NLP, neuro-linguistic programming, is widely known in the New Age and was popularized by the highly successful and well-known self-help guru, Tony Robbins  (once known as Anthony Robbins). I knew about NLP when I was in the New Age although I was not interested in it. It is a type of mind conditioning/manipulation and has ties to hypnotherapy.


What is NLP?

NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, is the art of using language, observation, and certain hypnotherapy techniques to “read” a person and plant suggestions in the person’s mind to get him/her to be open to an idea or ideas. In short, it is a form of hypnosis.


NLP is heavily used in self-help programs, sales and leadership training for businesses and government agencies, and personal coaching. There is even an NLP For Dummies book and it is all over the internet, usually promoted in positive ways. It is viewed as pseudo-science by many for its claims to fix one’s  problems and bring success, and due to its unscientific basis (which attempts to appear scientific by using lots of technical terms), but it is wildly popular.


Life Coaches, Health Coaches, Christian Coaches, and Coaches of every stripe imaginable are proliferating (both non-Christian and Christian), so be aware that some coaches (maybe a majority) use NLP. This includes Christian Coaches. In reading about this, I came across sites defending NLP as merely a communication technique, and I viewed several Christian sites defending it a method that could play a role in “renewing” the mind.


You May Have Had NLP.


Because sales people often learn and use NLP, you may have had NLP done on you if you have been in a situation where you were making a big purchase; or if you have attended any type of self-help seminar or seminar on how to succeed, you may have been the recipient of NLP. Undoubtedly, unless you have studied NLP, you did not know it was happening.


Christian NLP?

From what I saw in several Christian sites supporting NLP, it is clear that biblical principles are not being used and/or the owners of the sites do not understand the Bible enough to be discerning about NLP. For example, one site states:


“If I am modeling Buddhist Meditation techniques, obviously what I am doing is not Christian. On the other hand, if I am modeling the Leadership, Healing Patterns, or the Metaphors of Jesus then yes, NLP is Christian! If I am modeling out of the Bible how to ‘Renew the Mind’, then it is Christian.” From a site for “Christian Coaching”


What biblical basis is there for modeling “leadership” or “healing patterns” of Jesus? Jesus did not come to teach leadership skills. Nor did Jesus have “healing patterns.” He healed by the power of God due to his deity. And certainly NLP is not needed for a Christian’s mind to be renewed. The Christian’s mind is renewed through reading God’s word as one trusts and submits to God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit as a Christian yields to Him in the process of sanctification.


Another Christian site promoting NLP for “coaching” misuses Proverbs 23:7.


“NLP has taught us to appreciate with a new freshness the depth and meaning of the old proverb, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” (Proverbs 23:7). Consequently, much of what we do in NLP occurs as a result of these natural processes that describe how we humans process information in our minds. NLP directs us how to change the process by changing the mental codings. What you just experienced, we call submodality codings in NLP.”


Proverbs 27:3 is not stating that how we think makes us who we are. This misuse is also taught in the New Thought and New Age movements. The context tells us that the statement in verse 7 is about hypocrisy, that one can think ill of someone but falsely act hospitable towards that person. Verse 7 is not self-help advice nor is it even promoting that idea. It is actually part of a passage condemning false behavior.


“Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,

Or desire his delicacies;

For as he thinks within himself, so he is.

He says to you, “Eat and drink!”

But his heart is not with you.

You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,

And waste your compliments.” Proverbs 23:6-8


Astoundingly, this Christian promoter of NLP talks about how NLP brings a “new freshness and depth” to this verse. But clearly he did not even read the context. Or if he did, he is ignoring the context.


The site admits that this involves hypnosis:


“Erickson developed the model of communication that we know as “Ericksonian hypnosis.” Since 1958, the American Medical Association has recognized hypnosis as a viable tool of healing during surgery……As Bandler and Grinder modeled Erickson, they discovered they could obtain similar results. Today many of the NLP techniques result from modeling Ericksonian processes.”


So who is Bandler? (Bandler is also mentioned on the other Christian coaching site promoting NLP).


