Is NLP a pseudoscience?
Generally, I tend to ignore any articles that are ‘against’ anything and instead, look for good, forward thinking and trending pieces that enhance my thinking and being.
However, it came to my interest that an article in Wikipedia had some influence in people’s thinking and perceptions, so my intention here is to balance or even expand the ideas put across.
The article in Wikipedia NLP articlestates that “The balance of scientific evidence reveals NLP to be a largely discredited pseudoscience. Scientific reviews show it contains numerous factual errors,and fails to produce the results asserted by Bandler & Grinder”.
Let’s have a look at the structure of the accusing sentence to begin with. “The balance of scientific evidence reveals…” From my training in linguistics via NLP, we were encouraged to challenge any statement, either from a client or any source that was considered a violation of scientific evidence. Therefore if a client says “everyone knows that dyslexia cannot be cured…” I would be asking them what the source of information is and is it really “everyone” (challenging the universal quantifier in their language). What is happening is that an invisible army is being created by using language like “everyone” or “The scientific community”
In the above statement, the writer states “Scientific reviews show…” So my first questions are “which scientific reviews” Or “who says?” In that paragraph, there are four citations.
This one of the citations via Daniel Druckman
“Key findings and conclusions from a landmark study conducted by a National Research Council Committee are discussed. The 12-year study was divided into 4 phases that covered topics of individual, small group, and organizational performance. Concentrating primarily on techniques with strong claims for enhancing performance, the committee found little support for some (e.g., sleep learning, meditation, parapsychological techniques, hypnosis, total quality management) and stronger support for others (e.g., mental practice, expert modeling, cooperative learning, team training, practice to optimize transfer of cognitive and social skills)…..
Notice in the above, NLP is not even mentioned in its name to begin with.
Read an article here about exactly were some of the ‘scientific’ ways NLP was being discredited. Here is one small excerpt.
“(* I have been advised by Dr Druckman that all five members of the subcommittee were involved in the investigation of “NLP” (see below), and each had a hand in writing Chapter 8 of the report, which includes the section on “Neurolinguistic [sic] Programming” (EHPR, pages 138-149). After contacting all of the surviving members of that subcommittee, however, it appears that the precise authorship of the relevant chapter in the EHP report is far from clear. Whilst all five members of the subcommittee were involved in the discussions that took place prior to the preparation of the chapter, no claim is made here that any particular individual on the list, other than the subcommittee Chair, the late Professor Jerome Singer, was an active contributor to the writing of the material reviewed in this article.) Note: The label “NLP” is used to indicate that the text is referring to whatever it was the report writer(s) thought “NLP” was about, as distinct from an accurate representation of the FoNLP (field of NLP.)”
Here is an except from the second citation via C. W. von Bergen:
“Over the years a number of training techniques and procedures have been developed that are not part of the mainstream but are believed by some to have utility for organizations trying to enhance human performance. This article discusses four of these alternative techniques—subliminal self-help, mental imagery and practice, meditation, and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP)—and examines the contributions of each from a scientific perspective. With the exception of mental practice, there is a paucity of data to demonstrate convincingly whether these alternative techniques promote or enhance individual or organizational effectiveness. It is concluded that effective professional practice depends on scientifically derived research results”.
So a conclusion (scientifically of course) has been made from “over the years (what years, how many – come on be scientific) a number of training techniques (which techniques, how many, what were they – please be scientific)…. but are ….believed by some to have utility for organizations trying to enhance human performance…” (which ‘some’? ‘trying’ to enhance human performance???) (which organisations?).
As a qualified scientific statement that sentence is less than a joke. And then “..there is a paucity of data… “ But please which data and where is this research, where was it carried out what was the intention behind the research and WHO did it? When you research (if you can be bothered as some clearly were not) they came from one ‘experiment’ with the US army.
Read here for an article written about the ‘scientific’ data used to formulate their ideas.
The other two citations seem to hang largely on the very same ‘measurements’ made in the above articles. So, to draw a circle around this article – almost ALL the evidence that NLP is not scientific comes from just ONE experiment that used ONE piece of the toolbox (mostly around eye patterns and predicates) of NLP and made conclusions around that. The rest of it is people too lazy to do proper research and then copying and pasting other people’s writing.
Here is my take on NLP. I do not place my faith in anything wholly. There will be parts of everything man made that work and sometimes do not. Yet you have to try them 100% to find out if they work. And – one can not divorce oneself from the experiment itself. How can you discredit a practise if you have not practised it to find out? Better stay silent until you know from empirical practise.
Niels Bohr discovered that his experiments were having an effect on the outcome. That is another article in itself, yet does point to a philosophical argument that you can not stand back and pretend to have an elevated point of view, as you are already playing with the experiment yourself!
“….all understanding of its properties must be rooted in empirical measurement. Bohr’s theory stresses the point that an experiment’s results are deeply affected by the measurement tools used to carry them out”.
I know NLP worked for me because I released a major limiting belief that has been holding me back on the level of career and love. After experiencing the effects of a good practitioner, I did not have those blocks anymore and got instant freedom to go forwards. After that, I have worked successfully with clients on such difficult issues such as asthma, hay fever, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, phobias, panic attacks and then all those limiting beliefs that have been released (but far more difficult to prove scientifically).
But here is where the scientific world is right. Not every NLP Practitioner would have the same result on the same person using the same techniques. That is where art now comes into play.
NLP will give a practitioner the colour palette and canvas to design with. How they mix those colours and use the canvas is not guaranteed. Therefore NLP can not be an absolute science. Or given the technology of how a keyboard works, not every person will be able to play a decent song. Or even teach someone else how to. The only ‘proof’ a person will ever have, is to try something 100% and find out if it works. And not just try, but immerse yourself into it and know what it is.
At that point you can write your article – and also remembering it is your point of view still!
Anton Mesmer was discredited by the scientific community of the time for his ideas on the effectiveness of Hypnosis. Nowadays you can get hypnosis on the NHS. Did is suddenly become scientific, or just popular because it works?
And to end, a statement from a true scientist, Niels Bohr.
“Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”
and “Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.”
Is NLP a pseudoscience?