My Way, or the Highway



To be blunt, if books were classified according to the headings in Eric Berne's Games People Play, then Singer and Lalich's Crazy Therapies would be a prime example of Ain't it Awful, much after the fashion of the kind of magazines to be found on sale at supermarket checkouts.
Despite it's occasional moments of thoughtful commentary, overall it is a long way from being the kind of serious study of the 'dark side' of psychotherapy that it purports to be.  In fact Lilienfeld, Lynn and Lohr's choice of this book as one of their sources on NLP makes about the same amount of sense as their decision to cast a 20 year old Life magazine article about Tony Robbins in the same role.

*** The Short Version ***

Whilst Singer and Lalich's book Crazy Therrapies undoubtedly had some important points to make, the usefulness didn't extend to the comments on "NLP" (i.e. Singer and Lalich's rather confused and confusing model of the FoNLP).  Nor should we mistake this for any kind of scientific appraisal of "NLP".

On the contrary, although there are some remarks about the Druckman and Swets report towards the end of the section, the main body of the text is purely anacdotal in nature - as is most of the rest of the book.  Moreover, as I've already indicated, the authors' ideas about the FoNLP are way off beam.  This seems to be mainly attributable to their choice of source material; for whilst they list four authoritative books on the FoNLP amongst their references (page 238), there is only one sentence in the whole section which is identified as a direct quote from Bandler and Grinder.  And we aren't even told exactly where the statement appears, because all four of the authentic NLP-related books are listed as the source, but no page numbers are given for any of them!

Not surprisingly, then, the authors' grounds for criticism are noticeably inconsistent.  In one of the two case studies, for example, we are told that "Nick" went to a therapist "who used a technique called NLP" (page 174).  "Nick" was not at all impressed with the therapist's use of a technique called "matching and mirroring" and never went back.  Presumably Singer thought this was a demerit for the "technique called NLP", and we might be inclined to agree but for two things.
Firstly, as Singer also tells us, "Nick" was recommended to the therapist by a friend who really liked his approach.  Secondly, we are also told that "Nick" spotted what the therapist was doing based on his previous training in interviewing and observation at the police academy!

It may be, of course, that this therapist was less than fully skilled in the relevant technique, but to denigrate someone for using a technique that you have yourself been taught at a reputable training institution such as a police academy seems questionable to say the least.

But the real bottom line in the current context comes in this comment on page 171:

"Does NLP work?  "Has it been scientifically validated?"

These two questions, intended rhetorically as it turns out, quickly degenerates into yet another rambling excursion through what a variety of non-authoritative "NLP spokespeople and practitioners" have allegedly said online.  The genral tone of Singer's remarks is fairly negative, not to say dismissive.
But wait a minute.  Has Singer forgotten her own remarks, near the start of the book?

Scientifically validated approaches to therapy are known and used on a regular basis."
(Singer, 1996. Page xvi)

Oh really?  According to several academic psychologists, one of the main objections to psychotherapy is that there is no scientific validation for any of the various techniques.
Anyway, Singer goes on to make an even more intriguing claim, given her criticism of "NLP":

Equally, rational and long-used counseling techniques may not all have been scientifically nalidated, but for decades they have met the requirements for the standard of practice in the general psychotherapy field.
(Singer, 1996. Page xvi)

How's that for sleight of mouth!

Counselling techniques haven't been scientifically validated, but they have at least "met the requirements for the standard of practice in the general psychotherapy field" - which also haven't been scientifically validated.
So that makes everything OK and tickety-boo, it seems.

The only remaining question is why anyone should take seriously any part of Singer's obviously ill-informed and biased remarks about what she (mostly erroneously) thinks of as "NLP"?

*** End of Short Version ***

*** The Director's Cut ***

It's A Mystery, it's a Mystery, it's a Mystery ...

The section on NLP in Margaret Thayer Singer and Janja Lalich's book Crazy Therapies is cited as a source in Lilienfeld, Lynn and Lohr's book Science and Pseudoscience in Counseling Psychology.  Yet in a nutshell, Singer and Lalich's comments provide more mysteries than answers.

