Book review: Neurolinguistic psychotherapy, by Lisa wake

Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy by Lisa Wake is a well researched, extensively referenced, and scholarly examination of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and the advancing model of neurolinguistic psychotherapy. I enthusiastically recommend this book to clinicians, researchers, NLP practitioners, and anyone interested in advancing the science and theory of NLP. Little has been written in recent years about the application of NLP in psychotherapy. This book goes a long way toward filling that gap in the NLP literature and does so in a clear and compelling way.


Lisa Wake addresses numerous points that are crucial to establishing neuro-linguistic programming as an accepted psychotherapeutic methodology. Few books in recent years have linked NLP to the theoretical roots from which it arose and considered the implications of these connections to utilizing NLP processes in clinical work. This book is unique in examining the utility of NLP in the broader context of what needs to occur for people to realize behavioral and emotional change in psychotherapy. Her perspective illuminates and highlights how neurolinguistic principles can inform the understanding of the complexity of human subjective experience.


Wake critiques those who have made overly grand claims about NLP, as this has worked against establishing NLP as a scientifically validated methodology. Further, Wake raises concerns about the claims that oversimplify the multiple factors that contribute to behavior change. While NLP is a brief and effective model of therapy, she expresses concern about those who use techniques without consideration of contextual issues, such as the clinical nature of the problems addressed and the characteristics of the therapeutic relationship.


The book discusses the emergence of neurolinguistic psychotherapy as a therapeutic modality. Much more has been done in Europe, as compared to the United States, to establish standards for certifying neurolinguistic skills as a part of the psychotherapeutic repertoire. Wake notes, in discussing the development of standards, that they "could be developed to ensure that they are more flexible and had a greater emphasis on generic psychotherapy rather than proceduralised models generated from the methodology of NLP." This is what European organizations have done, including the European Association for Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy (EANLPt) and the Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy and Counseling Association (NLPtCA).


In my estimation one of the primary accomplishments of the book is emphasizing the importance of a broader scope, beyond isolated NLP methods, to appreciate and realize the potential of NLP as a psychotherapeutic treatment modality. NLP was originally formulated in the 1970's by Richard Bandler and John Grinder by analyzing and modeling the work of Virginia Satir, family systems therapist; Fritz Perls, Gestalt therapy; and Milton Erickson, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. Wake suggests that much of their valuable work has not always been sufficiently incorporated with NLP and is underrepresented in some presentations of NLP and neurolinguistic psychotherapy. She also cites the work of many others that have contributed to the rubric of neurolinguistic psychotherapy and NLP by examining and elaborating additional points gleaned from Erickson, Satir, and others. Additionally Wake discusses neurolinguistic psychotherapy in the context of some of the newer findings in neuroscience regarding the way in which psychotherapy rewires pathways in the brain, contributing to emotional and behavioral change.


Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy provides historical, theoretical, and methodological information to help the reader understand the place of neurolinguistic psychotherapy in the area of psychotherapy in general. Wake discusses the influences that have informed the principles, skill-set, and presuppositions of NLP. Further, Wake reviews some of the fundamental presuppositions of NLP and puts these in the context of neurolinguistic psychotherapy. She addresses how neurolinguistic psychotherapists have taken the fundamental principles of NLP and adapted them to work effectively in therapeutic context. Wake places neurolinguistic psychotherapy in the context of other forms of psychotherapy. She discusses the influences of, and the interrelationships between, various schools of thought as they relate to NLP; including humanistic and existential psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, Gestalt psychotherapy, systemic and family therapy, psychodynamic therapies, and cognitive behavioral therapy. The many areas she considers establish the theoretical basis for NLP practice and brings this up to date with consideration of emerging findings in neuroscience.


Over the course of several chapters Wake discusses neurolinguistic psychotherapy's perspective on personality, language and cognition, and patterns of programming in a highly integrative manner. She discusses numerous areas where neurolinguistic intervention appears particularly effective, for instance through the use of the language patterns offered by NLP. She considers findings in the neuroscience regarding emotional dysfunction and cognition. She frequently cites Shore (2003) who discusses the neurological impact of psychotherapy and information on the developing brain and how these processes can be impacted through psychotherapy and with NLP techniques. She notes that there is evidence that neurological re-patterning occurs through the process of psychotherapy. She notes that "there exists an enormous potential for linking research and theories in neuroscience to the existing theories in psychotherapy" including NLP. She also comments that "neurolinguistic psychotherapy provides a methodology that facilitates new neurological patterning by changing the different aspects of internal process, internal states or external behavior."


Wake also makes a critical distinction between NLP as an "applied psychology" and NLP's use as part of a therapist skill-set in the broader context of psychotherapy. The integration of NLP technology with therapist skills such as theoretical grounding, psychological knowledge, rapport skills, understanding of process, and self-awareness essentially constitute neurolinguistic psychotherapy. She notes that it is important to appreciate that the therapist plays an active role in the development of the brain in the clients treated, particularly where affective states are present. She posits that if neurolinguistic psychotherapists stay within a programmatic model of working (essentially an applied psychology manner of working) they are not honoring elements of therapeutic process that were valued by Erickson, Satir, and Perls; on whose work NLP was built. Wake encourages neurolinguistic therapists to place the programmatic modeled aspects of NLP in context of the broader therapeutic relationship, as doing so is often needed to create lasting cognitive, emotional and behavioral change through psychotherapeutic processes.


Wake discusses the status of research validation of NLP and neurolinguistic psychotherapy. She reports that there are a limited number of studies available at this point demonstrating the efficacy of NLP in the context of psychotherapy. She discusses a few studies that have. Wake notes that compared to other modalities of psychotherapy, neurolinguistic psychotherapy is "incredibly young" having only recently, since the early 1990's, begun to define and develop standards for the use of NLP technology specifically in the context of psychotherapy. Because of its brief history as a modality of psychotherapy, it has difficulty in demonstrating its effectiveness in sufficiently large numbers to be considered as a therapy of choice. She cites efforts that are being made to rectify this situation, including the NLP Research and Recognition Project. Wake makes several recommendations regarding productive directions for research.


In summary, Wake's descriptions lead the reader to a greater appreciation of the richness of the neurolinguistic approach and of what it has to offer as a psychotherapeutic tool. Neurolinguistic Psychotherapy is an extremely important and useful book. It will be an excellent text for graduate level NLP and/or neurolinguistic psychotherapy course work. This book captures the essence of what is needed to move neurolinguistic techniques into the realm of respected science rather than just applied psychology. A position she articulates effectively is that viewing NLP primarily as an applied psychology has lessened its credibility and perceived utility as psychotherapeutic intervention. This is changing as NLP is more systematically being integrated into clinical practice, but further progress is needed. She correctly argues that NLP needs to be placed in the context of a broader view of human functioning and the functioning of the brain in order to achieve its deserved place as a respected therapeutic modality.


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