Part 1 - Appearances
I started on this project thinking that it was only psychologists who were making baseless accusations about NLP. But I was wrong. The list has now expanded to include psycholinguists and, as in the case of Stephen Hunt, sociologist.
A Bad Start
Dr. Stephen J. Hunt is a reader in sociology (with a particular interest in the sociology of religion) at the University of the West of England in Bristol. He is the author of five books, including Alternative Religions: A Sociological Introduction (Ashgate, London. 2003). In this book he devotes about one page to NLP. Which is one full page too much, for reasons which we will get to in a minute.
Since Dr Hunt's description tends to take a rather zig-zag course, I have interleaved my own comments with quotes from Dr Hunt's text. A full, unabridged, unedited version of Hunt's text can be found at the end of this article.
"An alternative to Scientology ...
Bad Start No. 1.
The comments on NLP come at the end of a section headed Scientology. Initially I had no idea what Hunt meant by this phrase - and though I e-mailed Dr Hunt several months ago asking for clarification he has so far declined to answer. Personally I cannot think of a single context in which NLP would constitute "an alternative" to Scientology in any way, shape or form.
At a guess (again my reasons will become obvious a little later) I suspect that Hunt had the last minute idea of commenting on NLP, but since he didn't have enough material to make a separate section he just shoved it into his MS after his discussion of Scientology with a breezy "An alternative to Scientology is ..." as though there was some kind of coherent reason for putting it just there.
His next phrase, however, makes no sense at all:
Bad Start No. 2.
"... is the Neuro Linguistic Programme (NLP), ...
Hunt presumably has no idea of what he has done here - that by using this title, which I have personally never seen before - and which certainly isn't used by anyone with a reasonable knowledge of NLP - he effectively breaches one of the most basic ideas behind NLP. That is to say, he has turned Neuro-Linguistic Programming (the verb/dynamic process) into a static noun/"thing".
Even without knowing about the background to Hunt's comments, in less than one sentence he has effectively scuppered any credibility he might have had as a commentator on NLP and the related techniques and applications, at least as far as anyone with has a reasonable knowledge of genuine NLP. Nevertheless, he continues:
... although like others overviewed below it has more of an implied religiosity. It is a technique rather than an organized religion and is used by several different human potential movements.
(In making this claim Hunt distorts the material in his original source (see below) for reasons best known to himself. In fact NLP has nothing to do with "religiosity", and since Hunt gives no evidence that he has ever carried out any credible research on the subject, it seems very probable, to me, that his accusation is mkost likely to be couched in such vague language as an attempt to conceal his lack of genuine knowledge on the subject.)
NLP and Religi ... What?
First, Hunt refers to NLP as "a technique", singular. Now NLP is indeed a single technique - a specific modeling technique. But if that is what Hunt means, then his claims about NLP and "implied religiosity" would appear to be wholesale misrepresentation. In what sense can we possibly represent "modeling the behaviour of people who excel at some skill" as "implied religiosity"?
If, on the other hand, Hunt thinks that the whole field of NLP consists of a single technique, this would demonstrate nothing more than a profound failure to understand what NLP is really about. Either way, the claim makes no sense at all as compared with the 'real life' situation.
Second, he provides absolutely no indication of what he means by "implied religiosity" - nor any supporting evidence for this allegation - unless he thinks that the completely illogical piece of "reasoning" at the end of this part of his book (see below) somehow proves the point.
Given his ambiguous claim that NLP is "a single technique", the claim in the second sentence looks more like an attempt at "guilt by association" than an authentic observation.
Had Hunt done his homework he might have come across comments like the one below. It is NLP co-creator John Grinder's response to Robert Dilts' claim to have introduced "spirituality" into NLP with his so-called Logical Levels model:
"Mr. Dilts, in spite of the direct tutelage offered by each of the co-creators of NLP has managed to miss the point with astonishing consistency. It is precisely because there is no requirement to subscribe to particular beliefs and values that NLP moves so easily across cultural and linguistic barriers and is easily and respectfully incorporated into these distinct systems.