Mystery #1

The section allegedly on NLP is only a little over seven pages long (pages 168-176).  At the back of the book (pages 238-40) there are twenty-one citations across those seven+ pages.  Three of those 21 references are from Enhancing Human Performance, by Druckman and Swet (which will be included in this multi-FAQ).  The other eighteen references are all from people connected with NLP and yet, and here's the mystery, only one reference - for a paragraph on page 170 - mentions Bandler and Grinder's work.

It's true that the one reference includes four jointly-authored books by the co-creators of NLP: The Structure of Magic Vols. I and II (1975 and 1976), The Patterns of Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson Vol I (1975), and Frogs into Princes (1979).  But the other twenty references cover ten different sources, none of which have the authority of Bandler and Grinder's books.

Some of the other references are to work by people who are, or at least were, quite well-known in NLP circles, it's true, but why are Bandler and Grinder's own words virtually ignored in favour of "someone said" quotes?  And why, if this is supposed to be a factual overview of NLP do we get opinions from people who, with one exception, played no part in the creation and development of NLP when the authors imply that they have read four books by the co-creators?

Why do we get, over and over again, the kind of comments of the form:

"NLP originators Grinder and Bandler have been called 'magicians' by those who have studied with them."

Who are these people?  Does everyone who has ever studied with them say this?  And are Singer and Lalich discussing NLP, or "what people say about the creators of NLP"?

Rumour had it that [Bandler and Grinder's] new discovery was creating permanent changes in people in people in minutes.  Lifelong phobias were no longer a problem.  Allergic reactions had vanished.  Learning capacities expanded in a fraction of the time normally expected.  Performance improved a thousandfold.  The raves went on and on.

"Rumors" indeed.
Singer and Lalich did not give a single reference for this paragraph - from "NLP originators" to "on and on".  Which is a little strange, because amongst the innuendo and misinformation there is reference to the removal of phobias - a skill which Bandler had demonstrated with three separate clients, under lab conditions, on video, at Marshall University, West Virginia - and the transcripts were available in Bandler's book Magic in Action which came out in 1992.  Given that Singer and Lalich's book wasn't published until 1996, we are surely entitled to ask, "Was their research so poor that they didn't know about this book?  Or did they deliberately exclude the information?"

"Those enamored with NLP say ..."

Again, who were these people?  By what authority did they make their claims?  Did these claims accurately reflect claims made by Bandler and Grinder themselves?

And so on throughout the piece.  A few sources are identified, as many or more are not.  Not exactly the kind of precision one might expect from a Ph.D. engaged by a major university.  Is it?

Mystery #2

Singer and Lalich's book is entitled Crazy Therapies and mainly deals with various forms of psychotherapy which Singer ("... a clinical psychologist and emeritus [retired] adjunct professor [not on the permanent payroll] of the University of California, Berkeley) and Lalich ("a writer, consultant, and specialist in cults and psychological manipulation and abuse" - no qualifiucations given) didn't approve of.  In the section on NLP (pages 168-176), however, the authors offer no evidence whatever that NLP is any kind of therapy until pages 173-174 when they throw in two brief case studies of clents who were dissatisfied with alleged *NLP therapists".

We aren't told anything about the therapists - what training they had, etc. - and there is no consideration of the fact that using NLP techniques in the therapy room doesn't make someone an "NLP therapist".  Nevertheless, it is apparently taken for granted by the authors that the complaints are fully justified, even though, as we'll see in a minute or two, both accounts seem decidedly biased.

In fact there is a deeper mystery here - did Singer and Lalich work to any clear standards in determining when deciding what went into the book?  For example:

They talk about "crazy therapies" as though they are potentially dangerous fringe ideas which only the unscupulous and gullible would get involved in.  Yet they also provide plenty of evidence that mainstream psychologists and psychiatrists are equally capable of going totally off the rails.  Thus in Chapter 2 they devote several pages to the case of John Rosen, of "direct analysis" infamy who, according to the authors, received the American Academy of Psychotherapy's "Man of the Year" award in 1971 even though he was using an aggressive, scientifically unvalidated form of "therapy" in which:

Striking, stripping, and beating patients was a regular occurance.  Patients were kept locked in security rooms without toilets, and at least two patients died.  Both male and female patients were sexually abused by Rosen and forced to engage in the most atrocious acts with him and sometimes with other patients."


