NLP: What’s the evidence?
by Dr Toby Murcott
October 18, 2003
DOES NEURO-LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING (NLP) WORK?
Used by many medical practitioners, NLP is known to be very effective for treating phobias, particularly ones that are easy to identify, such as flying or spiders. It has strong roots in hypnotherapy and uses many of the same techniques. Clinical trials have shown that hypnosis works for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and surgical pain. It appears that using hypnosis to reduce the fear of pain and discomfort really does improve health and speed of recovery.
WHY DOES IT WORK?
Like hypnosis, it exploits our natural ability to go into a trance. Once in the trance, practitioners use techniques such as relaxation and visualisation to help patients think differently about an irrational fear. According to Dr Ann Williamson, chair of the British Society of Dental and Medical Hypnosis, NLP uses language such as “go inside yourself and ask . . .” and the trance state is a consequence of thinking about the question. Unlike hypnosis, there is no formal induction into a trance.
IS A TRANCE SCIENTIFICALLY RECOGNISED?
Debate still rages over whether it is a real change in brain activity or a state where someone plays the role of being in a trance. Dr Graham Wagstaff, of Liverpool University, a psychologist specialising in hypnosis, says that brain scans and psychological tests have shown changes during hypnosis, but it is impossible to say if these are fundamental changes in the brain or the result of concentrating on relaxing. He adds that, regardless of the scientific arguments, anyone involved with hypnosis has to accept that it has a real role in therapy.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER TECHNIQUES USED TO “CURE” SIMON?
Alistair asked Simon to “gorilla thump” his thymus gland to boost his immune system and to tap his acupuncture meridians to dissipate nervous energy. There is no scientific basis for these techniques, but they could be part of the NLP, providing a reminder that he is no longer afraid of trains.
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