who the trainers are and what is their profile. With some exceptions of highly experienced and sound trainers it also seems more advisable to seek training led by more than one or two trainers, as the diversity of models and descriptions and the chances of a good resolution of conflicts will probably be richer, and dependency towards one person is not so easy to establish.

The following typologies of training standards are «IDEALTYPES» which of course are rare in their pure form and serve only as an orientation.

Out of track, but a player in the field are correspondence study courses

0.3 * Standard Your certified mail order NLP practitioner. A few manuals, tapes, sometimes a day of course for «certification».

The main phenomenology of NLP practitioner courses

* Standard Speed 5-7 days. Up to 300 participants, large group trance, rock music, motivational business emphasis.

** Standard Quick 130 h (16-18 days), one or two blocks, very often trainers and assistants with no or little grounding in personal coaching/ therapy.

Nice clubbing experience ( DV NLP standard).

*** Standard Commercial 180 h, 24 -27 days stretched over r > 9 months trainer qualification, variety of trainers.

Special form: Standard or Commercial block (holiday camps in USA and Europe). Quality in didactics and experience of trainers, + design vary very much. Rarely creditable in education systems.

Frequently producing short time highs with little follow up and reinforcement possibilities. Medium to large groups. Interesting due to multi-nationality and languages and group dynamic.

**** Standard Solid (NLDO 1) 200-250 h (27-34 days), training > 9 months, professional supervision, peer groups established and checked, high demand on trainers education and their supervision, using 3 or 4 trainers regularly.

Emphasis on personality development and methodology , group size limited.

***** Standard Professional (NLDO II) 240-28 h (35-40 days), > 9 months training, professional supervision, structured pre-assessment outcome, client video mandatory for certification, real persons testing, group size limited, assessment of 4 days, trainer with > 5 years education before entering training plus sufficient self experience and supervision of trainers, >3 master trainers, who also are fully accredited and qualified psychotherapists, M.D. s counselors.

 

Appendix D

Email letter to NLP Participants on 24th August 2014.

Hello NLP colleagues.

I hope this email finds you well.

I am wondering if you can help me with some feedback subsequent to my interviews with you. A part of grounded theory is that the researcher compares and contrasts themes which emerge from analysis and then feeds back into the field so to speak. The idea is eventually new themes emerge. A part of the Action Research paradigm is that research is participatory too. We research a topic with each other, thus you are not my “subjects” in this venture, you are my colleagues and co-researchers.

I started out wanting to examine what was missing from NLP and the assumption behind that research question.

As you can see from my attachment which represents all the words in my data corpus, mapping occurrences to size, not surprisingly the word NLP is the largest….and thus the most occurring.

I also attach some themes which have emerged from the transcripts you have provided me with and also the transcript of a Linkedin discussion on this topic in a psychology forum which you may find interesting. I apologise for the poor quality of the mind map software, however the words are just about recognisable.

So this brings me full circle back to “what is NLP?”

As you can imagine I have looked at the topic from what I believe is virtually every angle, some believe we don’t need a definition and we get too hung up on believing we do, it is a practice. so let’s get on and do it. Others believe it is a bit like a shopping list of patterns which have been applied, and others believe we already have all the multiple definitions we need, all of them coming under a somewhat “Meta” definition of “The study of the structure of subjective experience”.

However when I take a 2nd position perspective from psychologists, apart from the politics of the situation many earnest people who seek to understand, see NLP as simply a collection of patterns which have more or less been borrowed from psychology and thrown together to produce commercial profit without any thought to development of systemised theory, psychological mechanism, philosophy of science / methodology and appropriate testing.

This PhD for me is not only grounded theory, but it is Action Research too. I am doing this because I want to improve my practice as both a psychologist and an NLP practitioner and I am personally coming to some intuitive ideas which I would like to run by you and am requesting feedback around.

 

For me after a 20 year journey in NLP and also this PhD, what makes NLP a unique discipline and what creates the boundaries which differentiate it from other modalities (which I think are currently needed), is the focus on the structure of subjective experience and modelling as a methodology to explicate precisely what the structure of those who are good at stuff is. (And of course modelling to understand how people limit themselves as a part of helping them develop more choice).

Even after reading Fran’s excellent new book on modelling, when I look back historically at NLP I see 2 things which stick out a mile for me, and it is these things which I would like to test in this email.

Firstly the type of modelling which NLP has always expounded is this unconscious assimilation stuff. Steve I have read your articles and agree with you, and Fran I accept currently this is only one type of many types of modelling in NLP, however as an NLP practitioner what I find myself consistently wanting to do when I model is to act “as if’ there was such a thing as a know nothing state. I find when I attempt to do this the quality of the information I receive is so much more useful compared with information gathered through many of the more analytical, and dare I say it, traditional psychological methods. The other thing I find is rather than thinking about my new project I am actually acting it out as some of the modelling begins to take place in my personal / professional life. For me this is a defining characteristic of NLP. Many of you have said NO Bruce, NLP is now defined by analytical modelling too, however for me when that happens and I read such books, for me it drags NLP back into the more traditional psychological camps. I consistently teach my delegates that the conscious mind is the reducing valve of sensory awareness and the more we rely upon it to make important decisions, the more we rely and act on a very reduced data set.

The second intuition which I have come across is that again as I talk with you all and assimilate your views, what really is missing in NLP is the testing of patterns which emerge from modelling projects. It is interesting one of the reasons given for this is that it is too boring and who the hell wants to do all of that stuff □ I really do get that perspective and agree… but unless someone does it I really think NLP is going no-where. I accept probably

all of us have absolutely tons of heartfelt thank you correspondences from decades of experience telling us how much we have helped individuals and organisations when they had given up and others could not help, however unless we are going to cut ourselves off totally from what the modern world calls scientific investigation, this does not count as evidence, it is personal stories.

I am testing the proposition here that indeed the ontology, epistemology and the methodology of NLP all emerge from the historical act of Bandler, so effectively modelling Perls, Robert Spitzer used to sometimes call Bandler “Fritz’ by mistake. The subsequent coding, transfer and testing of what Bandler and then Grinder obtained, (and subsequently Bandler and Grinder with Erickson) seem to have a host of challenges that in my opinion the NLP world has yet to get right. Of course it is important I mention Frank and the many Meta kids who were also Co-founders of NLP at that time.

I would really appreciate what you think. It does not have to be too considered. We have already spoken on this topic, just 5 minutes to let me know your thoughts. Thank you so much.

I am aiming to finish my dissertation by Christmas and can imagine sending you draft copies for comment / amendment in November 2014.

With best wishes and kindest regards as always,

Bruce

 

Appendix E

Formal email to all participants.

Dear Participant, (Interviewee Number (participants number) in draft dissertation),

I want to thank you for your time last year in being interviewed to assist me with my research understanding precisely what NLP is. I have been fortunate enough to have had feedback from some of you, however not all have responded to the email sent out, (24.08.2014), asking for interim thoughts after concepts and categories began to emerge through the coding process. Those ideas which have been received back have been incorporated into the draft theory.

This year, I would like to take the opportunity to send out the draft dissertation again and ask you for your comments on the theory of NLP which I have developed. I have drafted 3 questions below and will be most grateful if you could answer them as best you feel you can. I attach not only the draft dissertation again, but also in the word document the 8 interacting dimensions which make up the theory of NLP which sits within the acronym P.E.A.S. where the Joy and positive aspects of NLP exist in our individual practice. Also in the word document, besides the new “theory of NLP” I have also provided some explanatory notes on parts of the rationale from the dissertation to refresh your memory on why the 8 dimensions exist as they do.

I have provided you with your coded number so you can see where I have made use of your comments in our interview. If you would like me to alter or amend my interpretation of what you have said or if I have incorrectly transcribed what you said please let me know and I will make the necessary alterations. In most cases your number is preceded by “participant”. Therefore if you type “participant 10” into your search bar you should obtain a short cut to your contributions.

I have managed to get a paper accepted for publication in the Sport and Exercise Psychology review, citing my draft dissertation and talking about my theory of NLP and am in the process of writing another for the Coaching Psychology sector as a part of my PhD journey.

If you could answer the following questions and get back to me within one month I would be most appreciative as this will enable me to include your feedback and if necessary moderate the current theory before publication.

  1. What are your thoughts about the theory of NLP in the attached word document?
  2. Is there anything you would change about the theory and why would you change it?
  3. What aspects of the theory represent your personal experience of NLP and which aspects do not?

Thank you very much for your assistance,

With kind regards and best wishes as always, Bruce.

Appendix F

Venn Diagram version of NLP theory making more explicit areas of contribution.

 

 

Appendix G

Explanation to Participants in email of how grounded theory emerged from their data.

Explanatory notes on theory of NLP above:

1) Commercially motivated, short courses lack of standardisation. This dimension is more difficult to provide a one liner for refreshment drawing from the complexity of the dissertation. I will go out on a limb, (and maybe slightly miss understood, please contact me if you wish to discuss further), however especially with the input of the extant literature and the Linkedin group what emerged was Standards without some form of standardisation seems somewhat meaningless. Courses have become incredibly short (which is not synonymous with low quality), however cannot hope to include fully much of what is NLP in this reduced time. Fully answering the question is it the process or pattern which works is an ongoing epistemological difficulty for NLP with the content and process dialogue continuing unresolved across the board.

2)        Saturated in Anecdotal evidence. This is where a lot of the “Joy” and “Positivity” comes from within NLP. Many people will talk in very positive terms about their NLP experience, whether this is workshops, or seeing a coach or counsellor who works from an NLP perspective. NLP is spoken of by one academic (R.Churches) as an oral tradition. It is this dynamic or oral tradition actually and on social media, as well as in the grey literature, which creates this dimension as definitional.

3)        Lacking in published Empirical evidence. Even though there is a lot of “Grey” literature (PhD dissertations and M.Sc manuscripts), compared with many other approaches to human development there is very little presence of NLP in the relevant and good quality academic journals. Even though some participants believed this is something that needed to be addressed, others pointed out the belief it needs to be addressed has always been present since the early days and thus talking about NLP and the importance of being present in this literature (and 5 thus being more accepted in that community) is a pattern that has defined NLP to date. Despite this dialogue, contrasted with for example EMDR, NLP generally has not taken this route.

4)        Historical and current disagreement. This dimension not only came from interviewing the 15 NLP participants in this research, but also was regarded as quite definitional from the 19 participants of the Linkedin discussion on the authenticity of NLP which was another data corpus for this research. Not only are there the obvious candidates in the well-known litigation history, however also the quite public statements on Social Media as well as the silences and non-participation of many key players in NLP initiatives loads into the definitional dimension. Although from an NLP perspective this may seem unfair, from a perspective outside of NLP it unfortunately still seems quite definitional and even though the court cases happened a long time ago, many outside of NLP still refer to them in defining NLP in the present.

5)        Wanting acceptance but disappointed. There are a significant number of NLP practitioners who I interviewed who, despite the pattern of 40 years of not being substantially represented in the appropriate good quality academic literature, not only recognised the need for it, but also had engaged in substantial efforts using their own resources and skills to attempt to make this happen. The fact it had not happened to their satisfaction created disappointment and also to a great extent was tied into and linked with category 7 where critique of the poor quality of much of psychology research became quite standard as well as the many commercial and political arguments as well. Their lead on this critique, along with the well-known anti academic stance of Bandler and Grinder co-created and contributed to the definitional nature of both categories 5 and 7.

6)        Development of break out groups. This referred to the many of us who have rebranded what we do as something other than NLP and have made our own appropriate distinctions to justify the re-branding. This has now become so commonplace as to justify a place in any modern definition of NLP.

7)        Lack of standardised definition, curriculum and professional practice code. The processes leading to the adhominem accusations of many psychologists in the Linked In group towards NLP as a whole. What was characteristic of the tone of much of the LinkedIn discussion was that there were bits of NLP that seemed to work (from their perspective taken from psychology), however not even these had been tested in a standardised way, which was commensurate with production of an explicit code (pattern) and testing of it in an evidence based way. Also that when an individual begins to take a “helicopter” view to ask what is in and what is out of NLP, this seems to be increasingly difficult on account of a lack of standardisation, epistemological standpoint (content / process), Internationally accepted standards, professional statement and ethical considerations.

8)        All NLP is associated with worst NLP practice. This is a rather blunt generalisation which emerged from both the LinkedIn group and the media signposted by them which was plentiful. With the lack of NLP evidence which met their criteria many participants from this group drew conclusions the whole NLP enterprise was not valid. This is where many of the unfortunate Ad hominem arguments came from, however it is a defining feature of NLP in the eyes of many who do not practice NLP and who are plentiful. Demonstrating good NLP practice does not seem to sufficiently counter this current perceptual skew.

 

Neuro-linguistic programming and application in treatment of phobias

Mahishika Karunaratne*

St Georges University of London, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 ORE, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT

Phobias are a prevalent and often debilitating mental health problem all over the world. This article aims to explore what is known about the use of Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) as a treatment for this condition. Whilst there is abundant experiential evidence from NLP practitioners attesting to the efficacy of this method as a treatment for phobias, experimental research in this area is somewhat limited. This paper reviews evidence available in literature produced in the UK and US and reveals that NLP is a successful treatment for phobias as well as being particularly efficient due to the relatively brief time period it takes to effect an improvement.

