Neuro Linguistic Poppycock – Part 2

arti1The Origins of NLP        
NLP originated in California during the early 1970’s and is certainly a product or at the very least a hangover from the flower power era when all wished to be one with nature and at peace with a nuclear-free tree-hugging world.

The name most often associated with the creation of NLP is Richard Bandler although full credit should also be given to one John Grindler. Bandler is said to have exceptional ability in absorbing other people’s behavioural patterns, so much so that he had an uncanny ability to ‘become’ another person. This is not as uncanny as it appears, Mike Yarwood, Rory Bremner, and John Culshaw can do it too. Grindler also had a talent for “changing his colours without changing himself.”

This they called modelling. It’s what I call method acting. Any drama student knows this and it is quite possible to become another person in a very short time. The great actor Peter Sellers was excellent at it, so much so that he sometimes found it difficult to come out of character, much to the frustration of his wives. Much of NLP seems to be based on the principle of modelling but more on this later.

Bandler himself is not a great advertisement for some of the principles that NLP is supposed to stand for. A heavy smoker and cocaine snorter, attendees at Bandler seminars are likely to be treated to a stream of four letter words and foul language; some fortunate female members of the audience may even be propositioned by the great Maharishi, er… sorry, Bandler himself.

In 1977, Bandler married another NLP devotee, Leslie Cameron. They were married by John Grindler who was also a preacher from the Universal Light Church. Unfortunately the marriage only lasted a year. So much for NLP then. Bandler and Grindler set up the Society of Neuro Linguistic Programming and under the name ‘Meta Publications’ published many of the notable books on NLP.

Other names associated with the NLP movement are the linguist Noam Chomsky, Alfred Korzybski, Carlos Castaneda, Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls, and Milton Erickson, all names to bandy about at parties if you wish to become expert in bluffing your way in NLP. Erickson of course is noted for his work with clinical hypnosis and suggestibility, as well of course as taking three hundred hours to hypnotise one subject, so it comes as no surprise to find his name in there, although I doubt if he would have heard of NLP.

We also find Frank Farrelly, Judith DeLozier, Robert Dilts, and surprise, surprise – Anthony Robbins, literally larger than life at six feet seven inches; famous for lecturing to corporate executives and salesmen whilst wearing red braces, or suspenders as they are rather quaintly called in America, all at thousands of dollars at a time, and of course owning his own island. Robbins uses many of the techniques of NLP in his training seminars. In fact both Bandler and Robbins claim extraordinary results when it comes to turning corporate incompetents into the sharp-shooters and movers and shakers of industry. This claim needs some examination.

Surely anyone attending a seminar on any subject in which they already have an interest will come away having learned something new. Where Robbins and the like score highly is that they are impressive and inspirational speakers. So was Martin Luther King and so was John F. Kennedy. I stop short of including Adolf Hitler at this juncture because that would be rude. People queuing to see Anthony Robbins will experience the same sense of emotional expectancy as those queuing to see their favourite rock star and most will come away having had their expectations fulfilled – the key words being expectation and fulfilment.

The founders of NLP, or in fact anyone who has written a book on it or added even the most superficial incidental to the issue are held in awe as modern day maharishis and revered almost as living gods within the NLP community, especially if they are from America. People travel thousands of miles to listen to their pronouncements which are beyond criticism and are venerated with an almost pious fervour.

In fact the religious zeal with which many of the disciples defend their corner is certainly striking and sometimes downright disturbing. I have frequently found myself confronted by blinkered and irrational dogma when the words I tried to get in edgeways were “yes, of course it works, which is great, but there’s nothing new about it, it’s all based on well known and tried and tested psychology.” At this point the offended party usually goes spontaneously deaf and wanders off to seek out others of their own kind. If only they had done some basic psychology first, they could have saved all that money and got a certificate that actually meant something…
Personal Growth and NLP    

The NLP version of personal growth can be summarised in four easy steps;

  • using your self esteem as a resource
  • keeping your body healthy and fit
  • learning and developing skills
  • increasing spirituality

In the 1930’s, another group of people had very similar ideas to these. They were known as the Nazi Party.

The process of growth is defined in the following 3 easy steps;

  • Present State; I cannot play the violin
  • Desired State; I would like to play the violin
  • Transition State; I will take violin lessons

I know; it’s so obvious when you think about it. But there’s worse to come – this is nothing more than plain re-branding of B. F. Skinner’s three stage training method, which has been applied not just to training but education generally and was around a long time before NLP. Here it is again in case you missed it in the section on The Psychology of Hypnosis;

Define the goal (Terminal Behaviour)
Define the start (Entering Behaviour)
Positively reinforce each step (Increment) in the desired direction while ignoring all other behaviour.

Improving Self Esteem       
According to NLP, adopting a more positive mental attitude means engaging in internal dialogue, in other words, saying “I can do this” instead of “I can’t do this.” Derivative and obvious – much more of this stuff and I’m going to start banging my head against the nearest wall.

