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Neuro-Linguistic Programming Therapy

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a set of principles and techniques aimed at enhancing self-awareness, increasing confidence, building communication skills, and motivating positive social actions.

NLP was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s. It became popular in the commercial and self-help realms; however, there is no regulation of NLP, nor is there a widely-shared definition of the techniques that constitute NLP.

It is important to note that neuro-linguistic programming is not actually a form of psychotherapy. Although NLP techniques may be used to supplement conventional therapy, the empirical evidence for its efficacy is limited.

When It's Used

Neuro-linguistic programming has been applied to achieve personal development or work-related goals, including increasing productivity and moving forward in one’s career.

It has also been used in the treatment of mental health issues such as:

Most studies addressing the effectiveness of NLP in treating these issues have been small in scale and have had mixed results.

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What to Expect

Based on their sensory experiences, people develop their own preferred representational system (PRS) or unique way of viewing the world. Therapists may employ NLP techniques to identify their client’s specific PRS and adjust their communication style and therapeutic goals accordingly.

Some common NLP techniques include but are not limited to:

  • Anchoring: Associating an external or internal trigger with a healthier response until it becomes automatic
  • Belief changing: Replacing negative thoughts or beliefs that prevent the client from achieving their desires
  • Reframing: Putting a situation in a different context to elicit an adaptive reaction instead of following the same maladaptive behavioral patterns
  • Visualization: Forming a mental image of something the client wants
  • Visual-kinesthetic dissociation: Guiding the client in reliving trauma by evoking an imaginative out-of-body experience
How It Works

Neuro-linguistic programming is intended to help clients understand their own minds and how they come to think and behave the way they do. With the aid of NLP techniques, clients can learn to manage their moods and emotions and "reprogram" the way they process information. At the same time, NLP is designed to help clients see why they have been successful in the past and determine how they can most easily and efficiently repeat that success in other areas of their lives. NLP therapists believe that their clients have the answers to their problems within themselves; it is simply a matter of helping them draw out those answers.

Therapists who practice NLP often start by building a rapport with their client, mirroring the client’s verbal and nonverbal behavior to create empathy and connection. They will gather information about the client’s objectives and identify problem areas to work on. Along the way, they may correct any language that leads to negative thinking and faulty communication. NLP-based therapy will conclude with a plan for how the client can continue to integrate the positive behavioral changes into their daily life.

NLP therapy can be short-term or long-term, depending on the individual and the extent of the problem.

What to Look for in a Neuro-Linguistic Programming Therapist

An NLP therapist is a licensed mental health professional, social worker, or therapist with additional training in NLP interventions and techniques through workshops and mentorship programs. In addition to checking credentials and experience, you should feel safe and comfortable working with any NLP therapist you choose.

You might ask a prospective NLP therapist such questions as:

  • How often have you dealt with problems such as mine before?
  • How do you know whether a patient is a good candidate for NLP?
  • How does NLP work?
  • What is a typical plan of treatment, and how long is a typical course of therapy?
  • How do you measure progress?
Zaharia C, Reiner M, Schutz P. Evidence-based neuro linguistic psychotherapy: a meta analysis. Psychiatria Danubina. 2015;27(4):355-363.
Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy and Counseling Association (UK)
Wake L and Leighton M. Pilot study using neurolinguistic programming in post-combat PTSD. Mental Health Review Journal. 2014;19(4):251-264.
Hollander J and Malinowski O. The effectiveness of NLP: Interrupted time series analysis of single subject/data for one session of NLP coaching. Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy. December 2016;19(76):41-58.
Gray RM. Current Research in NLP (Vol 2): Proceedings of 2010 Conference. p.33-42.
Witkowski, T. (2010). Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration? Polish Psychological Bulletin,41(2). 
Sturt, J., Ali, S., Robertson, W., Metcalfe, D., Grove, A., Bourne, C., & Bridle, C. (2012). Neurolinguistic programming: A systematic review of the effects on health outcomes. British Journal of General Practice,62(604).
Last updated: 12/05/2022