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Part 2 continued ...

4 How can the information within a pattern be released?

"Since all symbols have attributes, and all attributes have functions,
 and all functions serve a purpose,
all symbols are potentially useful
somewhere, somewhen or under some conditions."

Lawley and Tompkins, Chapter 7

Discernment of internal patterns is just that, discernment — nothing will change as a result until the client is able to decode (put meaning to) the information their unconscious has scrambled and compacted into the metaphor. As clients decode this information they realize what their symbols signify, and become aware of a different kind of internal processing. This can be a defining moment. And it is at this moment — when the system recognises its own organisation, when internal intention is revealed, when conscious and unconscious knowing come together — that the information in the pattern is released.

How can you as a therapist facilitate release? After all, if the unscrambling and release of information from what has hitherto been a conservative (self-preserving) pattern was a predictable and logical process, all a person would need would be a well-meaning friend to point out the obvious. Given that most of us require something more than a friend to bring about change, let alone deep structural change, is there a formula that will work for any clean language therapist with any client under any conditions?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes. I shall reveal it when you have read the following oath:

I shall not attempt to change, resolve or reconfigure the client's problem pattern.

I shall not guess what needs to happen for the pattern to change, resolve or reconfigure.

I shall only seek to encourage the conditions for change, resolution or reconfiguration.

Here is the formula: four things you can do to facilitate the release of information in the pattern and to encourage the conditions for change if the client so chooses.

(i) Ask potential resource symbols for their intention, and for what needs to happen for that intention to be fulfilled.


It's a magic roundabout.

Clean language

And it's a magic roundabout. And when it's a magic roundabout, is there anything the magic of that roundabout would like to do? [No supposition here that 'magic' is good or bad, or that it can change 'roundabout' — or anything else — for better or worse. The intervention acknowledges that magic exists as a symbol in the landscape, confirms that it has been constructed as a modifier, and draws attention in non-specific terms to its potential.]


It would like to change the circles the roundabout has been going round in for years to spirals that continue to develop without repeating themselves.


And can magic change the circles ...? [Client having articulated the intention of the symbol, therapist invites symbol — if appropriate — to fulfil it.]


With the right input of energy at the right moment, yes.

All symbols have resource potential. A resource symbol may at a given moment be overt and its potential obvious ('magic'), or latent ('roundabout') and require interaction with another symbol or another context before it is able, as David Grove puts it, 'to confess its strengths'. Resources may appear in the most unlikely places. One of my clients transformed a 30-year pattern of addiction after finding a redemptory resource in a metaphorical garbage can. Others have found them in bottomless pits, dense fog, tightly bound knots in the stomach. Identifying and activating potential resource symbols is one considerable way in which the information within a pattern may be released.

(ii) Focus the client's attention on the pattern. This may sometimes mean persisting with clean language beyond what seems the call of duty:


I've been going round in circles for years.


And you've been going round in circles for years. And you've been going round in circles for years. And you've been going round in circles for years. [Client now has unequivocal affirmation of the pattern, and during this has probably been associating back into it.] And when you've been going round in circles for years ... [What next? Almost any clean language question will do. There could be information locked in the sheer repetition.] ... what kind of going round is that going round?


Clockwise. [New information. Therapist may simply affirm it and return to 'circles' or 'years', or draw client's attention to the new metaphor with a space, time or form question, or note the phonetic ambiguity (see Part I about homonyms) of 'wise'. Any one of these interventions could be the key to unlocking the pattern and releasing the information.]

(iii) Draw the client's attention to the wider context in which the pattern manifests.


I've been going round in circles for years.


[Could ask 'How do you know you've been going round ...?' or 'How many years?' or 'How does going round in circles relate to X or Y (something else in the landscape or the client's life that client has identified)?' Decides to invite client to explore the space-time parameters within which the pattern appears] And what happens just before going round in circles?


I'm stuck.


And when you're stuck, then you're going round in circles, then what happens?


They stop.


And when they stop, then what happens?


I'm stuck and it starts all over again.

Client has identified a strategy which provides him with a wider context for change.

Client strategy

(iv) Give creative assignments that encourage the client to explore their pattern in other ways — by mapping, drawing, sculpting their personal metaphors, by acting them out or physicalising them, by researching key words or symbols, or by any creative means possible. It was not until Colin mapped out the context of his circles (above) that we discovered six other places to explore — before stuck / during stuck / between stuck and circles / between circles and stop / during stop / and between stop and stuck — any of which could contain a resource or an impetus for not repeating the start, or for moving on from the end, of the unproductive pattern.

I have been witness to a hundred ways in which clients have used mapping, etymological or symbol research, etc to release information. This morning a client saw the word ANGER in her metaphor landscape. She was concerned. I invited her to map it out. She wrote 'anger' on a piece of paper, stuck it to the wall, studied it for a moment and said, "Oh. I've used lower-case letters, and I've written it in black. I thought it would come out in capitals, and be red and dramatic, this is old anger, I know why it's there." Having defined the symbolic attributes of 'old anger', she was able to make a conscious connection to her current state and move on. I remind myself to cherish the unique creativity of every client. 9

And then what happens?

"When a symbol changes it not only alters itself,
it is likely to influence other symbols.

If enough changes occur, or a change of sufficient significance occurs,
the client's symbolic perceptions reorganise

and a transformed metaphor landscape emerges."
Lawley and Tompkins, Chapter 5

When the information in a pattern is released the result is likely to be:

  • reassignment
  • rearrangement
  • translation or
  • transformation.