© 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

 

  1. Introduction

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) arose in America in the 1970s, from the collaboration of John Grinder and Richard Bandler.14 It originated when Bandler, a student of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, transcribed recorded psychotherapy sessions given by the Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls. Bandler discovered specific word and sentence structures used by Perls which seemed to maximise the efficacy of positive suggestions given to patients. He described his observations to John Grinder, an assistant professor of linguistics and the two went onto further examine the work of Fritz Perls. They also analysed the work of Virginia Satir, a hugely successful family therapist who consistently resolved family relationships which other therapists found impossible, and Milton Erickson, a globally renowned hypnotherapist. Bandler and Grinder intended to identify the patterns utilised by these three exceptionally successful therapists in order to create models and techniques that could be taught so that other individuals could achieve similar success. The findings were described in their first publication, The Structure of Magic in 1975.

From these beginnings, NLP developed as a method of achieving personal excellence as well as a study of the ways of thinking and communication utilised by the most successful people. The title ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ has a threefold meaning. The term ‘neurological’ denotes that all behaviour derives from the neurological processing of information provided by the five senses. The ‘linguistic’ part of the title refers to the fact that language is fundamental to the organization of thoughts and communication. The term ‘programming’ acknowledges the manner in which ideas and behaviours can be modified and managed to create desirable results.

The study and practice of NLP grew rapidly both in the United States and globally, and there are now NLP training providers in many areas of the world. It is estimated that over 100,000 participants have attended NLP training courses in the UK.16 Since its beginnings NLP has achieved substantial fame as a popular approach to communication and personal development. It is frequently practiced in professional fields such as sales, management and sports training. Whilst NLP has a wide range of applications today, it is particularly useful in the field of medicine in a variety of ways including methods for developing rapport with patients and thus maximising benefits gained within the medical consultation as well as techniques for treating specific medical problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, substance abuse, obesity and chronic pain.17,18 As mentioned, NLP originated from the study of three successful psychotherapists, and as such NLP is also highly applicable in psychotherapy. From the basis of family therapy as outlined in the Structure of Magic 2, NLP has given rise to many powerful psychological techniques for remedying conditions such as anxiety and depression.14 One area of psychotherapy in which NLP has proved particularly promising due to the claim of a cure in one hour or less (Bandler and Grinder, 197920, as cited in Ref. 12) is the treatment of phobias.

  1. Phobias

The DSM-IV defines phobia as the experience of ‘unreasonable fear or anxiety in connection with exposure to specific objects or situations’ often leading to a disproportionate urge to avoid the feared object.2 Phobias can be separated into three categories. Specific phobia (previously known as simple phobia) can be subdivided into five types; fear of animals e.g. arachnophobia, fear of the natural environment e.g. hydrophobia (fear of water), situational fear e.g. claustrophobia or fear of flying, and blood- injection–injury phobia e.g. fear of needles. The fifth category is named ‘other’ and includes phobias that do not fit into the above four categories, e.g. fear of situations which may cause illness. Specific phobia has a lifetime prevalence of 12.5%.10

The second category of phobia is social phobia which is a fear of social situations and can be further subdivided into generalised social phobia, and specific social phobia in which fear is only triggered in particular situations such as public speaking. The third category of phobia is agoraphobia which is fear and anxiety in crowded spaces. Phobias are an extremely prevalent problem worldwide. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health has revealed phobias to be the most frequently occurring mental disorder amongst women of all age groups, and the second most prevalent disorder in men over the age of twenty-five years.10 Current statistics approximate that there are over ten million adults suffering from phobias in the United Kingdom today, and between 8.7% and 18.1% of the population in the United States. Phobias can be extremely debilitating as avoidance of fear triggers can limit quality of life and in the case of some specific phobias such as dental phobia, can have serious consequences for the individuals health.13

  1. NLP and ‘Anchoring’

The acquisition of a phobia is an example of rapidly acquired Pavlovian classical conditioning, and is a consistent response based on learning over a single trial.9 Exposure to a stimulus linked with a simultaneous fear response causes a powerful association to be made between the two events. On subsequent occasions, even imagining the stimulus is enough to provoke a fear response.17 The acquisition and expression of a phobia, i.e. the initiation of the fear response on encountering or imagining a phobic trigger can also be thought of as an example of anchoring.18

In NLP, a stimulus which is associated with and triggers a physiological response is termed an anchor.14 Anchors can be kinaesthetic, auditory or visual e.g. certain songs, images or smells can be extremely evocative of emotional states. An anchor can be created by vividly imaging a desired stated then simultaneously applying a chosen anchor (e.g. making a fist is an example of a kinaesthetic anchor) in order to create an association (for a full explanation see Ref. 14, p. 56). The method of anchoring allows access to a desired emotional state at any time and whilst the acquisition of a phobia is an example of anchoring, this technique can also be used to cure simple phobias, through a method known as ‘collapsing anchors.’

In this method, two opposing emotional states are experienced at once, resulting in the creation of an original state. For this technique, both the negative state i.e. the phobia and the desirable positive state are identified. For example, the negative state could be a fear of flying and the positive one a desire to be able to travel on business trips freely.5

First the positive state is elicited and anchored e.g. by touching one arm. Then the negative state is recalled and anchored by touching the other arm. The client is then asked to recall the experience of both states in turn, with each anchor applied in turn. Then both anchors are fired at the same time, with the negative anchor removed before the positive. When asked to imagine a situation in the future in which they would normally have expected to feel negative, the subject should now be able to do this without expressing any negative physiology. In order for this technique to work, the positive anchor must be stronger than the negative one and the negative anchor must be removed before the positive one.

The above technique is applicable to simple phobias. However it is not as useful in dealing with more troubling phobias such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) where even thinking briefly about the event can cause anxiety.17,3

Phobias are believed to be associated with the amygdala, a part of the limbic system within the temporal lobe of the brain, found posterior to the pituitary gland, which is responsible for secreting hormones that regulate fear and aggression.19 Research using animals, where brain activity is recorded while fear is conditioned using an aversive stimulus, has revealed that the amygdala is active during presentations of the stimulus to which fear has been conditioned. Research with humans utilising neuroimaging techniques such as positron-emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRi) have also shown that the amygdala is active during presentation of a phobic stimulus in humans. This area of the brain is able to store unconscious memories.18, p. 70

There are thought to be two distinct pathways by which incoming sensory information gains access to the amygdala.19 With the first, longer pathway, sensory information travels via the thalamus and cortex, where further integration and processing takes place, before accessing the amygdala. The second shorter path bypasses the cortex and goes directly from the thalamus to the amygdala. This pathway effects the ‘fight or flight response’ via action of hypothalamic hormones and causes an immediate reaction to a stimulus, even before it is registered consciously. Research indicates that conditioned responses such as phobias act via this pathway.

Exposure therapy with extinction of the fear response is a traditional method of phobia treatment, however evidence suggests that this method effects a cure via cortical over-riding of the amygdala, thus if the stimulus is encountered in a stressful situation where the second shorter pathway to the amygdala is employed, the response of the amygdala becomes prominent and the previously treated fear response will re-emerge. Other methods of treating phobias include counter-conditioning, using another emotional response such as a feeling of relaxation, to compete with the fear response on exposure to the stressful stimulus. This is thought to be more effective as pleasure has an inhibitory effect on the amygdala. The NLP phobia cure is thought to be effective as it facilitates direct processing of the memory of the phobia, allowing the unconscious memory in the amygdala to be stored as a conscious memory in the hippocampus. Thus it can be stored as long term memory of a past event, with less attached emotional significance.

  1. The NLP phobia cure

Traumatic phobias, in which even thinking briefly about an event causes a physiological emotional response, are stored as synaesthesias, where two representational systems become linked so that accessing one representation always results in access to the other.18, p147 In most phobias a visual/kinaesthetic synaesthesia has been made, where accessing a memory of a picture of the traumatic event causes a fear response, however auditory/kinaesthetic synaesthesias, where a voice or sound can cause fear, or a kin- aesthetic/kinaesthetic synaesthesia, where a touch can cause the fear response, also exist. The NLP visual/kinaesthetic dissociation (V/KD; Bandler and Grinder, 1979)20 phobia cure dissociates this link. According to Bandler and Grinder (1979)20, this method can be used «to cure phobias and other unpleasant responses in less than an hour” (p. ii; as cited in Ref. 12). Richard Bandler modelled the phobia cure on people whose phobias resolved spontaneously. These people had dissociated from the strong negative feelings they had previously, and were able to look at the traumatic event as if it had happened to another individual, in the past and from a detached point of view. Within this context, an associated memory refers to seeing an experience from a first person point of view as if reliving the experience whereas the term dissociated refers to looking at a memory from any point of view other than the first person.3 When a memory is recalled in an associated manner, the emotions and response from the original experience are re-experienced, however when a memory is recalled in a dissociated manner, it is possible to observe the emotions from the situation as a bystander, without having to experience them first hand. This is the rationale behind the V/KD phobia cure, i.e. that changing a memory from an associated to a dissociated one can eliminate the strong negative feelings of the phobia response.

The steps of the phobia cure are outlined below.3 The first important step prior to starting is to establish rapport and a safety anchor,14 e.g. asking the client to associate with a time when they felt particularly safe and anchoring this kinaesthetically by holding hands. This safety anchor is maintained throughout the process. The client is then asked to imagine sitting in a cinema or watching television, with a still image of themselves in a situation just before they first had a phobic response on the screen. They are then asked to imagine floating out of this so that they are watching an image of themselves watching the screen. This double dissociated state maintains emotional distance. From this position, the client runs the movie of themselves starting from just before they had the phobic response, when they felt safe, to just after the response has finished and they are safe again.

Utilising the times when the client felt safe as the start and end points of the movie creates a bracket of safety around the memory so that it is recalled as occurring within this frame of safety and not played as an unpleasant loop.18 If the client expresses any negative physiology, they are asked to stop the movie and change the submodalities of the picture e.g. by making it darker or smaller to decrease negative feelings towards the image. When they have managed to watch the whole movie without expressing any negative feelings, they are asked to float back into the image of themselves watching the screen in order to reintegrate. Then the client is asked to step into the movie and reassure the younger self that they are safe, they have survived the experience and that they have the resources to cope with the danger. When the client is satisfied that the younger self feels safe, they are asked to bring that younger self back into their own body in order to reintegrate again. Finally, future pacing is introduced, and the patient is asked to think of the next time they will encounter the stimulus, by which point, if the cure has been successful they should be able to imagine the stimulus without the previous excessive fearful response. During this stage safety anchors can be fired in order to emphasise the feelings of relaxation and comfort in future encounters with the phobic stimulus.18

There are a large number of case studies and experiential evidence for success of the above phobia cure described in literature concerning the use of NLP in treatment of phobias. Andreas3 describes the use of the V/KD phobia cure to successfully treat individuals with a variety of phobias including two individuals with a fear of elevators and one individual with a fear of public speaking who had previously spent thousands of dollars unsuccessfully attempting to cure his phobia. Andreas describes how the phobia cure initially took one hour, but over time has been limited to fifteen minutes, and more recently two minutes.

Andreas also describes use of the ‘swish’ pattern as a cure for phobias. This method involves recalling a pleasant memory, varying the submodalities of the picture such as brightness and size to maximise the agreeableness of the picture, then introducing the phobic stimulus into the picture and varying the characteristics of this picture such as decreasing size or draining colour, until the fear of the stimulus is minimised (for a full description see Ref. 18). However like the collapsing anchors method, this technique is not as effective for traumatic phobias such as post traumatic stress

disorder.18,3

  1. Evidence in research

Despite the experiential evidence and case studies attesting to the efficacy of NLP in the treatment of phobias, the research literature base supporting the use of NLP techniques in this area is limited.16 However, there is some research regarding the efficacy of NLP in curing phobias.

Furman8 describes a study comparing the efficacy of four different brief therapies for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The methods studied were the NLP V/KD phobia cure, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Thought Field Therapy (TFT), and Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR). Measures used were treatment time and a follow up measure of subjective units of disturbance (SUD) score, a rating of the intensity of distress client on a scale from zero to ten. All four methods were shown to be effective at eliminating distress associated with PTSD. TFT was revealed to be the most effective, V/KD and EMDR were equally effective and TIR was shown to be the least effective. This study is useful in demonstrating the efficacy of NLP as compared to other treatments, however treatment time was not consistent for all methods used, and as the NLP V/KD phobia cure is known to be effective within a very brief time period, it would have been useful if this was taken into account in the experiment as well.

Einspruch and Forman7 evaluated a program for curing phobias based on NLP. Thirty-one individuals with various phobias were assessed on measures of Mark’s Phobia Questionnaire and Fear Inventory and the Beck Depression Inventory Scale before and after eight weeks of treatment. Findings showed a marked improvement in the individuals who received treatment as compared to controls. However the details of treatment used in this experiment were not outlined so it is not clear which method or methods were being used. However findings suggested that NLP was a promising therapeutic technique for treating phobias.

In a pretest–posttest control group design study by Liberman (1984),21 twelve subjects meeting the DSM-III criteria for Simple Phobia were treated using the NLP phobia cure. Subjects in the control group engaged in imagery of pleasant scenes. Both conditions were treated for two hour long sessions in one week. Results were measured via approach to phobic stimuli, fear thermometer and self-report questionnaires. NLP was shown to be significantly useful and found to be superior to the control condition in improving approach behaviour and in decreasing the fear response.

