Thursday, March 14, 2013

#467: Richard Bandler

Richard Wayne Bandler is an author and self-help guru, best known for inventing (with John Grinder) “Neuro-linguistic programming” (NLP), a collection of concepts and techniques “intended to understand and change human behavior-patterns” (closely related to “Natural Horsemanship”). He has also developed other trademarked systems such as Design Human Engineering® and Neuro Hypnotic Repatterning™. None of it has any basis in reality – it is purportedly based on transformational grammar, the basis of which Bandler’s audience doesn’t understand anyway – and NLP has aptly been termed cargo-cult science (or a mild version of Scientology) by people who know what they are talking about, insofar as it is built on a theory of mind that is demonstrably false. But all of it belongs to the kind of fluffy, popular self-help woo – a central element in the human potential movement, in fact – that remains immensely popular and ensures that Bandler stays filthy rich. “Fraud” might be the first word that comes to mind (he often refers to himself as having a doctorate, which is, uh, a controversial claim) but there is no obvious reason to believe that Bandler doesn’t actually believes he’s onto something.

Adherents of NLP attempt to apply it to psychotherapy, healing, communication, self development, teaching English, treating psoriasis, curing cancer, achieving weight loss (the obvious one), and dating (links to these claims on the NLP website can be found here, but I won’t link to them directly). The bullshit is described in perceptive detail here, and this is a pretty good summary. This might be relevant as well.

Diagnosis: Major bullshitter and bullshit promoter. The level of danger is a little hard to assess, but pushing blatant pseudo-science cannot have a good outcome in the long run.


  1. You do realize that NLPt, or Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy accredited with all the major European psychotherapy associations? As such, claims of NLP not being grounded in reality, being fluffy, etc. are quite incongruent with actual research results.

    1. Thanks, Artur. This hack has not investigated Bandler at all

    2. As opposed to you, apparently, I have actually look at the research, and it is pretty conclusive. If psychotherapy associations nevertheless continue to promote it, that is a pretty damning indictment of those associations. NLP is pure pseudoscience.

  2. The author of this ridiculous hit-piece is surely a shill? To paraphrase Bandler: "I'm not a theoretician - I just look for what works". For the millions of people who subscribe to Bandler's techniques, it does works in reality. "it is built on a theory of mind that is demonstrably false": No, it is demonstrably true - Look up the word 'demonstration'. The mind can be reasonably viewed as having two phases - the one conscious, the other sub-conscious. The consciousness can direct and impress the sub-conscious. It can also impress the minds of other individuals. The author of this 'article' is ignorant, misinformed, or just a plain imbecile. Bandler is a diamond.

    1. I am not sure what you think your point about the conscious and sub-conscsious mind is supposed to illustrate w.r.t NLP. Bandler might be looking for what works, but the research on NLP is pretty damning. It is pseudoscience through and through.

      More demonstration? Check out for instance:
      Sharpley, Christopher .F. (1984). "Predicate matching in NLP: a review of research on the preferred representational system.". Journal of Counseling Psychology (31): 238–48.
      Sharpley, Christopher F. (1 January 1987). "Research findings on neurolinguistic programming: Nonsupportive data or an untestable theory?". Journal of Counseling Psychology 34 (1): 103–107. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.34.1.103.

      Heap. M., (1988) Neurolinguistic programming: An interim verdict. In M. Heap (Ed.) Hypnosis: Current Clinical, Experimental and Forensic Practices. London: Croom Helm, pp. 268–280.

      Daniel Druckman; John A. Swets (1988). "Enhancing human performance: Issues, theories, and techniques". Human Resource Development Quarterly (Washington, DC: National Academy Press) 1 (2): 202–206. doi:10.1002/hrdq.3920010212.

      Druckman, Daniel (1 November 2004). "Be All That You Can Be: Enhancing Human Performance". Journal of Applied Social Psychology 34 (11): 2234–2260. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2004.tb01975.x.

      von Bergen, C. W.; Gary, Barlow Soper; Rosenthal, T.; Wilkinson, Lamar V. (1997). "Selected alternative training techniques in HRD". Human Resource Development Quarterly 8 (4): 281–294. doi:10.1002/hrdq.3920080403.

