Master Practitioner Training: Criticisms, Misconceptions and The Path To Professionalism

I always keep a look out for people who are in the NLP space, especially those in the region and those who are online. Much of the time, I feel a little sorry for those who have been attended NLP certifications for a few reasons.

Many NLP trainers (let alone Practitioners and Master Practitioners) are not reinventing themselves because they are too busy making money. Since the 1990s, there really hasn’t been much of a breakthrough in the applicability of NLP, let alone the transfer of NLP skills into the real world. I know a few NLP Practitioners who have attended the certification but do squat with it.

This is primarily because most NLP trainers still focus on therapy training as the foundation rather than the real roots of NLP, which is modeling. Recently, I took a look at an NLP Master Practitioner syllabus and realized that they spend about 10% of the time on teaching therapy rather than real modeling work.

How many people in the world actually use therapy in real life scenarios?? How much practice are you really going to get, even if you learn therapeutic models in NLP??

The main danger here is simple. By looking through the lens of therapy, you see every problem as a need for therapy. The truth is, if there are pathological symptoms, you will be in ethical danger of treating someone without really knowing the pathology and how to deal with it if you are simply NLP trained.

[NOTE: NLP is not therapy; if you are a therapist, it can help you to catalyze and improve your skills. NLP is a modeling methodology, linguistically bound. Many people do not even have the appropriate linguistic background to claim they can maximize the use of linguistics in so-called conversational hypnosis].

NLP was meant to be modeling oriented. Conversational. Linguistic. Since the beginning of time, NLP has always focused on meta models – models for creating models. At the moment, there are only two linguistic models in NLP, but the plethora of linguistic models in the real world are much broader in purpose, depth of application to access individual mental models, and supported by a growing body of research.

There are key disadvantages to this. Firstly, you are learning models that are not enriched. Many people who are teaching therapy aren’t in therapy, let alone having had the rigor of studying and understanding and applying therapeutic models. They simply have an NLP certificate (which doesn’t really amount to much). If you really want to learn therapeutic models, please learn them from an experienced therapist, and be prepared to study them in great detail. Secondly, you are detracting from the modeling process by taking things and expecting people to be learners of  a fixed model. This causes people to go about what I call “toolboxing” – where individuals say “let’s use A to achieve B”, resulting in fixedness instead of progression. Thirdly, a Master Practitioner should be Mastery driven rather than goal driven. A mastery orientation is different from a performance orientation because performance orientation reduces motivation to learn and is often associated with lower quality of learning (Dweck, 1986). In order for a Master Practitioner to be mastery driven, one needs to consider the fact that one has to be effective in modeling mental maps of others. This will include pre-requisite knowledge about:

  • listening to beliefs, values and attitudes through language
  • pattern recognition
  • understanding and differentiating cognitive structures through the use of linguistic frameworks
  • expert orientation – seeking out best practices and building the appropriate methodology to extract expert knowledge (multiple tools are in existence, including Cognitive Task Analysis, Applied Cognitive Task Analysis and Competency Mapping frameworks; Discourse analysis methods such as Speech Act Theory, Conventional Implicature & Conversational Implicature, the Cooperative Principle in comparison with Relevance Theory and the Politeness Principle ). Why? Simply because some methods help generate expert knowledge models far faster and comprehensively than other methods.

As the fields of psychology, linguistics and NLP begin to converge, it becomes more and more imperative for practitioners and master practitioners alike to be mindful of being able to expand the field not just for commercialization, but for professionalism.

NLP Practitioner Training: Submodality Protocols

I’ve just started to develop a set of submodality protocols in order to enable trainees to go through processes that will yield more consistent results. In most NLP Practitioner trainings, I find that the quality control of the trainings themselves is poor, and an attempt needs to be made in order to develop trainings in a way that yields consistency not just of the trainer, but of the results generated by the processes espoused by NLP.


In NLP, preparation work about submodalities needs to be made for a variety of reasons. I find that if I jump into submodality interventions, I may not have much of a response because I’m dealing with an individual who has certain limitations explaining their model of the world verbally. A certain level of preparation needs to be done to talk an individual through the unconscious processes that are happening in the mind of the audience. I would encourage a series of three simple demonstrations.