The effect of NLP training on social anxiety in twenty-eight adults was measured following a twenty-one day trial.11 Post test measures of efficacy included the Liebowitz Social Phobia Scale which was also administered at a six month follow up, and selfreport scores of fear and avoidance in social places were obtained. There were substantial reductions in scores on these questionnaires for all participants following training. However there was no formal control condition in this experiment, and pre test scores employed for comparison were obtained from a different experiment, therefore reliability of these results is limited. More research is needed to investigate the efficacy of NLP in treating social phobia, as this a widespread and prevalent problem.

Both the NLP phobia cure and collapsing of anchors have been proven to be therapeutically effective individually, and Stanton15 investigated results when the two are used in conjunction. This study also incorporated the use of hypnotic induction to maximise results and was shown to be effective in the treatment of an individual with a telephone phobia. Although this was reported to be highly effective, as it was only performed with one individual, therefore this method needs to be applied to a larger population of more than one individual in order to gauge a measure of efficacy.

An early piece of research by Allen1 explored the efficacy of NLP in changing the behaviour of thirty-six students with snake phobias. As well as the NLP condition, there was a control group and a group that received systematic desensitization therapy. Measures of severity of the phobia used were fear thermometer and behaviour avoidance. Effectiveness was gauged by asking the students to attempt to pick up a snake following treatment. This study found that both treatment conditions had no effect on fear of snakes. However as it is normal even for individuals without a phobia to have a degree of fear when handling a snake, subjects may have experienced a reduction in their fear of snakes despite being reluctant to handle one, and due to outcome measure used here, this reduction in fear may not have been apparent. Further research with larger populations and different phobias is needed to assess the efficacy of NLP in curing phobias.

  1. Further applications

In addition to the direct treatment of phobias, the NLP V/KD phobia cure may also be applicable to the treatment of chronic pain. Research into the association between fear and pain indicates that using the NLP phobia cure to eliminate fear in individuals with chronic pain can also lead to elimination of the pain itself.6 The authors discuss a case in which this method was applied successfully, that of a woman who was attending the GP concerning pain in her lower legs which originated from a severe sprain three years previously and which had resulted in the need for surgical reconstruction of one ankle. She had been suffering with subsequent pain in both legs for over a year and had tried a variety of treatments including physiotherapy and binding her legs whilst playing sports, all without success. The patient was a kinaesthetic individual and revealed a phobia that she had had for a number of years, of climbing stairs. In order to explore the possibility that the chronic leg pain was an attempt by the unconscious to protect the patient from using stairs, the phobia cure was attempted. This was so successful that not only was the phobia of stairs cured, but the patient was able to engage in sporting activities without pain almost immediately after the session.

Walker18 also relates the use of this method to help a patient with a phobia of motorbikes, which arose after a traumatic accident. Since the accident, the patient had also had chronic shoulder pain. However, on successful application of the phobia cure, as well as elimination of the phobia, she also reported the pain to have disappeared. Such incidents are thought to be due to the fact that when memories are stored as visual/kinaesthetic synaes- thesias, remembering the event also causes the muscular sensations present at that time to be re-experienced simultaneously (Halborn and Smith, as cited in Ref. 18). The NLP phobia cure allows dissociation of the two modalities and as such previously associated physical sensations also disappear. These cases indicate that there are more applications for the NLP phobia cure which should be further examined.

  1. Reframing phobias

As well as the popular V/KD phobia cure, there are other alternative ways of altering the fear response using NLP. Reframing has also been cited as a useful method of dealing with fear. Bod- enhamer and Hall in their training manual Mastering Your Fears: A NLP/Neuro-Semantics Approach to Mastering Fear and Anxiety, focus on adapting the meaning of the fear response rather than attempting to eliminate it.5 The rationale behind this method is that fear is a message which is often useful and appropriate. According to the authors, feeling fearful of a specific object, experience or environmental trigger has a certain informational value and is thus useful as feedback about the external environment. However certain individuals place too much emphasis on their response to this emotion which can result in the development of a phobia.

Many such individuals are resistant to the traditional NLP V/KD phobia cure as it is often not a fear of a direct external trigger but a fear of the meaning of a situation or idea. One such example is the use of this method to cure a woman with a fear of flying, one of the case studies in the article ‘Multiple Patterns for Mastering Fears’ (2000) Bodenhamer describes case studies where reframing was used to master the fear response in a number of individuals with various phobias. Bodenhamer first elicits details about the response itself and triggers for it. He then explores the exceptions and representational coding of the frame.

In this case the client was associating back to an incident when she encountered turbulence on a flight each time she thought about flying, which would lead to phobic thoughts of death and the plane falling etc. This type of fear lends itself to reframing with a resource that creates a higher level construction that allows the individual with such a fear to come to terms with it by accepting, appreciating or owning the fear as appropriate. Bodenhamer and Hall propose that if the discomfort associated with the fear response is eliminated then a more realistic assessment of the significance of the fear can be made and thus the emotion can be utilised more appropriately. This method may be a promising new avenue in the use of NLP for treatment of phobias in individuals resistant to the V/KD phobia cure.

  1. Resistance

It appears that reframing is a useful tool for curing phobias with NLP, particularly as the V/KD phobia cure is not always successful due to resistance encountered in some clients.5 Another strategy for managing resistance is The Milton Model.4 This NLP technique based on the work of Milton Erikson, the eminent hypnotherapist, is rooted in the idea of resistance. It states that the conscious mind can be resistant to change or sceptical about the value of therapies such as NLP and hypnosis. In order to manage this, the Milton model attempts to reach the unconscious mind, using metaphors and contradictions in order to utilise client resistance in a positive manner. Indeed, this method actively encourages patients to express resistance in order to allow the opportunity to modify it with the idea that if even one subsequent suggestion made by the therapist is accepted, that further suggestions will be more willingly accepted thereafter.

However despite accounts of such methods designed to help patients who are resistant to a cure, there is little mention in literature of cases where NLP has been completely ineffective. It is likely that such cases do exist as few therapies or treatments are universally successful. However deficiency of information in this area may be related to the lack of experimental evidence involving the use of NLP. Much of the evidence in literature reviewed for this article is based on case studies and practitioner experience rather than controlled trials. It may be that practitioners reporting individual or limited numbers of case studies are more apt to discuss successful cases than unsuccessful ones. Further research utilising large patient samples is needed in order to ascertain the nature of client resistance and methods of either overcoming it or elucidating the types of treatment that would be effective for such individuals.

It appears then that NLP provides an efficient and effective method for eliminating phobias. The method of double dissociation used in the V/KD phobia cure allows the individual to gain emotional distance from the phobic response and integrates the memory at the level of the amygdala so that the fear response remains eliminated, even in potentially stressful encounters with the phobic stimulus.18 Due to this level of integration, NLP may be superior to traditional methods of treating phobias such as exposure and extinction and systematic desensitization, as whilst these methods have been shown to be effective, there is often relapse of the fear response on future encounters with the phobic stimulus. However, despite its efficacy, NLP is not utilised as frequently as the other more traditional methods. The reason for this may be the lack of a sufficient formal research into the efficacy of the NLP V/KD phobia cure. This is unfortunate, as the speed with which the NLP phobia cure is effective as compared to more traditional psychological methods, and also the potential superior efficacy make it a promising treatment which could be hugely beneficial to the large number of individuals suffering with phobias worldwide. There is also limited evidence regarding the use of the NLP phobia cure in treatment of generalised social phobia, an extremely prevalent type of phobia. More research is needed in these fields to provide a large evidence base such that this method will become more widely available for the treatment of all phobias. This method could potentially be incorporated into mainstream healthcare as an option to be offered to phobia sufferers alongside or as an alternative to current psychological treatments such as systematic desensitization. Additionally, the NLP V/KD phobia cure may have promising applications beyond the direct treatment of phobias. This cure has been shown to be effective in treating chronic pain where an underlying fear is the cause of the pain and as such this area of therapy also merits further investigation.

 

The Effects of Clinical Hypnosis versus Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) before External Cephalic Version (ECV): A Prospective Off-Centre Randomised, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial

Joscha Reinhard,1 Swati Peiffer,1 Nicole Sanger,1 Eva Herrmann,[1] Juping Yuan,1 and Frank Louwen1

Objective. To examine the effects of clinical hypnosis versus NLP intervention on the success rate of ECV procedures in comparison to a control group.

Methods. A prospective off-centre randomised trial of a clinical hypnosis intervention against NLP of women with a singleton breech fetus at or after 370/7 (259 days) weeks of gestation and normal amniotic fluid index. All 80 participants heard a 20-minute recorded intervention via head phones. Main outcome assessed was success rate of ECV. The intervention groups were compared with a control group with standard medical care alone (n = 122).

Results. A total of 42 women, who received a hypnosis intervention prior to ECV, had a 40.5% (n = 17), successful ECV, whereas 38 women, who received NLP, had a 44.7% (n = 17) successful ECV (P > 0.05). The control group had similar patient characteristics compared to the intervention groups (P > 0.05). In the control group (n = 122) 27.3% (n = 33) had a statistically significant lower successful ECV procedure than NLP (P = 0.05) and hypnosis and NLP (P = 0.03). Conclusions. These findings suggest that prior clinical hypnosis and NLP have similar success rates of ECV procedures and are both superior to standard medical care alone.

 

1. Introduction

At full-term singleton 3-4% of pregnancies present themselves as breech deliveries [1, 2]. External cephalic version (ECV) is a procedure to try to turn a breech fetus to cephalic by externally manoeuvring the fetus through the maternal abdomen. ECV decreases the likelihood that the fetus will be in a noncephalic presentation at birth and the need for caesarean section [3-6]. Without contraindication, ECV should be recommended for all women with a breech fetus at term [3-6]; however, ECV is only successful in about 40% of attempts [4, 7-9].

During labour and other medical procedures clinical hypnosis is an effective method to reduce pain und distress [10-17]. Pregnant women demonstrated highest suggestibility for trance when compared with pregnancy and postpartum period [18]. A clinical hypnosis intervention can also reduce the muscle tone [15, 19, 20]. Our study group could recently show that a prior clinical hypnosis intervention can increase the success rate of ECV when compared to standard medical care [21].

The goal of this study is to compare the ECV success rate of a clinical hypnosis intervention versus a NLP intervention. A secondary goal is to compare the ECV success rate of the intervention with a control group of standard medical care alone. 2

 

Figure 1: Flow Diagram.

 

1 Methods

2.1.        Study Design. This was a single centre, stratified (parity), double-blind, parallel-group (clinical hypnosis or NLP) study conducted in a tertiary university hospital in Germany.

Enrollment of the participants was done by J. R. A off-centre randomisation sequence based on a block randomisation was calculated and assigned by the Institute of Biostatistics and Mathematical Modeling (E. H.). The study received ethical approval at the local ethics committee and has been registered at clinical trials (NCT01564004).

Eligible participants were pregnant women with a singleton fetus in a breech position at the scheduled date of the ECV at or after 370/7 (259 days) weeks of gestation, normal amniotic fluid index, and with advanced level of German language. The only exclusion criteria were in active labour patients (regular uterine contractions, and rupture of membranes), contraindications for a vaginal birth (such as placenta praevia), and a planned birth by caesarean section even if the fetus turned to a cephalic position. The ECV procedures were undertaken by J. R. an experienced clinician in ECV, who is head of division, agreed with that judgment [22].

The study took place at a tertiary referral centre of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Hospital in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, from January 2009 to December 2011. The standard medical care did not change during the whole study period and no changes to methods after trial commencement.

2.2.      Control Group. From January 1, 2009 to October 31, 2010, a control group were all ECVs, during which time neither hypnosis nor NLP was used.

2.3.      The Intervention. In November 1, 2010, the initiation of this study took place. A screening ultrasound was undertaken before the ECV procedure. If the patient consented to take part in the study, women were randomly assigned to hear a hypnosis or NLP intervention (ca. 20-minute standardized clinical hypnosis or NLP intervention via head phones (Bose, QuietComfort 15) before ECV procedure was carried out. The hypnosis intervention was a voice recording of J. R., who is also a certified hypnotherapist and underwent training in the fundamentals of NLP.

For the hypnosis intervention, a relaxation induction was utilized, in which the therapist focused on the breathing as well as concentrating on various parts of the body for trance deepening. The suggestion of the “smiling child” after Lorenz-Wallacher [23] was used: “… While you can allow yourself to enjoy the relaxation and felling of wellbeing … which is spreading more and more … you might would like to imagine … how a muscle, organ or tissue is starting to smile … and since smiling is contagious … some region of you is smiling back… and you might start to feel… how you are sensing when the smiling is spreading… more and more spreading throughout your body … in the whole body … downwards towards the uterus … and the uterus is starting to smile … and each muscle fiber is smiling and relaxing … the uterus is smiling to the baby all around … the uterus smiling towards your baby at the center … from all sides smiling and relaxing … more and more … softer and softer … each muscle fiber relaxing, lengthening… smiling… and you might feel … how your baby is reacting … when your baby is receiving the friendly smiles all around … Can you see how you baby is smiling back? … Maybe you would like to imagine … in your imagination to smile towards your baby … and tell your baby all those kind words, which you would like to tell your baby … let your baby feel all your love … to enjoy feeling save and secure … saver, more and more secure … and if you want to you can get into contact with your baby … With your imaginative hands you can stroke and touch your baby … Can you feel the baby … You can tell your baby how you are looking forward to the arrival of your baby at the right time… and maybe your baby would like to tell you something… and you can enjoy the contact with your baby … the connection between you and your baby… and you can contact your baby now … and in the future whenever you want to … smiling … relaxing … more and more … I wonder where in your body you can already feel this relaxation … This relaxation may grow with every breath … Your baby can flow freely … turn freely…

“Dehypnotization proceeded by backward counting. During this process, suggestions were given to the effect that the patient would be relaxed and smiling even when not thinking about it [21].

