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Neuro-Linguistic Programming for the Treatment of Adults with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, or Depression: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines

Last updated: November 3, 2014
Project Number: RC0600-000
Product Line: Rapid Response
Research Type: Devices and Systems
Report Type: Summary with Critical Appraisal
Result type: Report

Report in Brief

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), general anxiety disorder (GAD), and major depressive disorder are common debilitating conditions with a lifetime prevalence rate in Canada of approximately 12%, 2.6%, and 8% respectively. In addition to pharmacotherapies, some have suggested non-drug treatment options for these conditions, such as psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation, deep brain stimulation, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

NLP is a therapeutic technique for detecting and reprogramming unconscious patterns of thought and behaviour in order to alter psychological responses. It is based on the idea that there is a connection between the neurological processes (neuro), language (linguistic), and behavioural patterns learned through experience (programming). NLP typically involves building a rapport between the physician and patient, gathering information and defining the desired health outcome, and using techniques and tools to change the patient's thinking and behaviour.

A review of the clinical evidence regarding NLP for the treatment of PTSD, GAD, and depression, as well as of evidence-based guidelines, will help inform treatment decisions for patients with these conditions.

A limited literature search was conducted of key resources, and titles and abstracts of the retrieved publications were reviewed. Full-text publications were evaluated for final article selection according to predetermined selection criteria (population, intervention, comparator, outcomes, and study designs).

The literature search identified 399 citations, with 2 additional articles identified from other sources. After screening the abstracts, 1 evidence-based guideline met the criteria for inclusion in this review.

Key Messages

  • No clinical evidence was found on the use of NLP for the treatment of adults with PTSD, GAD, or depression.
  • One guideline that provides recommendations for treating depression also reports that there is no evidence that NLP is an effective treatment for it.
  • No guidelines were found on the use of NLP for the treatment of adults with PTSD or GAD.


  1. What is the clinical effectiveness of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) for the treatment of adults with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or depression?
  2. What are the guidelines associated with the use of NLP for the treatment of adults with PTSD, GAD, or depression?

Key Message

No clinical evidence on NLP for the treatment of adults with PTSD, GAD, or depression was identified. A SIGN (Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network) guideline reported that no evidence specific to depression and meeting guideline inclusion criteria was identified on the use of NLP.