And the authors provide this chilling conclusion:

John Rosen had been highly regarded for years throughout the psychiatric community.  To this day [1996], some still uphold Rosen's work."

In a similar but considerably milder vein, whilst attacking NLP for its lack of scientific validation (see p.177ff), the authors argued that:

"... rational and long-used counseling techniques may not have been scientifically validated, but for decades they have met the requirements for the standard of practice in the general psychotherapy field."
(Introduction, p.xvi)

Which raises the rather obvious question: If they haven't been 'scientifically validated' what exactly are these requirements that Singer and Lalich claimed were an acceptable alternative?

Likewise in Chapter 1, the authors attacked "single cause-single cure" and "one-way-only" thinking (page 10, for example).  Yet when it came to NLP practitioners showing exactly the kind of flexibility that they seemed to approve of:

"A model doesn't have to be 'true' or 'correct' or even perfectly formed.  It only has to be useful when applied to what it's designed for.  If it isn't it can be discarded in any situation where it fails"
(quoted on p.172)

Singer and Lalich suddenly did a complete volte face, offering the supercilious comment, "How's that for a fail safe argument?" (ibid).

The impression that the authors were applying a rather blatant double standard to NLP is unavoidable.  Mere lack of scientific validation wasn't enough, in their opinion, to invalidate some forms of counselling.  But it was enough to completely invalidate NLP.  Flexibility of approach was judged to be important - unless it ws being used by a group the authors didn't approve of.
(Always remembering that NLP wasn't/isn't a form of psychotherapy in the first place.)

So mystery number 2, what was Singer and Lalich's real reason for including NLP in a book on therapy? 

Mystery #3

Just how much did either of the authors actually understand about NLP as opposed to simply being able to parrot some of the literature?  For example, partway through the section on NLP we find:

NLP uses such influence techniques as mirroring and matching, reframing, pacing, and anchoring, which include noticing eye movements, gestures, breathing patterns, voice tone changes, pupil dilation, and skin color changes.

Well, at least they're all within the NLP-related repertoire.  Though anchoring isn't the first thing that comes to mind as an influencing technique.
Anyway at this point the wheels really start to come loose:

It's a matter of noticing and interpreting subtle cues, then mirroring them back to the other person

Really?  It strikes me that if anyone trying to mirror another person's "eye movements, gestures, breathing patterns, voice tone changes, pupil dilation, and skin color changes" would not only need a fairly unusual degree of physiological control, but would also have precious little time for "noticing and interpreting [all these] subtle cues".

Next we come to a couple of rather interesting observations in the authors' rambling account of NLP, starting with a rather facetious comment about copying someone's behaviour:

Essentially this means that when you are with someone, you mimic that person's behaviour and attitudes so that he or she feels comfortable with you.  Instant bond!  Instant communication!  You then have the upper edge and can more easily influence that person and obtain the results you desire."

Not only is the sarcasm completely unnecessary - it also comes back to bite Singer and Lalich pretty severely in the backside, as can be seen in this piece from New Scientist magazine in an article entitled How to get exactly what you want:

Be a mimic
When you're aware of it, it's one of the most infuriating behaviours imaginable.  Yet mimic someone's mannerisms subtly - their head and hand movements, posture and so forth - and it can be one of the most powerful forms of persuasion.  That's the conclusion of a number of recent studies.
"William Maddux at the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, France, explored the effect of mimicry on 166 students in two role-play experiments, one involving negotiation between job candidates and recruiters, the second between buyers and sellers (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 44, p.461).  In both cases, the outcome of negotiation was better for the would-be persuaders when they employed subtle mimicry.  For example, in the buyer-seller experiment, 67 per cent of sellers who mimicked their target secured a sale, as opposed to 12.5 per cent of those who did not."
(New Scientist, 10 May, 2008. p.33)

(The article goes on to mention other studies of what NLPers would recognize as straightforward NLP pacing techniques, albeit under a different name, which date back at least a couple of decades.)

