NLP vs CBT: A Comparative Analysis

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on July 8, 2023
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Have you ever wondered about the different therapeutic approaches to mental health? If so, you’ve probably encountered Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

You might ask, “What are these techniques, and how can they help me?” Well, you’re in luck!

The Online Mental Health Reviews team is qualified to write about NLP versus CBT due to our extensive experience in mental health, including working as therapists, counselors, and in residential mental health facilities.

Our comprehensive knowledge of various therapeutic techniques and our commitment to providing reliable research-backed information makes us well-equipped to discuss and compare these two popular approaches.

In this article, we will break down what NLP offers and CBT, compare them, and help you understand which approach might work best for you.

Understanding NLP

Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, is a psychological approach that involves analyzing strategies used by successful individuals and applying them to reach a personal goal. It relates thoughts, language, cognitive processes, and behavioral patterns learned through experience to specific outcomes.

NLP was developed in the 1970s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who believed that people’s thought processes could affect their behaviors and, consequently, their outcomes in life. They aimed to teach people how to self-program their minds to achieve their goals.

Understanding CBT

On the other hand, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a form of talk therapy where patients engage in problem-solving with their therapists. It was developed in the 1960s by Dr. Aaron T. Beck, who noticed that his patients had an internal dialogue – almost a conversation with themselves – and that it influenced their feelings and behaviors.

How Do NLP and CBT Work?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are therapeutic approaches to address mental health issues.

  1. NLP is a method of influencing brain behavior through language and other types of communication to enable a person to ‘recode’ the way the brain responds to stimuli and manifest new and better behaviors. It’s a somewhat controversial approach but has been used effectively to treat conditions like phobias, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
  2. On the other hand, CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior behind people’s difficulties and change how they feel. It is often used to help individuals deal with specific problems such as anxiety or borderline personality disorder.

The key difference between the two lies in their approach. NLP has less scientific research and is more known in the personal growth self-help space. CBT is the subject of much scientific research and is considered the gold-standard therapy for various mental health struggles (see below for more differences).

It’s also worth noting that these therapies can be used together, according to research. For instance, emulating CBT and using NLP may provide an alternative way for therapists to help their clients.

NLP and CBT have proven techniques that can help individuals in real life, changing negative thinking and improving mental health.

Understanding these therapeutic approaches can help individuals make informed decisions about their mental health treatment.

Differences Between NLP and CBT

Sure, let’s dive into the differences between Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

1. Basic Principles

  • NLP: According to research, NLP is based on the idea that people operate by internal “maps” of the world that they learn through sensory experiences. It focuses on understanding how we create these maps and how they can be changed to improve our behaviors and responses.
  • CBT: CBT operates on the principle that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. This therapy aims to identify and change negative thought patterns that lead to destructive behaviors or emotional distress.

2. Role of the Therapist

  • NLP: In NLP, the therapist acts more as a coach or facilitator, guiding the client through different exercises to explore and alter their perception of reality.
  • CBT: The therapist takes a more directive role in CBT, helping the client identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs.

3. Techniques Employed

  • NLP: NLP uses techniques like mirroring and matching (copying someone’s physical or verbal cues to build rapport), anchoring (associating emotional states with physical triggers), and reframing (changing the way one perceives a situation to change their response).
  • CBT: CBT uses techniques like cognitive restructuring (identifying and challenging irrational thoughts), exposure therapy (gradually facing feared situations), and behavior activation (encouraging clients to engage in activities they have been avoiding). CBT also incorporates evidence-based journaling techniques.

4. Scientific Research

  • NLP: While NLP has been popular in many fields like sales, leadership, and personal development, it lacks robust empirical evidence supporting its efficacy in treating mental health disorders.
  • CBT: CBT is one of the most researched types of therapy, with numerous studies supporting its effectiveness in treating various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.

5. Popularity

  • NLP: NLP is popular in business and personal development but less so in clinical psychology due to the lack of scientific evidence.
  • CBT: As a gold-standard treatment for many mental health disorders, CBT is widely used and recommended within psychology.

6. Duration of Therapy

  • NLP: NLP sessions can be brief, with some practitioners claiming rapid results. However, the number of sessions needed can vary greatly depending on the individual’s needs.
  • CBT: CBT is typically a short-term therapy lasting between 6 to 20 sessions. The duration can depend on the complexity of the issue being addressed.

Overall, while both NLP and CBT aim to change unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors, they differ in their underlying theories, techniques, the role of the therapist, and the amount of scientific research supporting their use.

Similarities Between NLP and CBT


Despite their differences, NLP and CBT share a common goal:

  1. To empower individuals to change unhelpful thinking and behavior patterns that prevent them from achieving their life goals.
  2. Additionally, both NLP and CBT view the therapeutic relationship as a partnership and emphasize the role of thought in how we feel and what we do.

When are NLP and CBT Most Effective?

NLP can be particularly effective in helping people deal with phobias, anxiety, stress, and overall self-improvement. It’s also widely used in business to improve communication and management strategies.

Conversely, CBT has been extensively researched as a treatment for many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. It’s also beneficial for anyone looking to manage stressful situations better.

Advantages and Disadvantages

NLP’s main advantage over cognitive behavioral therapy is its flexibility. It can be tailored to suit the individual’s needs and isn’t bound by a rigid framework like CBT. However, NLP lacks empirical evidence supporting its effectiveness, which CBT has.

CBT is empirically proven and is often the first line of treatment for many mental health disorders. However, its structured nature might not appeal to everyone, particularly those seeking a more holistic approach to talking therapy.

Who Would Benefit Most?

  1. CBT might be the way to go if you like structure and want therapy with a strong evidence base.
  2. However, if you’re looking for a more flexible and holistic approach to personal development, you might find NLP more appealing.

