Is NLP is pseudo-science? Interestingly, whether you are aware of it or not, many things we consider common sense considered pseudo-scientific. For instance, western medicine assumes that the mind body connection is pseudo-scientific, and therefore is always treated separately. Your psychologist would not engage in dialogue with your medical doctor.
1. 96% of all psychological research focuses on negative emotions or mental illness. It wasn’t wasn’t until the 90s that the concept of happiness was defined and studied. Since then we are seeing studies in empathy, gratitude, love etc. Until all these things are proven, they were in essence, pseudo-scientific.
2. Most psychological research is performed on less than 75 people, usually white, male, college students in affluent countries. Even some of the research both you and I quote can be considered limited in scope at best.
3. Scientific study is often only done on a fraction of people, compared to number of people being trained daily in NLP.
People who need NLP the most, are more likely to push back on it
“NLP is a Pseudo-Science, and discredited.” I find it interesting how people who have never taken (a quality) NLP training can be very passionate about stating this. As if they have a personal gain in proving someone who did do a quality NLP training wrong. Their NLP knowledge that doesn’t come from experience is more valid than your own experience.
It kind of makes me laugh because the people who state this more often than not need to take an NLP training the most. But I know my students sometimes get really worked up about it, as they are passionate about what they learned, but even more so they experienced personal and professional change as a result of their NLP training. It feels to them like someone is ridiculing them for being a fool, as if the lessons they learned and changes they experienced aren’t real.
Ever noticed that the people who want to discredit your experience are those who need NLP the most? Why are tools that were taken from the outliers so scary? The people who are more successful, happier, capable communicators, who are more resilient, have better coping strategies, more capable of changing and reaching goals.
Is NLP a pseudo-science?
It is essential to understand the following when people call NLP a Pseudo-Science:
1. NLP isn’t one tool
It is a collection of tools. That would be a lot of research. If I had to write a master’s thesis about it, I wouldn’t even know where to begin, other than to pick one tiny piece of NLP applied in a very specific context.
2. It never was created to be scientific or therapeutic.
NLP never claimed to be scientific. The prefix “neuro-” isn’t a claim to be scientific either, that’s nonsense.
3. The cost of research.
The millions of dollars required to test NLP scientifically has never been invested by anyone. Scientific study has never been done at a serious level, so it hasn’t failed or succeeded. There have been co-creators and developers of NLP who tried to secure this funding. Though NLP was their lives’ work, they were confident enough about its effectiveness and weren’t afraid of scientific testing. The money just wasn’t secured.
Scientific study is only done if there is return of investment in terms of cost.
4. Can companies who pay for research make money off NLP?
NLP has been costing some companies and people a lot of money (and embarrassment) already, as they did have to spend a lot of money on research for much less effective and easy to learn methodologies.
If NLP were claimed a science, because of scientific testing, it would be a real problem for them. Mainly because no one owns NLP and it cannot be patented by a company, which means investing in research simply won’t bring return on investment to the investor. They are better off in the development of a new drug or protocol no one owns.
5. Vested financial interest in discrediting NLP
The “discrediting” seems to be more propelled by a community that has vested financial interest in discrediting it, and make the accusation that the “only” people who say NLP works are those who are selling it. Out of thousands of students I have trained, the vast majority of them do not literally sell NLP. So that’s nonsense.
6. Psychologists who are not secure in their own methods and abilities
In the UK where NLP is very popular, the psychologists screamed “pseudo-science” to NLP a lot in the past to say it isn’t psychology. Yet now, given the effectiveness of NLP, they want to ban non-psychologists from practicing NLP as it is psychology. They don’t seem to be able to make up their mind.
7. NLP isn’t psychology
NLP never pretended to be psychology, it pretended to be a toolbox for achievement and for you to reach your highest potential. By the way, I have trained many psychologists, psychotherapists, doctors, pain management experts, anesthesiologists, scientists, even people in the neurosciences, and they loved class as much as you did, and apply it in their personal and professional lives.
8. We prefer to study the negative.
Scientific study tends to study anxiety, depression, and all kinds of disorders. They study the mentally ill and people in ill-being. This has never been of interest to the people in NLP.
