Psychology vs NLP


If you’ve not studied or experienced Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) then you might think it’s ‘woo woo’ but in fact it’s a legitimate psychological tool founded on long established psychological models. 

NLP was founded by two psychologists, Prof. Grinder and Dr. Bandler.

Many of the widely used and evidence-based behaviour change techniques used by psychologists, healthcare professionals and other professionals involved in behaviour change have striking resemblance to NLP, such as:

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Positive Psychology

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Motivational Interviewing vs NLP

There are numerous linguistic techniques used within MI such as, ‘double binds’, negating words, use of open questions, rapport building and so forth, which are also techniques proposed within NLP. Equally, the foundational principles of MI closely mirror NLP presuppositions (See Rules of NLP).

Positive Psychology vs NLP

Positive Psychology is the relatively new field of scientific study into optimal human functioning. Positive psychology aims to find out how high achieving and happy people attain their level of physical and emotional success via their thoughts, habits, routines and behaviours. This is precisely what Grinder and Bandler set out to do in the 1970’s to form NLP.  Also, positive psychology is less interested in people with issue and more interested in people who have overcome them to thrive and how everyone else can learn to model these people via the way they think and behave. Again, this is the type of research NLP is also founded upon.


The CBT model depicts the process by which information from our external environment influences and interacts with our thoughts, feelings, physiology and behaviours. E.g. We have a negative experience which produces thoughts and, in turn, trigger certain feelings (E.g. Fear), physiological responses (e.g. increased heart rate) and drives behaviours (E.g. run towards or run away).

Equally, if we wish to change unhelpful behaviours we can actively do something helpful such as go for a walk (i.e. behaviour) which in turn will help feed into more positive thoughts, feelings and physiological cycle of responses.



The NLP model takes this model a few steps further. Before anything else external information is processed through neurological filters which, depending on relevance, past experiences, attitudes, beliefs and so forth, are deleted, distorted or generalised.

Accompanying thoughts are ‘internal representations’ or mental pictures, which trigger feelings (state), physiological responses and behaviours.

The NLP model therefore states that behaviours change be changed at numerous junctures within it. Techniques can influence change within the cognitive filters and/or internal representations for example, which, in turn, will change the feelings, physiological responses and subsequent behaviour.

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