Defining the Terms: What is NLP?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a psychological approach that involves analyzing strategies used by successful individuals and applying them to reach a personal goal. It relates thoughts, language, and patterns of behavior learned through experience to specific outcomes.

  • The term “neuro” in NLP refers to gathering information from the outside world using our five senses.
  • “Linguistic” pertains to how we make sense of that information by organizing it into language structure.
  • Lastly, “programming” involves a conscious understanding of how we interpret the world and control our daily actions, choices, and behaviors.

Proponents of NLP suggest that everyone has personal strategies for success that can be ‘modeled’ or copied. Once these strategies are found, they can be triggered whenever their associated task or skill is required. This technique is said to enable individuals to generate empowering states of mind.

However, it’s important to note that NLP remains somewhat controversial, with critics questioning the lack of empirical evidence to support its effectiveness. Despite these criticisms, NLP techniques are widely used in many areas, including business, sports coaching, education, health, and therapy.

NLP is a multi-faceted process of cognitive psychology involving the mind and language to effect behavioral changes.

Understanding the Other Side: What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of practice of psychotherapy that helps individuals understand and change thought patterns leading to negative behaviors and feelings. It’s grounded in the idea that our thoughts, not external factors like people, situations, or events, cause our feelings and behavior.

  • CBT is a structured, short-term, goal-oriented form of therapy.
  • It focuses on immediate issues and practical ways to improve your state of mind daily.
  • The approach typically involves working with a therapist to identify problematic beliefs, accurately assess these beliefs, and then learn to reframe them in a more constructive light.

CBT has been extensively researched and is proven effective in treating various conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.

However, it’s worth noting that CBT may not be suitable for everyone. Some critics argue that because CBT focuses on the individual’s capacity to change themselves, it may overlook wider problems in their life, such as bullying, discrimination, poverty, and lack of social support.

CBT is a practical and flexible therapeutic approach that can be adapted to meet a wide range of needs and has demonstrated effectiveness in numerous studies. You may even find free CBT therapy online resources.

Combining Techniques: Can NLP Therapy be Used Alongside CBT Therapy?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be used. Each approach has unique strengths that can complement the other.

NLP and CBT share some similarities in their core philosophies, particularly the belief that the content of our thoughts significantly influences our emotions, language patterns, and behaviors. NLP can enhance the effectiveness of CBT by providing additional tools for changing thought patterns and behaviors.

For instance, NLP techniques can help individuals visualize different outcomes, thus reinforcing the cognitive restructuring in CBT. On the other hand, the structured, evidence-based approach of CBT can provide a solid foundation for the more flexible and intuitive techniques used in NLP.

However, it’s important to note that the combined use of NLP and CBT should be tailored to the individual’s needs. Some people might benefit more from one approach than another or a different therapeutic technique altogether. Therefore, working with a skilled therapist who can assess your needs and guide you through the process is essential.

So yes, combining NLP and CBT can offer a comprehensive therapy approach, harnessing both methods’ strengths to facilitate mental well-being.

Assessing the Impact: How Effective is NLP Therapy?

The effectiveness of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) therapy is a topic of ongoing debate in the mental health community. Some studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that NLP can be effective for certain individuals and conditions, while others call for more rigorous, empirical research.

  • NLP has been used successfully in various fields, including business, education, sports, and personal development, with users often reporting enhanced communication, confidence, and stress management skills. In mental health, NLP has shown potential for treating phobias, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Despite these findings, meta-analysis studies of NLP say more high-quality, large-scale studies are needed to establish NLP’s effectiveness definitively. It’s also important to note that the success of NLP, like many therapies, can depend heavily on the skill of the practitioner and the client’s willingness to engage in the process.

While NLP holds promise as a therapeutic tool, its effectiveness varies across individuals and conditions, and further research is needed.

Navigating Your Mental Health Journey with NLP and CBT

Navigating your mental health journey with Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be transformative. Both therapies offer unique strategies for understanding and managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Identify Your Goals: What do you hope to achieve through therapy? This could be anything from reducing anxiety to improving communication skills.
  2. Choose the Right Therapist: Look for a professional trained in NLP and CBT with whom you feel comfortable.
  3. Commit to the Process: Therapy requires active participation and can sometimes be challenging. Be prepared to engage fully in the process.
  4. Apply What You Learn: Try incorporating the strategies and techniques you learn in therapy into your daily life.

While navigating your mental health journey with NLP and CBT can be helpful, working with a qualified professional and approaching the process with an open mind is crucial.

NLP VS CBT Conclusion

Ultimately, whether NLP or CBT is right for you depends on your needs, personality, and the specific issues you’re facing. Both have their strengths and can be incredibly effective when applied correctly. Remember, the most important thing is that you’re taking steps towards better mental health.

So why not explore these therapies and see if they could help you on your journey?

We hope this comparison has given you a clearer understanding of NLP and CBT. Consulting with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment is crucial.

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please comment below if you have questions about the NLP courses versus CBT. If you have any questions about online CBT solutions, feel free to leave a comment below. Your mental health is essential, and we’re here to help guide you through your journey. Also, if there’s a particular mental health platform, app, or course you’d like our team at Online Mental Health Reviews to explore next, let us know — your suggestion could be our next review!

If You’re In An Emergency

If you’re experiencing a crisis, waiting for an online therapy session might not be the safest option. In case of immediate help, dial 911. This includes situations where you or someone else may be in danger of self-harm. If you’re contemplating self-injury, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is reachable by dialing 988, providing round-the-clock assistance.

The National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a toll-free, confidential service at 800-662-HELP(4357) for individuals struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. They provide access to treatment options and valuable information 24/7, every day of the year.

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