9. The study of the successful
NLP is a study of successful people as well as those in well-being. It is not about studying brokenness; it is a study about who you want to become. It just wasn’t of interest to the scientific community to research.
10. Studying success and happiness
Until recently, the world of psychology never focused on success or happiness until the birth of Positive Psychology. The corporate world had interest funding Positive Psychology, as it was proven that happiness brings success (and more money), and some mysterious secret benefactor that approved the initial studies to help define and measure happiness. I’m sure you can guess what has happened over the last 5 years? The positive psychologists are discovering what they call “positive interventions,” which interestingly looks a lot like NLP. They already “discovered” things like rapport, future pacing, effective goal setting, different perceptual positions, shifting from negative to positive emotions, etc. All the things that NLP trainers have been teaching for decades.
11. Faulty research into eye accessing.
One small i study has been done on eye accessing. Sadly, as an NLP trainer, I can tell in the empirical evidence gathering and validation process that they unfortunately used an abysmal knowledge of NLP, as well as faulty reasoning and application. Which says more about the NLP practitioners conducting the experiment, rather than NLP. More about that later. But that’s it. This is the study that people heard about or have a very vague awareness of when they say “hasn’t NLP been discredited?” As an NLP practitioner, you are probably chuckling right now, as this is such a tiny piece of NLP. Maybe a 30-60-minute part of an entire NLP training, at best (not counting TOTE). There are a few other silly studies out there, but the reason why I am not mentioning them is because they really have not been conducted on any serious scientific scale to be taken seriously as science.
12. NLP has been tested in practical environments.
NLP as a whole has been tested in school districts in the UK and in Switzerland. Both these trials were held independently of each other, where in some districts the teachers were NLP trained, and in others they weren’t (the control group). They measured the performance and happiness of the children. It turned out that the NLP trained teachers had much better results.
13. People make NLP more than it actually is.
I think some skeptics make NLP more than it is. There are really no magic potions or weird out of the box things happening. No chanting, I promise! It really isn’t that far-fetched. They are simply just tools that master communicators and motivators already use, people with the ability to shift the programming of their brain or someone else’s. In fact, the students who are talented in communication, motivation, or shifting the brains of others already apply a lot of the tools without even knowing it. Think about any of the perceptual positions, the concept of future pacing, 4-tupling, meta-model, nominalizations of the Milton model. Is it really mumbo jumbo?
14. What is more far-fetched?
What is more far-fetched? This, or the fact that some people believe the only way for people to become happy in the future is by talking in detail about and re-living a negative past? Or by taking an anti-depressant drug that has only been proven to be 2% more effective than the placebo and doesn’t actually cure depression, as this medication doesn’t exist, merely masking the symptoms.
15. The definition of happiness.
Happiness has been defined by scientists as:
– Positive emotions
– Flow & engagement
– (Positive) relationships
– Meaning & purpose
– Achievement and accomplishment
16. Practical evidence of many NLP trainings and students of NLP
I don’t know how many people have been NLP trained all over the world and experienced personal and professional benefits as a result. These people went out into the world using the same tools and achieved success with people who never trained in NLP. Are all these people crazy?
Is the person critiquing more of a high flyer than the many top executives, top athletes, famous motivational speakers, well-known entertainers, people from all walks of life that have taken and benefited from NLP? I can tell you from experience I trained politicians you may know in NLP, people who design tactical missions keeping us safe, those who are responsible for fixing PTSD in returning soldiers from war, performers who sell-out stadiums but had their stage fright resolved, people who needed to learn how to negotiate guns for life, very well-known coaches who motivate and inspire, heads of very large companies whose products we covet, authors of the books you may have bought, etc.
18. Most things aren’t science.
Many people experience great joys, and even life-changing thoughts watching a particular movie, or by reading a book. These books or movies aren’t scientific either. Many things aren’t scientific that teach us how to be better communicators, teachers, parents, coaches. Just because something isn’t scientific doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to be life-changing.
Resources: is NLP a pseudo-science?
How to Do the Work: Recognise Your Patterns, Heal From Your Past and Create Your Self – Dr. Nicole Lapera (the holistic psychologist.)
Next week, a second article about the question “Is NLP a pseudo-science?”