It is important that the patient, er, sorry, client, repeats the words over and over again in his/her head in such a way that they can actually hear them. “I am as valuable as other people… I am going to talk to those people on equal terms” and so on. This is unashamedly based on Emile Cue’s repetition therapy of “every day in every way, I am becoming a more and more confident person…” Repetition works because repetition reinforces and that is one of the main reasons there is so much repetition in hypnosis… and now in NLP… The same technique works in the exact same way with confidence, emotional control and an almost endless list of other problems.

In a strikingly similar way, the emotional impact of traumatic events can be reduced by making the subject view the incident remotely, in other words, imagine seeing the event in a distant, detached way. This technique has its roots in Freudian psychoanalysis and hypnosis, not to mention Wolpe’s 1958 work on counter-conditioning therapy.

NLP claims to be effective with an almost limitless list of problems, from weight reduction, to allergies, even to cancer, where the patient imagines the cancer as a snowball which is melting from the heat of the body’s immune system. This form of ‘therapy’ has come in for a great deal of criticism from the medical profession and rightly so. It may be that a handful of people have had their cancer go into remission after this kind of treatment, but there is no proof that it wasn’t as a result of more conventional intervention and it’s well known that some cancers go into remission on their own. Here we are in grave danger of getting into the territory of faith healing as practiced by the Benny Hinns of this world.

NLP practitioners claim that with medical conditions, NLP approaches may include the following;

Reframing; experiencing a condition from a different perspective may help alleviate symptoms, for example, recovering after an operation may provide time to catch up on other things like reading. This used to be known as every cloud has a silver lining.

Sub-modality work; which simply means picturing or visualising yourself getting better and healthier and improving on a daily basis. Again, from the nineteenth century, Emile Cue… “Everyday, in every way, I am getting better and better…” This becomes more powerful when hypnosis is added into the equation.
Programming for control; imagining pain levels on a scale of one to ten and then mentally repositioning the level. Just like the self-hypnosis we were talking about earlier then.
Shifting beliefs; for example, believing you are capable of seeing without glasses. Watch out for that bus!

Using hypnotic trance states; speeding up recovery using suggestion. Yes, but it’s all been done before and Mesmer knew all about it.

Visualisation; the patient creates a mental image of the disease being drawn out of the body. Again we’re back on dangerous ground here… Claims that such therapy has been proved to work must be viewed with a great deal of scepticism and be subject to test before they can be corroborated. Remember, some illnesses get better by themselves and the vast majority of doctors put these results down to nothing more than the patients will to recover. Two thirds of mental problems disappear all on their own anyway after time, due to the human brains own inbuilt capacity for self healing and rationalisation.

Analysis of behaviour patterns; analysing what you do and then substituting other activities that will produce better results; for example you know that drinking two bottles of scotch keeps making you ill so you decide only to drink one bottle. This is all pain and pleasure stuff and yet again it’s based on Watson and Skinner’s Behaviourism which is all to do with the ability to apply principle. There’s a bit of Freudian psychology thrown in for good measure, but according to NLP, pain and pleasure motivates us in everything we do. Of course it does.

There is no doubt that mental preparation, even mental practice can go a long way to enhancing physical performance; notice how Olympic athletes ‘limber-up’ before an event and focus their minds on the task in hand. So far as NLP is concerned, there is really nothing new in this at all. It is merely a matter of focussing the attention and this technique has already proved to lead to greater confidence. The fact of the matter is that some people are naturally better at creative visualisation than others. This is an ability that generally speaking people are born with. Depending on the make-up of the individual it is present in different degrees and although a person’s ability to visualise creatively can certainly be improved with practice, the same problem arises with NLP as it does with hypnosis and other associated procedures – it depends almost entirely on the person’s natural ability to respond to suggestion, that is, the suggestions emanating from their own inner voice or the suggestions of others.

Techniques of NLP

The way NLP is used varies with the individual. This is because, as we have already seen, different people have widely differing thoughts, feelings, behaviour, beliefs and objectives. In NLP-speak, one’s objectives are referred to as Well Formed Outcomes or WFO’s. In plain language, this simply means that new ways of thinking about persistent problems are more likely to produce a better result. This amounts to a healthy dose of common sense and produces a well formed outcome in the same way as a healthy diet produces a well formed turd.

Neurological Levels (or Logical Levels as they are sometimes called, depending on whose book you read) can be neatly organised into a framework of six basic levels;

  • spirituality; why a person does things; what they believe exists beyond themselves
  • identity; who a person thinks they are; their sense of self and personal mission
  • belief; what motivates a person (why they do things)
  • capability; how a person does things, utilizes skills, forms a strategy and follows plans
  • behaviour; what a person does; actions and reactions
  • environment; where and when things happen; opportunities and constraints