 

Table 2: Baseline characteristics of parity and firmness of (ns = P > 0.05).

Characteristic at randomisation NLP (n = 38) (%) Hypnosis group (n = 42) (%) Control group (n = 122) (%) P value
Parity
(i)0 25 (65.8) 30 (71.4) 81 (66.4) ns
(ii) >1 13 (34.2) 12 (28.6) 41 (33.6) ns
Breech firm in the pelvis
(i) Firm 18 (47.4) 28 (66.7) ns
(ii) Not firm 20 (52.6) 14(33.3) ns

 

Table 1: Baseline characteristics (mean ± standard deviation) (Welch test, ns = P > 0.05).

Characteristic at randomisation NLP (n = 38) Hypnosis group (n = 42) Control group (n = 122) P value
Maternal height (cm) 169 ± 7.4 168.9 ± 6.3 167.2 ± 5.6 ns
Maternal weight before pregnancy (kg) 63.6 ± 12.6 63.9 ± 8.5 68.3 ± 13.9 ns
Current maternal weight (kg) 76.9 ± 13.6 77.9 ± 9.4 ns
Gestation age 37.2 ± 0.4 37.2 ± 0.6 37.9 ± 3.3 ns
Amniotic fluid index (cm) 13.6 ± 3.6 13.0 ± 3.6 ns
Fetal weight (g) 2850 ± 297 2819±270 ns

 

Table 3: Percentage of successful ECV procedures (numbers).

    Control group (n = 122) P value
NLP (n = 38) 44.7% (17) 27.3% (33) 0.05
Hypnosis (n = 42) 40.5% (17) 27.3% (33) 0.08
NLP and Hypnosis (n = 80) 42.5% (34) 27.3% (33) 0.03

 

The intervention was double-blinded that is the participant and the clinician, who is carrying out the ECV procedure, did not know the kind of intervention.

30 minutes prior to the ECV procedure, fetal wellbeing was assessed by continuous fetal heart rate monitoring, and a low concentration of tocolytic agents to relax the uterus was started. A maximum of three ECV procedures were carried out. The ECV was discontinued if it was not easily accomplished, or if the woman reported undue discomfort or the fetal heart rate was nonreassuring. Fetal presentation was confirmed by ultrasound directly after ECV procedure and before discharge by an independent senior house officer. All women were monitored for at least 60 minutes as well as 3 hours after ECV procedure for another 60 minutes. Anti-D immunoglobulin was recommended for all rhesus-negative women following the procedure.

2.4.      Outcome Measures. The primary endpoint with respect to efficacy in ECV was the proportion of patients with cephalic presentation 4-6 hours after ECV procedure verified using ultrasound examination (successful ECV). Additional analyses were done on standardized questionnaires of 53 items 30-60 minutes after the ECV procedure. Six answer options were available: 1: complete agreement, 2: agreement, 3: slight agreement, 4: slight disagreement, 5: disagreement, and 6: complete disagreement.

2.5.      Sample Size. The power calculation is based on the assumption that 60% of the population are primiparas, and they have a 50% ECV success rate. Multiparas are assumed to have a 60% ECV success rate. An odds ratio of success rate of clinical hypnosis and NLP is assumed to be 1.6. Hence, 716 women need to be included for a statistical power of at least 80%.

2.6. Statistical Analysis. For statistical analyses, the Welch, Mann-Whitney, and Fisher exact tests were applied. The analyses were carried out using the SPSS Statistics 17.0 software. The means and standard deviation (SD) were processed. P < 0.05 for a two-tailed test was considered statistically significant. 3

 

Table 4: Mean ± standard deviation of number of ECVs for each participant and duration time, pain relief during ECV manoeuvre, and a selection of questionnaire (*) items for the hypnosis (n = 42) and NLP (n = 38) intervention.

  NLP Hypnosis group n (%) P value
Number of ECV for each participant 2.3 ± 1.0 2.2 ± 0.9 ns
Duration of ECV (minutes) 5.9 ± 3.4 6.0 ± 3.4 ns
Good pain relief during ECV 3.3 ± 1.8 3.4 ± 1.7 ns
Wish for more pain killers during ECV 4.8 ± 1.5 5.4 ± 1.2 ns
Strong pain during ECV 3.6 ± 1.9 3.6 ± 1.8 ns
Negative memories 5.4 ± 1.1 5.2 ± 1.3 ns
ECV was as expected 2.7 ± 1.7 2.8 ± 1.8 ns
I felt safe during the ECV 1.8 ± 0.8 1.8 ± 0.8 ns
I had everything under control 2.5 ± 1.2 2.4 ± 1.3 ns
I would recommend a ECV to my best friend 1.4 ± 0.9 1.7 ± 1.2 ns
I have good memories of the ECV 2.8 ± 1.8 3.4 ± 1.7 ns
Intervention (hypnosis or NLP) was helpful 1.6 ± 1.1 2.0 ± 1.7 ns
Intervention (hypnosis or NLP) was relaxing 1.4 ± 0.9 2.2 ± 1.7 0.04
Good support by the doctor/midwife 1.1 ± 0.4 1.3 ± 0.6 .04

1: absolutely true, 2: mainly true, 3: slightly true, 4: slightly not true, 5: mainly not true, 6: absolutely not true.

 

[1]          Results

All 80 patients gave written informed consent to the study (Figure 1). During the study period, no patient agreed to enter the study. Baseline characteristics (size, weight before pregnancy, current weight, gestation age, amniotic fluid index, fetal weight estimation, parity, and breech firmly fixed in the pelvis) were similar in the two groups (P > 0.05; Tables 1 and 2). The success of the ECV procedure and complication rates are presented in Table 3. Of the 42 women in the hypnosis group, 40.5% (n = 17) had a successful ECV procedure, whereas 44.7% (n = 17) of the NLP group (n = 38) had a successful ECV procedure (P > 0.05).

Of the 122 women in the control group, 27.3% (n = 33) had a successful ECV procedure. Statistically improved success rates were seen when comparing NLP (P = 0.05) or hypnosis and NLP together (P = 0.03) with the control group (Table 3); however, hypnosis only had a trend to higher success rates when compared to the control group (P = 0.08).

The standardised questionnaire demonstrated a statistically significant difference (P < 0.05) only in the following parameters: NLP patient group felt slightly better supported by the doctor/midwife (Z = 2.1; P = 0.04) and slightly more relaxed during ECV (Z = 2.1; P = 0.04) (Table 4). All other items (pain, discomfort, etc.) did not demonstrate a statistically significant difference.

All important harms or unintended effects in each group have not been observed.

  1. Comment

At term ECV reduces the need for caesarean section and is considered safe for the fetus [3, 7, 8, 24, 25]. Using clinical hypnosis compared with standard medical care the likelihood of successful ECV increases [21], thereby further reducing the need for caesarean section.

This trial found no difference of ECV success rate between a hypnosis intervention and NLP; however, if comparing with standard medical care a statistically significant improvement to standard medical care was demonstrated for NLP. Hypnosis did not reach statistically significant difference. This can be explained with the low patient numbers. A previous lager hypnosis trial has already demonstrated improved ECV success rate of hypnosis when compared to standard medical care [21]. Similar scores were found for NLP and hypnosis intervention of the questionnaire items (55 items) for pain, discomfort, feeling save, anxiety, recommendation of ECV to a best friend, and relaxation due to the intervention.

Generally most women are stressed in a hospital environment and go into a “natural” hypnotic state, hence calming and relaxing the women is generally helpful [26] and has also been shown in this study.

The strength of this study is the prospective off-centre randomised, double-blind trial design; however, the weakness of this study is the low patient numbers and the potential biased of a nonrandomized control group. The number of normal vertex birth has not been analysed since most patients delivered in their local hospital and not in our tertiary centre.

The use of complementary medicine and alternative medicine is frequently applied during pregnancy [27]. A positive effect of complementary and alternative medicine has been described [10, 28]; however, further prospective randomised trials are required.

  1. Conclusions

In conclusion, for the first time the results of the present study indicate that clinical hypnosis and NLP have no difference in ECV success rates, and hence both can increase the success rates if compared to standard medical care [21 ] alone.

Conflict of Interests

The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose.

Authors’ Contribution

The first author wrote the study protocol, carried out all ECV procedures of the intervention groups, tape recorded the intervention, analysed the data, and wrote the first draft of this paper. The statistical analysis was done by the first and fourth authors. The fourth author was responsible for the randomisation. All authors reviewed the results and wrote the paper.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was granted by the local ethics committee.

 

Neurolinguistic programming: a systematic review of the effects on health outcomes

Abstract

Background

Neurolinguistic programming (NLP] in health care has captured the interest of doctors, healthcare professionals, and managers.

Aim

To evaluate the effects of NLP on health- related outcomes.

Design and setting

Systematic review of experimental studies.

Method

The following data sources were searched: MEDLINE®, PsyclNFO, ASSIA, AMED,

CINAHL®, Web of Knowledge, CENTRAL, NLP specialist databases, reference lists, review articles, and NLP professional associations, training providers, and research groups.

Results

Searches revealed 1459 titles from which 10 experimental studies were included. Five studies were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and five were pre-post studies. Targeted health conditions were anxiety disorders, weight maintenance, morning sickness, substance misuse, and claustrophobia during MRI scanning. NLP interventions were mainly delivered across 4-20 sessions although three were single session. Eighteen outcomes were reported and the RCT sample sizes ranged from 22 to 106. Four RCTs reported no significant between group differences with the fifth finding in favour of the NLP arm (F= 8.114, P<0.001). Three RCTs and five pre-post studies reported within group improvements. Risk of bias across all studies was high or uncertain.

Conclusion

There is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health-related outcomes. This conclusion reflects the limited quantity and quality of NLP research, rather than robust evidence of no effect. There is currently insufficient evidence to support the allocation of NHS resources to NLP activities outside of research purposes.

Keywords

experimental designs; neurolinguistic programming; primary care; review, systematic; treatment effectiveness.

 

INTRODUCTION

Neurolingistic programming (NLP] is an emerging technology within health care attracting interest and investment, particularly within primary care. NLP is a communication framework using techniques to understand and facilitate change in thinking and behaviour. Early study of NLP was of a scholarly nature and promoted NLP as a psychotherapeutic technique, although publication of commercial works1,2 in the 1980s signalled a move between the academic and commercial worlds. While there is no agreed definition of NLP, different formulations share (or practitioners accept] a set of core propositions. In particular, NLP proposes that our internal representations of the world show a bias for a particular sensory modality (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory or gustatory], and that a person’s dominant modality, or preferred representational system (PRS), is signalled through various behavioural indices, particularly verbal expression and eye movement. A visual person, for example, may say ‘I see what you mean’ whereas an auditory thinker may say ‘I hear what you say’. The central tenet, or hypothesis of NLP is that communication will be more effective, or persuasive, if it is tailored to match the PRS of the target person. NLP practitioners use the individual’s PRS as a foundation to the development of rapport, to facilitate modelling, elicit well formed outcomes and use anchoring (or conditioning) techniques. NLP training is informally regulated in the UK, through the Association of NLP (ANLP)3 and internationally through the International NLP Trainer’s Association (INLPTA)4 at three levels of diploma, practitioner, and master practitioner, based on the number of hours of study and practice.3,4 While NLP training organisations and practitioner registers are internationally widespread with NLP training opportunities for business use, personal development, and health visible in many European countries, US, Canada, and Australia,3-6 the targeting of medical and healthcare practitioners for such training by NLP organisations in the form of seminars, workshops, and literature appears to be presently focused on the UK.7-10

This targeted interest by the NLP community in medical and healthcare professionals led the authors to make a UK Freedom of Information (FOI) request to NHS organisations to identify spending on NLP training or services over a 3-year period. Information was requested on the purpose of any training (for example, personal development, management training, clinical service provision), which staff were trained and whether any associated evaluations or audits had been undertaken. This request was sent in June 2009 to all 143 primary care trusts, 73 mental health trusts, 166 hospital trusts, 12 ambulance trusts, 10 care trusts, and 10 strategic health authorities. A total of 326 (79%) NHS organisations responded to the request and the unpublished data revealed an NHS monetary spend of £802 468 on NLP-related activity. Over 700 NHS staff undertook NLP training during the time period with the majority (75%) being in administrative/managerial roles. Clinical staff included counsellors and clinical psychologists. A conservative estimate of 1-day training per person was determined at a modest daily salary rate of £150 per person indicates an estimated training cost of £105 000. For five trusts reporting that they had developed NLP-based services, the majority was spent on weight-loss counselling (£200 000) and this was a research study. Other spend areas included counselling skills (£190), substance misuse counselling (£90) and smoking cessation services (£450). While this spend was found to be modest, the FOI request established that it was widespread.