      Witkowski, Tomasz (1 January 2010). "Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration?". Polish Psychological Bulletin 41 (2). doi:10.2478/v10059-010-0008-0.

      Or for a good, if old, summary,this one:
      Beyerstein, B.L (1990). "Brainscams: Neuromythologies of the New Age". International Journal of Mental Health 19 (3): 27–36 (27).

      But you don't really know how one actually investigates hypotheses in a credible manner, do you? After all, in your one-paragraph post you manage to commit two ridiculous fallacies, appeal to popularity as well as to conspiracy.

  3. Replies
    1. I always find it funny when individuals think it impressive to list all the credentials they can think of, rather than simply the most relevant.

  4. Huh. Thought i'd poke the bear! I have enjoyed many a listen to Bandler's "stories"; no doubt anecdotal at best, metaphorical at least. But, on face-value like any good story, one is free to "find meaning". Of course, this in no way defends Bandler. (Then there was that gun incident?)
    But... and here it comes...

    I've been on a few NLP trainings. Here's what Ive observed as an example.So, we can view things in life; a context if you like. We can say what we DONT want and what we DO want. Obviously if we go around saying "i dont wan this, i dont want that" we get nowhere... until someone asks a better question "well, what DO you want?" To me, NLP is about asking good questions... ones that we are often blinded to by our own perspective, beliefs or 'stuck' thinking patterns.

    However, Ive seen it on NLP training where these questions suddenly become "inspired" by the 'quantum field', or the 'mystical life energy' and it all gets perverted as students project in their woo (sometimes) and the certification process is little more than subjective! (I had big problems with that! NOT that the certificate MEANS anything anyway!)

    While the presupposition of the "two" minds never sat comfortably with me (conscious and unconscious) again, its a metaphor for an "induction" (now, be wary!) As with most "tricks" its all in the pre-amble. (Magicians the same!) Indeed, wasnt one of Bandlers books called "The Structure of Magic". And, again, i can only speak from my experience, but the trainings i attended (Grinder) refrained from any scientific claims (NO, NLP can't cure cancer!). It was much more focused on the "model" aspect and metaphorical language to help people think in new ways. For example, people who got over phobias were asked how they did that. Then the thoughts, inner dialogue and mental rehearsal codified, and offered to those with phobias to try (though again in NLP there is no "try"...ffs!) IMHO, this is "sneaky" hypnosis. (As Bander maintains, in the 70s, you had to have a licence to do hypnosis so, they couldnt call it that... Ive not checked to see if this claim is accurate, as with all things Bandler... pinch of salt!) And just to add; the "body" of NLP isn't anything new. "Copying" people, or modelling, hypnosis, meaning by metaphor, conversation change work, counselling have been around since year dot... I note that Tony Robbins is on this list. (Kinda glad to see that as I always thought he "imposed content" on the [required] so called "clean language" of NLP. That is, be wary of asking leading questions while people are in states of suggestibility) Now, Im a "believer", and this next bit always bothered me... on the basis that subtle language can influence people (see Question Disclosure Model) after an "intervention" asking "Did it work?" presupposes that there is a chance it did not. Therefore, again, this plants that possibility in the clients mind. However, to me, i always wanted to know beyond asking a subjective question week later "how are you feeling about _____"... But, there you go...

    Also, there are potential damaging problems Ive discovered. For example, states of mind. "happiness" and "feelings of love" are states of mind. And for the well practiced, these states are accessible at any and all times, "for no particular reason", as Bandler would say. In which case... why "do"... anything? Just go directly to feeling loved, and happy... for no reason! ;-) So, if I were to some up what NLP is, its a way of communicating with self and others. On a pragmatic level... if "imagining power states" gets you "there"... then, well, why not...