In other words, whereas it is possible to adopt this framework and use it as a guide to sorting out your life it does not really add to what we already know, or at least suspect, about how each of us should change for the better or come to grips with our own particular problems, that is of course presuming that we really want to.
One NLP practitioner regaled me with a story about a truly marvellous result (sorry, well formed outcome) she had managed to achieve with a client. This bloke, who was in his mid forties, shared a house with two other blokes who were also in their mid forties. All were moderate drinkers and spent at least ten or twelve hours in the pub each week, enjoyed eating in greasy spoon cafes, going out for curries, visiting the dog track and generally having a laddish good time. He had gone to see her because he felt that he was a bit overweight and needed some advice as to how he could improve this situation. After various lengthy sessions and consultations, taking on board the self improvement strategies that were presented to him, he had not only lost the  ten kilos he wanted to lose, but had moved into his own self contained flat, had stopped drinking so much and was eating food that was much healthier for him. In the process however, he had gradually lost touch with his friends. The end result was that very soon he became unhappy with the way his life had turned out and had started to feel like a bit of a loner. Eventually he gave up his new bohemian lifestyle and rediscovered the happiness of his genuine roots.

This is a true story and highlights the dangers of pseudo-psychology in the hands of an amateur. What stuck in my mind was the self-satisfaction of the practitioner who was very much of the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ mentality and her severe disappointment that eventually he had had the courage to define his own life once again and on his own terms – the life that she had so nearly succeeded in ruining for him. What an arrogant, superior, condescending bitch.

It’s always easier to deal with your problem if someone else, a counsellor, friend, or mentor is looking at it objectively, so long as they are fighting your corner and not theirs. In that respect, it is the same as any of life’s little crises; it’s always easier to see other people’s problems because it is easier to take a more objective view and we often turn to close friends for advice and the majority of the time it is our real friends who give the best advice. They just don’t fill your head with pseudo-scientific gobbledygook and tell you to make an appointment for the same time next week. Ker-ching!

Some Examples of NLP Newspeak   

New Code NLP
New Code NLP is like the old NLP but new and improved, a bit like biological washing powder but with overtones of cult religion. Personal Edits sounds remarkably similar to the Personal Audits so favoured by Scientologists. New Code NLP teaches that by listening to the body, which has its own inborn wisdom, it is possible to obtain excellent information about what is or is not appropriate action to take. In this respect, New Code NLP seems to be based on a more holistic approach. An example of this is, if you feel full, stop eating. This is amazing stuff… or not.

Systemic NLP
Systemic NLP is more concerned with relationships and interactions with other people. Translated – you are much more likely to get a result if you ask in a nice way and remember to smile – just like our mothers used to tell us.

So nothing new about this either it would seem. Most industries train their staff to smile and be polite even when dealing with awkward customers and this is fine as far as it goes but, a two year research programme carried out by the University of Frankfurt am Main has proved beyond any real doubt that when people suppress their true feelings, especially for extended periods of time, this can exert negative consequences to their health. If one is forced to smile at rude customers for too long, the result is stress and this in turn can lead to major health issues. The researchers in Frankfurt go even further; faking happiness leads to burnout, depression and in extreme cases can accelerate the onset of heart disease.

To prove the point, the performance of four thousand staff was assessed at airports, hospitals and call centres. Half the volunteers were told that they must smile and be polite at all times whereas the other half were allowed to answer back rude customers. The tests showed that those who were allowed to express themselves displayed a slightly increased heart rate but those constrained to remain polite found their heart rates noticeably increased at the end of the encounter.

The Meta Model
People do not always spell out exactly what they mean. Sometimes they leave things out or are not able to make their thoughts clear, particularly if they are under stress or tired. This difficulty has been split up by NLP into three failings, known in NLP-speak as, deletion, distortion and generalisation. All human beings fall into these traps, especially, and through no fault of their own, the semi-literate. Not everyone has the ability to make themselves clear every time they open their mouths, particularly when under stress, as we have seen. According to the Meta Model, precise language can be effective to achieve particular results. The best way to achieve clarity is to sit down and discuss exactly what it is you do mean until both sides have a clear understanding about what is actually meant. This can be time consuming but it prevents any misunderstanding and normal people can do this once they put their minds to it. In the real world, it is known as ‘talking’.

The Milton Model
The Milton Model is based upon the language patterns of Milton Erickson, so in theory it should really have been called the Erickson Model, Milton being a bit over-familiar. Some features of the Milton Model are the use of generalisation, ambiguity and indirect language and suggestion. Being non-specific allows a person to use their imagination. Indirect language can be used for persuasiveness and influence. This contradicts the theory behind the Meta Model, which just goes to show how flexible NLP can really be.

Perceptual Positions
Simply put, this means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, being able to see another person’s point of view.

This is the ability to turn a situation to your advantage. For example; “it is raining, I do not like the rain, but the rain will give me the opportunity to check out the new bus system.” Yeah, sure. This has always been otherwise known as making the most of things and as I said earlier, it is just a rehash of the ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ principle.