NLP’s position outside mainstream academia has meant that while the evidence base for psychological intervention in both physical and mental health has strengthened,11-14 parallel evidence in relation to NLP has been less evident and has attracted academic criticism.15,16 No systematic review of the NLP literature has been undertaken applying Cochrane methods.17 The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic literature review and appraise the available evidence for effectiveness of NLP on health-related outcomes.

 

How this fits in

Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is a collection of communication and behaviour change techniques used within the NHS for both clinical and managerial purposes and has a reputation in the business and entertainment industry as a method for influencing people. NLP is promoted to health professionals as a therapeutic and managerial intervention. Limited experimental research has been undertaken into the use of NLP to influence health outcomes and there is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health outcomes based on poor quality studies across heterogeneous conditions and populations. The allocation of NHS resources to support NLP activities should be confined to research investigations.

METHOD

Studies were eligible for inclusion if they reported primary research on the effects of NLP on any health-related outcomes in all clinical populations. Studies without a quantitative evaluation of the effect of NLP, single case (n = 1) studies, and those in which a single NLP technique was evaluated were excluded. Language eligibility was restricted to English.

MEDLINE® Ovid version (1950 to 20/02/12), PsyclNFO (Earliest to 20/02/12), Applied Social Science Index and Abstracts (ASSIA) (Earliest to 20/02/12), Allied and Complementary Medicine Database (AMED) (1985 to 20/02/12), CINAHL® (1981 to 20/02/12) , Web of Knowledge (Earliest to 20/02/12) and CENTRAL (Earliest to 20/02/12) were searched. The following keywords ‘neurolinguistic/neuro-linguistic and neuro linguistic programming’ were combined using the ‘OR’ Boolean operator together with the MeSH heading ‘neurolinguistic programming’ (available for MEDLINE only). The specialist NLP databases at the Universities of Bielefeld and Surrey (to 20/02/12), and the European Association for Neuro-linguistic Psychotherapy (to 20/02/12) were also searched in their entirety, and NLP associations, research groups, and social network forums, were contacted for additional research. Reference lists were screened for additional citations. A single reviewer initially screened all search results by title and those deemed potentially relevant were assessed against the eligibility criteria by two reviewers independently, with discrepancies resolved through discussion. Full-text papers of included studies were assessed against the eligibility criteria by two reviewers independently and discrepancies were resolved through discussion or referral to a third reviewer.

A data extraction template was developed, pilot-tested on two papers by three reviewers, and modified as necessary. Two reviewers independently extracted data from each study, including: publication details (authors, year, and country), participant characteristics, intervention details, outcome measures, risk of bias, and study findings. Risk of bias assessment for the randomised controlled trials (RCTs) was undertaken with reference to the Cochrane Handbook.17 The RCTs were assessed against the four risk domains of sequence generation, allocation concealment, blinding of outcome assessors, and incomplete outcome data. The risk of bias was assessed based on the reported study methods according to the following criteria; low risk of bias = all domains adequately met, high risk of bias = at least one domain not met and uncertain risk of bias = inadequate reporting of methods.17 Risk of bias for the pre-post studies was assessed using the Downs & Black quality index score. This is a validated checklist for assessing the quality of randomised and non-randomised studies in five subscales: reporting, external validity, internal validity (bias and confounding), and power.18

 

Table 1. Details of included studies
Author, country and health issue Study design and setting Population and participants NLP Intervention details Assessed outcomes and measures Results
Randomised Controlled Trials
Krugman etaP9 US

Speech anxiety

Design: RCT Setting: University Assessmen: Baseline and immediately post-treatment Groups: arm 1] NLP single session; arm 2] self-controlled desensitisation; arm 3] waiting list control Participants: university undergraduate students Recruitment: response to advertisement fora programme to alleviate anxiety in public speaking situations. Study baseline, n = 55, 28 male/27 female. Numbers randomised, analysed and completed not reported Single session NLP interventionist training: three graduate clinical/counselling psychologists with additional Д months of NLP training.

Training fidelity checks employed NLP intervention: phobia intervention from ‘Frogs into Princes’:2 Kinaesthetic Anchoring techniques, visualisation

Public speech anxiety. Personal Report of Confidence as a Speaker Scale. Paul’s Modified Behaviour Checklist. Observed global rating of speech anxiety Between group differences; no statistical difference between groups (results data not reported). Within group differences (pre-post tests): ?values (pre-post tests): ?values attained statistical significance (P<0.05) showing reduction in all measures of speech anxiety (including fear expectancy and fear survey) in all three arms.
de Miranda etal20 Brazil

Maternal emotional disturbance and child emotional development

Design: RCT. Setting: day care centre. Assessment: baseline and 9 months post-intervention. Groups: arm 1] NLP; arm 2) control, no further description Participants: mother and infant pairs. Mothers’ age unreported, child age 18-36 months, sex unreported. Recruitment: not described. Randomised n = 45 (23 NLP/22 control).

Completed n = 37. Analysed: children n = 27, mothers n = 37 (10 NLP/27 control)

NLP interventionist training: not described. NLP intervention: arm 1) not described beyond ‘NLP’, 15 sessions over 1 year Child development (Bayley scale). Home environment variation (Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment [HOME] questionnaire). Maternal Mental Health (Self Report Questionnaire) Between Groups: Non-significant trend towards improvement in the HOME environment [P= 0.09). Variations in child mental development (OR 1.21, 95% Cl = 0.0 to 23.08, P= 0.669). Maternal mental health: P= 0.26.
Stipancic etaP Croatia Psychological difficulties Design: RCT waiting list controlled trial alternately allocated. Setting: private psychotherapy practice. Assessments: arm 1] baseline, post-treatment and 5 months post-treatment. Arm 2] baseline, 3 months. Groups: arm 1] NLP psychotherapy, arm 2]

Wait list control

Participants: self-referred for psychological difficulties to ‘reduced rate’ psychotherapy: 79% female <21 years = 9%; 21-Д0years = 59% >Д0 years = 31 %. Married 2Д%; employed 56%; college educated or higher 100%. Recruitment: multiple methods. Alternately allocated n= 106 (5Д int/52 wait list)

Number completed not reported. Analysed n = 5Д in int group.

Control group analyses not reported.

NLP interventionist training: Seven psychotherapists trained to NLP master practitioner level. NLP intervention: individual neurolinguistic psychotherapy (NLPt). Weekly x 60 min sessions. Mean n = 20 (range 5-65). Baseline/screening structured clinical interviews for DSM-IV Personality Disorders. Croatian scale of Quality of Life Between groups: AN OVA test found NLP arm resulted in QOL improvement and decreased clinical symptoms (F = 8.11Д, P= 0.000). Within group findings at 5 months found improvement in intervention compared to baseline (F=3.672, P= 0.019. A small significant interaction was found between number of sessions and size of improvement.
Sorensen etal22 Denmark Weight maintenance Design: RCT. Setting: weight loss clinic. Assessment: baseline pre randomisation, post intervention and at 2 and 3 years. Groups: arm 1] NLP therapy, arm 2] a course in gourmet cookery Participants: overweright or obese adults aged 25-55years. Recruitment:

At weight loss clinic following >8% weight loss during 12-week programme.

Number in study: randomised n = Д8 (23 to NLP, 25 cookery); completed n = Д1 (17 NLP,

2Д cookery); analysed at 3 years n= ЗД (16 NLP, 18 cookery)

NLP interventionist training: experienced NLP practitioner (certified by Danish NLP institute). NLP intervention: NLP course arm 1)10 sessions over 5 months, arm 2) 10 sessions over 5 months Fasting weight in light clothes to nearest 0.1 kg on digital

scales

Between groups: during the 5 months of treatment, there was no significant difference observed between groups for additional weight lost: NLP: -1.8kg versus cookery course: -0.2kg (ANCOVA, NS). After 3 years 57% in the NLP group and 50% in the cookery group had maintained a part of their initial weight loss. There was no significant difference observed between groups (ANCOVA)
Simpson and Dryden23 UK

Panic Disorder

Design: equivalence randomised trial. Setting not reported. Assessments: screening, baseline post randomisation, immediately at intervention completion and 4 weeks post completion. Groups: Arm 1] REBT, arm 2] VKD (NLP arm] Participants: adults meeting DSM-IV criteria for panic disorder age range 23-65 years. Recruited via media advert. Randomised n = 22, completed n = 18,

(12 females/6 males] nine in each arm. Mean duration = 9.52years. Follow-up numbers

NLP interventionist: trained hypnotherapist (registered with UK Council for Psychotherapists as a hyp no-psychotherapist]

NLP Intervention: VKD also known as Fast Phobia technique. Four sessions at weekly intervals

Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS] Agoraphobic Cognitions Questionnaire (ACQ)

Panic Attack Symptoms Questionnaire (PASQ) Global Panic Rating (GPR)

Between groups: 4 week follow-up – no between group differences: HADS depression: F = 0.106,

P= 0.749 HADS anxiety: F = 0.003, P= 0.96;

ACQ: F = 0.374, P= 0.549; PASQ: F = 0.659, P= 0.429; GPR: F = 3.586, P= 0.076. There was a greater change in the pre-post scores for the VKD arm as follows pre- post intervention: GPR 18.78 reduced to 4.78; PASQ 74.78 reduced to 30.67; ACQ 2.37 reduced to 1.48; HADS anxiety 15.56 reduced to 7.11; HADS depression 9.67 reduced to 4.89

Pre-Post Study Design (uncontrolled)
Einspruch and

Forman24

US

Phobia

Design: pre-post design. Setting: phobia and anxiety outpatient clinic. Assessment: baseline and 8 weeks Participants: people with simple or multiple phobias. Mean age 44 years. Male 29%. Mostly college educated. Recruitment: not reported. Baseline and number completed not reported. Analysed n = 48: group, /7 = 31, individual л=17. NB: Reports only those who completed both baseline and follow-up assessments NLP Interventionist training: not reported. NLP intervention: group or individual intervention according to assessed need. Individual: mean 2.8sessions per person. Duration not stated. Group: weekly 2-hour sessions for 8 weeks plus three one-to-one sessions Mark’s Phobia questionnaire and Beck Depression Inventory 16/17 individual participants and 27/29 group participants reported reduced phobia severity at follow-up (both P= <0.01]. Group participants reported statistically significant improvements in depression scores (M=3.26; t= 5.18, P= <0.001], 27/29 reported reduced severity.
Timpany25 New Zealand Morning sickness in pregnancy Design: pre-post. Setting: therapist office. Baseline and follow-up assessment. Follow-uptime unreported Participants: women with moderate to severe morning sickness. Recruitment: press advert. Baseline /7=12, completed /7=12 analysed /7=12. Single 2-hour session NLP interventionist training: NLP trainer. NLP intervention: combination of NLP time line therapy, well-formed outcomes/ goal setting and hypnotherapy Percentage of time feeling nauseous. Number of vomiting episodes per day. Stress (unreported measure] 50% of women felt a significant reduction in symptoms in the week after the session. Four women went from feeling nauseous 100% of the time to 20% of the time and two women from 100% to 40%. 5/8 women who had been vomiting noted improvement
Konefal and Duncan26 Denmark Social anxiety Design: pre-post. Setting: residential training course. Assessment: baseline (TO), post intervention (T1 ] and 6 months (T2) Participants: people with self-reported social anxiety. 15 male and 13 female], aged 20-60years. Recruitment not reported.

Baseline 28, completed = not reported, analysed n = 23

NLP interventionist training: not stated NLP intervention: 15 skills and techniques detailed. Residential 21-day programme Liebowitz Social Phobia Scale Social anxiety fear TO M = 20.3 (SE 1.8); T1 M =12.9 (SE2.0); not reported, analysed л = 23Т2 M = 12.4 (SE1.7). Fear avoidance TO = 20.1 (SE1.7), T1 =145 (SE2.2), T2 = 14.0 (SE2.2). These findings were statistically different from TO to T1 (P<0.001), but not statistically significant from T1 to T2
Gray27

US

Substance misuse

Design: pre-post. Setting: community.

Assessments: baseline and 16 weeks

Participants: substances mis-users. Recruitment: compulsory attendance, through criminal justice system. Baseline n = 127 of which 99 described as valid cases. Completed n = 80, analysed n= 99 NLP interventionist training: not stated. NLP intervention: visualisation, anchoring, well-formed outcomes 2-hour weekly group session and two one-on-one sessions over 16 weeks Urinalysis for illegal substances Non-significant difference between completers and non-completers. Abstinence after programme: completers = 55%; non-completers: 16%
Big ley eta l28 UK

Claustrophobic patients undergoing MRI

Design: pre-post.

Setting: NFIS radiography department.

Assessment: on day of NLP session and follow up on day of MRI priorto scan. Time lag unreported

Participants: patients who had previously failed to undergo MRI. 24 males/26 females.

Median age 52 years (range 17-75] Recruitment: NHS radiography department. Baseline n = 50, completed n = 50, analysed n = 50

NLP interventionist training: MRI radiographerwith NLP practitioner training. NLP intervention: Clare’s fast phobia cure’: collapsing anchor, stacked anchor. Single session of 1 hour duration Successfully completed MRI. Anxiety measured by adapted Spielberger’s State-Trait Anxiety Inventory 38 patients (76%) successfully completed MRI. A further nine (18%) went into the scanner but image was of insufficient quality. Anxiety scores significantly reduced after NLP in all participants, but no statistical difference between those completing MRI or not [P= 0.172]. Cost saving of £319 per MRI examination of MRI with NLP vs MRI under general anaesthetic
NLP = neurolinguistic programming. OR = odds ratio. RCT = randomised controlled trial. REBT = rational emotive behaviour therapy. VKD = visual kinaesthetic dissociation.

 

Figure 1. Flowchart of identified studies.

 

Funding

NHS Coventry commissioned the research and had representation on the steering group. The researchers had independence from the funders in the design and execution of the study. The study was sponsored by University of Warwick who had a research governance role in relation to the study.

Ethical approval

None required.

Provenance

Freely submitted; externally peer reviewed.

Competing interests

The authors have declared no competing interests.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the many NLP practitioners who, in person and online, helped us develop an understanding of NLP and directed us to possible sources of evidence.

Discuss this article

Contribute and read comments about this article on the Discussion Forum: http://www.rcgp.org.uk/bjgp-discuss

 

 

 

RESULTS

Available evidence

A total of 1459 citations were retrieved using the search strategy. Of these, 93 titles were potentially relevant (Figure 1). Abstracts were obtained and screened and 41 full text papers reviewed. Of the initial 93 citations, the majority were excluded as they were descriptive in nature, were not NLP interventions or they involved only healthy populations. In total, 10 studies were identified meeting the inclusion criteria (Table 1). Due to the small number of studies identified and heterogeneity (in research design, populations, NLP interventions, and assessed outcomes), statistical analysis was not appropriate and a narrative synthesis of the evidence was undertaken. Nine studies were published in peer-reviewed journals and one was identified online.

Characteristics of included studies:

Five studies were randomised controlled trials (RCTs)19-23 and five were observational/ pre-post test studies.24-28 These were conducted in the US,3 Denmark,2 UK,2 Croatia, Brazil, and New Zealand. Targeted health conditions include various anxiety disorders,6 weight maintenance, morning sickness, substance misuse, and claustrophobia during MRI. The five RCTs targeted anxiety disorders,3 maternal anxiety/child development and weight maintenance. Two used NLP interventions versus a no-intervention control arm and three compared NLP to an active intervention. Within the five RCTs, follow-up occurred immediately following a single session treatment, at 1 month, 5 months, 9 months and 3 years.

Within the 10 included studies participants were recruited broadly from childcare, criminal justice, and public and private healthcare facilities, higher education and the press. Demographic data about participants was poorly reported with eight studies reporting some data on sex. Two of these studies specifically recruited women only and the six remaining reported data indicating that overall 64% of study participants were female. Six studies reported participant age, albeit inexactly, with a range from 17-75 years and a midrange estimate of approximately 40 years. One of the RCTs21 presented broader socioeconomic data and found participants to be college educated or higher (100%), married (24%), and employed (56%).

Interventions

Delivery of NLP interventions ranged from three studies using a single 1-2 hour session19,25,28 to the remainder offering 4-20 1-2 hour sessions. Duration of intervention was reported by six studies ranging from 4 weeks,23 21 days residential,26 4-5 months22,27 and 12 months.20 One study offered group NLP.24

Six studies described the qualifications and training of the interventionists and these included three clinical psychologists,19 eight psychotherapists,21,23 a certified NLP practitioner22,25 and an NLP practitioner level radiographer.28 These NLP interventionists were all certified to a minimum of NLP practitioner level with two stated as being master practitioner certified.21,25 The interventionist training level was better described in the RCTs. Intervention techniques reported were mixed with six studies19,23,25-28 employing a well- established NLP intervention described in the NLP literature.29,30 Four studies referred generally to ‘NLP techniques’ or ‘NLP behaviour modification’. The observational studies provided greater detail about the interventions employed.

 

Table 2. Assessment of risk of bias

RCTs Adequate

sequence

generation?

Allocation

concealment?

Blinding (of outcome assessors)? Incomplete outcome data addressed? Overall assessment of risk of bias
Krugman et a/19 Unclear Unclear Yes Unclear Uncertain
De Miranda et aP Unclear Unclear Unclear No High
Stipancic et No No Unclear Unclear High
Sorensen et Unclear Unclear Unclear Yes Uncertain
Simpson and No No Unclear Unclear High
Dryden23
Pre-post Reporting External

validity

Internal validity: bias & confounding Power Total score
study designs (10 items) (3 items) (13 items) (1 item) (27 items)
Einspruch and 3 1 2 0 6
Forman24
Timpany25 2 1 2 0 5
Konefal and 6 0 4 0 10
Duncan26
Gray27 2 2 4 0 8
Bigley et al8 8 1 4 0 13
RCT = randomised controlled trial.        

 

Outcomes

Across the 10 studies, 23 measures were used, and 18 outcomes reported. Outcomes were largely aligned to the targeted condition and the most common outcome assessed was anxiety19,23-26,28 with three also measuring quality of life23 and depression.23,24 Validated measures were referenced by seven studies with a further two reporting the outcome was assessed but not how. All psychological outcome measures were different across these eight studies. Only three studies measured objective outcomes, weight,22 successful completion of MRI scan,28 and urinalysis for illegal substances.27 Of the 18 outcomes reported, 11 were self-reported, three were objective measures, two were observed, and two not reported. The two observed measures were from RCTs19,20 and one had a blinded outcome assessor19 and the other was unclear.20 In general the RCTs performed no better than the pre-post studies in terms of reporting of outcomes and the process of their measurement.

Risk of bias

In three of the RCTs, the risk of bias was high with alternate group allocation,21,23 and incomplete outcome data reporting20 (Table 2). In two RCTs the risk of bias was uncertain.19,21 None reported results by intention to treat (ITT) analysis and, although one22 reported undertaking ITT analysis, only the completer analysis was presented. Three RCTs fared better in reporting withdrawals and participants lost to follow-up. In the pre-post study designs, the quality index scores18 ranged from 6-13 (maximum rating is 23 for non RCTs) where low ratings represent poor quality. Only one paper28 scored above the scale mid-point for quality.

NLP effects

Across the five RCTs, NLP was evaluated with undergraduate students, mother and child pairs, weight challenged adults, and emotionally-distressed adults for which the main outcomes were assessed ranging from immediately post-treatment to 3-year follow-up. Main outcomes reported were anxiety (self-report), child development (observed), weight (objective), and quality of life (self-report). Four RCTs reported no significant between group differences in the assessed outcomes with the fifth21 reporting less psychological distress and increased perceived quality of life in the NLP group compared to the waiting list control arm. Three RCTs and five pre-post studies reported within group improvements. Of the three studies measuring objective outcomes, one reported a post-treatment increase in completed MRI scans28 and the other two reported no post-treatment improvement in urinalysis for illegal substances27 or weight maintenance.22

DISCUSSION

Summary

This systematic review demonstrates that there is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health-related outcomes. The study conclusion reflects the limited quantity and quality of NLP research, rather than robust evidence of no effect.

Strengths and limitations

This represents the first well-conducted review investigating the effectiveness of NLP on health-related outcomes. The study has not attempted to define NLP and its many components and techniques and this complicates the interpretation of the evidence. This study took the authors’ word that they were delivering NLP if they said they were and the evidence of levels of training of the interventionist supported this assumption. Some academic investigation into NLP was found in unpublished German language dissertations that the library advised would not be possible to obtain and this represents a possible gap in the evidence. The decision was taken to exclude studies using single NLP techniques. NLP has a lack of consensus surrounding a definition of techniques and mechanism of effect and on an individual technique basis there is overlap with more established and evidence-based psychological techniques. Arguably these could include developing rapport = person-centred counselling; modelling = vicarious learning; eliciting well formed outcomes = goal setting; reframing = cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques; and anchoring = classical conditioning. Inclusion of studies labelled by their authors as NLP and focusing on one of these single NLP techniques would have lead to a misleading observation of the evidence. Publication bias assessment was not formally calculated because only 10 studies were included.18 The scoping reviews around the practice of NLP in physical and mental health conditions suggested it remains a controversial intervention. As only one of the five RCTs showing a positive effect in favour of NLP was found, the authors are less concerned about publication bias. However, it is possible that the controversy surrounding NLP may lead to a publication bias against studies that find a positive effect in favour of NLP.

Risk of bias in the five RCTs was high, or uncertain due to inadequate reporting of methods. It was not possible to determine the risk of bias associated with selective outcome reporting due to the absence of published study protocols. Assessment of the pre-post studies found four scoring lower than the scale midpoint score indicating a high risk of bias.

Implications for research and practice

There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend use of NLP for any individual health outcome. Neither this review, nor the FOI NHS trust data, point strongly to appropriate populations for further research. Use of NLP in specific settings may be vindicated in future, and preliminary data from its use in MRI/claustrophobia may justify a sufficiently powered RCT to clarify its role for these patients. Discussions with NLP key informants identified populations, for example allergy sufferers, who they felt were a strong target population for further NLP-based research. A formal stakeholder consultation with a range of NLP master practitioners would be an important next step for identifying such target populations for research. The strength of evidence for CBT would suggest it as a possible comparison group. The risk of bias assessments point to the need to develop a fully-specified and replicable intervention protocol for evaluation in a sufficiently powered RCT.

 

 

Pilot study using Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) in post-combat PTSD

Lisa Wake and Margaret Leighton

Abstract

Purpose — The purpose of this paper is to determine if neurolinguistic programming (NLP) tools and techniques were effective in alleviating the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in clients from the Military and Emergency Services.

Design/methodology/approach — This project ran at the “Healing the Wounds» charity in Bridgend. All clients were opportunistic, having self-referred to a charity specifically set up to support Veterans from the Armed Forces. In total, 29 clients from an initial cohort of 106 clients provided pre and post data using Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS) and the NLP Wheel of Life scale. Interventions included a range of NLP techniques, addressing self-reported symptoms.

Findings — Differences between DASS scores before and after treatment are very highly significant. t-test analysis infers that these results are indicative of the overall response from the clients in this study.

Research limitations/implications — Limitations of the study include: client group; significant levels of incomplete data for the total study group; therapist effect and therapist training; treatment methodology.

Originality/value — Data suggest that NLP has potential as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety and depression associated with a self-report of PTSD. An observation is proposed that these candidates experience an improvement in their emotional state when NLP is used which is statistically significant (p <0.001) both for overall DASS score averages and also for each of the three DASS categories (Depression, Anxiety and Stress). Stress was the highest scoring category prior to treatment for these clients; the reduction in their stress symptoms contributed most substantially to the overall reduction in average DASS score, indicating an improvement in their emotional state.

Keywords PTSD, DASS, Neurolinguistic programming, NLP, Stress disorders — posttraumatic, Veterans

Paper type Research paper

Introduction

Our aims in publishing this analysis are to open the conversation between interested scientific researchers and clinicians on how best to investigate and develop neurolinguistic programming’s (NLP’s) contribution to the provision of effective therapeutic care for armed forces veterans and other posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sufferers.

The current treatment of choice for PTSD recommended by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (Ehlers et al., 2005; Figley, 2002; Foa et al., 1991,2005). Yet a review conducted by Kar (2011, p. 167) reports that “non response to CBT by PTSD can be as high as 50 per cent». Other therapeutic approaches currently being used to treat PTSD in veterans are Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing and NLP.

A freedom of information request made to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) (Ministry of Defence (MOD), 2013) for data on the numbers of Ex and currently serving forces personnel with PTSD between January 2010 and September 2013 offered the following information:

■             The MOD do not hold data on personnel diagnosed with PTSD.

■             Data were offered of the numbers of personnel disabled and awarded a war pension for PTSD and numbers of personnel offered compensation for PTSD.

■             Current serving personnel data was available for those in receipt of mental health services.

■             Incidence is thought to be 1.8 per 1,000 of serving personnel.

■             “There was a significant increase in the rate of (serving) personnel assessed with PTSD in 2012 compared to 2011. Based on numbers previously published by Defence Statistics, there was an 18 per cent increase in the number of PTSD episodes of care between 2011 (n = 267) and 2012 (n = 316). The inclusion of DMICP as a data source in April 2012 resulted in an increase of 6 per cent (n = 334) in the number of PTSD. Taking both changes into account, there was an overall increase of 25 per cent in 2012 compared to the previous year” (MOD, 2013).

■             “Between 1 January 2010 and 30 June 2013, 294 Armed Forces personnel who were admitted (to) an MOD in-patient facility had no diagnosis recorded at the time of their admission. Therefore, the numbers presented for UK armed forces personnel with PTSD should be regarded as a minimum” (MOD, 2013).

There are at least two UK veteran’s charities (Veterans at Ease, Co. Durham and Healing the Wounds, S. Wales) known to the authors who are consistently using NLP with single diagnosis and co-morbid PTSD. Both charities report seeing clients who have previously tried CBT and gained no symptom alleviation. Each charity also reports therapeutic effect when using NLP One of these has actively participated in collecting data from their client group, the other is working with a US project to develop a study using the reconsolidation of traumatic memories (RTM) protocol. The data reported in this paper is from the former charity based in S. Wales.