The second observation goes as follows:

"Observing a person's eye movements allows you to know whether the person is constructing or remembering visual, auditory, or kinesthetic images."

Wrong.  There is only one eye movement described for kinesthetic, because it is assumed that all kinesthetic accesses are experienced in the present and therefore cannot be "constructed".  There is also an important requirement to use a skill called "calibration" - about which Singer and Lalich appear to know precisely nothing:

"Eyes looking up are accessing visual imagery; eyes level are accessing auditory images; ..."

No.  eyes level, looking straight ahead but unfocused, relates to visualization.

"... and eyes looking down are accessing kinesthetic or body sensations.

No.  looking down and right, as seen by an observer, relates to what is generally described as "auditory digital" or self-talk.

Viewing to the left is interpreted as remembering, viewing to the right is constructing. (pp.170-171)

Not necessarily.  Singer and Lalich are quoting the "standard" set of eye positions for a right-handed person.  The positions are reversed in many left-handed people, and in any case they are not set in concrete.  To make effective use of the "eye accessing cues" it is necessary to determine which positions mean what on a person-by-person basis.

Thus, according to NLP, if the speaker turns his eyes up and to the right he is constructing and manipulating visual images.  If the speaker's eyes go up and to the left, he is accessing remembered imagery."

At this point I would like to emphasize the fact that the references for this particular section of the text include the book Frogs into Princes, an edited transcript of a Bandler and Grinder-run seminar, put together by Steve and Connirae Andreas.  As far as I'm aware, references are meant to indicate that the writer has some idea of what the referenced material actually says.  So let's see what Bandler and Grinder say on the subject of the eye accessing cues model, which is dealt with in some detail in Frogs into Princes and the exact claim made by Singer and Lalich in that last sentence:

'You ask somebody a question.  They say, "Hm, let's see," and they look up and to their left, and tilt their head in the same direction.  When people look up, they are making pictures internally.
    Do you believe that?  It's a lie, you know.  Everything we're going to tell you here is a lie.  [Because] All generalizations are lies.'

So, if Singer and/or Lalich really read the four Bandler and Grinder books, how did they manage to overlook or forget such a simple, unambiguous statement?  And if they didn't read the books, why did they claim that this passage was based on one or more of those books when in practice what they were saying was wrong in most respects and ended up flatly contradicting what Bandler and Grinder had claimed?

NLP Criticism - SNAFU*

Not surprisingly, the authors eventually got round to the question (subheading): Does NLP Work? (p.171).  By which it seems they actually meant: "Has it been scientifically validated?" (ibid).  Yet for some reason we can only guess at, they then devoted the next three pages to a collection of non-authoritative quotes, with special focus on Rex and Caroline Sikes whom Singer claimed are "two top NLP/DHETM spokespeople" (page 173).  Now Rex and Caroline Sikes were quite well-known NLP trainers in the 1990s.  But "top ... spokespeople"?  Since when?
And in any case, once again, why was it necessary to quote Rex and Caroline when the authors were implying that they had read four of the books by Bandler and Grinder?  With all due respect to the Sikes', that's like asking Einstein's lab assistant about the theory of general relativity when you have Einstein himself standing right next to you.

And then, finally, on page 175, we get to the little bit of genuine evidence that Singer and Lalich had.  Only it turns out that the evidence in question came from yet another unreliable source.

(* "Situation Normal - All Fouled Up" - a US military term.)

Stacking the Deck

Perhaps the most illuminating text in the whole passage comes in the second case study - The Miming Therapist (p.174).  If there had been any doubt as to Singer and Lalich's partisan attitude up to that point, all doubts are now swept away.

The first clue comes in the first paragraph of an account of "Nick's" session with a therapist who incurred his displeasure:

"A friend at [college] said he really liked his therapist, who used a technique [sic] called NLP, so Nick thought he would give it a try."

