NLP gave me headaches…

 …a learning scientist with a pseudoscience Master Certificate and Practitioner license.

After having spent months researching, reading and participating in NLP seminars, my head is completely spinning with questions and confusion. The reason for this is, since my initial naïve contact with NLP in 2011, which I testify gave me many positive results, which stand until today; I am now approaching NLP in a scientific way. Approaching NLP from a scientific perspective has been very hard for me as I am already biased and I have to go against my own beliefs and arguments.

In case you lose interests, I will tell you now that Neuro Linguistic Programming is classed as pseudoscience. That is to say: it claims to be scientific, and yet has no robust evidence using adequate scientific methodology. However, this assertion is not shared by all. You can find many claimed scientific studies that show supportive and unsupportive results as to the efficacy of NLP and a war of contradictory opinions, beliefs and anecdotes. I have to say: the public are confused about science, not only for the reasons Ben Goldacre states in Bad science blog – ‘’the public are confused about science, for the simple reason that the media is full of grandiose humanities graduates, acting as self-appointed experts and science communicators’’- but also for reasons as John Loannidis raises when he says ‘’there is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false’’.  Pieter Drenth perceptively wrote about the “Growing of anti-intellectualism” in our contemporary society, how it is a menace to science and that the decline of science appreciation is a major concern for the future.

NLP was created by Richard Bandler and Jonh Grindler in the 1970’s and successfully spread around the globe with different levels of intensity depending on the time and place. It is still popular today within corporations, coaching, educational, psychotherapies (NLPt) and even in the military (Richard Bandler jokes that NLP use in the military is illegal so instead they call ‘’official closed eye process’’).

Building from the work of Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson and Fritz Perls, NLP studies the structure of subjective experiences based on overall ‘’operational presupposition’’. It is emphasized as an educational tool where techniques can be used to change behavior. It is important to know that NLP itself is not a therapy. NLP is said to be an attitude of curiosity! And for me, a very expensive course too!

One of most recent skeptical studies by Tomasz Witkowski (2012) – skeptical because the author has his own bias – is the article ‘A review of research finding on neuro-linguistic programming which claims to have conducted a systemic review of the synthesis of empirical studies and concludes that ‘’NLP is ineffective as both as a model explaining human cognition and communication, and as a set of techniques of influence and persuasion’’.

Richard Bandler says of researchers, “they’re not researching what they think they are researching”.

When studying various experiments, with a minimal understanding of NLP and with more critical approach, it became clear to me that the validity of the experiments is, indeed, questionable. Andrew Bradbury, a social psychologist by training, supports the efficacy of NLP. He raises many important arguments – which I also raised in my own mind – criticizing the experiments, which show NLP to be ineffective. It is a pity that he does not analyze the pro-NLP studies, where it is also possible to find the same type of issues regarding method and measure.

Can NLP do any harm, though? Well, that I can’t assure you of. What I know is that many people go to NLP courses for the wrong reasons. It may be that their employer obliges them to go, or they go because they need some sort of help, or even worse because they want to help others (or themselves) by opening a ‘therapeutic clinic’. PLEASE! Remember, we are talking about what is initially only a nine or twenty day course.

Despite, the pseudoscience of NLP, some psychologists seem to like its techniques. Pieter Drenth remarks that ‘the criterion for therapeutic activity is effectiveness, not verity’. We all know today how powerful the placebo effect is. It may cure even somatic diseases. An interesting point is raised in Michael Shermer’s book – The Believing Brain: ‘we can’t help believing’. The human brain finds meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Belief has the power to change the body’s physiology. Explanations and reasons lose momentum according to one’s belief. This is where you can see the placebo effect taking over.

The message delivered in the last NLP seminar by Paul McKenna and Richard Blander (May 2014) was an EXPENSIVE truism; the common sense of ‘’thinking on purpose’’. It emphasized that people have different views and ways to perceive and that we use strategies even to achieve failures. The measurements are the results achieved. In order to avoid or change the results, you need to: think, change strategy and take action. Thus, you may ‘believe’ you will get benefits from NLP, like me, my friends and like Jon Ronson with his phobia (I don’t know if it still stands for him)…of course science may say this is just a placebo effect.

But there now, where did I put those homeopathic pills for my headache?

WHAT? Another pseudoscience?



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