Neuro-linguistic programming is a way of changing someone’s thoughts and behaviors to help achieve desired outcomes for them.
The popularity of neuro-linguistic programming or NLP has become widespread since it started in the 1970s. Its uses include treatment of phobias and anxiety disorders and improvement of workplace performance or personal happiness.
This article will explore the theory behind NLP and what evidence there is supporting its practice.
NLP uses perceptual, behavioral, and communication techniques to make it easier for people to change their thoughts and actions.
NLP relies on language processing but should not be confused with natural language processing, which shares the same acronym.
NLP was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who believed it was possible to identify the patterns of thoughts and behaviors of successful individuals and to teach them to others.
Despite a lack of empirical evidence to support it, Bandler and Grinder published two books, The Structure of Magic I and II, and NLP took off. Its popularity was partly due to its versatility in addressing the many diverse issues that people face.
The varying interpretations of NLP make it hard to define. It is founded on the idea that people operate by internal “maps” of the world that they learn through sensory experiences.
NLP tries to detect and modify unconscious biases or limitations of an individual’s map of the world.
NLP is not hypnotherapy. Instead, it operates through the conscious use of language to bring about changes in someone’s thoughts and behavior.
For example, a central feature of NLP is the idea that a person is biased towards one sensory system, known as the preferred representational system or PRS.
Therapists can detect this preference through language. Phrases such as “I see your point” may signal a visual PRS. Or “I hear your point” may signal an auditory PRS.
An NLP practitioner will identify a person’s PRS and base their therapeutic framework around it. The framework could involve rapport-building, information-gathering, and goal-setting with them.
NLP is a broad field of practice. As such, NLP practitioners use many different techniques that include the following: