Cult of NLP

Last weekend, I attended the International NLP Conference in London.

As a proponent of NLP for over ten years, and a person who practices the techniques as and when appropriate in normal conversation, I was hoping to learn something new, find out where NLP is going and generally meet like-minded people.

I’m afraid I didn’t match any of those criteria. In fact, I found the collective NLP conference to be divisive in its language, separatist in its approach and elitist in its future projection.

Allow me to explain in as few words as possible.

Throughout the weekend, and by various speakers, the language utilised in the talks described NLPers as “not like everyone else because they do NLP”. Fair enough. But by the end of the weekend, this language had hyperbolised to: “you can change the world with your NLP and prevent wars in the Ukraine.” and no, I’m not exaggerating.

In one talk, a speaker effectively aligned NLP to neuroscience as two “disciplines” as though they were equal. Even if you have undertaken a Practitioner training and a Master Practitioner training and repeated them continuously for a number of years, helping to develop the training and embed the learning, as I have, I would argue that you are STILL NOT on par with a Ph.D. neuroscientist. Why? Because there is an infinite amount of difference in the structure and discipline of the learning, the academic rigour and new, improved data continually bombarding the neuroscience field in comparison to the field of NLP. Show me one technique in NLP that has actually changed in 30 years. NLP is a pastiche of applications. None has changed, as far as I can tell.

Another speaker continually used elitist language to describe NLPers as above and beyond the average person by virtue of their NLP training – which could have been the whole two days’ of Coaching Practitioner – and the audience nodded in agreement.

Yet another speaker said, of his coaching method, that it was “…pure NLP. Nothing has been allowed in to contaminate it.”

What does this do to and for the mindset of the audience?

It creates an elitist mentality that perpetuates the illusion that NLP is greater than it really is. If it were great, it would have scientific validity in the field of at least one psychological discipline. It does not. In fact, the first time any scientific validation took place, the new methods and evidence-based techniques branched off and formed the basis for CBT. It’s as Tim Minchin says: if alternative medicine worked, it would simply be called medicine.

The way the NLP community sidesteps the problem of validity is to then refer to the “Art of NLP”. I have no idea what that is, but I suspect it’s a ‘feeling’ that I just don’t get as I don’t believe in it enough…

From a developmental perspective, this language instils a sense of community amongst its cohorts, which you might feel is no big deal. But they belong to a group and thus anyone not in this group is effectively treated as in-groups treat out-groups. What they fundamentally do not understand is that by perpetuating this socialised mindset, they are condemning their cohorts to a life-time of Stage 3 thinking (Kegan; Laske et al). This is not growthful. In fact, it’s very limiting. There is no path to Kegan’s Stage 4, for example, of Self-Authored Mind. More on this on my web site.

What’s the Future of NLP going to look like?

So how do we move forward in the NLP community? In my humble opinion, it is not by creating a collective leadership that effectively disallows any and all actions to scientifically validate NLP under the guise of “keeping it pure”. This limits NLP and sows the seeds of its own destruction, allowing me to predict NLP’s demise within five years.

Instead, NLP should ground itself in scientific research, explain what its techniques are and HOW they work. If this leads to a new discipline, then so be it.

In my own research, I am grounding the use of Meta-Programmes and Thinking Preferences (see Bailey, Dilts, Charvet, Hall etc, all within NLP) in Personal Construct Psychology, Metacognition and to some extent, Trait Psychology, but if we extend this understanding further, we could include Stage Development Psychology and levels of adult development, as per Kegan, Laske and so on. This is ultimately where my own research is going.

So, as we look towards the future of NLP, I would argue that it is wrong to ring-fence it off from the rest of the world simply to ensure those who want to practise the “art of NLP” – still no idea what that is – can feel great about themselves in their limited context, and instead, open it up to include Levels of Adult Development, Constructivism, Metacognition and more, to further understand the HOW of NLP, and more importantly, to ground it in existing and ACCEPTED psychological research if it is to be given the credibility and validation that some of its techniques deserve!

So what has to change if NLP is to remain valid?

The thinking behind NLP!