So, whatever comes next we know this is nothing more than Nick not getting on with a therapist whom someone else found very acceptable.  You can't please everyone - what else is new?  We also have confirmation that Singer and Lalich thought NLP was a single technique.  And there's more:

"I only went once," Nick said.  "I mean give me a break!  After all, at the police academy I'd been trained in interviewing and observation, you know.  It didn't take me long to figure out he was reflecting back at me everything I did.  He'd adjust his body like me, cross his legs, try to speak the same way, the same volume, with the same inflections. ... At one point I asked him, 'Why are you doing all that?'  He told me it was a great way to build rapport.  I said, 'Not with me.'  I never went back, and found a new therapist who's a reall person."

So, if "Nick" is telling the truth, he had been taught the same or a similar matching and mirroring process at the police academy, presumably as a valid interview technique.  Armed with this knowledge he readily recognized that the therapist is doing the same thing.  This must have raised some degree of conflict in "Nick's" mind, since we are told that he was seeking therapy specifically because he felt "down" because he had to leave the force after being wounded in a shooting incident.  He was "having trouble", Singer and Lalich say, "adjusting to his new sedentary lifestyle."

What effect might it have had, then, when "Nick" was confronted with someone using the technique he himself had been taught and, presumably, actually used in his work, prior to the life-changing injury?  Taking this facet of the situation into account might seem like an absolute "no brainer" for a clinical psychologist with decades of experience (Singer), yet no attempt is made to take account of this element of the story or it's possible effects on the outcome.  It is hard to see how this can rate as anything other than either deliberate bias or rank incompetence.

Lastly, Singer and Lalich, in both case studies, play us complaints like "He didn't seem to want to learn from me.  I guess his thing was to play some kind of game with sentences. ... The ... guy was just plain weird" (Louise", case study #1, p. 173); and "It was as if I were at the amusement park in front of one of those glass boxes where a pantomime artist imitates every little move you make until you just crack up with laughter.  Only the therapist wasn't that good," ("Nick", case study #2, p.174).

OK, so let's say, for the sake of argument, that both judgements are accurate.  The question remains: Is anybody really taught or encouraged to use the NLP techniques incompetently?  Did Singer and Lalich find a genuine flaw in the relevant NLP techniques, or did they simply manage to find two therapists who were (allegedly) using the techniques in a less than expert manner?
Let me answer the question with another question: Singer and Lalich, pages 168-169, quote a claim that there were already, by that time, nearly 40,000 NLP practitioners.&mnsp; Is it likely that NLP would still be around today, and thriving, if all those practitioners had been trained to use the techniques incompetently?

Possibly not?

The Committee

Only on the last page of the critique do Singer and Lalich provide some genuine evidence in support of their claims when they correctly identify the report of the Committee on Techniques for the Enhancement of Human Performance, of the Commission on Behavioural and Social Sciences and Education, of the National Council, as stating that:

"The Committee cannot recommend the employment of such an unvalidated technique."
(Singer and Lalich, p.175.  Italics added for emphasis.)

Unfortunately, however, it seems that even here they were "cherry picking", or "quote mining" (selectively quoting passages that supported their hidden agenda and ignoring the rest of the text), and had not read with much care, if at all, the material they were quoting.  For example:

Singer says that: "The academy [sic] formed a committee of fourteen prominent scientists equipped to judge the various techniques," but -

  • She does not say that only five people, on the Sub-Committee on Influence, dealt with NLP,
  • She does not say that the committee members were actually so ill-equipped to evaluate the field of NLP that they completely failed to understand something as basic as the very straightforward difference between eye accessing cues and representational systems
  • And she does not point out that whilst NLP is indeed a single (modelling) technique, the sub-committee members were supposedly looking at NLP-related techniques and applications in general, not a single technique.

In fact there was quite a lot wrong with the sub-committee's report, as we shall see in the sub-FAQ on Druckman and Swets (in preparation).

For the moment, what we can say is that Singer and Lalich's comments on NLP appear to have been based on less than half a page of material drawn from an authoritative source, and even that was dealt with in a thoroughly ill-informed manner.  All of which leads one to seriously question the authors' competence to offer any kind of accurate, informed critique of NLP.



Singer, M.S. and Lalich, J., Crazy Therapies.  Jossey-Bass, San Francisco:1996.  pp.168-176