Neuro-linguistic programming

Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP):  What is it?

Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP): What is it?

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) was developed in the 1970s and even if you’re not familiar with the therapy itself, some of its practices have seeped into popular culture.

Ever seen a TV show where the protagonist spots a liar because of their eye movements? Or when body-language experts advise you to mirror another person’s movements to establish rapport? Both of these techniques were born from NLP. While the name may sound a little intimidating and confusing, NLP is actually a simple and effective technique that helps numerous people.


How does NLP work?

NLP takes a different approach to typical therapeutic psychological techniques.  It’s rooted in the idea that no action is negative and any failures are simply a learning opportunity. An NLP practitioner aims to build a map of a person’s reality by assessing their speech, actions, thoughts, and feelings. Once the picture is complete, they’ll work with the client to adopt the strategies used by an already successful person to reach a particular personal goal.

NLP is a very practical approach, which makes it accessible and popular for use with both professionals and clients from all walks of life.

Here’s a closer look at some of the techniques NLP practitioners may use with clients.



This technique is a way for individuals to instantly access a desired state of mind by associating it with an action. For instance, if someone is struggling with crippling anxiety in a particular situation, the NLP practitioner would help them to get into a state of high confidence and calmness.

Once in that positive state, the client performs a particular action over and over, such as squeezing their thumb and finger or twisting a ring. Later, when they need to access a calm and confident mindset, they perform the action again, and those desired feelings (such as confidence and calmness) can be triggered.



In this technique, clients use visualisation to change their behaviour or thought patterns that may have become unwanted and ingrained habits. The first step is to identify the very first trigger of the unwanted behaviour. For example, a smoker who wants to quit might be triggered by the smell of cigarette smoke, or for a nervous public speaker, it might be hearing chatter from the audience.

Once the early warning sign is identified, the client visualizes it. For example, the smoker imagines seeing the cigarette, can smell it, and even taste it. The nervous speaker imagines feeling the buzz in the room, seeing the restless crowd, and hearing the excited chatter.

Finally, the client changes the visualization to an empowering one. The smoker may go outside to enjoy the morning sun, feeling healthy and strong without a cigarette. The nervous speaker may notice the smiles in the crowd and imagine the deafening applause when they take to the stage.

With repetition, those early warning signs of a negative behaviour can become a trigger for a desired behaviour.


Visual/kinesthetic dissociation (VKD)

VKD is often used with clients who experience PTSD as it offers a way to disassociate negative thoughts and feelings from a particular event or incident.

Using VKD, the client will be asked to visualize the event as if they were watching it in a movie theatre, as a bystander, or from an overhead view. From this safe distance, the practitioner will then guide the client to give the ‘movie’ a different ending, one that feels safe or has a positive resolution.

VKD aims to break the automatic triggering of a nervous system response when recalling distressing events by changing how a client recalls the event.



Association works in a similar way to disassociation, except that here the client connects a negative feeling with an unwanted behaviour instead.

If a client finds a particular food irresistible but desperately wants to be able to say no to it, the practitioner will guide the client to feel repulsed by the thought of that food so they can no longer bear to be near it.


The takeaway

NLP’s innovative approach is used by athletes, performers, business executives, and everyday people to achieve their personal and professional goals. It’s also very popular within self-help communities which is a testament to its simplicity.


If you’re looking for a therapy to change habitual thought and behaviour patterns, NLP is certainly worth exploring. Feel free to contact us here at COPE Centre to find out more CONTACT US – Copecentre