Psychological Research and NLP

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a psychological approach that aims to model the structure of expertise and expert performance and the patterns of communication that accompany them. Despite its popularity, the scientific validity of NLP has been questioned due to methodological errors in some of the studies conducted. In this article, we will explore the science behind NLP and address some of the methodological issues raised by critics.

One important aspect of NLP research is understanding the associative nature of the human nervous system. Pavlov’s famous experiments with dogs and bells illustrated the basic psychological understanding of association. NLP studies have occasionally overlooked the lessons learned from associative learning research. For example, Dorn (1983) attempted to determine participants’ preferred representational systems (PRS) by having them select one word out of three sets of visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic words. However, this study overlooked the fact that participants might choose a word based on its specific associations rather than their PRS.

Another important consideration in NLP research is the impact of context. Humans function within and are influenced by context, which significantly affects processing across a wide range of cognitive domains, including learning, memory, language interpretation, problem solving, and perception. The confounding and influential effects of context significantly affect processing in memory experiments, as well as in language interpretation, perception, and problem-solving. In a classic example of context-dependent memory, Baddeley and Godden (1975) tested the memory of participants in two different environments: underwater and on land. They found that participants recalled more words learned in the same environment where they were tested. The impact of context on NLP is also significant. For instance, Einspruch and Forman (1985) noted that the representational system in which information is stored or retrieved is highly contextualised and varies with the situation, directly influencing the system used. They also highlighted the importance of context in determining the meaning and structure of any communication.

Experimental design considerations are also critical to NLP research. Sharpley (1987) rightly pointed out that some of the methodological objections raised by Einspruch and Forman unnecessarily discounted a large number of potentially valuable results. However, an analysis of the literature reviews and the studies to which they refer revealed consistent oversights of vital distinctions necessary for scientific enquiry into NLP to succeed. NLP graduates are already trained in these core patterns, but it is important to integrate this knowledge into future design methodologies in NLP research.

In conclusion, the science behind NLP requires a deep understanding of the associative nature of the human nervous system, the impact of context on human functioning, and experimental design considerations. These factors have been overlooked in some studies, but their integration into future research can improve the scientific validity of NLP. While some criticisms of NLP may be valid, it is important to acknowledge the potential benefits of this approach and conduct rigorous studies to explore its effectiveness.


Balsam, P.D. & Tomie, A. (1985) Context and Learning. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bandler, R., & Grinder, J. (1979). Frogs into princes : neuro linguistic programming. Moab, Utah: Real People Press.

Dorn, F. (1983). Assessing primary representational system (PRS) preference for Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) using three methods. Counselor Education and Supervision Vol 23(2) Dec 1983, 149-156, 23, 149-156.

Einspruch, E. L., & Forman, B. D. (1985). Observations Concerning Research Literature on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 32(4), 589-596.

Elich, M., Thompson, R. W., & Miller, L. (1985). Mental imagery as revealed by eye movements and spoken predicates: A test of neurolinguistic programming. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 32(4), 622-625.

Falzett, W. (1981). Matched versus unmatched primary representational systems and their relationship to perceived trustworthiness in a counseling analog. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 28, 305-308.

Godden, D. R., & Baddeley, A. D. (1975). Context-dependent memory in two natural environments: On land and underwater. British Journal of Psychology, 66, 325 – 331.

Gumm, W., Walker, M., & Day, H. (1982). Neurolinguistic programming: Method or myth? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 29, 327-330.

Miller, R.R. & Schachtman, T.R. (1985): The Several Roles of Context at the Time of Retrieval. In P.D. Balsam & A. Tomie (Eds.), Context and Learning. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Mitchell, D.C. (1994): Sentence parsing, in Morton Ann Gernsbacher (ed.), Handbook of psycholinguistics, Academic Press

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NLP, Psychology and Psychologists

Today too few Psychologists are enjoying applying their knowledge by finding out about NLP, as a field of knowledge, a methodology for modelling excellence, and a collection of advanced communication models which are increasingly finding support in the cognitive sciences. Those practising psychologists who do choose to augment their professional and career development with accredited, graduate-standard NLP training significantly improve their personal and professional results.

Clinical Psychologists

For clinical psychologists, NLP has immediate and specific applications to high quality psychotherapy. Graduates are able to achieve more effective, longer-lasting results by using applications of NLP as a valuable addition to their existing psychotherapy skills. Through applying NLP in the context of brief, solution-focussed therapy, students improve their abilities to read and utilise clients’ non-verbal communication and subtle cues, and increase their flexibility to respond using multiple methods for interventions.

One element of utmost importance that NLP brings to clinical applications is the use of generative and aesthetic frames. Graduates of our programs have the ability to naturally implement therapeutic frameworks which encourage generative change and ensure that the positive benefits created within a person’s life are acceptable not only to the person themselves, but also in terms of their entire environment and wider social networks. Applying NLP to clinical psychology attains results through accomplishing not just technically skilful work, but also through creating a real artistry in the work you do.

Social, Economic and Organisational Psychologists

The skills attained through training in NLP with Inspiritive are specifically applicable to organisational and cultural change processes, the process of managing others, coaching managers and staff and importantly, the ability to train others to do what you and other models of excellence can do.

Rather than providing simply a handful of techniques or giving students limiting and fixed scripts, we teach the underlying patterning and principles of NLP so that students are able to creatively apply NLP with the skill, artistry and behavioural flexibility which are demanded by the increasingly complex workplace today, to effectively meet an organisation’s specific needs.

Psychologist Ambrose Mckinnery has been applying NLP to his practice in organisational and personal change with great success over the last five years.

Cognitive & Other Academic Psychologists

The attraction of the Graduate Certificate to academic psychologists lies in the opportunity you have to learn a practical model of applied psychology, and to gain an additional level of description by getting to grips with the practical applications of cognitive psychology.

NLP training offers the possibility of seeing in action the impact and influence of effects which psychologists have known about for years, through the experience of getting to grips with them personally. Inspiritive is committed to enhancing the relationship between psychology and NLP, exemplified by our current research efforts. The Graduate Certificate offers the possibility of tying together the theoretical and practical issues of psychology and communication while exploring the intellectual antecedents of NLP and the cognitive sciences; linguistics, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and anthropology within a learning environment structured using the most modern principles from the cognitive psychology of instructional design.

“Some of the most recent research and theories in the cognitive sciences in the areas of neural learning and mental representation directly supports the way that Inspiritive teaches. My representations of the field of Cognitive Science are highly enriched as a direct result of my training in NLP on the Graduate Certificate, and this allows me a whole new perspective for my research.”
– Richard Thompson, Cognitive Science (BSc)

The Graduate Certificate NLP

Our students are some of the most successful at applying NLP in the world. Qualified psychologists appreciate that the development of worthwhile skills takes exposure, quality teaching and significant practice. The Graduate Certificate is the only formally recognised post-graduate qualification in NLP available in Australia, and among the very few available internationally. It represents a legitimate addition to your professional and career development; you are guaranteed the quality that comes assured with the formal requirements of a structured and modularised course which is accredited within the Australian Qualifications Framework.

The Graduate Certificate in NLP is not just a one-off training course. Inspiritive is committed to teaching our students to high standards of excellence. We encourage and offer the opportunity for our students to repeat the course multiple times, charging only nominal administrative fees each time you repeat (find out more about this unique aspect of the Graduate Certificate). Graduates tell us that they learn at least as much the second time through as the first!

Our graduates come from a variety of backgrounds including management, NLP, psychology and business, among others,

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