Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) – A Brief Overview

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a psychological approach that learns, analyses, and applies the strategies by reframing the way we think and see the world to achieve personal goals. This article will explore what NLP is and know about its creators, understand the basic theory, if it is scientifically proven, and its effects on the brain.

It can be stated that the belief of NLP advocates is all human actions are positive; if something fails, it is neither a good or bad experience but is useful information that can be used to achieve the goals (Good Therapy).

There are numerous interviews of Richard Bandler, the co-creator of NLP, talking about reframing the way we think to see all experiences as useful information or as an opportunity. Bandler states that he had been studying successful people to understand how they can accomplish targets with the power of positive thinking. That people continuously think or see things from a negative angle and lose the opportunity to find a positive solution.

Such as:

Thought one: “If I am made redundant from my job, I shall have a difficult future, and it is out of my control.”

Thought two “If I am made redundant, this is an opportunity to do something I always wanted to do, and I can make a new start.”

With thought one, a person may use the coach and stop focusing on what might go wrong and develop fear. The fear may withhold the subject from thinking creatively about what to do to turn this adverse situation into a good one.

With thought two, a person may start focusing on what can be done next. The thinking process may enable the subject to be active and reach out to people and start new tasks.

Another example of reframing the thinking process is when we think we are thinking positively, but in reality, we embed fear and anxiety in the subconscious. For example, “Please don’t miss this interview;” by saying such things, we send a message to ourselves that we may mess this up. Here, NLP practitioners say that every negative thought process has a positive intention. If we ask ourselves what it is that we want and work on it from there, we can then work on the positive intention instead of that negative thought. So if the subject asks what is desired from the interview, the subject then can ask what can be done to give the best performance possible. Therefore, the subject will do everything that needs to be done, such as research, demonstrative practice, and send the message to self that they have completed all the tasks to be prepared for the interview; hence, it will be a positive experience. That can help the subject release fear and anxiety, so the performance would be better.

It is possible to think that life is full of negative events. But the belief is that these negative events have positive intentions, so the question can be asked what is it we want and how can we use these negative events to achieve our goals. Therefore, every event can be seen as an opportunity.

It can be stated that the above theory is about changing the way people think. It does not tell us if NLP is affecting the brain. Therefore, despite NLP being immensely successful worldwide, the scientific communities still haven’t accepted NLP as a rational method.

Let’s look at the brief history of NLP:

An American scientist and mathematician Richard Bandler and a linguist John Grinder became interested in making effective changes in people’s lives during the 1970s and observed successful but unorthodox therapists throughout the United States. They studied these therapists were using a certain pattern of a verbal and non-verbal communication system which had profound positive effects, and they monitored that although superficially the therapists used individual models, there were some common denominators in the usage of language patterns in the subconscious level. The scientists refined and tested these patterns on a large number of volunteers. After applying the newly invented approach, there was a dramatic shift in the volunteers’ “approach to life” within a short period. Again, Bandler talks about how people were thinking in the 60s and 70s in a number of interviews on social networks where he states that there was a general understanding that “Changes takes time.”  The volunteers’ new approach to life stood against this traditional concept. The new methodology was named Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Addressing three driving forces of human actions and interactions: Neurology, Communication, and Behaviour. Bandler declared that he came up with the name Neuro-Linguistic Programming on a whim because it sounded good. Therefore, the word Neuro can be misleading as it suggests that it has a neurological approach. Nevertheless, Many NLP practitioners say that NLP changes the way the brain works, but this is not accepted by the scientific communities to this date.

Therefore, it is vital that we continue to explore if NLP techniques make any neurological changes.

According to some practitioners’ explanation, the way a human communicates with self and with others (linguistic, verbal, body language, or sign language) affects the nervous system (Neuro), which then sets up a pattern of behavior (Programming); therefore, these ways of communication can be amended or altered; effective internal processing can result in a rewarding life.

There has not been any scientific research to prove the above yet. There are many different methods practiced by NLP practitioners worldwide, and there is no set method or explanation. According to critics, the above explanation is generalizing, and the evidence found is anecdotal. Therefore, this is not a scientific explanation.

Bandler and Grinder studied psychologists Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson; Their two most influential models are The Meta Model based on Satir and Perls and the renowned Milton Model based on Erickson.