The famous but now deceased spiritualist Doris Stokes was a true master of reframing. She had never heard of NLP let alone studied it, but she did possess an spine-chilling natural ability to ‘reframe’. Doris was presented with this sort of tricky situation all the time, particularly when she was talking to the dead, or in touch with the other side as she preferred to call it. I saw her in Edinburgh in the early 1980’s. Telling an elderly lady in the audience that her husband had recently died (of course he was dead, otherwise the woman probably wouldn’t have been there) the lady replied that the husband had been dead for nearly thirty years. Totally unruffled, the wily old Doris said that thirty years was in fact very recent in the spirit world. She had the bare faced audacity to tell another lady that although she had been on holiday her late husband would not have enjoyed it very much because the weather had not been very nice. It turned out that the weather had been warm and sunny, but that did not deter Doris, whose rapier-like response was that he would have found it too hot. And finally, I feel unable to move on until I have regaled you with the one about Doris telling a member of her audience that their dear departed had expired as the result of something that was wrong in his brain. In reality, it transpired that his demise was due to a heart attack. “Ah yes love, it was, but it all started up there… now you didn’t know that did you?” God bless her, the devious old fraud.

Sensory Preferences
How people talk and look gives clues as to what sensory channels they are using. This involves careful monitoring of body movement and eye movements. Children do this a lot but usually stop once their mothers have told them that it’s rude to stare. People tend to look up when they are visualising, and down when they are emotionally stressed or telling lies. (I wonder if the police know about this.) If they speak quickly, it may be that they are trying to keep up with rapidly changing mental images. On the other hand it could be that they are speaking quickly because they normally speak quickly or are looking down because they have noticed a stray five pound note on the floor and are hoping you haven’t. Maybe they are speaking rapidly because they have a train to catch and are mindful of the time.

Talking rapidly is just as dependent on their level of literacy and allowances must be made for obvious reasons. To gain a thorough insight into the meaning of one person’s subtle body language takes a long time and the meanings are not quite as universal as one may at first imagine. People who have been married for years still struggle to interpret the body language of their nearest and dearest, so the interpretation of body language is difficult to rely upon. It might be more accurate to offer them a nice cup of tea and then examine the tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. Tea leaf reading (or tasseographic augury) is probably more reliable.

Still, there are those who excel at this sort of thing and they are known as fortune tellers. Sometimes they are called Derren Brown or Doris Stokes. Spiritualists and good old-fashioned flim-flam artists have used the same techniques for centuries. They can spot a sucker a mile away and tailor their approach (sorry, access) to their victim’s perceived needs and expectations before they tell them about the tall, dark stranger. Madame Za Za also excels at it but does it at the end of the pier in Blackpool.

Here again, NLP offers nothing that is new. We have all seen it somewhere before, we just didn’t make the connection. Further proof is in a book published in 1971 called ‘The Chosen Ones – The Psychology of Jury Selection’ by Dr. William J Bryan Jr. M.D., J.D., Ph.D. In his book, Dr. Bryan gives all the examples of the dead giveaway body language so beloved of the NLP enthusiast. Here are just a few examples of the obvious;

Legs twisted or knotted together (as opposed to just crossed) – something to hide;
Finger covering the lips – shush! I don’t want to talk about that;
Hands with fingers interlocked and turned inside out – unconsciously pushing away;
Pushing back in the chair leaning backwards – resistance;
Leaning forward in chair – acceptance;
Covering the mouth with the hand – there’s something else to hide;
Sitting with legs wide open – nothing to hide;
Crossing the arms – resistant;
In a swivel chair, moving from side to side – unconsciously saying no.
In a swivel chair, moving from side to side and nodding at the same time – very definitely no;
In a swivel chair, moving from side to side, nodding at the same time and with arms folded – which part of no don’t you understand?
In a swivel chair, moving from side to side, nodding at the same time, with arms folded and legs tightly crossed and with one hand raised to cover the mouth – do I have to call the police?
In a swivel chair, moving from side to side, nodding at the same time, with arms unfolded and legs wide apart whilst naked – supreme confidence.

This is a matter of exploring the five senses; sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Another label for this is ‘Representational Systems’. For example, think of an elephant. Try to think not only of the size of the elephant, but the feel of its skin, the smell of the elephant house at the zoo, the ear splitting noise it would make if it made that noise that elephants make while it was right next to you, and what it would taste like if it sat on your face. Because of NLP’s abilities to manipulate the senses, otherwise known as using your imagination, NLP can create more, or even less, pleasant experiences.

But hold on a minute! Stage hypnotists have been doing this for a hundred years. Using (sorry, accessing) a subjects imagination can very effectively alter the senses. For example, the sense of taste – making an onion taste like an apple, a mixture of taste and sight in fact, or telling someone there is a horrible smell, or that they can see everyone in the audience with no clothes on! Hypnotherapists have also used the same techniques of visualisation for pain relief, behaviour modification, phobias, et cetera.

This is the word NLP uses to describe the simultaneous experience of more than one sensory process. Oh goody.

Primary System
This is the sense that a person favours over the others, for example, the sense of sight over the sense hearing; your ability to visualise a completed piece of self-assembly furniture over your sense of hearing, particularly when it comes to listening to your wife’s admonition to read the instructions first in order to avoid the inevitable argument that is bound to follow its construction.