Have Hammer - See Nails
In practise Hunt shares the Man with a Hammer error that exists in his source material - "a man whose only tool is a hammer sees everything as a nail". All of the critics who are psychologists of some kind (whose criticisms I have read so far) see NLP as a form of psychotherapy. Hunt is a a specialist in the sociology of religion, so I guess he naturally imagines NLP has some kind of religious element. It is, in all cases, a simple ruse, a logical fallacy in fact, known as an "appeal to false authority."
That is to say, Hunt would have us believe that there is something of religion about NLP because that would (in theory) qualify him to comment on NLP. (Just as the psychologists try to characterise NLP as psychotherapy in an attempt to validate themselves as critics from that standpoint.) In reality NLP does not fit into either of these pigeonholes, and Hunt's implied "authority" as a critic is entirely bogus.
"NLP is seen by its advocates as the art and science of personal excellence and a study of the way that people excel in any given field.
Again the sleight of hand. Is Hunt discussing authentic NLP or what some people say about it?
Neither Bandler nor Grinder have ever claimed that NLP was a science, and Hunt is therefore misrepresenting NLP - again.
It was developed in the mid-70s by John Grinder, a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, and Richard Bandler, a student of psychology at the same institution, with further input from various others. 'Neuro' is based on the assumption that our experience and behaviour stem from the neurological processes of our senses and thoughts. 'Linguistic' refers to the fact that we use language to think logically and to communicate with others. 'Programming' refers to the way people order and structure ideas and actions to produce results."
The three definitions, of varying degrees of accuracy, look as though they might have been copied from the Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, DeLozier book Neuro-Linguistic Programming Volume 1 by someone who was trying to make it look like 'all their own work' - but that's just a guess. Here's the original definition:
'"Neuro" ... stands for the fundamental tenet that all behaviour is the result of neurological processes. "Linguistic" ... indicates that neural processes are presented, ordered and sequenced into models and strategies through language and communication systems. "Programming"" refers to the process of organizing the components of a system (sensory representations in this case) to achieve specific outcomes.'
"NLP amounts to an innovating way of looking at how people think, communicate and behave. It examines how they learn and teaches efficient ways of learning and how to improve the memory. Moreover it shows how very often our reactions to events reinforce negativity, and explores ways in which they can be made positive. NLP thus teaches how to communicate effectively and how to understand and interpret the signals from other people.
Vague, but reasonably accurate, as far as it goes. Unfortunately it goes downhill from here on out
More broadly it instructs people to question what they do and what they believe.
No. NLP doesn't instruct anyone to do anything.
The courses run tend to aim at executives and career-minded people.
In fact there are just three basic NLP courses - Practitioner, Master Practitioner and Trainer Training - though some trainers do orient their Practitioner and/or Master Practitioner courses towards a certain area of activity: business, education, coaching, etc. These are all open to anyone who cares to go on them. And most of the core material covered in the courses is already available in one or another of the many books on NLP now in print (see the book reviews section of this site). In fact there are several books which are actually transcripts of early training courses run by Bandler and Grinder.
Having said that, since each course builds of the information taught in the previous course(s), no trainer in good standing will accept anyone for more advanced training who hasn't attended the relevant earlier course(s). Thus overeager clients are protected, as far as possible, from investing time and money when they are unlikely to get full value from a course.
It is also true that many companies offer other courses of their own devising. But even the co-creators of NLP, Bandler and Grinder, are careful to distinguish between training in "classical NLP" as it is often called, and other topics such as DHE(TM), "New Code" NLP, etc.
Many major companies, banks, and even government departments and public servants have sent their management executives on NLP courses to improve their efficiency and develop their professional potential.
Well, it would be interesting to know where this information came from, though I think it very likely that some of the people who go on NLP-related courses fit one or another of those descriptions.
These courses can be very expensive and obviously have an appeal to the most wealthy.
I presume that Hunt has no idea what a typical business course costs nowadays. The three "basic" NLP courses tend to be conducted over several weekends, or at least over a week or more, whilst genuinely specialized courses such as Grinder's training in NLP modeling run over a long (3 day) weekend. Having been a trainer and training manager in the IT/business sectors over many years, for their length and content I think that good quality courses covering authentic NLP are very reasonably priced. The notion that only "the most wealthy" can afford to go on NLP training courses is pure fantasy.
Some are specialized courses such as Trainers Training for teachers, lecturers and others who might want to improve their presentation skills.