NLP

NLP is an applied psychology that facilitates the analysis and reproduction of excellence in a range of clinical and non-clinical settings as demonstrated in these peer-reviewed articles (Bigley et al., 2010; Churches and West-Burnham, 2009; Gray, 2002, 2010; Gray and Liotta, 2012; Juhnke et al., 2008; Muss, 1991; Simpson and Dryden, 2011; Stipancic et al., 2010; Wake, 2008, 2011; Weaver, 2009; Witt, 2003, 2008). It is a way of modelling exceptional and resourceful behaviours, making these transferrable to others, and of changing un-useful or pathological behaviours. NLP methodology offers a systematic approach to the observation, analysis and replication of behaviour. It provides specific assumptions about the nature of behaviour and its organisation that allow for the construction of testable models of behaviour. Like behaviourism and cognitive psychology it provides no consistent theory of personality but rather focuses on the description of behaviour from the perspective of the client’s subjective experience. Between the initial observation of the behaviour and the final outcome (be that a model, procedure or technique), it produces a series of successive approximations of the behaviour under study which upon refinement yield a testable model or technique for replicating or altering that behaviour (Wake et al., 2013).

NLP has been the subject of considerable criticism in academic and clinical psychology departments for the lack of robust clinical evidence. A recent systematic review by Sturt et al. (2012) used a freedom of information act request to NHS organisations to identify spending on NLP training or services over a three-year period. Sturt’s review identified ten experimental studies, five of which were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and five were pre-post studies. Four RCT’s reported no significance between groups and the fifth reported favourably for the NLP group. Three RCTs and five pre-post studies reported within group improvements. Of these papers only one study scored high for research quality, with the remainder having poor or medium quality. The study concluded that “There is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health related outcomes. This conclusion reflects the limited quantity and quality of NLP research, rather than robust evidence of no effect” (Sturt et al., 2012, p. 757).

Wake et al. (2013) present a reasoned and evidenced argument for the clinical effectiveness of NLP, bringing together 14 clinicians, researchers, psychologists and psychiatrists as contributors to this publication. The publication presents B, C and some D level studies of NLP techniques in the treatment of phobias anxiety, PTSD, depression and addictions, alongside a supported commentary of other therapeutic applications.

Subsequent to the publication of this book, the first research grant funding has been allocated to a US pilot study investigating the effectiveness of the RTM protocol (Gray and Liotta, 2012) with US veterans experiencing PTSD (www.nlprandr.org).

Methods

The aims of the study were:

  1. to assess the emotional state of a group of armed forces veterans suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression that were concurrent with a self-report of PTSD as a result of experiences encountered during active service;
  2. to monitor the effectiveness of NLP-based interventions in alleviating the symptoms associated with their condition; and
  3. suggest improvement in the design of ongoing research on the effectiveness of NLP in therapeutic contexts.

This project ran at the “Healing the Wounds” charity in Bridgend, Wales during 2011 and 2013. All clients were opportunistic, having self-referred to a Charity specifically set up to support Veterans from the Armed Forces. The researchers were invited to evaluate the study data after the study had been commenced and were not involved in the study design, hence this being a historical cohort study. A total of 106 clients were included in the initial study population.

Pre and post data were collected during the client’s visit to the Charity and was available for 36 (33.9 per cent) clients, of which 29 returned full data for all assessment questions, making them suitable for statistical analysis for treatment effect. All remaining clients had incomplete data. Some pre-data were not collected by the Charity because of lack of administration staff, and within the post data sets, some clients did not return their post-assessment forms despite telephone follow-up. Data returns for three months post-treatment was collected either by telephone interview or by interview in person upon clients’ return to the Charity for follow-up.

The following initial assessment data were collected from each client (n = 36). Previous therapeutic treatment (61.1 per cent); prescribed medication (66.6 per cent); drug and/or alcohol intake (58.4 per cent); presenting symptoms (5.5 per cent asymptomatic); number of days treated (50 per cent treated for three days); pre-existing diagnosis of anxiety (47.2 per cent); combat zone (3.65 per cent non-military). Each of these relied on self-report by the client and client’s family if present.

Clients were seen by two people trained to NLP Master Practitioner level. The total training attended by each of the NLP personnel was seven days at practitioner level and both had attended two separate 14 day Master Practitioner courses. All courses attended by the staff were non-clinical and the course leaders were also non-clinical. Neither staff member were veterans nor could it be ascertained if the course leaders were veterans. Both personnel also commenced counselling skills training during the study period.

Ethical considerations

All clients were self-referred into the service. Each client was asked to read and sign a statement of service from the Charity that clearly stated that data were being collected for use in a research study to evaluate the effectiveness of the service. As an historical cohort study, ethical considerations are limited to those implemented by the Charity who informed their clients of the service and the collection of anonymised data for research purposes. All clients accessing the service were offered the right to withdraw from the service and to withdraw from data collection without it impacting on their receipt of the Charity’s services. The researchers have adhered to the ethical principles of anonymity and confidentiality of data.

Interventions

The NLP trained personnel adopted an eclectic approach working with the presenting issue rather than follow a prescribed protocol. Most clients were offered more than one intervention, with no report given of how many times each intervention was used with an individual client.

Interventions consisted of the following tools and techniques:

  1. Time Line Therapy™ (James and Woodsmall, 1988; Hall and Bolstad in Linder-Pelz, 2010) — A technique based on the principles of NLP for releasing negative emotions and revisiting limiting decisions, that directs the client, in a dissociated state, to return to significant past events with “new resources so that negative emotions can be released or limiting decisions revised” (Stedman’s Medical Dictionary) (50 per cent of clients, n – 36).
  2. Drop Through — A process within Time Line Therapy™ that aids the release of emotions from gestalts or clusters of emotionally impactful memories (13.8 per cent).
  3. Perceptual Positions — (Grinder and DeLozier, 1987) A method of viewing an experience through a number of different perspectives. The client is associated into First Position — experiencing an event through our own eyes; Second Position — experiencing something as if we were in the other persons shoes; and Third Position — studying back and perceiving the relationship between ourselves and others from an observers perspective (5.5 per cent).
  4. Parts Integration — A reframing process that recognises that we may have less integrated or less conscious aspects of ourselves that are in conflict with our more conscious self. Parts work derived from the theories of family therapist Satir (1972) and the internalised parts found in Gestalt Therapy (3.6 per cent).
  5. Anchoring — The use of stimulus responses to alter states, derived from the Operant Conditioning Theory of Skinner (1957) (8.3 per cent).
  6. Relaxation — The use of Milton Model Language Patterns to induce a hypnotic state through visualisation (Bandler and Grinder, 1975, 1977) (8.3 per cent).

Assessment tools and methodology

Each client was assessed at entry to the service using a standardised assessment tool — Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS). The DASS has high internal consistency (Lovibond and Lovibond, 1995) and has a set of three self-report scales of levels of Depression, Anxiety and Stress.

The Depression scale assesses dysphoria, hopelessness, devaluation of life, self-depreciation, lack of interest/involvement in life, inability to enjoy life, inertia.

The Anxiety scale assesses autonomic arousal, musculo-skeletal symptoms, situational anxiety and subjective experience of anxious affect.

The Stress scale assesses difficulty in relaxing, nervous arousal, feelings of being upset or agitated.

Additionally each client was asked to complete a self-report assessment using the Wheel of Life (WOL) (McDermott and Jago, 2002). The WOL is a self-assessment procedure from the NLP methodologies repertoire. This method invites the client to focus on their self-perceptions in eight aspects of their lives (business and career, personal development, family and close friends, possessions and adventure, spirituality/personal philosophy, intimate relationships, health and fitness and finances). To make the WOL self-assessment, clients are presented with a pictorial “wheel” whose spokes are labelled with these different life areas. This overlies a Likert scale of concentric circles. Clients are asked to assess how satisfied they are with their values in the contexts of the areas covered in the WOL, e.g. health, relationships, career, family. They are then invited to plot their current location graphically using the Likert scale on this assessment sheet, and “join the dots”.

WOL assessment provides some important differences from the DASS approach:

  1. The client’s awareness is focused into what they are currently able to do, and highlights areas of positive achievement.
  2. The approach is visual, and aside from the category labels themselves, is non-verbal. This absence of direct questions means that the frame of assessment does not intrude into their mental process, allowing their responses to be potentially more non-verbal and therefore better integrated with their feelings.
  3. The graphic form of the wheel presents them with an overview which implies that they can work towards achieving a better balance between the areas of their life. This visual frame operates as an invitation as to the area most relevant to the setting of outcomes and goals.
  4. When the client joins up their points on each category scale, this produces a graphic plot; a “shape” which represent client’s sense of emotional wellbeing. When their scores improve, they plot out and then see this representation of their state of wellness expand. This is an important reinforcement of the progress that they have made in their recovery journey.

Data prior to and after treatment were analysed using a statistical comparison of means. The DASS methodology recommends statistical analysis using Z-scores. The Z-test is a powerful analytical tool for comparing sample means, based on Central Limit Theorem and as such is robust, providing that these contain relatively large numbers of sample observations, usually nominated as 30 or more samples. For smaller data sets, the t-test is applied to compare means. The equation for t is derived from the Z-test, and includes a correction factor which diminishes as the number of samples increases.

Statistical analyses in this study follow the convention of, for data sets of 30 or more observations, using a Z-test, and where <30 observations are available, a t-test is applied — but with one exception. This is the initial comparison of pre-post treatments. These data set (n = 29) are of borderline size for the Z-test, so both Z-test and t-test calculations were made for these data. The results for Z and t, and consequently their p-values, were found to be identical. Since the DASS protocol specifies the Z-test, and the two test results are congruent, the analytical method referred to in the results is the Z-test. Z-tests alone were applied to the WOL data (n = 32). For the comparison of DASS scores for immediately post-treatment and after three months (section iii of the results) and the comparison of DASS and WOL as an assessment tool (section iv), t-tests are applied.

Since these observations are derived from the same candidates before and after treatment, all values of Z and t quoted here refer to calculations for paired data. Values for p are quoted as applicable for a two-tailed test. The two-tailed nature of the Z-test assumes that the difference between means can be in either direction, i.e. either one higher or lower relative to the other.

Results

(i)            Comparing the overall emotional state of clients prior to treatment with their state immediately post-treatment (mean DASS scores)

Initially, the effectiveness of NLP was examined for these clients by comparing DASS assessments pre- and post-treatment. Although the overall number of candidates receiving treatment in this study was much larger, due to the varied capture of assessment data, only 29 returns included complete answers to all 42 DASS questions before and after treatment. These returns were selected for further analysis (Table I).

All of the study candidates with complete pre- and post-treatment records showed a reduction in their DASS totals as a result of treatment (i.e. a positive therapeutic result). This means that the treatment programme resulted in a reduction in negative feelings for these candidates, and consequently an improvement in their emotional state.

 

Table I Z-scores (matched pairs) for DASS comparisons pre- and immediately post-treatment, overall and for separate DASS categories
  Total DASS Depression Anxiety Stress
Z -8.498 -6.271 -6.633 -10.442
p-value <0.001 <0.001 <0.001 <0.001

 

Figure 1 displays the mean DASS scores, which are 87.5 ±11.6 prior to and 24.4 ±9.6 one week after NLP intervention; the error bars highlight the 95 per cent confidence interval of two standard errors around the mean. The result for Z in this comparison, -8.498, is significant (p< 0.001), suggesting that the shift in these clients’ emotional state may have arisen from having received their NLP interventions. However, it does not consider other variables outside of the interventions offered that may have impacted on their emotional state.

(ii)           Comparing the relative levels of depression, anxiety and stress in clients prior to and immediately post-treatment (DASS category data)

Z-scores comparing differences across the DASS categories (depression, anxiety and stress) before and after treatment were significant (p<0.001). This difference was evident across all three DASS symptoms categories, but was most substantially contributed to by the reduction in stress; the initially highest scoring category in pre-treatment data. Figure 2 displays DASS category mean scores before and one week after NLP intervention. Bars show the respective standard error of the mean (95 per cent confidence interval). Actual mean values with data scatter indicated by standard error are for depression, pre-treatment 20.1 ±7.3 falling to 7.2 ±3.4; for anxiety 22.1 ±4.0 falling to 7.1 ±2.9 and for stress the initial mean of 32.2 ±2.5 fell to 10.1 ±3.5. The post-treatment reduction in symptoms ameliorated the between-category skewedness caused by the disproportionately high stress score, returning clients to a more consistent score distribution across the categories.

 

Figure 1 DASS total average scores pre- and immediately post-treatment

Figure 2 Differences in average DASS category scores before and after treatment

 

From the DASS category data (Figure 2), it appears that the overall DASS differences are predominantly due to stress reduction, although reduced anxiety and depression also contribute to the reduction in symptoms. Normal DASS scores (i.e. considered not clinically significant) are Depression 0-4, Anxiety 0-3, Stress 0-7.

These clients’ symptoms fell within an initially “extremely severe” level at commencement of treatment, and moved to borderline “mild/moderate” on completion of therapy.

(iii)          Assessing the effectiveness of treatment over a three month timescale

The overall data for the project included eight candidates’ records that returned complete scores pre- and immediately post-treatment, along with assessments after three months. These data subset (n = 8) are too small to be appropriately analysed using the Z-test, so the t-test for matched pairs was applied to this data. This showed that for this data subset, the mean DASS totals, which were 102.9±31.0 prior to and 13.5±8.3 immediately after treatment, followed the trends seen in the larger data set. The result for t (-6.50, p<0.01) for this comparison was significant. Separating these data into their constituent categories, values of t for depression, anxiety and stress were respectively -3.60, -6.25 and -10.45 (all significant at p<0.01). These results mirror the Z analysis for the larger (n = 29) data set despite the smallness of the sample size. This implies that the data subset provides an appropriately representative sample to use for comparison of the reduction in symptoms immediately after treatment and after three months.