Lead Systems
The sense a person is more likely to use as an initial response to a situation. I think there is something burning. Shall I use my sense of smell or shall I listen extremely carefully for a few moments, or perhaps attempt to detect any increase in temperature?

This is the state which exists when two people are getting on well together. People who can get on well together find it easier to share activities, even share silence. Rapport is a state of trust between two people, for example between a hypnotist and the subject, the therapist and the client. Trust is something that has to be earned rather than created artificially by a load of shallow NLP newspeak and confusing claptrap which, rather than engendering trust, is more likely to create wariness.

Pacing is simply a matter of matching another person as they change their behaviour and reactions. Another way of putting it is keeping up with the other person. Advertisers try to persuade us to do this all the time. Advertisers make us feel as if we have to keep up or get left behind. NLP does it. If you’re not up to speed with NLP, you are going to get left behind in the rat race.

This is another word meaning assumption, for example, you presuppose that if you cook a meal for a friend, you assume that they are going to eat it and not turn their nose up at it.  Another example is that you have sampled your friend’s culinary excellence on a previous occasion and after last time, you have a presupposition that you will be going out for a curry instead.

Fast Phobia Cures and Perspective Patterns
Briefly, a positive mental image is superimposed on a negative one in order to re-programme the mind to respond in a more positive way to a situation. Helping patients (sorry clients) put their fears into perspective; for example, a fear of snakes is perfectly rational if you live in the Amazon, but not if you live in the middle of Watford. A good technique, one often used in hypnosis, is to imagine the snake you have always been afraid of as a comic character, complete with red nose. We’re back to Wolpe and desensitisation and counter conditioning therapy.

These methods are also very useful for people recovering from broken relationships. Instead of thinking about the girl you lost as the most beautiful woman you ever knew, it is possible to change the emotional response by referring to her in future as ‘the nutter’ or ‘the control freak’. Paul McKenna demonstrated this technique very well on one of his TV programmes. A jilted lover was finding it difficult to recover from the loss of her one-time boyfriend. “Was there a time when perhaps you didn’t like him so much?” asked the pompous little prick. “Yes, when he put on some weight.” “OK, let’s call him ‘Fatty’” – a perfect example of readjustment of perspective. Well done Baldy!

What all this means is that people can be persuaded to look at their phobias and emotional problems in a detached way, even giving them a humorous slant. This is a blatant rip-off of Watson and Skinner’s Behaviourist school of psychology which dates from the 1930’s.

Mind Mapping
Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any more ridiculous, Mind mapping presents itself as a way of organising your life by making a simple ‘shopping list’ or a ‘to do’ list. It is more of a common sense task than you think! Split the task up into different parts with your goal (sorry, well formed outcome) at the top and a list of things you must do to achieve it.

Accessing cues
Accessing cues is a cute way of watching for movements or gestures that give clues to the mental processes a person is using. For example if a person is imagining a large visual image, they may lean back in their chair as if they are trying to encompass the size of the picture. Or they might just be making themselves more comfortable, or trying to toe the five pound note that you haven’t seen from under the table that they spotted a few paragraphs ago.

Acuity means observing whether a persons breathing has increased or decreased or whether the tone of their voice has changed. Read all of this stuff before in Dr. Bryan’s excellent book and its all part and parcel of the overall picture of the meaning of body language and not original in the slightest.

Analogue Marking
This is quite simply using movements and gestures and so on. For example, pointing, to emphasise a word, intention or feeling. In more traditional psychology terms, it is known as iconic gesturing. Hitler did it a lot. Tony Blair does it a lot. Barristers are discouraged from doing it. Italians do it all the time. People in straightjackets are prevented from doing it.

Use of Metaphor
This simply uses an example or a story to focus the attention in order to change one’s perception of a particular problem. Jesus used metaphors to great effect in the Parables.

Tote models
Pushed as an exploration of complex behaviours, TOTE stands for, Test, Operate, Test, Exit. What this means;

Test; find out what the problem is,
Operate; sort the problem out,
Test; make sure that the cure you have suggested works,
Exit; take the money and run before the client realises that they could have got the same advice from the Dear Jane column in the Daily Mirror for free.

An anchor is the association of a memory with a response, for example hearing a certain piece of music and recalling a particular memory; remembering a certain smell and associating it with a pleasant (or unpleasant) experience. Any one of Pavlov’s dogs would have understood this one.

Anchoring means dealing with situations by way of conditioned responses, for example, you can deal with a problem more effectively by remembering or associating a pleasant experience thereby enabling a person to remain in a positive emotional state. This could be very useful if, whilst you are being mugged you can remember the first time you had sex and remember to hum a happy tune.
Imagining your own voice in your head; imagining that you are talking to yourself. If you do this, better not to do it out loud and better not tell anyone that you hear voices.

Association means (in NLP speak) being immersed in your feelings. If those feelings are happy feelings, then that can be a good thing. It could also mean you are an air-head. If those feelings are unpleasant feelings, maybe it’s time to stop listening to the voices.