Bandler and Grinder published a book based on the study in 1975, and NLP was developed at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They successfully marketed it, and it has been learned and experienced by over 200,000 people in the USA (Dr. Kotera, Y) and millions worldwide since the 1980s (Good Therapy; William, C; 2012). It has been argued that Bandler and Grinder were focused on creating a profitable theory and knew how to sell it to the world. The fact that so many people have bought the idea makes it even more believable. Cynics say that Brandler and Grinder were students around the time; they came up with the idea, and they advertised NLP as a powerful persuasion technology. Hence, it became a highly profitable business; the main intention was to generate revenue from this idea (Hutton;2017).

Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera, the Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Psychology at the University of Derby, explains that the reason NLP research is scientifically underdeveloped is that there is no established systematic approach or explanations. Each practitioner has a creative tool. However, there are no set criteria for NLP qualification, and the titles for study modules are inconsistent around the globe. There is no supervision process for continuous personal development or regulations to maintain an international standard of teaching, practicing, and learning. Dr. Kotera says that NLP is a useful tool in psychotherapy and has clinical application. NLP offers a quicker intervention and explains, “NLP is an approach to communication and personal development that focuses on how individuals organize their thinking, feelings, and language.

It has been identified a number of explanations available for NLP. As an example, a brief definition of NLP by practitioners:

Neuro: Individuals experience reality differently through the five senses.  Neuro is about the neurological system, based on the idea that we experience the world through our senses and translate sensory information into our thought processes in both conscious and unconscious levels. These thought processes activate the neurological system, and this affects our psychology, emotions, and behavior.

Linguistic (also non-verbal): This is how individuals use language to make sense of the world, capture and conceptualize experiences, and communicate with others based on these experiences. How the individual uses the words influences the experience. These experiences go through five senses visual (images), auditory (sounds), kinaesthetic (touch and internal feelings), gustatory (tastes), and olfactory (smells) senses.  The experience we gather via the five senses is expressed via words, signs, and body language.

Programming: The sensory experiences and internal processing represent a pattern with a specific outcome and behavior pattern affecting the general make-up of the individual life. An individual has personal programming consisting of internal processing of gathered experiences and then forming internal strategies to communicate with the world. This helps to make decisions, evaluate experiences, approaches to learning, solve problems, and get outcomes. (William, C; P: 14-15; 2012)

It can be stated that there is a number of NLP strategies around the world because each internal strategies are unique and needs to be understood by the NLP coach. There are claims that NLP methodology is based on cognitive psychology. Richard Bandler defines NLP as “NLP is an attitude which is an insatiable curiosity about human beings with a methodology that leaves behind it a trail of techniques. “

John Grinder explains, “The strategies, tools, and techniques of NLP represent an opportunity unlike any other for the exploration of human functioning, or more precisely, that rare and valuable subset of human functioning known as genius. “

The above explanations tell that NLP is a powerful tool with a series of methods and techniques. However, it does not mean it is based on neuroscience.

NLP practitioners focus on:

Purpose and Spirituality: Thank to step by step methodology, teaches a sincere desire to live a spiritual life helping the client make positive changes in behaviors, communication, and the ability to solve problems; hence, some practitioners claim that the highest level of changes happens here.

Identity: What are the roles in one’s life?

Beliefs and Values: What matters to the person?

Capabilities & Skills: Individual Capacity.

Behaviors: Specific actions

Environment: The lowest level of change happen here (Good Therapy)

NLP has been applied in a variety of professional grounds in the UK and USA. DWP and independent businesses have hired NLP coaches for people to work productively in job searches and in their designated roles. The UK Council of Psychotherapy accepted NLP in 1990. The NHS embedded NLP training in 2006-2009 and the UK Teachers Training sector trained tutors in NLP in 2003-2016 (Dr. Kotera, Y)

