Neuro-Linguistic-Programming and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Hearing a news story this morning from BBC’s science correspondent Tom Feilden, apologetically reporting a study finding value in Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP) behind treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME) …

Here the BBC R4 Today clip.
Here the actual Lancet-published paper here.
Grauniad story here (doesn’t mention NLP).

NLP suffers from confusion with natural language programming in the AI / Technology space, but is in fact a thoroughly discredited marketing packaging of 1970’s life-style neuro-bollox. At least that’s the story you’d get from Wikipedia.

Scientifically discredited in the lack of repeatable objective evidence to support it, that is. That doesn’t mean it’s not real or true or valuable to careful practitioners. Let’s face it science is prepared to discredit the reality of human consciousness itself, so it’s unlikely to support a method of psycho-talking-therapy that targets behaviour modification through choice of language subconsciously affecting conscious action. CFS/ME as an illness has always suffered from scepticism as essentially a psycho-somatic condition, the subjective feeling of a disease with little causal explanation of any physical condition. So much “mental illness” and explanations of the sub-conscious relationships with physical behaviour and competence could be considered scientifically doubtful.

Frankly, at the common sense level, NLP is simply a talking therapy. However it works, it’s good to talk. Better to understand limitations to the science of using it, with care.

One problem is the packaging as a “thing” with a name, as if it is objectively well-defined. A recurring theme here. The other problem is that however well or badly defined, the model can have metaphorical and analytical value, often a checklist or taxonomy of issues, but will obviously fail if its values are codified prescriptively – like some magic recipe.

NLP suffers all of these problems. What’s in a name?

  • Neuro? Definitely a neuro-bollox prefix for anything “mental” these days, irrespective of how brain stuff supports mental stuff. But of course it does, unless you’re a consciousness-denying scientist that is. No-one using NLP needs to explain how the brain works, simply show that careful use of language in talking therapies can subconsciously and positively influence physical behaviour. (In that sense, nudge depends on similar thinking. The whole of psycho-therapy suffering problems trying to satisfy its own demands to be scientific, to be treated as a science.)
  • Linguistic? Well OK, we’re dealing with the language of communication. One out of three ain’t great.
  • Programming? Hmmm. This is a consequence of the will-to-systematise (and sell) the magic TLA recipe. Psycho-therapeutic modification of feelings and behaviour – mind-games – are never going to be programming when dealing with real humans and not machines.

I see Castaneda is cited as being an influence on NLP – guaranteed to attract the hippy-new-age-alt-lifestyle-bollox reaction. He he.

Also interesting that lack of “NICE” accreditation for NLP is also cited. Another symptom of overly scientific management expectations in public organisations.

Listening to the news item on BBC R4 Today. Both critics and practitioners acknowledging “flakey” nature of NLP basis. An obvious scientific issue is the discounting the credibility of subject testimony when dealing with any “mental” condition, but use it we must with care when we’re dealing with how people “feel”. Science is almost by definition in denial of the subjective. You need to be an expert on the subtleties to understand what makes good science in this domain.

The real bollox is the expectation of shoe-horning all aspects of human life into some mechanistic scientific mould. We humans are flakey and science does have its limits.

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[Post Notes:

Expert reactions here.

All I’m adding to this debate is it whilst it is pseudoscience, that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable or useful, especially if you’re open minded, understand how to treat the myriad of subtleties, and the procedure is not being spun simplistically for dishonest commercial reasons. See @DeeVeeBee contribution.

And as well as the original discrediting of NLP – commercially interested pseudoscience – LP itself has been debunked and challenged recently. Some of these are referred to in the expert reactions above, but provided here thanks to @ssppeerroo

Skeptics Dictionary debunking of LP
Advertising standards adjudication.
Original promotional material (since taken down from the web).

My own points unchanged. About Pseudoscience / NLP / LP / CFS / ME generally, not about LP & ME specifically.]


Also published on Medium.

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