Dissociation means being detached from yourself as if you are an observer. Many people such as students have experienced this feeling whilst lying drunk in the gutter in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Observing a persons behaviour (how they look, sound, behave et cetera) and then using these observations as a reference for future observations. This takes a very, very long time as lots of people have the same expressions and ways of behaving for boredom as they do irritation. Calibration is new NLP speak for behavioural psychology, pioneered in the early twentieth century by Watson and Skinner and there’s nothing new about it. In fact, as any first year undergraduate would be able to tell you, psychology is the study of behaviour anyway – this is the very first thing psychology students learn if they take the subject for A level. Calibration is the new fancy word for measuring.

In other types of therapeutic situation, rather that waste time observing, nit picking, measuring, going over the minutiae of people’s lives, it’s often far easier to just ask the patient a straightforward question, something maybe along the lines of, “when did you start to hear these voices?” or “why do you think you hear voices?” This can then be followed up with questions such as “what do the voices say?” and “why do you think the voices told you to invade Iraq?”

Going over every tiny unpleasant event in a client’s life and then trying to match it with the way they feel now is actually ridiculous. This approach has its roots in Freud’s stuff and nonsense. The way an individual feels about their present emotional state is not necessarily linked to the way they felt when they only got a grade 2 instead of the hoped for grade 1 in their maths exam and were worried that they had disappointed their fathers. Mercifully, NLP ignores these vague or imaginary past experiences and concentrates on encouraging clients to look to a more positive future and consequently earns one brownie point.

However, deduct one brownie point for its total lack of originality – humanistic psychology got there first.

I could go on and in even more detail about sub modalities, representational systems, mismatching, complex equivalence, congruence (something to do with triangles I seem to remember) nominalisations and conversational postulates but it would be a waste of trees and frankly, I am getting both bored and irritated by all this facetious hogwash. The real point at issue here is that the more you change the language, the more complex you can make something which was once reasonably simple, the longer it takes to teach and the more money you can charge for it.

In this way, NLP has attempted to fix psychology – except that psychology wasn’t broken in the first place. This newspeak is nothing more than cod psychology and nothing less than a major confidence trick calculated to bamboozle the customer into the bargain. They all think they are learning something marvellous when in fact they are not. Want to find out about the human condition? Read Dickens or Tolstoy or Bronte or better still, go to night school or to college or university. Even easier, read War and Peace – now there’s a study of the human condition – greed, jealousy, ambition, love, hatred, regret, hope, uncertainty, loyalty, despair, hypocrisy, fear, loss, joy, relationships, French people, uppity peasants… and so on – its all in there; but to understand what I mean, you really must read it, but for those who can’t be bothered to read it, it’s also available on BBC DVD and stars the very excellent Anthony Hopkins.

Someone has made a lot of money out of all this premeditated gobbledygook at your expense. Maybe they should have called it Neuro Linguistic Poppycock.

By its very nature, NLP attracts the sort of individual whose teachers told them they would never amount to anything (class clown not being a viable career option). Later in life, having spent years wallowing in their own insecurity, the butt of everyone else’s practical jokes, NLP provides them with the motivation and overwhelming compulsion to finally prove themselves by driving around central London in a Ferrari, where the average speed is eight miles an hour, thus simultaneously negating the argument that the car was bought for its engineering and proving that men who drive Ferraris in cities are terrified of going bald and fearful of being unable to find a mate. “If only everyone would recognise me at the wheel… how they would adore me… please notice me… please..!”

Those who lack the resources to sublimate their ambitions by means of Ferrari can find release by meekly allowing others to advise them how to live their lives in line with bumptious philosophies that are irrelevant even before they are passed on. Maybe Council Estate Man really does have the answer after all – the ability to tell someone else to fuck off with impunity has some merit. It certainly embraces a certain degree of confidence. It’s the rest of us, those whose mothers always told us to be polite that are constrained to suffer the real dilemma. “Say no to drugs? Certainly not; Say, no thank you – there’s no excuse for discourtesy.”

However, I can tell you from experience that telling someone to “fuck off” and meaning it is a thoroughly liberating experience. Apart from the parliamentary system of democracy and the game of football, the expression “fuck off” is Britain’s greatest export. “Fuck off!” Practice it at every opportunity… you’ll feel much better.*

*A word of advice here; try not to wave two fingers in the air at the same time as  saying the words; that spoils the cleanness of the effect and its a hangover from the battle of Agincourt, when the Frogs vowed to cut off the bowstring fingers of all the English archers after the battle. Sadly for the French and against all the odds, things didn’t go as well as they might have done for them – the English won. At the end of the encounter, our plucky longbow-men waved their first two fingers at the retreating French lines in an act of defiance, the spirit of which has been passed down through generations of patriotic Englishmen and is now universally accepted as the sign language equivalent of this internationally recognised two word phrase. The expression is afforded a certain poetic simplicity by its phonetic structure; after a soft start with the sound of the letter f, it quickly reaches a climax as it meets the harsher click of the post-vowel letters ck; finally it tails away with the word off… It’s both lyrical and to the point – expressive and direct, yet with an underlying sense of purpose and resolve.