For this calculation, although the overall mean total DASS score increased slightly from that immediately pre-treatment for these clients, the result for t (-3.52) still returned a significant difference (p<0.01; one-tailed test.) Values for t across the categories pre-treatment vs three months post-treatment, were as follows: Depression -2.48, p<0.05; Anxiety -3.97, p<0.01; Stress -3.72, p<0.01.

As for the results pre- and immediately post-treatment, a reduction in symptoms is seen across all three categories for pre- and three months post-treatment. There were no significant differences between the immediately post-treatment results and the later post-treatment results (t = 1.67).

The graph in Figure 3 displays the total average DASS scores for this small data subset. The standard error bars show our 95 per cent confidence interval for the standard error of the mean. These error bars are larger than for the n = 29 data set, reflecting the additional correction which is applied to standard error when the sample data set is small.

Despite the higher relative within-data variability that results from this small size of this data subset, these results suggest that improvements in the candidates’ emotional state were evident immediately after treatment and were still persisting after three months. The error bars show that differences in means one week post-treatment and three months later are not significant. Hence these findings can be regarded as indicating a lasting and sustainable solution for this group of clients over the timescale of this study.

This implies that a subsequent study, providing a larger data set and following candidates’ progress in the short to medium term would also show that the positive effects of treatment, as evidenced by the Z analysis in sections (i) and (ii), are lasting and sustainable.

(iv)          Comparing pre- and immediate post-treatment DASS assessments with WOL pre-post results

The DASS test is a well-researched and well respected industry standard method for assessing emotional state. However, its assessment questions are framed as negatives. The way in which a question is asked sets a frame which directs the type of response which is required.

 

 

NLP methodology frames its approach (and hence phrases its questions) in terms of positive outcomes and goals. Therefore, an NLP practitioner would choose for preference a method of monitoring and assessing the efficacy of treatment which reinforces their clients’ healing process, reinforcing the progress they have made in improving their emotional state.

An additional consideration is that there may be some subtle linguistic differences in the question frames between categories for DASS. Questions of a more specific nature, concerning the numbers of incidents in which particular stress and anxiety behavioural symptoms arise may be easier for clients to perceive and subsequently quantify in terms of an improvement in their emotional state, as compared with more general questioning focusing their awareness into ongoing feelings of malaise and depression.

Analysis of WOL data

A total of 32 candidates had records returning WOL scores prior to and after treatment, of which 19 also returned full pre- and post-treatment DASS assessments, which were included in the earlier Z analysis. The post-WOL assessment was conducted blind to the client’s original assessment.

(a) f-test comparisons for tandem DASS and WOL assessments (19 candidates)

The 19 candidates’ data is suitable for f-tests comparisons of the pre-and post-treatment mean scores for both DASS and WOL assessment methods.

The f-test assesses the significance of the differences in mean score before and after treatment (as does the Z-test). Comparing WOL against the trusted and reliable “standard” of the DASS result for the same candidate set, provides an indication of the efficacy of WOL as an assessment method in this context (Table II).

Both DASS and WOL statistical analyses for the same client subset (n = 19) returned a significant value for f. Prior to f-test analysis, an F-test was used to check that the sample variance was within the parameters required by the f-test (i.e. that the data are normally distributed) (data not shown). The slightly lower f-value for the WOL assessment reflects the lower variance in the WOL scores relative to DASS. Since both methods return a significant difference between means, this difference in score is not relevant to the interpretation here. These t-test results suggest that within the context of this study, the DASS and WOL assessment methods appear comparable as a method for monitoring a client’s emotional state.

 

Table II WOL and DASS results from t-test analysis of the same 19 candidates who completed returns for both assessment methods
  WOL DASS
t 9.49 -7.83
p-value <0.001 <0.001

 

Based on this result, a Z-test analysis was performed of the available WOL data.

(b) Z analysis of WOL mean scores pre- and post-treatment.

The 32 candidates with complete pre- and post-treatment records for WOL provide a suitably sized data set for Z-test analysis.

Analysing the total WOL mean scores for these 32 candidates pre- and post-treatment returned a value for Z of 12.473 (the paired test result is identical) This indicates a significant difference (p<0.001) between clients’ scores before and after treatment. All candidates recorded an improvement across the WOL areas, some returning the maximum possible improvements on this scale (a score of 10) for some categories.

The WOL assessments result in an increase in score when the client’s self-perceptions improve. The post-treatment mean total (55.8) relative to the pre-treatment mean total (25.8) indicates that the NLP treatment programme had a positive effect on these clients’ emotional state.

Discussion

The usable data from the Bridgend study (36 clients from a total of 106 participants) shows a substantial improvement in the emotional state of armed forces self-reporting PTSD as a result of the NLP-based interventions. Overall, after treatment the pooled DASS average score (n = 29) fell from 87.5± 11.6 (2SE) to 24.3±9.5. These differences between DASS scores before and after treatment are significant (p< 0.001) for both overall scores and for each of the category averages.

The t-test analysis of the smaller data set (n = 9) used to compare results after one week and three months post-treatment, shows that improvements persist, at least for the duration of the study period. This difference is significant (p< 0.01) even for this small sample, allowing us to infer that this result is likely indicative of the overall response from clients in this study. DASS data from this trial demonstrate that these clients’ most severe symptoms were encountered in the “stress” category. The authors recognise that considerable variables may and do exist for the clients within this study, and that variables such as medication, other support mechanisms, lifestyle changes, employment status may all have influenced some of the changes seen here. This study does suggest that the NLP intervention may have resulted in substantial improvements in clients’ emotional state across all categories, and particularly in the reduction of stress symptoms. There were no significant differences between these categories averages post-treatment. These findings demonstrate that the NLP approach may be effective at reducing and resolving these armed forces veterans’ symptoms. These treatments may have enabled these capable and resourceful individuals to move closer to recovering their lives and capabilities.

Client outcomes such as these suggest that further studies in this area are warranted, and it is acknowledged that these results are the consequence of a therapeutic process and not a standardised procedure. As such these data are not comparable to a pharmaceutical study, and so we cannot evaluate these findings in the same way. The analysis does not consider therapist effect which is known to influence outcome. The individually tailored nature of the client interventions is appropriate to and a product of the NLP paradigm of patient care. This means that in the present study, we have no standard set of methodologies which were applied to all clients. Nor would it be appropriate in NLP terms to do this.

Implications of the type of intervention and of the study design

This study cannot be compared to other studies with similar client groups, the majority of which use clinical protocols and randomisation. A discussion of the implications of a tailored NLP approach and the limitations of this study are considered here.

(i)            Variability in the clients’ entry behaviour

Overall, the study group showed a high variability in the symptoms they presented, a substantial variation in the length of time suffering these symptoms, and a varied experience of prior treatments and previous or ongoing prescribed medications. This means that each client presented a unique symptoms portfolio from the spectrum of disorders associated with self-reports of PTSD. Slightly under half of the participants had a pre-existing diagnosis of anxiety. Just under two-thirds of these had undergone some form of prior therapeutic treatment. Around half had received or were currently receiving prescribed medications for stress, across a spectrum of pharmaceutical categories. Against this backdrop of client variation, all participants had self-referred to the charity for help. This implies that their common factor is a sense of personal responsibility and determination to seek help in finding a solution to their situation.

(ii)           Between-client variability in the prescription of interventions

The NLP methodology is client-focused, meaning that procedures were selected on a case-bycase basis, and these interventions were drawn from the five techniques described in this paper. A significant consideration for this study is the confounding variable of each practitioner. The choice of intervention was made by each client’s NLP practitioner, and this decision was dependent upon the practitioners’ assessment of the client’s needs and their own expertise. The practitioners in this study drew upon their own judgement and experience, rather than applying any prescriptive protocol for assigning interventions. There is no decision-making matrix currently adopted within the NLP methodologies repertoire, and due to the diverse choice of interventions, the same end results can be attained by different routes.

(iii)          Between-client variability in the scaling of assessment data

DASS is considered an appropriate method for assessing and monitoring the mental health of these clients and is supported by considerable research (see Lovibond and Lovibond, 1995), hence its adoption as an industry standard for assessing the emotional state of clients presenting with trauma symptoms. Research underpinning this method demonstrates that individual clients’ self-ratings are a reliable and internally consistent procedure for assessing a clients’ emotional state (Lovibond and Lovibond, 1995).

Whilst the research implies that for an individual client, their perceptions of the symptoms that DASS assesses are sufficiently consistent before and after treatment, the grading of that scale is personal, and is not incremental. Hence, there is between-client variation inherent to the data captured by the procedure.

The WOL tool from the NLP techniques repertoire has many desirable attributes relevant to clinical application, two of which are pertinent to this study. First, it fosters a more balanced perspective of the client’s life situation (rather than being symptoms focused). Second, the WOL tool works visually and removes language-based leading of the client. This enables the act of self-assessment regarding their current state as a work in progress over which they have choice, and the potential of an improvement in their future possibilities.

Like the DASS assessment, the WOL procedure is prone to the same between-client scaling differences, and so is a subjective measure. Comparing data from the subset of clients (n = 19) for which DASS and WOL scores were both available, a f-test analysis returned a significant difference (p<0.001) for both assessment methods. As with the DASS data, evaluation of the WOL pre- and post-treatment scores using the Z-test (n = 32) showed significant differences in their respective mean scores prior to and after treatment (p<0.01). These results suggest that in the context of this study, DASS and WOL report similar changes over the timescale of the study for these clients. This highlights the possible applications of WOL as a complimentary and therapeutically useful assessment tool for this cohort group.

Limitations of the study

  1. Client group — clients were self-referred in most cases and in many cases had received a clinical diagnosis of either PTSD, or anxiety or depression or a combined diagnosis by clinicians unconnected with the Charity or were self-diagnosed. The Charity did not use any standardised assessment tool, DSM iv or ICD 10 criteria to measure evidence of or level of PTSD. The Charity do not consider themselves a clinical service, neither do they have the skills to conduct a clinical assessment. Clients approaching the charity were made aware that they were not receiving clinical support. Pre-existing psychological conditions were recorded if the client self-reported. All emotional states relied on subjective reports by the client and family where present.
  2. Data — although data from 106 clients was available, complete data to conduct pre and post studies was only available for 29 clients. It could be suggested that only those clients who experienced significant reduction in symptoms returned their data; equally it could be suggested that clients who did not return data were no longer experiencing problems. The potential for responder bias would need to be considered in any future research in this area.
  3. Staff — training attended by the two staff members involved in the study was limited and the content of this training was not shared with the researchers. The researchers had no connection with the Charity other than to provide research support and advice. Competency of personnel was not assessed, neither was their level of clinical supervision or clinical awareness. Both staff members also commenced training in counselling skills during the final weeks of the period of the study, so this may have had a small effect on the latter group of clients. No data are available on the trainers who trained the staff in using NLP methodologies other than the courses being generalist NLP programmes with trainers not listed as psychotherapists or counsellors on any UK public directory. Therapist effect is likely to have had an influence on outcome and is a consideration in this cohort study.
  4. Methodology — the methodology used was varied across clients and was specifically tailored to each client’s self-reported symptoms, with most clients being supported with more than one NLP process. No one client had the same treatment process applied in the same way, with the most frequently used tool, Time Line Therapy™, being offered to 50 per cent of all clients.

Conclusions

Our intention in this paper is to present an evaluation of what the Bridgend study data can tell us, ratherthan proposing that this study can be generalised at this stage. Our analysis highlights the effectiveness of NLP interventions for these clients’ outcomes and suggests that NLP has potential as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of PTSD. We can thus accept the suggestion that these candidates experience a clinically relevant improvement in their emotional state when NLP is used as an intervention.

This improvement in symptoms in those clients for whom there is pre and post data, particularly with regard to stress response provides sufficient indication that further studies are warranted. Taking this investigation forward requires that the methodological and design considerations which we have raised here are addressed in a way which enables future studies of the clinical effectiveness of NLP to be reliable and verifiable.

In reviewing these verification criteria, an obvious means of promoting consistency between practitioners within a trial would be to implement some form of decision matrix as to what type of intervention to use. An NLP methodology is currently being trialled in the US and can be delivered via the RTM protocol (Gray and Liotta, 2012). It is proposed that an RCT is conducted comparing the use of the RTM protocol from NLP with the PTSD protocol from CBT.

The limitations of this study will inform the development of a future study. It is recommended that this study be repeated and addressing the considerable limitations highlighted here. A systematically designed study would provide evidence of the validity or invalidity of the results observed with this cohort.

We wish in future work to develop a programme of clinically relevant research into the applications of NLP. This requires a methodology and assessment procedure which can accommodate a client-focused and personally tailored therapeutic approach. This requires future investigations to pioneer a more robust procedural process that allows for a reliable consistency and comparability between clients and across studies.

Glossary

CBT        Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

DASS      Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale

DMICP    Defence Medical Information Capability Programme

EMDR Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing

MOD       Ministry of Defence

NLP         Neuro-Linguistic Programming

PTSD      Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

RCT        Randomised Control Trial

RTM        Reconsolidation of traumatic memories

WOL Wheel of Life (NLP state self-assessment tool)