Neurolinguistic Programming for Social Anxiety Disorder

NLP changes the way you relate to your social anxiety.
NLP can help you overcome social anxiety. Getty / Ikon Images / Katie Edwards

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 is used in various settings, including psychotherapy, medicine, and personal development. However, neurolinguistic programming is generally considered to be an alternative medicine practice and has yet to be included as 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:

  • All behavior is adaptive, meaning that there is a positive benefit for everything that you do
  • You have the resources to achieve your goals; it is the job of your therapist to assist you
  • How you react is more important than what happens to you

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.
  • Dissociation: Disconnecting from a painful experience from your past.
  • 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.

NLP and Social Anxiety Disorder

How would these techniques be applied if you live with social anxiety disorder (SAD)? In the case of belief change, the therapist might ask you to compare your beliefs about two areas of your life.

The first area would be something that you have difficulty with (e.g., social situations) and the second area would be one in which you have experienced success (perhaps you have done well academically or financially).

Like most neurolinguistic programming techniques, the process would involve visualization; you would be asked to imagine the beliefs that hold you back shrinking into the distance until they are no longer important.

Research on NLP

Neurolinguistic programming theory and practice have yet to receive scientific support, so research on this approach is still being conducted. To date, it's mostly used in coaching/self-help areas.

Although NLP may be of some value as part of a treatment plan 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 is still a very new approach and does not have sufficient evidence to support its use in traditional treatment settings. This means that if you approach your doctor about NLP, you aren't likely to get very far. Instead, if you wish to try NLP for 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, particularly if you have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness.

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