Being Persuasive and Influential     

Quite apart from a certain amount of manipulation, which we all unconsciously indulge in from time to time, this is a variation on the old ‘how to win friends and influence people’ strategy, and it was around a long, long time before NLP. It works by finding out what motivates the other person and following those patterns to establish credibility and stimulate enthusiasm, not to be confused with simulate enthusiasm, which usually means being false and resorting to insincere flattery.

Verbal messages can be reinforced by non-verbal means such as iconic gestures that are unconscious such as hand gestures. Unconscious iconic gestures are natural and look natural. Rehearsed and therefore conscious gestures are artificial, contrived and look false and insincere. Other than that, you can always use pictures, graphs, pie-charts or a punch in the throat to really drive the point home, that sort of thing. Using metaphor can also increase understanding. “Have you heard the one about the boy who put his finger in the dyke?” has always been one of my firm favourites.

The use of the future tense when having a conversation, for example, “you’re going to find that you will get accustomed to these feelings of success” helps expectancy and helps the client to get used to the idea that he really is going to experience feelings of success.

It is also possible to use the person’s preferred ways of perceiving to enhance your message. For example, some people respond to visual suggestions more than others; some people respond better to advice proffered by a professional than they do the same advice given by say, a relative; some people are more easily influenced by advertising. It’s amazing how many people are influenced by the advice disseminated by the man in the pub and take it to be fact.

A very helpful strategy is to provide evidence that will meet the other person’s requirements. It’s no use just stating a fact and expecting that fact to be accepted by someone else; even the most suggestible need proof that certain statements are true. We have looked at this already in some detail when we talked about how politicians use suggestion.

A great part of NLP is about not just getting on with people but about getting them on your side. You would be staggered to see how similar and therefore not really new at all this aspect of NLP is to Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ which was published in 1953.

In fairness, to NLP we’re back to the old ‘unifying theory of everything’ that NLP is trying to achieve. But in fairness to the ‘unifying theory of everything’ it would be a lot cheaper to go out and buy Dale Carnegie’s book which predates NLP by approximately thirty years, is much easier to understand and makes a lot more sense into the bargain.

In work and business, setting objectives, planning and organising, solving problems and making decisions, managing time and resources, writing letters, memos and interminable reports, making presentations, selling, marketing, coaching and mentoring… dare I go on… there is nothing that cannot be improved by NLP. In my schooldays it was called ‘using your initiative’. With NLP, you still have to use your initiative, but with the obligatory flowery language that accompanies it. I am reminded of W. S. Gilbert’s aesthetic poet, Reginald Bunthorne; “If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me, then what a very singularly deep young man, this deep young man must be!”

When all is reduced to its lowest common denominator, the bottom line is this: there is no substitute for commitment, application and hard work.

In Conclusion

It is difficult on the face of things to see just what it is that distinguishes NLP’s contribution to the development of personal excellence, self-improvement and/or contentment, that is not already offered by a host of existing techniques, therapies and spiritualities. Much of it is derived from Humanistic Psychology. Modelling was pioneered by both B. F. Skinner and Albert Bandura in the 1930’s and has been successfully used as part of the armoury of therapies ever since. In fact the only apparent contribution NLP has made is to couch old, though admittedly tried and tested ideas in jargon that only the members of the cult can understand. The expression ‘old wine in new bottles’ immediately springs to mind. As does the expression ‘smoke and mirrors’.

This is part of the appeal. NLP disciples seem strangely at home with the idea that they have a deeper understanding of the human condition than the rest of us, that they have been raised to a higher plane of sensitivity and, like members of any secret society, are able to converse amongst themselves in a manner that uses lots of big words. These big words and wholly unnecessarily complex phraseology confer a respectability that otherwise would be denied. Over the last three years I have met many NLP practitioners. Most of them have so many issues and emotional problems in their own lives that it’s difficult to see how they can possibly be allowed to treat others. An alarming number of them are just plain odd.

I keep noticing the similarities with western religious hierarchies and NLP. Practitioners and master practitioners, trainers and master trainers abound, in fact if there is one thing that does mark out NLP, it is the importance of the hierarchy imposed upon its adherents together with the levels of attainment of its followers that is so paramount. This desire for attainment is maybe what keeps people coming back for more, ever searching for the holy grail which they are led on to believe will be the secret of universal knowledge. There is always another course to go on, always more detail to learn and seemingly no shortage of money to hand over.

There is no doubt that many of the visualisation techniques and modelling exercises expounded by NLP fanatics do have an effect. The question though is, is this something new or are we back to the old magic of the power of suggestion, conferring authority and credibility on much wished-for personal confidence and self assuredness. If it is, then is it hypnosis without the hypnosis? And if it is hypnosis by another name, then surely it suffers from the same paradox, that is, a bad, if not phoney, name for what is really happening. We’re back where we started; it’s the same dance, just a different tune.

On the face of it, the practice of NLP has all the hallmarks of the Wild West medicine show snake oil salesman with all of the undertones of extracting money from the feeble minded and gullible, people who would otherwise have benefited from a good talking to. But wait a minute, that’s what all therapy is based on, the ability to get someone to get a grip, albeit in the nicest possible way!

