Article by: Frank Bourke, Ph.D. & Richard F. Liotta, Ph.D.
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) may be the most significant advance in psychotherapy in the last sixty years. NLP offers treatment protocols that can be highly effective in the treatment of various psychiatric conditions. Despite this, NLP is relatively unknown in the U.S. as an effective treatment methodology. If its practice is to be embraced, the U.S. professional community needs to see NLP systematically researched. Early in the development of the Research & Recognition Project PTSD was selected as the first clinical area to research. The need for more efficient and effective PTSD treatments is a nationally recognized priority and NLP offers the most promising new intervention. In clinical use after 9-11, NLP protocols relieved PTSD symptoms over 80% of the time in two to four hours. Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, the best of the researched methods, is effective 32% of the time and takes four to nine months. To develop the research necessary to verify this and allow its’ practice, the NLP Research and Recognition Project has gathered a team of concerned businessmen, veterans’ organizations, politicians, university professors and NLP experts to develop and research the NLP treatment protocol and bring it into clinical practice with special emphasis on returning war veterans. Two grants, using state of the art designs and materials, have been circulating for funding since early in 2008.
NLP techniques have been in use for over twenty five years. Most successful marketing gurus and sports psychologists quietly use them extensively in their practice. National Health Agencies in Europe, including England and Austria, after standardized trainings and certifications were developed, officially recognized NLP techniques for practice as a Therapy. When learned well and applied properly they work. They have however often been taught and used badly. Exaggerated claims, shoddy get rich training programs, and unprofessional practices have alienated many American Professionals from NLP. The NLP Research and Recognition Project was begun after 9/11 to help rectify this by researching and standardizing the techniques for their, much needed, widespread, effective practice.
To begin the process, the NLP Research and Recognition Project (composed of 800 NLP Practitioners and supported by 40 NLP Institutes from around the world) decided to focus the first research on PTSD. The NLP Research and Recognition project, using a team of NLP experts, put together a treatment protocol that we believe is more effective than anything currently out there to treat post traumatic stress disorders – such as were experienced after 9-11 and Iraq. These techniques produce results in hours or days rather than months and years. The experience of NLP trained clinicians is that lasting symptom relief can be achieved utilizing specific NLP tools and protocols in a brief treatment time frame. Additionally, many more individuals achieve positive outcomes with NLP interventions compared to other treatments used today. The goal of researching the NLP PTSD treatment protocol is to demonstrate this empirically so ultimately more people can benefit from this effective treatment methodology.
Marshall University is a central player in furthering the goals of the Research and Recognition Project. Grant projects and the development of the first NLP University Center in the U.S. are moving forward. Professor William McDowell, a long time NLP trainer, joined the Research & Recognition Project at its inception in 2007. When we decided to focus on the PTSD area he collected a team necessary to develop grant proposals. The team spearheaded the writing and development of a $300,000 pilot grant proposal and a three year state of the art scientific grant proposal of $12,000,000 to $13,000,000. Both those grants are currently being circulated for funding, at Marshall University, D.O.D., and in a number of White papers to Congress and the Services. A terrible development occurred with this in mid April (2008) when Professor McDowell suffered a massive heart attack and was forced to retire from Marshall University. With Professor McDowell’s recovery last summer and his appointment as Professor Emeritus, the Grant applications and the development of the first NLP University Center in the U.S. are again going forward. When difficulties arose communicating the nature of the NLP PTSD treatment protocol it was decided to produce a DVD example of the treatment applied to an Iraq War veteran from the pilot program at Marshall University. Funds to do this were found by Howard McClintick of CTC Foundation, and the DVD example of the NLP PTSD treatment protocol was successfully completed at Marshall University.
The NLP Research and Recognition Project was founded as a Not For Profit Corporation in 2007 in order to research, publish and certify NLP clinical techniques at the state of the art level. Given the national need and limelight framed by the returning American war veterans with PTSD, we hope to complete the first major study under a recently submitted $15,000,000 Department of Defense Center for Excellence for PTSD Grant. 3000 veterans will be treated at both University and Army base sites if it is approved as written.
The Research Design:
The study will employ a quasi-experimental matched comparison methodology in order to empirically assess, through multiple waves of measurement, the effectiveness of DTM (the NLP treatment protocol) in treating the flashback, nightmare and high anxiety symptoms associated with PTSD. Subjects will be randomly selected to form experimental and control groups. All data collection and analysis will be done by an outside evaluation company in collaboration with an independent psychiatrist completely unconnected to NLP or the study sites. All clinical treatment will be videotaped and evaluated for adherence to a behaviorally defined treatment protocol developed with the help of a number of NLP experts.
Initial eligibility will be determined through a semi-structured interview process including the SRS-PTSD which in conjunction with the clinical interview will determine the presence of PTSD symptoms and the PAI designed to determine major Axis I and II disorders (using both the DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10), to identify co morbidity, and additional demographic and mental health related data.
Once volunteers have been designated eligible, they will then be assigned to one of the trained and DTM certified NLP master practitioners taking part in the study. During the orientation, participants will complete IRB consent forms, the PSS-I, CAPS (diagnostic symptoms) and the MMPI PTSD. These instruments have been selected for assessing PTSD and mental health based upon their extensive use within the field and established reliability. These measures will also serve as the pre-test/baseline quantitative measurements for all participants throughout the life of the grant project. Additionally, the PSS-I, CAPS and MMPI PTSD, will be completed as post-tests at the time of each participant’s termination. Additionally a PCL-M will be administered 1- and 3-months after treatment is completed.
The treatment protocol essentially has the traumatized client sit through a series of associated and disassociated visualizations (viewed as internal movies). They view the remembered trauma without the originally associated psychic pain. Unlike exposure therapy and cognitive/behavior therapy the treatment is by necessity painless. The key appears to be developing and maintaining an associated calm emotional state while viewing the trauma as a movie “out there” completely separate from the client. When completed the clients appear to have separated the neurological pairing of the visualizations to the traumatic feelings so that they can remember the visual components of the memory disassociated from the traumatic feelings.
The clinical research design and all of the study elements were intentionally constructed to match or exceed previous outcome studies in this field. It is hoped that the treatment results and scientific strength of the design will mark it as the first widely acceptable NLP clinical study and arouse serious academic interest. Until NLP techniques are brought into the university based clinical research laboratories and validated by a number of different universities they will not be accepted as “evidentiary medicine” by the professional clinical community. This study and its subsequent publication and conference presentations is an attempt to further that process.
Toward the future:
The complete development of an effective NLP PTSD Treatment Protocol however, does not end with research and publication. This is the first of a sequence of developments including study replication, validation and certification of the training materials, and establishment of certified training programs for NLP practitioners and mental health professionals, that will have to be accomplished to meet current established international health criteria. As we have seen with the development of related clinical techniques, such as EMDR, proceeding without a standardized materials certification and training system will likely lead to subsequent failure.
If NLP’s broad clinical capability is be realized, research through to clinical practice developments such as this PTSD project will need to follow across other clinical areas, such as, phobias, asthma, anxiety and depression. Only in this fashion will we be able to demonstrate the robust clinical utility of the NLP techniques and support its’ widespread use across the spectrum of professional clinicians and NLP “certified” practitioners.