Research into the impact of NLP Coaching on drug and alcohol addiction.

The Performance Solution is supporting a longitudinal research study to examine the effectiveness of NLP based coaching into the recovery of clients and to investigate the experiences of NLP practitioners in aiding the recovery of their clients. The study is being carried out by Rabiya McKeverne MSc, under the supervision of Dr Sally Vanson.

This study builds on the work of Dr Richard Grey who used NLP in the U.S. Probation service over a seven year period and won various awards for accelerating recovery rates from 11% to 30% within a one year period

As part of this project a selection of key working staff completed their Certified NLP Practitioner Level training in March 2012. Seven of these staff members were recruited to be involved in a pilot as NLP practitioners. This pilot is showing outstanding results which have motivated The Performance Solution to commit to the longer study.

Based on the fact that addiction by its nature relates to co-morbidity issues, NLP practitioners were asked to collect information via proven quantitative measures before and after the NLP coaching as well as keeping a reflective journal for each of their sessions.
Clients were required to commit to approximately one NLP coaching session per week for up to 6 weeks, with an immediate start. The pilot started in May 2012 and finished in August 2012. The pilot set out to recruit 24 clients.

Of the 24 participating clients, fifteen completed the NLP pilot. Opiates were the primary drug of choice for eight of the participating clients, whilst alcohol was found to be the primary drug of choice for five participants. There was one individual whose primary drug of choice was cocaine, and one whose primary drug of choice was marijuana.

In September 2012 NLP practitioners were invited to participate in a focus group so as to capture their experiences of being involved in the NLP pilot.
Findings from the pilot show that after NLP Coaching the majority demonstrate an increase in scores for self esteem. For half of the participants that were initially symptomatic for anxiety, their anxiety scores reduced to asymptomatic post-NLP coaching. The majority of clients showed a reduction in their depression scores where three participants went from being symptomatic with depression to asymptomatic. There were no major changes in before and after scores for the five descriptive dimensions of health. As for overall health scores, the changes in before and after scores were mixed: half the participants illustrated an increase in scores, whilst two participating clients showed a decrease and the other two exhibited no change at the end of the pilot study.
The results in terms of drug use are mixed. For two clients the drug use remained approximately the same with client showing abstinence in the before and after scores. In the other half of the cases, the drug use decreased and this was accompanied with increased level of control. In one case, drug use increased as did the perceived control over use – an interesting result worthy of further insight.

The scores from alcohol dependant clients were slightly different. 80% of participants showed an increase in self esteem after their NLP coaching. All 100% of clients showed a reduction in anxiety scores after NLP coaching, 40% of which went from symptomatic to asymptomatic. 80% of participants showed a reduction in depression scores, with 40% going from symptomatic to asymptomatic.

In the alcohol focus group, one client was in maintenance so there was no substance misuse throughout pilot. A second client, went from 18 units/ completely compelled to use at score of 10 at beginning to 8 units and some control of use, score of 5 ( this client also moved from using significant cannabis 10 spliffs a day to no use of cannabis by the end).

A third client went from using everyday, 7 units to using 2 days and 2 units. Control of use 9 to 6, in right direction. A fourth client reported no change in number of days using ie 6 days but consumption was reduced from 8 units to 3 units. Control of use from 5 to 4 going in the right direction and for the fifth client, consumption increased both in no of days using and units and perceived control of use also decreased and further investigation suggests this was due to external circumstances.

General findings from the focus group and reflection journals of NLP practitioners showed that some clients refused to get involved in the pilot citing distrust of NLP following negative press on the internet or fear of failure. NLP practitioners reported that some clients did not want to be involved as they saw the pilot as yet another thing that they could fail at.

The feedback from Practitioners themselves included;

  • An expression of gratitude to have been offered NLP Practitioner training.
  • All NLP practitioners were complimentary of NLP ability to allow them to effect positive change for their clients. One practitioner mentioned it was very intense and very profound experience both as an individual who has been through recovery and in terms of bringing about very positive change for their client.
  • Some initially felt skeptical about using NLP with vulnerable clients mainly due to negative press and were pleased to be able to experience the field for themselves.
  • Favoured the coaching framework of seeing client once a week as this maintained momentum.
  • Favoured the framework of seeing a client for 4 – 6 sessions to focus on overarching goal with sub-goal/s.
  • Their own confidence increased with sessions. Some trusted their ability and knowledge that they would be able to handle whatever came up during the sessions whilst others would second guess what techniques they were going to use and prepared lots beforehand including re-listening to NLP CD’s provided during practitioner training and/or reading up tips on the internet.
  • Suitability of NLP techniques, which techniques were most or least used and why specifically.

“NLP was magic without the bull****” NLP practitioner involved in the pilot.

On the whole, the most frequently used techniques were ones that the practitioners were most comfortable with and / or an individual practitioner felt was most appropriate to use for the presenting client.

The following NLP techniques were quoted as most used: PESEO (Dr Gray’s version of goal setting which includes most of the conditions of well formed outcome but not all), anchoring, visual squash, Milton model patterns, time line, Perceptual Positions, swish, belief change and chunking up.

It was felt that the general public as well as psychology specialists did not understand that NLP consists of a collection of techniques from traditional fields of proven psychology and that the value is in using these techniques in an integrated fashion rather than as stand alone procedures. Due to the bespoke rather than prescriptive orientation by client, quantative research has been difficult. The Performance Solution aim to address this misconception through this study.

From the pilot study we can share common factors potentially contributing to success stories are;

  • When practitioners felt that they developed excellent rapport and trust with clients
  • Medication levels were generally lower. At this stage we are unable to be more specific other than practitioners mentioning a cap of 60mg for methodone.
  • There was a readiness for change – at least at the contemplation stage of the cycle of change with greatest chance of success seeming to be at the maintenance phase when the participating client was attending sessions regularly.
  • Clients were clear-headed i.e. was not using or suffering from a hangover or chemical come down in all or majority of sessions
  • Participating clients felt privileged to be involved in this pilot and who had a good understanding of NLP before engaging in the pilot.

“The client who I was most successful with was a client who was in that maintenance stage, in abstinence. For me, my initial impression is that NLP would be really useful for relapse prevention” NLP Practitioner

“That was my experience too with the client that it (NLP pilot) went well with and I was seeing regularly. The client was making changes; she quickly let go of alcohol when she started to focus on herself”. Fellow NLP Practitioner.

Common factors potentially contributing to less successful stories / negative experiences

  • When methadone levels were above 60mg per day. Practitioners mentioned that for some clients on methodone, lower doses make them incapable of engaging with NLP. From their experiences, all clients using more than 60mg were incapable of engaging with NLP coaching.
  • Clients that are reliant on alcohol and other substances.
  • Higher intake of alcohol and hence numbness leading to confusion and lack of ability to engage with NLP techniques
  • Fear that the pilot required commitment and they would lead to underperformance or failure.
  • Clients not attending regularly and so practitioner felt that they were started a fresh each time and did not gain momentum.

This study now continues and will be ready for publication in late 2013. Further enquiries should be directed to Dr Sally Vanson at The Performance Solution

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  1. Janet Stead on 17th November 2013 at 1:59 am

    Would you please keep me posted of the further study material

  2. Dave Rogers on 3rd January 2014 at 10:59 am

    Hi Sally,
    interesting study. Do you have more information yet. I am interested if you had any specific well formed outcomes for the clients .

  3. Parasuraman s , Maater practitioner on 25th September 2019 at 9:49 am

    Very good presentation.

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