The big problem with NLP is that as soon as a client starts to hear all the big words, they are even more certain to feel badly about themselves. Once a therapist, and remember, this is someone that the client desperately wants to trust, starts spouting any portion of pseudo-psychological drivel, they are bound to feel as if there really is something wrong with them. By default, this represents a key negative suggestion and this is a huge mistake. Astonishingly, there is a massive short cut to a cure, sorry, well formed outcome, and the procedure is two-tiered. First, a little bit of reassurance goes a long way. Something along the lines of “there’s actually nothing wrong with you – a lot of people feel like this – now let’s try and put it into perspective” always works wonders. Second, the right positive suggestions will have them up and about again in no time at all.

I am furious with therapists who have their clients come back week after week like some kind of walking cash dispenser. Clients can become therapy junkies. Its up to the therapist to stop this happening. I know this is difficult when there are so many people willing to hand over eighty or a hundred or two hundred quid a time, but really! What can I possibly say to a client next week that I can’t say this week?
The emphasis on imagining a better future and copying the behaviour of those we admire may not be such a bad thing. Good role models (that is, role models who exert a good influence rather than bad), are generally a positive thing and copying behaviour is something we all do as children anyway (some people continue to do it well into adulthood without NLP) so in that respect at least, it’s probably harmless. But harmless does not necessarily mean useful.

Neuro Linguistic Programming is an elegant label for a depressingly small and loosely connected collection of relatively straightforward ideas which all have their roots in well understood psychological techniques (if only they had bothered to look them up), in other people’s work and which predate the 1960’s. By adopting the mnemonic NLP, NLP has itself gained a certain mystique, but remains tragically long on detail and short on adding anything of any real substance to our understanding of the human condition in the way that the study of psychology has over the last one hundred years.

NLP works very well with some people and not so well with others, and this is where it has even more in common with other therapies; it tends to work well with people who are naturally suggestible and who are open to these sorts of fancies anyway. There are those of course who swear that their lives have improved, even dramatically and that’s just fine and dandy, but suggestion and placebo it is.

On closer investigation, it seems that NLP is designed for those who are happier to abdicate responsibility to others in exchange for a small fee before they realise that their lives have not dramatically changed for the better and move on to the next fad. NLP is supposed to give direction but often the result is disappointment and confusion.

As for modelling, people who pretend to be someone they are not are usually shallow. Human beings function better when they have the confidence to be themselves. Furthermore, true talent, whether it is in the field of performance, art, science or business is always a natural gift; it can’t be imitated or synthesised. And trying to make sense of visual clues (accessing) which are so often open to interpretation is no substitute for thorough [verbal] investigation of complex emotional and mental problems by those who know what they are doing.

So as far as NLP is concerned, it might be well to remember that however attractive the packaging, all that glitters is not gold. The difficulty, for those with the insight to be able to cut through the psychobabble, is that all in all, NLP seems to be a collection of something borrowed, nothing new, just the most recent contender in the already over-crowded self-improvement business. Worst of all and in common with a lot of other lifestyle change and so called self-improvement strategies and despite claims to the contrary, rather than celebrating individuality, it preys upon the disempowerment of the individual and that has to be cause for concern. I have spoken to many people in Britain who started in either hypnotherapy or legitimate psychology and most of them refer to the NLP courses they have been on as “utter rubbish.”

It is true that NLP can work minor miracles in exactly the same way as the psychology it actually is, but like many other kinds of therapy it suffers from the disadvantage of being long winded and can take several sessions to achieve a well formed outcome. Again, in concert with other therapies, including psychotherapy, the onus is really on the client and this is one way it scores over hypnosis. In psychotherapy, the client expects that the end result will be that they will feel better about themselves – this is more often than not as a direct result of the client simply being afforded the opportunity to get things off their chest and out into the open as well as the advice and guidance offered by the therapist. With hypnosis, the client always expects the miracle cure. Anyone who goes to see a hypnotherapist expects that they will leave at the end of the session a non-smoker. That is after all, what they are paying for, so the hypnotist has to deliver. If, on the other hand, a client has a session with say a Reiki practitioner or a reflexologist – practices which depend just as much on the placebo effect as hypnosis – they will be more than happy if, by the end of the session, they just feel relaxed, which in turn makes them feel better. The expectations a client has of hypnosis are far higher, yet easy to enough to deliver once you have had some practice and experience.

At the end of the day, the neurologist will ask “how does it work,” while the psychologist will ask “why does it work.” The NLP practitioner will say, “it doesn’t work as well as you want it to – let’s book six sessions.” These days, the stage hypnotist is more likely to ask “does it come with fries?”

Hypnosis offers immediate self-confidence and self-assuredness because of the simple, direct, affirmative and convincing way the suggestions are implanted, utilising the by well known tools of focus of attention and relaxation together with a healthy dollop of good old fashioned bluff.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2013. All rights reserved.