NLP and the myth of the quick fix

When I began my NLP training in 2002, I quickly embraced the myth of the NLP “quick fix.”

To their credit, my trainers were fairly low-key about what NLP could do. But they did promote the idea of NLP working “much faster” than alternatives, such as conventional therapy.

During training, my fellow students and I were often able to rapidly fix some of our own and other people’s problems. Sometimes these were issues that had endured for decades, yet with NLP we could resolve them in half an hour or less. Gaining the power to do this seemed miraculous.

Many of us NLP students, including me, quickly developed overblown ideas of what NLP (and we) could accomplish.

Inevitably, I then encountered problems I couldn’t fix right away.

Now, in many cases where one NLP quick fix doesn’t work to resolve a client’s issue, a different quick fix will work. It often makes sense to try a few. If an issue can be solved with the right fast method, best to find that out at the beginning, rather taking multiple sessions to do the same work.

But quick fixes don’t always work. My training didn’t encourage me to expect some issues to take longer to resolve.

Sometimes my focus on a “quick fix” kept me from even noticing evidence that a slower approach might work better. Or noticing where a quick fix might prove inappropriate or could cause harm.

Encouraged to be arrogant

By partway through my NLP training, I had gotten overconfident about NLP’s power and my own skills.

In retrospect, I became dangerously arrogant.

Unfortunately, the NLP community I encountered didn’t provide counter-examples to the “quick fix” idea, or encourage me to be humble. Instead, much of what I heard and read fed and inflated my arrogance.

Used inappropriately, NLP can damage people. I feel very lucky that I only did significant harm to two people that I know of. (One of them was me.)

It took me several years working as an NLP developer, and years struggling to work through my own issues, to realize that NLP is not the comprehensive quick fix many people claim it to be.

Quick fixes aren’t always possible or appropriate

Problems and issues have structures. NLP’s emphasis on simplicity and dealing with the minimum amount of structure to get an issued resolved is usually useful.

However, NLPers tend not to distinguish between issues where a “quick fix” is and isn’t structurally appropriate.

To use a simple analogy, let’s say that Juliet comes to you for help because she has trouble running.

  • If the issue is a stone in her shoe, you can find and fix the problem quickly and easily. Here, a quick fix is appropriate, while longer “treatment” is not.
  • If Juliet has trouble running because she hasn’t exercised in 5 years, she needs to get in shape. Fixing this problem ecologically requires a systemic approach. You would not help Juliet by encouraging her to take amphetamines so she can immediately run faster. Or by convincing her that she can instantly gain the ability to run marathons by changing her beliefs. With a systemic issue like this, a quick fix might simply fail, or it might make the problem worse.
  • What if Juliet has a stone in her shoe and she’s out of shape? You can instantly boost her performance by removing the stone. Such dramatic results might convince both of you that a quick fix approach works. But removing the stone can’t and won’t fix Juliet’s systemic performance issue. Trying to remove more stones from her shoes is a waste of time. Once the rock is gone, she needs to get in shape.

NLPers often complain that conventional therapies, especially psychoanalysis, can take years to fix a problem NLP can fix in 5 minutes. As a NLPer, if you get a client with a systemic problem, do you have the wisdom and humbleness — and the calibration skills — to notice when a quick fix isn’t appropriate?

Solve all your problems instantly with NLP!

I think we in the NLP community harm our clients, our fellow NLPers, and the general public by promoting the idea of NLP as a universal quick fix.

I also think we cause harm by allowing NLP practitioners and trainers to make ridiculous claims without being publicly criticized or held accountable for the results they actually get.

The “quick fix” appeals to people’s near-universal human desires to get instant gratification and something for nothing. But how many clients that NLP could help instead stop doing NLP because it doesn’t work as fast or completely as they were unrealistically led to expect?

Death to NLP hype!

I think NLP will be better off when we NLPers talk honestly with clients about what we offer. When we openly discuss what NLP can and can’t do. When we encourage clients to develop realistic expectations. When instead of hyping NLP, we market the amazing results NLP really can and does produce. And tell clients that resolving longstanding issues might happen quickly and completely, but more often takes time.

Most of the professional NLPers I know who had serious, ongoing issues in their lives — the kind clients come to us to fix — took years to resolve them fully. That includes me.

Why should we NLPers promote NLP as if it will fix the client’s problems instantly, when it didn’t do that for us?

Joy

What’s your opinion? Please add your respectful and intelligent comments to the community dialogue below.

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NLP and the myth of the quick fix — 18 Comments

  1. Joy,

    Thank you for this brave and thoughtful post. As a clinical social worker that uses NLP on a daily basis — along with many other therapeutic techniques and models — I could not agree more. I often bemoan the unfortunate choice of Bandler and Grinder to criticize psychology and therapy so mercilessly in the early days as it set the tone for years to come. Curiously, in Structure I they had a much more realistic stance, stating that the meta model was a tool to be used along with a therapist’s current skills and knowledge to increase their effectiveness.

