NLP is a valuable toolkit with lots of unique plusses, including a creative set of techniques, and a masterful way with words. But as an in-depth life healing tool, it is in my view, like CBT, unaware of its limitations. (Happily while CBT sometimes appears to claim to be the best or only brief therapy, NLP is too smart and graceful to think that.) I should say that this applies to the NLP method as a movement. There are many excellent individual NLP therapists, trainers and writers for whom I have the high respect and to whom this criticism does not apply.
Technically, NLP is a cognitive-behavioural therapy. This means that you directly change the thoughts in your head without too much concern why you were thinking them in the first place. It is therefore effective in business settings exactly because of what I find its drawback – it can deal with things in an unemotional, cognitive way.
Here’s an example of what I regard as both the strength and weakness of NLP. It relates to jealousy and is from a mass-market book by a well-known author.
“Eliminate jealousy and obsessive thoughts with this simple technique …. If anyone is going to feel jealous, they have to go through three stages. First, they have to make a picture of something they want that they havn’t got. Second, they have to see someone else having it. Third, they have to say to themselves ‘That person has it, I want it and I can’t have it.’
Whenever a picture that makes you jealous comes into your mind, immediately turn up the brightness up and up and up until it whites out. … If you repeat this process over and over again, it automates to the point where it is almost impossible to think of the image any more.”
Now for rootless obsessive thoughts, this is a good technique – indeed one I use. But it doesn’t begin to heal the emotional roots of true jealousy. First of all, there can be “good” jealousy, a natural protective force in relationships. “Bad” jealousy may have roots where one person secretly feels unlovable, or secretly fears being abandoned, and is actually unconsciously pushing their partner away. Or they may be repeating a pattern of rejection handed down in their family perhaps for generations, or the jealously may represent hidden guilt about a former partner whom the jealous person feels that have abandoned. Facing all this may need real courage and openness to the truth.
So the whiteout method is quick and simple. Sometimes it is all that needed, for example for a jealousy which is no more than a shallow habit of thought. But for true emotional jealousy, it is only a sticking plaster.
Strengths of NLP as stand-alone psychotherapy
Shares with SOBT an emphasis on resources, not problems. Action-oriented, with a good balance of inner process with action. Emphasises that you are in the driving seat of your life, and that quite a few thoughts can be changed ever so quickly. At its best, uniquely precise about the micro-details of how the mind works internally – NLP has no equal for this. Many ingenious and clever techniques including the very successful “rewind” technique for phobias and trauma. Excellent with words, and applicable in sales and business. Attractive coherent vision of life, but like coaching, this is incomplete.
Weaknesses of NLP as a stand-alone psychotherapy
All that skill with words leads to unfounded hype in much NLP advertising. (As a rule of thumb, divide NLP advertising by five!) Can be superficial and quick-fix. To some extent depends on buying into the whole NLP values system. Vision is Americanist and is too oriented to change and excellence and only partly understands acceptance, let-go and dis-identification. Cannot deal with life and death issues.