The Trainers Training courses are not "specialized" except insofar as they offer a more advanced training than the Practitioner and Master Practitioner training courses. Nor are they necessarily designed for teachers and lecturers, as such. They are primarily for people who want to become NLP trainers themselves. Hence the name.
Anyone who wants a presentation skills course based on NLP techniques for general use can choose from a number of training companies that offer just that. Likewise a company endorsed by Richard Bandler and the Society of NLP runs courses for people wanting to use NLP in educational contexts (see Meta4education - the Durham Project).
A Journey to the East (not!)
Have you noticed how much of this description has been given over to the subject of religion so far? Not a lot, right? It has all been about communication skills. Yet Hunt gets thus far and suddenly, for no apparent reason, makes a complete change of direction.
Arguably there are some similarities with schools of eastern mysticism. For example, the brief biographies of NLP trainers always give the names of the people who they themselves trained under. While not an alternative religious system per se, the programme could be seen as similar to new religions of eastern origin that trace themselves back through a progression of gurus, and to esoteric movements claiming the authority of authenticity through their descent from previous movements."
So, all we have here is a highly flawed piece of "reasoning," based on the unsubstantiated claim that "NLP trainers always give the names of the people who they themselves trained under".
How many such biographies did Hunt actually check up on before making this claim, I wonder? Did he, in fact, check any at all?
We should also note that the core elements of the field of NLP - NLP itself, plus related techniques and applications - are not defined by what NLP trainers (alleged or genuine) do or don't say about themselves in their literature and/or online.
Next we see again this strange idea that NLP can be described as "the programme" (I'll bet Hunt has no idea that NLP is simply a specific modeling process).
It is, in fact, a false syllogism of the most obvious kind, and only needs to be presented as such to reveal the lse logic on which the claim is based, thus:
But look what we have to do to make this allegation work. The process is very simple, and totally invalid as a way of forming logical conclusions:
Is Hunt really suggesting that NLP and some unidentified "school of eastern mysticism" and "new religions of eastern origin" and "esoteric movements" can seriously be described as meaningfully "similar" on the basis of this one characteristic, regardless of the fact that this one similarity - of a very doubtful nature - applies to NLP trainers rather than to NLP itself or any of the associated techniques and applications, and regardless of a long list of dissimilarities? It seems that he is.
But would anyone seriously make such a claim?
Part 2 - The Facts
Oh, What a Tangled Web
So where did Mr Hunt get his information? By careful research? From personal experience? Not a chance!
The simple truth is that Mr Hunt (Alternative Religions: A Sociological Introduction. Ashgate, London:2003. pp.195-196), has simply copied, or at best paraphrased, substantial portions of a slightly longer study by David V. Barrett, to be found in his book Sects, 'Cults', and Alternative Religions (Blandford, London:1996. pp.237-239). The only time Hunt adds anything off his own bat - like the reference to the "the NLP Programme" - he simply adds to Barrett's string of errors.
Note: Although Barrett's book Sects, 'Cults' & Alternative Teligions is mentioned (with 1998 as the publication date) in the general bibliography to Hunt's book, it is not included in the Further Reading section at the end of the relevant chapter, and there seems to be little chance of anyone realising that Barrett was Hunt's source unless they had actually read the two sections under discussion.
The degree to which Hunt "borrowed" Barrett's material suggests, to me, that Hunt actually knew nothing whatsoever about NLP other than what he read in Barrett (why else stick so closely to the original wording?). This would certainly help to explain Hunt's own errors, and that strange introduction: "An alternative to Scientology is the Neuro Linguistic Programme (NLP)" as a device to bridge the substantial gap between Scientology and NLP. It certainly could not be a meaningful transition since Hunt knows appears to nothing about NLP and therefore couldn't possibly know how far apart the two subjects really are.
(Readers can see, in the sub-FAQ about Barrett's article, how that "study" is completely invalidated by Barratt's adherence to the "have hammer, see nails" philosophy. For details of Barrett's material, see You Don't Have to be a Professor).
Since Dr Hunt doesn't really seem to have much to say - other than regurgitating a slightly edited version of someone else's work (presumably without checking the validity of the claims therein) - his comments offer nothing but yet another example of careless research and sloppy thinking in academic circles when it comes to NLP.