    NLP has a lot to offer and can be applied to many areas: psychotherapy, business, sports, etc. But learning NLP doesn’t make you a therapist any more than it makes you a CEO of a company, but for some reason there are a lot of NLPers making the leap to counseling without the appropriate education and supervision.

    I am a huge fan of NLP, however the issues that you identify here — arrogance, oversimplification, and the demonization of psychotherapies — often put it in a bad light and may ultimately lead to its complete marginalization.

  2. Well-put, Bruce. It’s great to get your perspective as someone who has and uses both NLP and therapeutic training professionally.

    Thanks for mentioning Bandler and Grinder’s more reasonable stance in The Structure of Magic volume 1 — I had forgotten about that. Where did that humbleness go?

    Actually, I suspect that harshly criticizing psychology and therapy helped Bandler and Grinder develop NLP in the early years. To create a new approach, they needed to clear their minds of other people’s preconceptions and models. They needed to reject theory in favor of techniques that produced verifiable results. I imagine that reacting against the prevailing paradigms helped them accomplish all that. It also created controversy, which got them attention and students, which encouraged them to react even more against the status quo.

    But in the long run, that strategy proved costly, as we both discovered.

    Frankly, it scares me how many of the people I meet who have heard of NLP at all have a negative opinion of it. Including people in the change work field. But considering the arrogant attitudes and inadequate training of so many NLPers, including myself, it’s not surprising. Unfortunately.

  3. Joy, I’m an instant fan. This is stuff that needed to be said but that DOESN’T probably sell courses. Thanks for this, it’s educational stuff.

    Al

  4. Joy,
    Thank you very much for this grounded post. I have just finished the Practitioners Course and there was something not sitting 100% for me. I am a yoga instructor and during my teacher training we discussed emotional releases and how to deal with them. It was specifically emphasized repeatedly that we aren’t professional therapists and should be helping our students get outside help should they express the need rather than try and help them ourselves. I believe NLP can be quite useful in certain situations ( love the stone in the shoe analogy!), but was incredibly relieved to stumble upon your website because most websites kinda scare me.

    How do we move forward with NLP with a conservative approach?

    Again, thanks for the grounding article.
    Kumari

  5. Kumari, wow. You are a lot more insightful than I was after my Practitioner training! The NLP field is lucky to have you.

    You ask, “How do we move forward with NLP with a conservative approach?” You inspired me to expand and clarify the suggestions for NLP students in The myth of fast NLP mastery. Those guidelines should help you gain skill quickly and safely.

    Other experienced NLPers: please add to my suggestions. Let’s help the new NLPers get good and succeed!

  6. I just discovered that professional hypnotist Steve Roh is telling practitioners to act sensible in the (equally over-hyped) hypnosis field:

    I think hypnotists should lose the mantle of superior wisdom and enlightenment that they often wrap themselves in….

    …it’s just poor marketing to present yourself as an enlightened being (unless you are specifically selling to an audience that wants to buy that, of course). Clients feel relieved to find a hypnotist who does not seem intent on preaching to them from a pedestal.

    Rock on, Steve!

  7. Hello Joy,

    I believe that being wise, means to listen and learn well, and in fact isn’t this having instant rapport with anybody. I like the topic, and this is good to be brought up, especially that some people think that NLP is a quick fix.

    NLP is a model though, as I learned that and as any model, the NLPer will adopt it and ~ translate it~ by adding it to his/her Map.

    And also with NLP I learned how to just observe, ones neurology of processing, and use my calibration to sense how I feel about what I see … and What do I experience? in that moment. Learn well and flow in communication.

    And wait, also for me, I believe that NLP develops new links, in people’s mind, eliminates limiting beliefs, strengthen others to succeed and call into action, and ultimately brings change as it brought for me. And who know how long should it take to one to realize that “Abundance” is just at the Tip Of One’s Tong, and then by simply looking at it, and more you are looking at it more “Abundance” you are getting. How long should it take to a person to “Picture It”?

    Well for me if one client can see that in one session, that is a breakthrough, and who knows when the snowball will become a avalanche? Sometime it is just enough to use NLP and give to a client a hammer and let him figure it out what is a good use for it, when before he used to use his fist instead.

    I believe in magic, and if people will use NLP in this way, sharing simple stories, you can make this magic, infectious.

    I love your blog, and your tenacity, and your sharing.

    Ciprian Stan

  8. Welcome Ciprian,

    Sometime it is just enough to use NLP and give to a client a hammer and let him figure it out what is a good use for it, when before he used to use his fist instead.

    You are brilliant, my friend!

    I love that you have taken the initiative to get an NLP practice group going in Atlanta. Practice groups are a great way to hone your NLP skills — especially if you bring in members of the public who are unfamiliar with NLP for your group members to work with. Working with people who don’t understand the NLP basics is great practice for real life. Well done!

    Joy

  9. thanks for your honesty, great article. I used to believe NLP can do almost anything and in much shorter time. I feel there’s too much hype going around in the community. As I gain more understanding in the psychological and spiritual field, i realize there are issues that cannot be resolved using short fix, especially emotional issues. Some even suggested using anchoring to override the negative emotions! They are interested in getting results without trying to find out what causes it in the first place.

