Understanding Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and How It Can Help with Pain Management

Understanding Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and How It Can Help with Pain Management


Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) was first developed in the 1970s at the University of California at Santa Cruz by two Americans  John Grinder  a linguist and Richard Bandler a mathematician and information scientist. NLP is used to help understand and change human behavioural patterns by exploring their internal experience and language. NLP is used in several different fields including self-help, psychotherapy, counselling, health, education, leadership and creativity. It has also been used to help people with pain management.


Grinder and Bandler were inspired by Psychologist Fritz Perls the founder of Gestalt therapy, Milton Erickson a famous physiatrist and hypnotherapist, and Virginia Satir famous author and therapist in the development of NLP. They also drew from work by Noam Chomsky, Gregory Bateson, Carlos Castaneda, and Alfred Korzybski. Overtime the NLP model has expanded and includes the work of many others including Leslie Cameron Bandler, Judith DeLozier, Robert Dilts, and David Gordon.


Bandler and Grinder wanted to create a theory that codified the “magic” that occurs in the therapeutic work of Perls, Erickson and Satir. They first did this in their book, The Structure of Magic I: A Book about Language and Therapy published in 1975.


They also coined the term “Meta- Model” which was created to gather information from a client and challenged their language and underlying thinking. This model is based on a set of questions that help to explore, challenge and expand on an individual’s mental model of the world. Many individuals have faulty mental maps of reality. There are three modelling processes people use to take information in through one’s senses to create their own mental model of the world. These processes are distortions, generalization, and deletion which make up one’s mental map of the world.


Another core piece of NLP is known as the “Milton Model” and was adopted from Milton Erickson’s work. The “Milton Model” aspect of NLP is conversational hypnosis which involves communicating with the client’s unconscious mind using “artfully vague” techniques. The hypnotic language pattern encourages listeners to move into high levels of thinking and deeper states of mind where they may enter a trance state. In this state, one may be more open to changing their internal model of the world and consider a more expansive option.



NLP Pain Management

NLP is about changing one’s internal experience. Pain is an internal experience and thus NLP can be used to change one’s experience of it. Pain is an internal sensation that many of us run from and often feel the only option is pain medication but even these lose their potency with chronic pain.


NLP helps one to change their internal representations of the sensations associated with pain. Internally one changes the pictures, sounds and feelings associated with the pain which then changes the way one feels. With the use of the imagination, one is able to shift the sensory system which can help eliminate discomfort.


There are a number of hypnotic NLP approaches that can be used to help one manage chronic pain including:

  1. Directly suggesting the pain disappears by turning down a dial
  2. Altering the sensations of pain into a less disturbing sensations such as coolness, warmth or tingling.
  3. Moving the pain into a more manageable areas of the body (e.g. move back pain into one’s hand)
  4. Reinterpret the pain as a feeling of movement, heaviness, or pulsation.
  5. Suggest the pain will reduce very gradually till it is hardly noticeable or one is unable to monitor it anymore




Reference Hyperlinks





Bolstad, R., & Prochazka, L. (2003). NLP and relief of chronic pain. Anchor Point Magazine17, 1.

Tosey, P., & Mathison, J. (2003). Neuro‐linguistic programming and learning theory: A response. The Curriculum Journal14(3), 371-388.