NLP: Science Or Magic?

Even Life Coaches do dumbass things from time to time. Or it may be more accurate to say, especially Life Coaches (or this one at least) do dumbass things from time to time.

This last week I allowed myself to get drawn into a very heated argument. Initially I jumped in to defend somebody else, but it didn’t take long for everybody to turn on me and it get nasty.

I was accused of being ugly (fair enough),  unethical (I don’t think so),  dishonest (I suppose technically we all lie, but not in this case), a terrible speller (most definitely), an idiot (I was for getting involved), an ass hat (not sure on that one)  somebody that scams my clients and a low life (you can judge on those last two).

Before I go on, I really don’t want anybody mentioning the site in the comments for three reasons.

Firstly, I am not looking for support and don’t want anybody posting there on my behalf. Seriously, don’t.

Secondly, I don’t want to send them the traffic.

Thirdly, if you do think I’m an ass hat then you’re going to have to take a ticket and get inline over there.

One of the other comments I had aimed at me was to do with NLP. The person went on to say that NLP has been proven to be mumbo jumbo.

They are not the exact words, but I’m not going back to check because it’s close enough for the purpose of this post.

The only thing that kind of comment demonstrates, is a fundamental lack of understanding of what NLP is and what it isn’t. And a deep desire to hop aboard any scam bandwagon that just happens to be going past.

NLP (neurolinguistic programming) is a huge umbrella term that covers dozens of different techniques and approaches, some of which are scientifically proven and many of which are not.

In other words, some work independent of the clients belief system and some rely largely, or even entirely, on the clients belief system.

The latter really suggests that that process is no more than a placebo, even if that placebo can be highly effective with some people. And in the final analysis it’s the results for the client that matter the most, right?

What I thought I’d do today is run through a few of the NLP processes and give you my take on whether they’re science or magic. And the word magic is purely a euphemism for the fact that we don’t know how, or even if, they really work at a neural level.

1. Anchoring – Science

You can see me demo anchoring here if you like and it has been scientifically proven to work many times. In fact the whole Pavlov’s Dog experiment was a process of anchoring, or as neuroscientists call it, a conditioned reflex.

Anchoring occurs when you do two unrelated things simultaneously enough times to cause the independent neurons to physically wire themselves together (if you want more on that, check out the brilliant The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge – al)

Neuroscientists use an expression for this and it’s “Neurons that fire together, wire together

The problem with anchoring is that I have seen NLP instructors claim to anchor a state with one gentle touch of a subjects shoulder. Quite bluntly that’s bollocks, what they’re doing is using suggestion the same way as a hypnotherapist or stage magician may do so.

Anchoring works, but unless it’s a very traumatic event, it will probably take you many attempts to set an anchor intentionally. And an ‘anchor’ set using suggestion with a willing guinea pig on stage will probably have gone before the person leaves the room.

2. Eye Accessing Cues – Magic

I think even magic is pushing it with this one, because it’s largely nonsense. There is a belief that you can tell whether somebody is lying by watching the way their eyes move.

This can work under certain circumstances, but it is horribly unreliable and you have to do a lot of benchmarking.

I don’t want want you kneeing your husband in the gonads based on the fact his eyes moved in the wrong direction when you challenged him on coming in late one night. Here is a more in-depth look at eye accessing cues.

3. Reframing – Science

I have talked ad infinitum about reframing or reappraisal as it is also called, because it’s so powerful and I use it on a daily basis.

5 years ago I couldn’t have told you why it works, but if you get my favorite self development book of all time ‘Your Brain At Work’, (al) David Rock does a brilliant job of explaining what is actually happening in your brain when you use reframing.

If you are new here and don’t know what I’m talking about I urge you to check out this post on reframing

4 Six Step Reframe – Magic

This is a John Grinder developed strategy not to be confused with reframing, that’s used to help people change habits. In fact I used to use it sometimes in my early days, but don’t any more because I’ve found methods I prefer.

Basically it involves putting the client in a trance and communicating with their unconscious so that the positive intent behind the negative behavior can be established.

When the positive intent has been established e.g. smoking to relieve stress, then the practitioner can call on the creative part of the unconscious to look for alternate ways of relieving stress.

Then there is a process of evaluation to decide which idea (presuming there is more than one) is best and whether there is any internal dissonance. If not, then the new behavior is implemented.

I have seen this work,  and I have also seen it fail, and that’s what leads me to believe it’s suggestion at work and/or hypnosis.

In some respects it doesn’t matter if the result is the desired one, but I highly doubt this technique would work with somebody that is skeptical to begin with.

5. Fast Phobia Cure – Magic

Now this is brilliant magic because even though I have never seen any research done it on it (if you have please let me know) I have seen it work literally dozens of times and I have used it with clients and helped them remove, or seriously reduce phobias they have had for years.

My first exposure to it was over a decade ago when a psychotherapist used it on my sister to cure a phobia of snakes that was so severe she couldn’t even say the word!

There’s an explanation in this post of the fast phobia cure.

6. Language Patterns – Science

NLP was built on linguistics and the first book The Structure Of Magic was purely about something called the Meta Model..

We know that the use of language can shift peoples thinking because without that knowledge there’d be no such thing as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Every spin doctor and speech writer worth his or her salt knows about the power of language. Especially the flip side of the Meta Model, which is called the Milton Model.

Whereas the Meta Model looks for specificity and really drills down to the deep structure of language which is useful in a therapeutic environment, the Milton Model does the opposite.

That’s why good politicians can make a speech that never really says anything, but everybody agrees with. It’s also what cold readers (clairvoyants) and horoscope writers use to help make them appear plausible.

7. The Swish Pattern – Magic

A bit like the Fast Phobia cure, I have seen this work lots of times, but I have absolutely no idea why. It’s another technique for removing bad behaviors and I use an adapted version of it with clients to good effect every so often.

Here’s a demo of the Swish Pattern if you’d like to know more.

So there you have it. There is definitely some smoke and mirrors with NLP, but there’s also some mind-blowingly powerful stuff that is well worth getting your head round, which is what a lot of therapists are doing as many now train in NLP.

So what do you think, science or magic, or a bit of both?

Photo: “Magicians Hands #1” Courtesy of Robert Neff