Perhaps the greatest strength of NLP is that the techniques are easily grasped. The subject is given training exercises that can be practiced on his or her own. For someone like Tom, who wants to achieve greater self-confidence during public speaking, this is not much of a problem. But in other cases, such as someone who wants to drastically change careers because of dissatisfaction, useful therapies can be much more complex. Some critics question whether the simple steps can help at all in such cases.
The methods on which NLP draws are not new. For example, the "anchoring" Tom did comes from hypnotherapy. Some practitioners are accused of overestimating both the effects and the utility of these exercises. Purveyors who have a superficial outlook tout NLP as a panacea for all kinds of problems. NLP's respected proponents are more selective, of course, but even they have little scientific explanation for why the techniques supposedly work. In contrast to long-standing, proved approaches, such as behavioral or talk therapy, just a few isolated peer-reviewed studies have explored NLP's effectiveness, and these have found evidence only of very limited effects.
It is not as though Grinder and Bandler hadn't tried to give their invention scientific underpinnings 30 years ago. They used then current brain research to explain how their techniques worked. But they started from a number of presuppositions that had not been scientifically validated. For example, the researchers postulated that each individual preferentially uses a certain sensory channel such as vision or hearing. If that were so, each of us would perceive information in a different way, a mechanism for which there is no evidence. But NLP's proponents say the proof is in the pudding. This is usually followed by an invitation to attend an NLP seminar and try the techniques directly.
Many people outside the business community are leery about NLP. It is not uncommon to hear comments such as "It's some sort of mind control, right?" NLP supporters scoff at the notion that the exercises are simply instruments of manipulation. They say the techniques are transparent and that people come to sessions looking for personal change, a situation that cannot be called manipulation in the sense of devious mind control. Interestingly, NLP is gaining ground among physicians who are involved in wellness training, to help them communicate better with their patients and to work more effectively with patient groups with specific ailments, such as asthma.
And what about Tom? Will he become an ardent advocate of NLP? That will probably depend on how his presentation goes. If he aces it, he is likely to seek the services of his coach again for other difficult problems. And then neurolinguistic programming will perhaps become firmly anchored in his brain.
This article was originally published with the title Psychotherapy Lite.