The debate

Despite its success, NLP is still not acknowledged as mainstream psychology, and limited research is available. The British Psychological Society (BPS) does not acknowledge it. It is argued that NLP is simple to learn yet a very powerful tool sold as a brand. Therefore, anyone with or without a specific qualification in psychology and neuroscience can become an NLP practitioner. It is a great business opportunity for charismatic individuals. That Bandler & Grinder didn’t create a new tool, and the title NLP is meaningless but designed to influence people to think it is a scientifically proven method. The ideas are copied from previous practitioners; Richard Bandler was a student at the University of California, and John Grinder was the Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the time they came up with the theories of NLP. Bandler was asked to transcribe sessions by a therapist who wanted to write a book based on the recorded transcriptions. Bandler used these recorded therapy sessions and identified useful language patterns. He then took these patterns to the professor, and they studied how they worked, and this was when NLP was discovered. Copying recorded therapy sessions would be illegal today; however, there was no law in 1960-70, and people were interested in new things in this era. Therefore, it was a huge opportunity for Brandler and Grinder to market it as a teaching tool. Hence, it is argued that it is a method that was copied and mixed with few other things and had no scientific value. Branding is important to market an idea, and NLP is a catchy brand identity (Hutton; 2017).

Therefore, NLP is a collection of techniques that are used by people who naturally use them. Some people are naturally persuasive than others, so it does not help everyone. I.e., when, in 2015, the UK Department of Work and Pension sent the unemployed to NLP training for a positive approach in finding work, users reported that they were made to feel they were responsible for their disposition. It was compulsory to attend the NLP training; the jobseekers expressed that the courses suggested the reason they were unemployed and could not find employment in a set time was because of the way they were communicating, speaking, and seeing the world. That it was not the economic, political, social, and cultural reasons that were making the job sector hard to reach. It was down to them. If they changed their way of approaching the world and vision, they would find suitable employment. The jobseekers felt it was patronizing, and the DWP was detached from the reality (Benefit & Work Guides; 2015).

The British Medical Journal (BMJ), a subsidiary of BPS, condemned it (Benefits & Work Guides; 2015). It is argued that persuasive people such as politicians have always been using NLP without studying it as it is their natural state of character. NLP has a placebo effect because the trainers are persuasive in making the learners believe that positive actions will make them successful, and the learners select outcomes to believe NLP made things possible (Hutton; 2017).

To summarise Dr, Bandler expressed in the public domain that the brand name NLP sounded smart; hence there is no secret agenda. NLP research is underdeveloped, a small number of an academic article is available, and most of the pieces of evidence are non-empirical. NLP governance is weak, and there is no universal regulation in order. NLP certifications have inconsistent criteria, varying study modules, titles, and requirements (Dr. Kotera, Y).

In conclusion, despite NLP’s success, it is not seen as a scientific method. Perhaps an international regulatory body of NLP society, creating strict criteria of NLP study modules underlying a set of universal requirements for the practitioners and equipping of field and academic research on the strategies and effect of NLP on the subjects (clients) will help to generate further academic papers to examine its validity and scientific approaches.


Benefits and Work Guides You Can Trus;; From; 10 June 2015; Accessed on 20 July 2021

Dr. Kotera, Yasuhiro; University of Derby; NLP: Why this therapy has failed to join the mainstream;; from; Accessed on 23 July 2021

Good Therapy;; Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP); from; Accessed on 20 July 2021

Hutton, G; Myths of NLP;; from; 21 October 2017; Accessed on 20 July 2021

The Society of Medical NLP™; from; Accessed on 19 July 2021

Thomson, Garner; Khan, Khalid;  Magic in Practice Introducing Medical NLP: The Art and Science of Language in Healing and Health; Hammersmith Press LTD; 2008)

Williams, Cassi; Transformational NLP; The spiritual approach to harnessing the power of Neuro-Linguistic Programming;  Watkins Publishing; 2012

Shanta Sultana
I have worked for social services encouraging clients to receive training and educational qualifications towards personal development. I studied at Southampton City College and received the “Best Student Achievement Award”. I studied Journalism at the University of East London and did part of my final year with the University of Greenwich. I received the award for “Outstanding Achieving” for writing the best theory for creating a fair society. I focused on social and political issues as a Journalist and wrote about the topics that are affecting the communities in England for three years, especially in health and social care and worked with the politicians. I have worked with the Lambeth community and collected the users’ experience in health care and mental health services for an umbrella organisation of Age UK. I then completed a PGCE/PCET, Teachers training with ESOL, Invisible disabilities, mental health, and the refugee reintegration from the University of Sunderland. My working route was on generating continuous educational opportunities, journals, and media programmes to overcome social and cultural prejudice and division and improve productivity by celebrating differences. I have worked in the mental health department and I work with special needs children and adults. I have published articles and stories in UK and USA and promoted organisations and personalities in Arts and trades in the UK and in South Asian countries.