Neurolinguistic Programming for Social Anxiety Disorder

Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) was first developed in the 1970s at the University of California, Santa Cruz, by John Grinder (a professor of linguistics) and Richard Bandler (a mathematician). Through their research, Grinder and Bandler wanted to understand what made some therapists better than others. The outcome was that they developed a set of principles and techniques used to create change.

NLP has been used in various settings, including psychotherapy, medicine, and personal development. However, neurolinguistic programming is not generally considered a mainstream therapeutic approach. It has also not been validated scientifically for the treatment of social anxiety disorder (SAD). However, it may have value as an "add-on" to other traditional forms of treatment.

It's important to realize that NLP is not itself a form of psychotherapy; rather, it is a tool used to guide the therapeutic process.

Some neurolinguistic programming principles include the following:

  • You are not your behavior and you are free to change it
  • You already have the resources to achieve your goals
  • There is not failure, only feedback
  • When you learn to communicate better, the world will respond to you better

In general, an NLP therapist will follow these steps with you:

  • Establish rapport with you by mirroring your verbal and non-verbal behavior
  • Gather information about your problem and what you hope to achieve
  • Consider any potential negative impact of achieving these goals on your personal life
  • Ensure that new behavior patterns are integrated into your daily life

Neurolinguistic Programming Techniques

Although NLP is not a form of psychotherapy, there are a number of techniques used by neurolinguistic programming practitioners. Some examples of techniques include anchoring, reframing, dissociation, belief change, and future pacing. Below are brief descriptions of each of these techniques.

  • Anchoring: Learning how to respond differently to a triggering situation (similar to classical conditioning).
  • Reframing: Identifying adaptive behaviors that can replace maladaptive behaviors while still achieving the same goal.
  • Belief Change: Changing beliefs that hold you back from success.
  • Future Pacing: Integrating goals into your life so that you continue to have achievements after therapy.

Research on NLP

Neurolinguistic programming theory and practice have yet to receive scientific support as a treatment for mental health conditions. To date, it's mostly used in coaching/self-help areas.

Although NLP may be of some value for SAD, well-established and supported treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication are your best options.

A Word From Verywell

Neurolinguistic programming does not have sufficient evidence to support its effectiveness in mental health conditions. This means that if you approach your doctor about NLP, you aren't likely to get very far. If you try NLP as part of your efforts to deal with your social anxiety, consider contacting a wellness coach who uses this technique or reading a self-help book on the topic and trying it yourself. Once again, NLP should not be used in place of validated treatments.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."