  • The first demonstration should be a “natural submodality disposition” test, just to show that submodalities are a natural thing to them, not something the  practitioner put in their head. Tell the participant to think of two distinct items. I prefer to ask about something they like to do versus something they dislike doing. By asking them about the characteristics of the mental image, they can understand the submodalities a little better.
  • The second demonstration is the “mind-body connection” test. Individuals who are experiencing NLP the first time may not be convinced about the shift. In the picture of dislike, I ask them to rate how bad they feel about it. If they are at level 5, I then test one or two driver submodalities to intensify the sense of dislike (e.g. “what happens when you remove the color from the picture, and make the movie go slower?”). This is to show the relationship between the mental image and emotional state. Do remember that some individuals do not respond very easily to the mental image.
  • The third demonstration is the linkage of the submodality through triggers. This will show that submodalities are not a static element, but a dynamic element. I will ask them for a situation where they habitually did something, such as laze around instead of going to exercise. On one or two occasions they may have been able to exercise, and I want to know why they managed to do that. Often, it is because of the situation that triggered them. They may have seen someone running. They may have been told by their doctor to exercise or suffer consequences. Whatever the trigger, that is just ONE trigger. I’ll explain to a participant that a stable behavior is created through developing a series of triggers to lead to the same outcome.

Elicitation. This process requires the practitioner to know what kinds of questions to ask, but ultimately they need to know the Meta Model.

  • Start off by eliciting a problem state. For instance, a problem state could be procrastination (one of the top favorites). Most practitioners will start by asking details about the submodalities right away. Don’t do that. You need to know a bit about the context. They procrastinate for various reasons (i.e. find out the root causes/context), and the procrastination may be caused by elements in the environment and therefore ecological. One such example would be where an individual is procrastinating because the reward structure encourages last minute bursts of sales. I know some companies have incentives in the last quarter that unconsciously encourage sales people to wait until that quarter before actually taking action.
  • Once you know what the problem state is, you need to decide what the solution state is, and test it with your client. For instance, it is a common mistake for a practitioner to immediately assume that “motivation” is the answer to procrastination. Often, the solution state presents itself when you find out the root context or root cause. Sometimes, fear might be a better resource state to tap into. Sometimes, anger. Relaxation. Or humor. In the above case, it may appear that self-serving “fear” may be a better motivator than the others. I typically ask the client to test it out first before entering into the intervention stage.


  • During the time of the intervention, you, as a practitioner, need to make a decision about the end outcome of the intervention. Do you want this habit that needs to be propagated? Or is it merely a way to disconnect an old behavior/habit?
  • Examples of situations requiring propagation of new behavior: overly anxious people, suicidal thoughts, depressives, negative thinking, peak performance preparation.
  • Examples of situations requiring disconnect an old habit: compulsions, phobias and fears, overeating/snacking, smoking.
  • In the first case, you will need to utilize the submodality Swish Pattern to reinforce habitual patterns.
  • In the second case, you will need to utilize other possible patterns such as the Compulsion Blowout Pattern or the Mapping Across process
  • In certain occasions, where the individual does not appear to be resourceful enough to develop changes, there could be issues associated with the belief (a blocking belief) or other associated ecological issues.

Finally, as a practitioner, test your interventions. There are ways to test if the intervention will work and transfer in the long term. It is about enhancing motivation, developing a higher level of clarity of how to use the change in different moments of the future. This is commonly known as future pacing. One process you can use to integrate future pacing into your interventions is the Comparative Future Pacing technique.

NLP Definitions: Mapping Across

Mapping Across is a process or procedure that utilizes submodalities. It is often mistaken as a technique by poorly trained NLP Trainers.

There are several uses for mapping.

#1 – To compare submodalities across similar situations with different states.

#2 – As part of a 3-step, ecological structuring process for obsessions (see Obsession Elimination Process)

#3 – To identify and apply specific solution states to situations so as to disconnect original habitual experience as in the Compulsion Blowout Pattern

#4 – A means to set up comparative images in order to habitually intensify specific experiences through the Swish Pattern

NLP Training: Comparative Future Pacing

This is a protocol to assist in measuring and understanding shifts that take place after any intervention, with the main goal of seeing how effective the intervention has been, and to what extent the client is able to experience a shift.

It is recommended that follow-up be done, as a change in representation can result in a series of other changes, which requires personal reflection and assessment as to whether additional changes are required and appropriate

Comparative Future Pacing

Step 1: Before the intervention, go into the future with the limiting belief or state. Experience what this future is like, name the experience that is felt (e.g. fear, anxiety, sadness) and rate the level of discomfort on a scale of 0 to 10. Anchor this future representation.

Step 2: Continue with the intervention. Remember to anchor the resourceful state after this intervention.