  10. Thanks, Mike. My experience matches yours — SOME emotional issues are amenable to an ecological quick fix, while others need in-depth exploration and work to resolve.

  11. Hi Joy,

    What an interesting and article.

    I completed the NLP Practitioner course and TLT/Hypnosis course also. It took me three years to actually compelte the courses. I had been a fan of NLP for years – I wanted to experience the small amount of research I had carried out on the subject. In fact, what I had researched ws adequate to my needs, It enhanced my views and broadened my perspective. It was great.

    After the NLP course, I wanted more. It almost felt like an addiction. I was ‘high’ on new information; it was amazing.

    After my hpnosis,TLT course, I felt slightly different. I felt empowered yet cheated. I watched the film Inception the day after the NLP course and it was like an a lien being called by it’s spaceship after abadoning it. I wanted to go to it. I was hooked.

    Now, three months one, I want more. I want to know more about NLP and the brain. Although, I do wonder Joy if I have become so sure of myself and so ‘aware’ of how ‘things work’, I feel that I am, in a way, superior to others. Of course, I know that I’m not; I just miss that innocence that I owned before.

    I have noticed that people are treating me differently (not in a postitive light) due to my change in attitude.

    Personally, I wonder if the film Inception is a way of telling its audience that there is not room in society for NLP – looking at some content and the ending, it wouldn;t surprise me.

    NLP – friend or foe? It certainly changes your way of thinking – for the better? Not completely.l

  12. Hi Paula,

    Thanks for writing so honestly.

    Like you, I also had a response to NLP training that seemed almost like an addiction. Mostly for good reasons: things I’d struggled with all my life got resolved, or became easy. But there were also elements of power and arrogance.

    I think society would benefit from far more NLP. But sane and reasonable NLP, with realistic expectations and good safety standards and protocols, not hype and wishful thinking. We get plenty of those from other sources.

    I think you’ll find your balance soon. Your awareness that something seems off-kilter is a great place to start. That people treat you differently now is useful feedback that you can utilize to change your behaviors and attitudes for the better.

    Joy

  13. Very USEFUL article. May I just add that in this ‘instant fix’ attitude, lies a real challenge.

    It actually may turn out that the fix becomes elegant and simple. It’s the detective work in the *diagnosis* that makes it so.

    May I be so bold to suggest that a thorough Diagnosis is essential.

    It may be a single session, or indeed, a series of sessions of evidence collecting, before the KEY underlying structure of the ‘stuckness’ becomes apparent.

    I’ve seen people grab the first (read: only) piece of evidence and work on that and wonder why sometimes it didn’t ‘fix’ what the client wanted.

    And as a PS; some people are quite comfortable to revert back to previous beliefs and behaviours if it serves them better – through values of familiarity or comfort rather than opportunity or result.

  14. Steve,

    You are SO right about diagnosis! I worked with one friend for over a year before I finally figured out the key self-reinforcing structure that was keeping him stuck. Prior to that, nothing I did could create the magnitude of change we both wanted for him. Once I had the key, I was able to intervene successfully via about three 10-minute phone conversations (as setup) and maybe an hour of face time.

    Thanks for posting!

    Joy

  15. Pingback: What's Right and Wrong with NLP (if Anything)? And What Does the Future Hold for NLP?

  16. Hello Joy

    Your article is very interesting to me

    I started counseling in the 80s and NLP training in the 1990s and had the same experience as you.

    I wondered about the hype within other aspects of NLP. Namely, the hype within the other concepts, from submodalities to the metamodel.

    After finishing a master course involving cognitive linguistics in 2000, I concluded NLP is just too full of hype to be long term useful.

    So now my memories of NLP are of a time of great excitement (which I cherish), but ultimately lead to disappointment, in the same way a love relationship can end.

    Keep truth seeking, Joy. Whether you stick with or move on from NLP, you will no doubt make your own endeavours your own.

  17. Hello Nicky,

    Thanks for posting. Because Neuro-Linguistic Programming has been such a huge help to me and people I know, and has the potential to help so many more, I am saddened that hype is turning so many people against NLP. Even when NLP can deliver 100%, people hyping it and claiming it can do 500% give it a bad reputation.

    As an NLP modeler and developer, my experience with things like submodalities is that they do work and work well. But, and this is a significant but, they require a lot of precision to work reliably. Sloppy NLP relies on the client’s intuition to translate vague instructions into action steps that will work. Since people’s intuitions differ, some clients will intuit instructions that work, and some won’t. Hence NLP processes that “work great,” but only for some people some of the time. Precise NLP gives clients specific instructions so they don’t need to rely on intuition. Steve and Connirae Andreas are experts at developing NLP processes with very precise instructions that get results for a wide range of people. That’s why I often recommend their books, especially Heart of the Mind, Change Your Mind — And Keep the Change, and Steve’s Transforming Your Self: Becoming Who You Want to Be.

    Joy

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