Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) for the counselling toolbox?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming n. a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them; a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour.” – [Oxford English Dictionary]


I attended a two day Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) diploma course this past weekend which I had bought on Groupon for the princely sum of £149. I had been looking to find a short term course on NLP to check if it could be a useful addition to the contents of my counselling toolbox to be used when seeing clients in the therapeutic environment.

I like the idea of carrying a toolbox when seeing clients.  I may have theory or methodology to avail of but what I take out of the box will be dependent on which particular client I am working with.  As Erikkson said, a new psychology emerges every time you close the close and meet a new client.  With some clients I will get nowhere unless I work cognitively, with others I would explore more creative ways of working such as transpersonal techniques, provided I undertook an assessment of their ability to handle such interventions. One must be very careful, for instance, with cleints who might be prone to psychotic episodes. This, for me, is what it means to be truly integrative.

The first step to feel a greater sense of control in your life is to become aware of your own unique way of filtering. ‘If you keep doing what you always did, you will keep getting what you always got’ 

So what did I find on the course? Could NLP form part of my toolbox? Well the room was an anonymous meeting room in a hotel in Covent Garden that the company had rented for the event and was windowless, with a low ceiling and was housing 40 of us in rows.  I much prefer working in a more spacious environment and in a circle. But hey we are always told to keep an open mind. The course dealt with core active listening  concepts such as reading the the non-verbal behaviour of clients (what they term calibration), linguistic models such as the meta and Milton models, Classic code and the use of eye pattern awareness, submodalities and the interventions for changing the structure of mental representations such as beliefs, phobias and performance.

The course material referred to the presuppositions of NLP, filters, representational system such as VAKOG and the George A Miller published paper “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.  But I was asking myself was any of this orginal? For instance, active listening skills were being talked about way before the 1970s yet Carl Rogers was not mentioned even once. But it didn’t end there. The trainer did not know who Tucker was and what he had said about groups. That was worrying but more alarming was that he had not heard of CBT or Transactional Analysis for I had been wondering where the Dr Eric Berne material about drivers and scripts related to the formulation of NLP theory, if at all.  Furthermore the triple positioning idea in NLP borrowed heavily from the third person concept in psychotherapy.

But then it dawned on me.  There are companies out there who take core theoretical principles and package the products up as a service and away they go on a training provider career. This particular course was highly geared towards the business skills of sales, negotiation, team building, presentation skills and so on.  There was very little reference to how NLP could be applied to clients who had suffered from trauma for instance.  There is nothing wrong, of course, with offering a course geared towards whatever market you wish to target.  But a highly geared product in my opinion needs to say this in its advertising and labelling or otherwise participants feel like they have joined the wrong course.

The other participants on the course comprised of professional sales trainers, other trainers and therapists of one form or another. A pregnant woman told us all that her husband constantly interupted her and asked if there were coping strategies to deal with her domestic situation. I sensed that she attended the course seeking a magic wand and was being seduced by the self help rhetoric on show. Another said that she was wanting to incorporate NLP into her ‘coaching’ work. Perhaps the trouble with the self help industry is that it attracts potentially emotionally vulnerable people seeking solutions to problems that are not easy fixes and who leave these courses in an uncontained space.

NLP is totally unregulated. I gained my diploma qualification in NLP which involved little more than paying my fees (the Groupon voucher) and remaining in the room until the certificates were handed out.  Did I learn anything?  Yes I did.  Would I use some NLP techniques in my future therapeutic work?  Yes. Would I be more careful who I go to as training providers in the future?  Yes. Is NLP worth exploring.  Of course. NLP is one modality that can aide any practitioner but it is important to remember that it is not the only one.


Richard NLP Bandler’s message for getting what you want 2010.
NLP – a critique
NLP co Founder Richard Bandler personal website
NLP co Founder John Grinder personal website


One thought on “Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) for the counselling toolbox?

Comments are closed.