Mind training: a grade booster or brainwashing?

More youths turn to neuro-linguistic programming to score A's

Straits Times/April 13, 2004
By Crystal Chan

During the school holidays, Shireen Ahmad, 17, attended a two-day course to help her do better in Chinese.

Although the class had 20 students, the instructor, Major (Ret) K.S. Rajan, 55, talked to each student to see how he could help them achieve their individual goals.

The students were then advised to shed all diffidence, think positively and believe in themselves.

They were also asked to visualise successful scenarios and put themselves in the shoes of those whom they considered to be role models.

All this was reinforced through examples of how others had overcome odds they thought were insurmountable.

In Shireen's case, the instructor asked her to listen to Western classical music in the baroque manner. The music helped to calm her mind and enabled her to better process what she was studying.

What she underwent was neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a form of psychotherapy that aims to help personal development by enabling people to understand themselves better and learn patterns of excellence from more 'gifted' individuals.

The Ministry of Health does not regulate the practice of NLP. Many NLP trainers here are certified by bodies such as the American Board of NLP and the International Association of Counsellors and Therapists.

Until recently, NLP courses, which have been around for more than 10 years, were for adults seeking to overcome phobias, boost their confidence and lose weight, among other things.

Recalled Maj Rajan: 'I had this gentleman who had a phobia of public speaking, because he kept thinking the audience would mock him if he made a fool of himself. So I told him not to think that way, as that would mean his neurology was programmed to make him fearful of public speaking.

'I also got him to develop empowering beliefs that would reprogramme his neurology to make him confident of speaking effectively. I told him that he should think this way: 'I know more about my topic than the audience and they're here because they're interested in my topic.' '

But no longer are such courses for adults only. Now, there are NLP courses to help young people study better and make them more confident. These courses are held for two to eight days during the school vacations.

And, given Singapore's competitive education system, there is a rising demand for NLP courses for students, which cost from $200 to more than $2,000.

Maj Rajan, who owns Applied NLP Solutions in Betime Building in MacPherson Road, said: 'Since I started my NLP business in 2002, business has doubled from 10 to 20 students per class.'

At Adam Khoo Learning Technologies, demand for its NLP courses has also doubled - from 50 students a class in 2002, to more than 100 students a class today. The company is run by self-made millionaire Adam Khoo, 30.

Americans Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who were greatly influenced by the late Milton Erickson, a renowned psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, founded NLP in 1975.

While demand for NLP courses is increasing, the therapy's benefits have not been scientifically proven.

An article in the Journal Of Counselling Psychology, an American publication, said in 1987: 'The basic tenets of NLP have failed to be reliably verified in almost 86 per cent of the studies. NLP may be nothing more than another psychological fad.'

On the Internet newsgroup alt.psychology.nlp, where users discuss NLP, a user called Justin wrote: 'NLP appears to be a form of brainwashing. NLP merely replaces one set of supposedly neurotic beliefs with more palatable ideas.'

Psychiatrists and psychologists interviewed said that there was no scientific proof of NLP's effectiveness, but that there was no harm in going for the therapy.

Dr Brian Yeo, a psychiatrist in private practice, said: 'A child's problem must be ascertained before deciding on the therapy. But there's no harm in sending kids to such mind-training programmes, especially if they're motivated.'

Despite the criticism NLP has received, many parents are willing to spend more than $1,000 on courses for their children, going by the brisk business that NLP providers are doing.

These courses are a mixture of NLP methods and accelerated learning techniques. Students learn to set goals, manage time and develop empowering beliefs.

One parent who sent his children to an NLP-based course is Dr Chin Teck Chai, 51, who teaches electrical engineering at Nanyang Technological University.

A father of three, he sent his two younger children, Joan, 16, and Johnson, 14, to one of Mr Khoo's programmes. Said Dr Chin: 'From being an average student, Joan is now scoring As and is among the top five students in her class.'

But there are others who have not found it so useful.

Jessie Lim, 17, who attended an NLP course last December, said: 'I went for the course only because my parents wanted me to. I felt it was a waste of time. You must be interested in getting something out of NLP if you want it to work for you.'

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