With the explosion of the popularity of NLP over the last few years there is a lot of talk in NLP circles about quality control of the myriad of differing qualifications and courses offering trainings in NLP.

Before we even begin to try and make sense of this idea “quality” in differing trainings and how we should try and to standardise the “Practitioner” label (or even if we can standardise it), we must understand what an NLP Practitioner actually is.

The Society of NLP offers the definition:

“An NLP Practitioner is someone who has learned to use the attitudes, principles and techniques of NLP as they are intended to be used, by its creator, for themselves and with others.”

Which makes no mention of therapeutic or professional qualification or credibility. Sadly many SNLP trainers suggest that you can use this qualification to set yourself up as a therapeutic practitioner after just the bare minimum of training.

Other NLP qualification bodies do define an NLP Practitioner in a much more professional context.

Therapeutic Practitioner?

As I have spoken about a lot in my trainings, blogs and articles I was not originally interested in doing NLP for therapy or coaching. It happened a bit by accident and when I originally started seeing clients I quickly realised how inadequate my training had been for this area (even though my certificate seemed to allow me to get insurance and start practicing). Very quickly I realised I needed additional training: I did my Master Practitioner which helped immensely (and I would highly recommend that if you intend to use your NLP for coaching or therapy, this is the minimum training you should have), I trained in hypnotherapy and attended various other workshops in other psychotherapeutic techniques, including Human Givens approaches, EFT and mindfulness, as well as reading around the subject and talking to friends and acquaintances who were mental health practitioners and psychologists. Only after 18 months of doing this (as well as working with friends to practice my skills and get a feel for the essential therapeutic rapport and relationship), did I start to feel truly comfortable in therapeutic setting.

But what of people with less integrity? The people who will start seeing clients with little or no practice straight after their training, with just a certificate and (as little) as6 days of training?

Personal vs Professional

As my practice and study of NLP grew and matured, I have started to understand the term Practitioner in a broader context. I would argue that, although there are NLP Practitioners out there (me included) who use NLP for therapy and coaching, there are hundreds, if not thousands who use it totally different contexts; business, sport, teaching and personal development, just to name the seeming “top four”.

So what is an NLP Practitioner? It is someone, in my view, who simply practices NLP, in much the same context as yoga practitioner, or tai chi practitioner, etc.

The problem arises that in some context Practitioner can mean someone “practices” in the same way a Lawyer “practices” or a Doctor “practices medicine” (i.e. uses it in some professional capacity).

These of course, are two very different areas of practice, and the ambiguity of the word “Practitioner” really doesn’t help! The first one is about personal development, the second as a professional working with clients or patients and I can see the confusion. So, nowadays, when I teach NLP (and the way I market my trainings) I make the effort to make it clear that I teach the NLP Practitioner in the first context only and if you wish to be a practitioner in the second sense you need to do (or have had – the trainings I offer do offer a “tool bag” of methodologies that can be used by practitioners in the there chosen field) additional experience and training.

With the practitioner being so ambiguous and so broad, is it time to look at a different label for those people and (trainings) that use NLP for personal reasons, and those that use NLP in a more professional trainings?

It seems obvious to me that the trainings that offer personal practitioner trainings need not be as rigorous (or long!) as those that offer professional practitioner trainings.

Some training companies make this clear, others are vaguer about what their NLP trainings should and can be used for.

A Way Forward?

The ANLP seem to trying to make this delineation clearer by offering “associate” level membership (for personal practitioners) and “professional” membership (for those using NLP in a professional setting – obvious really!), however all you need to join at the professional level is a practitioner certificate or higher and it seems a very “self certified” system that you can claim to have the ability even if you don’t.

So, should trainers make it clear what context they are training at and offer more robust trainings for those seeking to become Professional Practitioners? The problem is a lot of people are impatient and will choose the shorter (and often cheaper) trainings even if they wish to use it for a professional context.

Do we need an additional level of qualification to delineate between these two contexts? Maybe an NLP Professional Practitioner qualification?

I am unsure where we need to go, but what I am clear with is that we need a much more robust (and understandable) definition of the “NLP Practitioner” title, even going as far as renaming the qualification to remove any misunderstanding from the ambiguity of the term.


PS, Please share (you can use the “share this” button at the bottom of the post) and comment on this post (even if you totally disagree or have your own ideas), the idea of this blog entry wasn’t to say I had the “right” or even the “best” suggestion, it is designed to fasciliate a/the debate.

3 replies
  1. iy
    iy says:

    Thanks, useful post Matt. I remember when you advised us on the practitioner course, a few years ago, to get more training if we wanted to do 'therapy'. A seven day training is definitely not enough to start a therapy practice.

    Then there's the issue of supervision…

    A lot of organisations are just interested in making money so if someone is going to create standards then it has to be a not-for-profit organisation. And it can't just be a bunch of training companies that create an umbrella group to promote their own trainings under the guise of 'standards'.

    Let's see what the future brings, or we can influence what happens ourselves…

  2. Steve
    Steve says:

    Hey Matt,

    You raise some great questions in your post.

    Especially in the last paragraph, where you propose we reach a more robust definition of NLP Practitioner.

    I suggest we need a more robust definition of NLP first. There are still too many disagreements as to the scope of the field to be able to even define the extent of a Practitioner's expected skillset.



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  1. […] I consider an NLP Practitioner (in this context) as someone who practices NLP in the same way as a martial arts practitioner, or, to use a dictionary definition “a person actively engaged in an art, discipline or profession” (see my previous blog post here). […]

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