“If we knew what it was we were doing,– Albert Einstein
it would not be called research, would it?”
The anarchic nature of NLP does not lend it to research, and there is no substantial body of research that tests the effectiveness of NLP. However, there are studies that look at aspects of NLP. They are mostly small studies, so they do not constitute proof, and there is definitely no scientific consensus regarding NLP.
Better put, there is no significant scientific interest in NLP. Much of what research has taken place has shown a poor understanding of NLP, and suffered from methodological problems as well. Thus, it is unfair to say that research disproves NLP. This is a ludicrous idea, anyway, since NLP is no single thing that can be proved or disproved.
One of the more impressive studies took place as the Active Ingredients Project carried out by Professor Charles Figley. He became interested in rapid acting therapies, that he called power therapies at the time. This took place in the early 1990s. He compared several therapeutic approaches that are used for people with symptoms of trauma.
The approaches included NLP’s visual-kinesthetic dissociation (V/KD), more commonly known as the fast phobia cure. It stacked up well against other approaches, including Thought Field Therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). The study was not intended to be a highly sophisticated one, but more as a means of generating initial interest in researching such approaches. Figley’s interest began when he discovered that trauma counselors who were the most well-adjusted were those who were trained in at least one rapid-acting approach such as V/KD. Figley developed this interest when a trauma counselor committed suicide.
A couple of small studies support the NLP spelling strategy of looking up and to the left while visualizing the words being learned. Subjects had significantly better recall and forgot much less over time, to the point that their recall greatly exceeded what is normal for people memorizing things.
Several small studies support the value of the NLP phobia cure. It was not only helpful for phobias, but anxiety and depression in connection with phobias. It was also helpful for individuals reacting to psychological trauma. There is some research on submodalities (the aspects of how we represent things in our minds) that lends support to its use in NLP, but this has not gotten enough attention. However, cognitive psychotherapy is often practiced with elements of NLP, including submodality work. It depends on the therapist’s background.
Anchoring is an important part of NLP. This is the ability of establishing a sort of signal (such as touching a specific area of the client’s arm) that can later be used to help evoke the state that the person was in at the time the signal was established. This can be used to help get a person past their resistance to change by triggering a state that will carry them past their fear, for example. I don’t know of research directly on this, but there are countless studies on behavioral conditioning, which is what anchoring is based on.
There is a great deal of research that has implications for NLP, or that, at least in theory, supports some NLP ideas and interventions. One area of research that stands out in this regard has to do with allergies. It suggests that the NLP allergy process is plausible and deserves attention from researchers.
There are studies that suggest that allergies can be modified through behavioral conditioning. This is what the NLP allergy process is said to do. Also, there are some small studies of the actual NLP allergy process that are very promising. Since NLP draws from others’ work, it is no surprise that there is much research on methods that NLP has modeled, such as the hypnotic work of Milton Erickson. There is a good deal of very positive research on hypnotic communication.
Very compelling results have come out of a study on using the NLP timeline approach for asthma. Again, the study was fairly small (30 experimental subjects with 16 controls), but impressive. There were substantial improvements in lung function in a people with asthma. This is especially impressive, because people with asthma tend to lose lung function over time, not improve it. The allergy process helped them in their personal lives as well, giving them feelings of energy and empowerment in many cases. Sleep improved as well for many subjects.
Since many therapists have been influenced by NLP, possibly without even realizing it, there is no telling how much of the research on cognitive therapy has been affected by insights and training provided from NLP that has propagated into the mainstream in one way or another.