The Neuro-Linguistic Dark Side

As a qualified and experienced psychotherapist, I am often confronted with staunch declarations of business professionals (often high-ranking) who claim to know “all about psychology” because they’ve taken a course in NLP.

No, friends — not NLP, the component helping AI’s read human language; rather, neuro-linguistic programming.

Programming a human? Sounds a bit Gestapo to me.

It’s surprising so many people seem into this fad, as the name itself holds a murkiness. It is called “programming”. Programming a computer- all good. Programming a human? Sounds a bit Gestapo to me.

While NLP has been wholeheartedly discredited through copious scientific research, it’s still somehow popular! Surely these top business professionals can’t be stupid? But then again, they are willingly forking out over $6,000 to become “a master” of this psuedoscience.


What I find most disturbing about this practice, is that NLP lays claim to expanding works by Fritz Perls, a Gestalt therapist. Perls is somewhat close to my heart, ever since I studied him in 2011, and I can tell you now — nowhere in my applied psychology studies was there ever mention of NLP.

Perls was a relational therapist, who worked with PTSD soldiers post-war. In many ways, he pioneered the embodiment approach. That is, to connect clients with their feelings in their body, in the moment. I remember reading a book on Gestalt, and Perls is quoted saying “forget all the bullshit the patient shares; look for the spaces between”. What a client presents with, in the moment is more important than what they say.

…It takes a long time to use therapeutic language in the right way…

For therapy, the Gestalt approach is very rewarding, I find. However, it takes a long time to use therapeutic language in the right way, and it takes even longer to be able to truly read people, and hear “the spaces between”. Plus, I always reflect, to be a good therapist, you MUST have your own therapy.

So, what about NLP? Well, business coaching organizations (that offer NLP training) and the NLP Associations state very clearly “NLP is not therapy”,yet in same breath they claim it’s a study of excellent communication, teaching you about your unconscious and conscious mind, a way to break habits, and develop your potential while learning about oneself (and all this in 1 day!)

This practice of NLP filters authentic and heartfelt techniques from therapy and transposes them into non-therapeutic settings, taught by unqualified people. While therapeutic techniques can be employed in a non-therapy context, it is a delicate matter. The way a therapist speaks to a client is a special form of communication; it is a sacred relationship… and I think it cannot be taught in a happy-clappy manner, nor can a real connection be generated over 1 day, 2 days or even a week of “training”.

Similar to taking “the miracle question” out of Solution-Focused Therapy (which MANY life coaches do — and yes, I find that abhorrent), NLP bastardizes therapeutic techniques (reflective language, guiding questions, parts-focus, hypnotherapy, childhood regression) in the name of “freedom”. Yes, NLP even goes so far as to claim it frees people from their traumas.

I know, I am beginning to rant… but this is important to me. I just cannot condone NLP. I will never work for, or support any business that follows this practice. It breeds manipulation in the workplace, and heightens denial.

You can’t wash away a deep trauma in a weekend.

You can’t change your life in a day.

Things take time…

And that’s okay.