Step 3: Fire off the anchor and revisit the future situation. Experience what this future is and compare it with Step 1 on a scale of 0-10. The emotional state should have changed to an extent where the future state holds no experience ( level 0), or the nature of the state has changed (i.e. mapping has automatically taken place). If the change has not taken place, continue with the intervention until the representation of experience changes.

NLP Definitions: Future Pacing

Future pacing is the process of representing a future moment and placing the end result of an intervention there. When you experience a change of state and visit the future in your mind, you can note if you are more resourceful in that moment or not. In most cases, a future pace paves the way for checking of ecology and possibly to refine the intervention.

See also: comparative future pacing

NLP Singapore: Clarifying Why You Want To Learn NLP

I’ve been involved in learning NLP since 1995, and it has been an interesting way to my own personal growth, as I believe it will be yours. NLP has been associated a great deal with people like Darren Brown in recent years. Recently, on my YouTube page, a viewer asked me if what Darren Brown does is real.

Well, first of all, I’m not Darren Brown, so I can’t tell you. 😀 Secondly, I’m sure Darren Brown does what he does simply to impress an audience. I’m very skeptical he has the ability to create change in pathological clients (which is the domain of clinical psychology) nor will he be able to model organizations effectively (which is the domain of organizational psychology). But I’m very sure he does well for himself as a street magician.

Now… if you are going to ask me to certify you as an NLP Practitioner, please don’t make it be because you want to be like Darren Brown! NLP is not a magic skill, it is a linguistic skill. As with almost all things linguistic, you get a chance to influence people by the very nature of your communication. This is because, communication causes people’s perceptions to change. NLP has modeled ways to shift perceptions (such as the therapeutic process of reframing a person’s beliefs, for instance), but NLP itself is NOT a tool for influence.

NLP is a tool for studying knowledge. If you want to be a master of enhancing your human capital, NLP is the tool to use. It helps to peel away the layers of an expert’s hidden knowledge. In organizational science, it is a common phenomenon for experts to have a problem really expressing what they are doing. An NLP expert, however, will better be able to extract the information from a talented member in order to understand the hidden processes that an expert goes through. This is the art and science of modeling.

I’ve always been amused by some Chinese martial arts movies. It’s bizarre that the student always gets into trouble, is saved by the master who then is mortally wounded, and then just before he dies, transfers all his “internal energy” to his student who is now filled with power, but lacks precise control over his capabilities.

To a great extent, this pretty much sums up what modeling is. You can model the skill, but you also have to model the process, structure and context in order to ensure that your model works well for you. Without practice, you can model a skill but find that it simply goes to waste. Research shows that skills that are not practiced decay as much as 92% within just one year (Arthur, Bennett, Stanuch, & McNelly, 1998).

Here are some sources of modeling literature you can enjoy reading about. Do remember that reading does not mean that you become an expert in it. It merely means that you get to know about something. To transfer it to real life, you need to maximize your practice time.

Modeling With NLP by Robert Dilts.

This book is great in so far as it shows you Robert’s approach to modeling. It’s very ‘clunky’ in the sense that the models he has developed are tabular, boxy and sometimes unappealing to the average reader. To the modeling enthusiast, the book holds a lot of hidden gems for the taking. This is currently the only known modelling source book, and unfortunately, may cause people to think it is the only approach to modeling.

Once you have studied some modeling, you should look at the models that were built as the cornerstones of NLP. One of them is The Structure Of Magic Volume 1, which was rumored to be Bandler’s doctoral thesis. This volume talks a great deal about the structure of language and how we have hidden information under the surface layer. Although it is based on the outmoded model of transformational linguistics, it serves the purpose of creating a model for extracting information from someone. Personally, I think this work deserves a lot more than it is credited for due to its application to many areas of talent development.

Magic In Action – Richard Bandler

After learning the Meta Model in The Structure Of Magic, Vol 1, you will hear things a little differently. In this book, Bandler does therapy. You watch, but hopefully you can figure out what he is really doing in a masterful way. Each interaction with a client is a modeling process, thereby enabling him to be a master therapist by understanding the client’s model of the world, his rules and his approach to living life as is. And of course, once you have this knowledge, you can experiment with shifts in cognitions, utilizing submodalities.

