NLP in recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction

Richard Bandler

NLP in recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction

NLP or “Neuro Linguistc Programming” is something that I have meant to talk about for some time on the site, but have managed to write anything untill now. I did mention it is passing before and have seen quite a lot about it mentioned on sites such as Soberistas, where people generally report a positive outcome. I also got flamed for mentioning online before, so as usual with anything that is to do with recovery from addiction, it divides opinion.

I am certainly not a life coach and have not formally learnt NLP. I have read some of the books, including those by Richard Bandler and Paul McKenna and have made use of resources such as the hypnotic cd’s when I was giving up smoking and also as ways of bringing some peace and quiet to a busy day. I found that many of the ideas presented in the material, had their roots in practices such as mindfulness and were linked to CBT techniques. Overall I feel that these methods have helped me, and I have not smoked since I followed Paul McKenna’s method and actually found it a much easier approach than the many other methods that I have used.

So far I seem to be giving NLP a thumbs up, but I do feel there is a bad side to it as well. Pretty much anybody can become and NLP practitioner and life coach after attending a few courses. NLP works like a pyramid scheme in that people who are looking for a solution for their problems, get involved with NLP and then take the course and pass it onto others by teaching them. Some are better than others! My partner was given appalling advice by one of her friends who is an NLP convert.

NLP is self-help and goal based which can be a great thing, but it is not therapy. Some may feel more comfortable going to see an NLP friend and discussing issues rather than seeing somebody with proper medical qualifications who has studied for years. The outcome can be disastrous is poor advice is given, by somebody who learnt NLP because they were unstable themself.

I think that NLP has some good ideas and there is certainly common ground between it and other methods of self empowerment such as CBT. However, I do feel that the anti psychiatrist stance by people such as Bandler in the early days have caused it to be have a lack of credibility with many in the medical field, and the fact that the pyramid system leads to a similar type of faith in the methods, as the irrational 12 step AA solution in addiction recovery and you can see where problems can occur.

I still feel that these books and methods can have some value. I went through a period in recovery after about 18 months when I really started to feel emotions and I also had quite a lot of intrusive thoughts. I had got through the craving stage of my recovery and was now having to deal with life and the people around me. I had little faith in the AA solution and wanted to move on. I was also suffering from depression. I do feel that some of the methods that I learnt from NLP such as reframing situations and looking at where emotions were coming from, really helped. I found that I recognised when the emotions were building up quickly and was able to do something positive to deal with the situation and relax my mind by employing some simple techniques. These methods really helped me get through a difficult few months and I also discussed them with my counsellor and doctor who could then see what my triggers were and provide additional help. I have found that mindfulness actually helps me deal with these things today, but that was not an instant solution and has taken several years practice to give me the really great benefits that I feel today.

I do think people do need to be careful when using NLP or any type of support group or self-help. Lets face it, if sorting people’s problems out were as easy as the originators of NLP claim, then all doctors in the mental health field would be out of work, and that is clearly not the case. I am always suspicious of any organisation that has a pyramid type structure such as NLP and AA, and always take a step back and try to see if what is being said will actually help me, or is simply some broad-based idea designed to make me attracted to the method being suggested.

I suppose in conclusion I would have to say that NLP was something that was helpful at a stage in my recovery, but not something that I use that often now and I have moved on to another stage which is more about general healthy living and simply getting on with life. I do occasionally listen to the recordings and have a couple by Paul McKenna and Glen Harold that help me unwind after work and aid a good nights sleep. I did find that the books by McKenna really did motivate me in a positive way, and that they are probably the reason that I took up physical exercise again a few years ago. That is something that has become really important to boosting my self-esteem and taking me away from the stress of work and other issues in life.



Commenting area

  1. Hi mate.

    I can identify very strongly with this as I have three main problems with NLP, all very similar to yours.

    – First it’s way to easy to get “qualified”.

    – Second it’s been criticised because (as far as I understand it) one element of NLP involves people visualising successful outcomes and completed goals, whereas life is really about incremental progressions.

    – Third there is no real clinical support, unlike CBT or Motivational Interviewing, both of which have been rigorously tested and endorsed.

    The latter, for me, really is the bottom line. Peer review is basically how we “know stuff”. Anything else is bogus until found otherwise, and NLP seems (to me) to struggle in that regard.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post.

    Jon S

  2. The lack of clinical support can certainly be a problem with anything that is self help, but there are quite a few sections of NLP that are very similar to CBT.
    Your comment reminded me about a talk by Richard Bandler on Multiple timelines which is very interesting about addiction. He points out that the outcome that people imagine prior to drinking is generally very different to the result and is very critical about AA and the notion of powerlessness.
    There are many elements to NLP and I certainly set some goals and they tended to be about fitness rather than recovery as I was not in my early days when I tried it. That side of things has worked out and I certainly found the Paul Mckenna book about changing you life really motivated me in a positive way. I think it can help people, but you do probably need other help as well such as counselling and perhaps antidepressants if you are using it to get over addiction and have issues such as depression.
    I did find some of the hypnotic ideas complented mindfulness and if done by somebody skilled could probably bring a calming effect similar to longterm use of meditation.
    I do worry when these type of approaches are pushed as complete solutions, as I do not believe they are. However I do think many people who have sucessful recoveries do use a number of different techniques and change things as they go along, and something such as getting involved with NLP people who are generally striving for a positive lifestyle can be of use.

  3. NLP is a communication model. If you don’t use it anymore then you probably don’t understand it as well as you think. There are 3 models of the mind that are used. The Matrix model, the Ericksonian model and the Matrix Model. You probably may not have heard of the Matrix model because it was not formulated by Bandler and Grinder.

    The first 2 models differ in terms of understanding how people communicate or how you choose to communicate. Once you understand NLP and understand it as a communication model then you start incorporating it into dialogue and listening allowing you to be a better communicator.

    There is only one book, I know of, written on NLP and alcoholism/addiction, it is called Sobriety demystified. A short read. You can find it on Amazon.

  4. Thanks for your comment. I think NLP markets itself as more than a communication model, although many use it as that for example in the workplace.
    It is certainly promoted as a self help solution by the likes of Richard Bandler who has a controversial past. There are many people that promote NLP as a solution for addiction, here is an example
    I think some of the ideas that theses people present will be useful to some people, but I suspect many of the more extravagant claims are false, like many methods on offer.

  5. I read your post but I still had some questions. I was really wondering,
    What can I do to assist my husband in sexual addiction recovery?
    Or should I just forget it and move on? If there
    is any insight you could provide, I would greatly appreciate

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