WARNING: Neurolinguistic programming is potentially harmful pseudoscience

[Note: if I reference this book I will be referencing pages 22-26.]
[Another note: Links are used as a substitute to footnotes; due to that a lot of the time text will hyperlink to the same source as a way to signal which source I used.]

Do you believe me when I say that NLP is so pseudosciencific that they is no standard way of performing it; in fact there’s no fixed definition. Some may say that NLP is essentially the Secret 2.0, and others‘ explanation is just pure technobabble.


Some of the Basics of NLP

There are things about NLP that NLP practitioners generally agree on. They generally believe that a person’s particular sensory modality (I’ll get to what that means later) determine the most effective way of communicating to that person. 

There are five sensory modalities aka NLP Representational Systems:

After deducing what a person’s particular sensory morality via “a person’s dominant modality, or preferred representational system (PRS), is signalled through various behavioural indices, particularly verbal expression and eye movement” is the NLP therapists will then proceed to “use the individual’s PRS [particular represential system] as a foundation to the development of rapport, to facilitate modelling, elicit well formed outcomes and use anchoring (or conditioning) techniques”.

The methods of identifying PRS are false. Eye movement has nothing to do with PRS. Word phrases chosen by patients have nothing to do with PRS. ETC. But if the very methods used to identify PRS are false then what will disprove that a person’s PRS is that person’s most effective way to communicate and learn? Eye movements has nothing to do with whether a person is truthful.

This is all wrong. False as proven by science. Humans do not have a particular learning style as in learning styles do not exist. (Check out his references.)  Learning styles do not determine a student’s skill in their preferred or unpreferred style of learning. Wait, you might think that’s cheating as PRS is different from learning styles? Not really, there is evidence that PRS doesn’t exist. They both proclaim to use the student’s/patient’s hidden strength in one of the senses to boost the student’s/patient’s learning/healing. They even have similar categories. How ironic it is that one disproven method of enhancing learning is accepted and embraced by the mainstream while the other is rejected.

The most effective way of communicating is to reply on an individual’s PRS? There is negative evidence.

Here is another skeptic’s assessment of PRS. Also contains negative results.

And another’s.


It is based on the concept that imitating successful people will lead to success and connecting to the unconscious mind results in fulfillment and accomplishments. Yeah… nah. I found no evidence for either of these things in PubMed.

My opinion of modelling are the same as Martin Parkinson:

It would take too long to give a proper discussion of NLP modelling here. It is sometimes used in a sense in which PRS theory is used to model someone’s expertise. But this sense slides into a sense closer to that of ‘role model’ and it is the looser sense that seems to be most commonly used. This latter sense, as far as I can see, doesn’t amount to much more than the most basic of all human learning methods: copying someone else in such a way that one is in effect pretending to be them. This is done unselfconsciously by children and undoubtedly has its uses for adults; NLP is implicitly claiming that it has found some reliable and systematic method of improving this skill, but I am so far unconvinced. (I prefer acting classes myself, but then my adult dignity does not require the reassurance of obfuscatory jargon and a quasi-corporate setting.)

There is a whole lot of the Basics of NLP I don’t have space to cover in a single blog post so check out Wikipedia’s entry on the methods of NLP. There is too much woo in NLP to be able to debunk in one post.


Clinical Evidence?

Wait what about the positive NLP studies? What about emulating all the studies and then coming to a conclusion? Luckily, scientists have already done that.

The scientists found 1459 citations; of which only 93 were “potentially relevant”. They scanned the 93 titles and found that only 10 were of high quality and suitable enough to be included in the review. AKA they only included the studies the tested the method itself; ignoring the studies that tested the basics of NLP [Note: “the basics of NLP” is a phrase I made up to refer to whether the PRS is logically possible or not based on its hypothesis as detailed in the “The Basics of NLP”] and they also excluded studies of low quality.

The results: “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.” Well… “rather than robust evidence of no effect” is true if you don’t check the prior probability and whether the basics of NLP are true then one may possibly conclude that most of NLP is pretty disproven.

Another analysis conducted in 2010 included 33 studies in its analysis instead of 10; unlike the 2012 review, it included studies that tested the basics of NLP. It concluded that NLP is not supported by scientific evidence.

But what about the anecdotes and testimonials? It worked for me! How dare you question my experience! This is why your experience doesn’t count as evidence. Shocked? Outraged? Here are more reasons why your experience doesn’t count.

The burden of proof is on the NLP supporters. I want at least lots of large single-blinded randomized controlled trails from them if they are to change my mind. Guess what? That is what NLP therapists have to do if they want their NLP therapy to be seen as scientifically supported by scientists. That’s what is not happening.

It is possible to blind both the therapists and patients as demonstrated in this study but it’s very hard to double blind in studies testing therapies. But why would any scientists do ta study? There is no prior probability for NLP. Prior probability is very important. Its foundations aka the basics are either debunked or  unproven.

NLP is mostly pseudoscience. It seems unlikely that NLP will turn out to be true. Testing of the basics of NLP that are not disproven but unproven may scavenge some use out of NLP. It is possible that the unproven aspects of NLP may be reformulated into an effective therapy that excludes the unproven aspects. That is only going to happen if NLP supporters do lots of large single-blinded randomized controlled trails.

For even even more evidence check out Wikipedia’s entry on NLP and the Skeptic’s dictionary. They contain more information on NLP than my blog post.



The theory itself doesn’t actually hold, so you can’t build further theory on it. That said, it promises to get people to do what you want, and it does just that! Even if the theory is rubbish, that you have a theory increases your confidence that what you are doing will work. You then apply the master hack of controlling other humans – confidently demanding they do what you want – and they do what you want. Voila, one self-fulfilling prophecy on the rocks.

Quote from Rationalwiki

NLP is a waste of cash and hope. It also may deny treatment for the suffering who would rather trust alternative medicine than conventional medicine. The promise of therapy lures in and preys on the most vulnerable of society; all for an at best unproven and at worst disproven and possibly dangerous treatment.

A quick google search for “nlp manipulation” and “harms of NLP”  reveals conspiracy theory sites. This concerns me as people harmed by NLP may click on those sites and be sucked in. I will not name those sites as I feel it is too dangerous.

“What I really learned from studying hypnosis and NLP was how to manipulate people – using logical fallacies, confirmation bias, testimonial evidence, Barnum statements, etc. Hypnosis and NLP work a lot like a magic trick – I show you three cards and, before your eyes, the cards transform into three different cards. Of course it’s not really “magic,” as I had six cards in my hand and used sleight-of-hand and misdirection to fool you. ”

A former hypnotherapist with a “Master Practitioner” certification in NLP.

Healing from NLP

The only method of healing from NLP I could think of is to find a evidence-based  clinical psychologist or psychiatrist (that doesn’t believe in NLP) and a kind-hearted one and ask them what to do. I’m no therapist. I don’t know how to do in that sort of situation which is why it is best to ask a professional.


Can NLP help?


While I do not doubt that many people benefit from NLP training sessions, there seem to be several false or questionable assumptions upon which NLP is based. Their beliefs about the unconscious mind, hypnosis and the ability to influence people by appealing directly to the subconscious mind are unsubstantiated. All the scientific evidence which exists on such things indicates that what NLP claims is not true. You cannot learn to “speak directly to the unconscious mind ” as Erickson and NLP claim, except in the most obvious way of using the power of suggestion.

The skeptic’s dictionary.


I found this via this blog.

Sciencebasedmedicine.org for inspiring me.


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