Neurolinguistic programming: a systematic review of the effects on health outcomes

Br J Gen Pract. 2012 Nov;62(604):e757-64. doi: 10.3399/bjgp12X658287.


Background: Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) in health care has captured the interest of doctors, healthcare professionals, and managers.

Aim: To evaluate the effects of NLP on health-related outcomes.

Design and setting: Systematic review of experimental studies.

Method: The following data sources were searched: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, ASSIA, AMED, CINAHL, Web of Knowledge, CENTRAL, NLP specialist databases, reference lists, review articles, and NLP professional associations, training providers, and research groups.

Results: Searches revealed 1459 titles from which 10 experimental studies were included. Five studies were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and five were pre-post studies. Targeted health conditions were anxiety disorders, weight maintenance, morning sickness, substance misuse, and claustrophobia during MRI scanning. NLP interventions were mainly delivered across 4-20 sessions although three were single session. Eighteen outcomes were reported and the RCT sample sizes ranged from 22 to 106. Four RCTs reported no significant between group differences with the fifth finding in favour of the NLP arm (F = 8.114, P<0.001). Three RCTs and five pre-post studies reported within group improvements. Risk of bias across all studies was high or uncertain.

Conclusion: There is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health-related outcomes. This conclusion reflects the limited quantity and quality of NLP research, rather than robust evidence of no effect. There is currently insufficient evidence to support the allocation of NHS resources to NLP activities outside of research purposes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Weight
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Directive Counseling / economics
  • Directive Counseling / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morning Sickness / psychology*
  • Morning Sickness / therapy
  • Neurolinguistic Programming*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Smoking Cessation / economics
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy
  • Weight Reduction Programs / economics
  • Weight Reduction Programs / methods*