Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is aimed at enhancing the healing process by changing the conscious and subconscious beliefs of patients about themselves, their illnesses, and the world. These limiting beliefs are "reprogrammed" using a variety of techniques drawn from other disciplines including hypnotherapy and psychotherapy.
NLP was originally developed during the early 1970s by linguistics professor John Grinder and psychology and mathematics student Richard Bandler, both of the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Studying the well-known psychotherapist Virginia Satir, the hypnotherapist Milton Erickson, the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, and others whom they considered "charismatic superstars" in their fields, Grinder and Bandler identified psychological, linguistic and behavioral characteristics that they said contributed to the greatness of these individuals. On the other hand, they found that persons experiencing emotional difficulties could be similarly identified by posture, breathing pattern, choice of words, voice tone, eye movements, body language, and other characteristics.
Grinder and Bandler then focused on using these indicators to analyze and alter patterns of thought and behavior.
Popularized by television "infomercial" personality Anthony Robbins and others, NLP was quickly adopted in management and self-improvement circles. During the 1990s, there was growing interest in NLP's healing potential.
Neurolinguistic programming has been used to change the limiting beliefs of patients about their prospects of recovery from a wide variety of medical conditions including Parkinson's disease, AIDS, migraines, arthritis, and cancer. Practitioners claim to be able to cure most phobias in less than one hour, and to help in making lifestyle changes regarding exercise, diet, smoking, etc. NLP has also been used to treat allergies. In other fields, claimed benefits include improved relationships, communication, motivation, and business performance.
In a health-care context, practitioners of neurolinguistic programming first seek to identify the negative attitudes and beliefs with which a client has been "programmed" since birth. This is accomplished by asking questions and observing physical responses such as changes in skin color, muscle tension, etc. Then, a wide variety of techniques is employed to "reprogram" limiting beliefs. For example, clients with chronic illness such as AIDS or cancer might be asked to displace the despair and loss of identity caused by the disease by visualizing themselves in vigorous health. Treatment by NLP practitioners is often of shorter duration than that of other alternative practitioners, but NLP self-help seminars and courses can be quite expensive.
For those who wish to try self-treatment with NLP, a wide variety of books, audio tapes, and videos are available.
NLP is particularly popular in the self-improvement and career-development fields, and some trainers and practitioners have little experience in its use for healing. Practitioners should be specifically asked about this.
Because NLP is intended to enhance the healing process, it should not be used independently of other healing methods. In all cases of serious illness, a physician should be consulted.
NLP is believed to be generally free of harmful side effects.
Research & general acceptance
Although some physicians and mental health practitioners employ principles of neurolinguistic programming, the field is generally considered outside of mainstream medical practice and academic thinking.
Training & certification
Since the originators of NLP parted company more than 20 years ago, a number of schools have been established to offer training and certification. Consumers should be aware that, in some cases, there has been considerable competition and even litigation among individuals and institutions involved in NLP. At the time of publication, there was no umbrella organization covering these institutions or offering uniform standards of training and certification.
Association for NLP. PO Box 78, Stourbridge, UK DY8 2YP. Australian Association of Professional Hypnotherapists and NLP Practitioners, Inc. PO BOX 1526, Southport, Gold Coast, Queensland 4215, Australia. http://www.members.tripod.com/~aaphan/index.html.
International NLP Trainers Association, Ltd. Coombe House, Mill Road, Fareham, Hampshire, UK PO16 0TN. (044) 01489 571171.
Society of Neuro-Lingustic Programming. PO Box 424, Hopatcong, NJ 07843. (201) 770-3600.