Bandler Charged with Murder

The references to Bandler are about Richard Bandler (b. 1950), co-founder with John Grinder (b. 1940) of NLP. One of the men who influenced Bandler was Fritz Perls (1893-1970), a psychotherapist who taught his famed Gestalt Therapy at the edgy Esalen Institute for five years:


Gestalt Therapy’s rich history at Esalen began in 1964 when German-born psychotherapist Fritz Perls arrived and passionately taught here for five years. (From the Esalen Journal


Esalen will sound familiar to anyone who read some of my writings on the Enneagram because Claudio Naranjo, who is credited with the Enneagram Types, taught the Enneagram at Esalen. Esalen was a breeding ground for the human potential movement and also was an influence on the New Age movement. Bandler cannot be separated from the influences of Perls and the human potential movement.


Well, what kind of man was Bandler? Bandler was the focus of a sensational trial when he was charged with the murder of a woman, and though he got off, the picture is not pretty.


“In the morning Corine Christensen last snorted cocaine, she found herself, straw in hand, looking down the barrel of a .357 Magnum revolver. When the gun exploded, momentarily piercing the autumn stillness, it sent a single bullet on a diagonal path through her left nostril and into her brain.

Christensen slumped over her round oak dining table, bleeding onto its glass top, a loose-leaf notebook, and a slip of yellow memo paper on which she had scrawled, in red ink, DON’T KILL US ALL. Choking, she spit blood onto a wine goblet, a tequila bottle, and the shirt of the man who would be accused of her murder, then slid sideways off the chair and fell on her back. Within minutes she lay still.

As Christensen lay dying, two men left her rented town house in a working-class section of Santa Cruz, California. One was her former boyfriend, James Marino, an admitted cocaine dealer and convicted burglar. The other, Richard Bandler, was known internationally as the cofounder of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a controversial approach to psychology and communication. About 12 hours later, on the evening of November 3, 1986, Richard Bandler was arrested and charged with the murder.

Bandler’s defense was, simply, that Marino had killed Christensen, not him. Many at the time alleged he used NLP techniques on the stand to escape conviction. Yet Bandler was also alleged to actually use a gun in NLP sessions in order to produce dramatic psychological changes in clients—a technique that was later mirrored by Hollywood in the movie Fight Club, in which Brad Pitt’s character pulls a gun on a gas station attendant and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t pursue his dreams in life. That was, many said, Bandler’s MO.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Bandler was indeed let off, and the story was quickly buried—I’ve never spoken to a student of NLP who’s ever heard of the murder case, I’ll note, and I’ve spoken to a lot.” From “Ten Ways to Protect Yourself From NLP Mind Control” by Jason Louv


Bandler’s character seems to reflect the base nature of NLP – a manipulative method that is basically a form of hypnosis or mind conditioning but which masquerades as science and healing. Hence, the label of pseudo-science given to NLP is well-earned.


“..the assumptions of NLP, namely that our cognition, behavior and emotions can be ‘programmed’ by mimicking the more superficial aspects of those with desirable attributes (for example posture and mannerism) are wrong. The last thirty years of research have simply shown that NLP is bunk.–Steven Novella, M.D.

…after three decades, there is still no credible theoretical basis for NLP, researchers having failed to establish any evidence for its efficacy that is not anecdotal.–Gareth Roderique-Davies

…<snip>… NLP might be seen as a competitor with Landmark Forum, Tony Robbins, and legions of other enterprises promising to teach the masses the key to success, power, health, and happiness.”  (Source)


Be Alert!

Please be cautious when attending sales or business seminars, or if pressed for decisions in a sales situation, and do not let this into your church. Most work seminars now are heavily laced with New Thought/New Age self-help teachings. NLP lurks everywhere in this consumer-oriented and power-loving society.


I advise against using a life or health coach (Christian or not) because such coaches are usually steeped in New Thought, NLP, New Age, bad theology, and/or the idol of success. The international coaching certification organization is New Thought.


Although NLP teachers and supporters offer an alleged scientific basis for NLP, it is bogus. However, the hypnotic effect of NLP and its ties to hypnotherapy are real.


Resources on NLP

Got questions (Christian site)


Article by Christian author Robert Velarde on Tony Robbins and NLP


This critique is excellent in pointing out the pseudo-science of NLP, with links to more information at the end


First published on CANA site April 2024


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