Patterns Of The Hypnotic Techniques Of Milton H. Erickson, Skills For The Future, Strategies Of Genius

These books are basically examples of modeling as applied to geniuses. The first work (Patterns for short) is often defined as the only thing related to NLP. For this reason, most people only think of NLP as persuasion and influence or that NLP is covert hypnosis. In this particular case, hypnosis is the area of modeling as perceived by Bandler and Grinder. The other two works are the study of creativity and the study of selected geniuses by Robert Dilts. By reading these, you understand how the entire process of modeling can be better founded.

Back to Linguistics

Unfortunately, in many cases, when psychologists explore the somewhat misleading claims of the commercial NLP practitioner, they are barking up the wrong tree. Since NLP is not an academic rigor, it fails to support itself from the standpoint of academic literature. However, the fact is many of the elements of NLP are actually supported by research literature not because experiments were done on NLP, but the phenomena that NLP modeled after are in and of themselves predicated on workable science, including the following:-

  • Similarity studies. In sociology and social psychology, imitation, rapport building and attraction are part of the basis of NLP’s rapport building process
  • Behavioral conditioning. In behavioral psychology, reinforcement theory shows at least some support for NLP’s approach to anchoring.
  • EMDR research in cognitions. The now world-famous phenomenon of EMDR for post traumatic stress disorder has been researched widely in the last decade and two of the protocols they use called “Subjective Units Of Disturbance” and “Validity of Cognition” are very similar to NLP’s approach to submodalities. EMDR kicked off in the 1990s. NLP started in 1970s. To read more about this, get access to Francine Shapiro’s main book on EMDR and Carol Forgash’s Healing The Heart Of Trauma.
  • Systematic Desensitization. NLP’s approach to phobia cures basically took an age-old concept of behavioral desensitization and exposure therapy, and turned it into a cognitive model for treatment.
  • Linguistics. NLP is founded on two linguistic models, the Meta Model and the Milton Model. However, the research is wide open to show power-distance relationships through a process of discourse analysis (see Joan Cutting’s book, Pragmatics and Discourse, 2002), which lends support for the way some people are more influential than others. NLP modeling is similar to the process of cognitive task analysis in the organizational psychology literature (see Kraiger, 2002 and Shalin, Geddes, Bertrim, Szczepkowski, and DuBois, 1999). This approach to modeling is founded upon on the long-time Whorfian hypnothesis of linguistic relativity and another set of theories in General Semantics .
  • Unconscious Processing. This is a black box. Bandler believes that we learn unconsciously (do we not?) and has put into place the concept of nested loops (taken from computing science). However, this concept is so far ahead of its time, it’s really hard to determine through science itself. Freud’s concept of the unconscious has been largely accepted, and a lot of research in hypnosis has shown to a great extent the fact that unconscious processing of linguistic commands does appear to be effective in many cases (see the hypnosis body of knowledge, particularly Stephen Lankton, Michael Yapko, Ernest Rossi; you may also find a significant body of knowledge from the Milton Erickson Foundation, one of the national bodies in the USA for certification as a hypnotherapist).


Having studied linguistics and psychology for the last 16 years of my life, I think I have a fairly keen grasp on some of the ideas that supports NLP. Not surprisingly, therefore, many NLP “trainers” or even practitioners of NLP will never be able to explain all this themselves.

Which is one of the reasons why I prefer to be highly selective in my apprenticeship of new NLP practitioners and master practitioners. Unlike the “paper” mills that exist today, I feel that competence is the goal, not certification. After all, we know that certification does not amount to transfer of learning.

Bandler is a thinker and a philosopher. His approach to creativity is unbridled and really uninterested in the research to justify the workings of NLP. The fact is his models of hypnosis had enabled many people to learn hypnosis far more easily than before, showing that modeling is actually a powerful cognitive skill. His modeling of psychotherapeutic techniques has also enabled individuals who have no foundation of clinical psychology or organizational psychology to do magic… some of the time. Granted, there are issues pertaining to the ethics of practice as well as being effective as a real therapist where a proper body of knowledge is required. There’s currently no quality control measure that helps consumers to understand NLP and their trainers well, which itself is one of the problems with NLP. With no strong competency structure, NLP continues to have more of a mysterious backstage reputation than what it actually deserves.

If you are a business owner, a senior manager, a parent, a teacher, a trainer, a leader… or anyone who has to work with people and needs to use skills to maximize your knowledge about others while enhancing your own capabilities to reach expert levels of learning, you probably want to learn NLP.

If you’re out to use NLP to impress others, to collect another certificate, to take a shortcut to a powerful skill instead of being meticulous in your studies, profiting by declaring yourself an NLP trainer without being competent in your own trianing, I’d advise that you step aside.