With reassignment, one or more elements in the metaphor landscape reorganise(s) to modify form or function, but the underlying pattern stays the same. The system remains in self-preservation mode. It shifts its organisation sideways so as not to change. Colin may know a little more about his circles, but life goes on pretty much the same.

With rearrangement, elements in the metaphor landscape reorganise their relationship to each other, but the underlying pattern stays the same. Colin may feel a little differently in his circles, he may go round in a slightly different way, he may experience some insight into the effects of going round, but he is not yet ready to change the going roundness of his system.

Reassignment and rearrangement generally mean the client having to go round the loop again. My job as a therapist is to continue drawing Colin's attention to any part of his landscape that has the potential for change (which may be any part); to help move elements forward in time; and to consider how new relationships between elements might evolve.

With translation, the pattern changes but its underlying structure stays the same. Colin may have hoped that his conscious awareness of the pattern would have been enough to transform it, but what happens is that his circles reappear in another guise and he experiences no significant change in his essential sense of himself or in other people's awareness of him. Time spent re-experiencing the pattern in this way may seem fruitless, but can be very useful. Clients use it to test and confirm their patterns to themselves. Some use it to better recognise when they are — and when they are not — in the pattern. Some explore what have hitherto been unconscious patterns with more awareness. In Colin's case he begins to adjust his behaviours and feelings, he finds himself going round more slowly and less often, and gradually his circles widen and he is able to see more of the world.

With many clients that may be enough. Translation may be all a person wants or can handle for the time being.

Colin will decide if and when he wants to break out of the loop and make a structural change, and meanwhile I can direct his attention to the smaller changes he has already made, and invite him to extend their evolutionary potential.

"Translation itself is an absolutely necessary and crucial function for the greater part of our lives. Those who cannot translate adequately ... fall quickly into severe neurosis or even psychosis ... but at some time in our maturation process, translation itself, no matter how adequate or confident, simply ceases to console."
Ken Wilber 10

With transformation, the nature of the pattern changes completely. Rather than the pattern modifying, it metamorphoses. What results is a qualitatively new pattern of organisation. It may occur suddenly and spontaneously as a result of self-modelling, or it may happen gradually or cumulatively.

Figure 4: transformation

Figure 4: transformation

One of my clients used his transformation of what had been a phobic fear of the dark as the catalyst to resolving his relationship with his mother en route to a radical change in his sense of himself. A client with arachnophobia (and a whole raft of unwanted behaviours, feelings and beliefs associated with it) chose to tackle her patterns the other way round — by first resolving a childhood trauma that had no obvious connection to the phobia. Both clients experienced the effect as cumulative — increasing the energy for resolution through successive addition. (See figure 5)

fig 5

Figure 5: two clients in cumulative transformation

The complete resolution process is summarised in figure 6. Colin illustrates a part of the process in figure 7.

Figure 6: resolving problem patterns

Life events processed by the unconscious result in repetitive patterns of behaviour/feeling/thought/belief presented by the client in isomorphic code to the therapist who facilitates the client with clean language questioning to self-model information from the unconscious including autogenic metaphor creating a context for the client's conscious discernment and eventual decoding of their patterns, and as conscious and unconscious knowing come together the information in the pattern is released for reassignment or rearrangement (producing no significant change) and thence back into the questioning, discernment and decoding loop; or translation (producing modified behaviours/feelings/thoughts/beliefs); or transformation (resulting in new ways of being or becoming).

Figure 7: client example

And what happens next?

A member of our research group came to the seminar on pattern unprepared. Normally this colleague is very well prepared — a familiar, self-preserving, highly productive pattern. They decided to give a presentation on what it was like in the days leading up to the seminar to have changed this habit of a lifetime. They felt nervous and uncomfortable, unable to anticipate what would happen, and aware of an almost irresistible pull to revert to the familiar pattern of having something prepared — that is, to relapse.

Many clients report unfamiliar feelings when they make significant change. As therapists we need to remember that old patterns offer advantage, and changing them may not always bestow immediate benefit. One of my addictive clients said his dependency pattern was like going down a familiar road — it supposed a kind of mobility — whereas changing the pattern was like arriving at a junction where there were too many exits and not enough signposts, a paradoxical situation in which he could only progress by standing still. This client needed to find out a great deal more about the destination before he would commit to the route. Others realise they have changed a pattern only through feedback from others who knew the old patterns well. And some will change a pattern and forget they ever had a problem.

What all clients in clean language therapy have in common is a commitment to themselves that stems from the knowledge that the changes they make are theirs and theirs alone. They have not been imposed or suggested by the therapist. I believe this fosters a more natural, lasting and reliable resolution.

To conclude: a few more questions

Is a common characteristic of all problem patterns the fact that they are illusory? The self reflecting the self in some way? How are we so adept at doing this? Why would anyone believe a likeness was real?

The conditions for change may require a moment when we perceive, consciously or not, that the problem is actually a simulation, a construct, a tale we tell ourselves, a bind of our own making. Such a moment may require hours of perseverance on the part of the therapist who recognises that a client's persistence in seeing their patterns as eternal, the circles as endless, is just part of the pattern.

The reason clean language works is that as a reflective methodology it pays immaculate attention to the self-referential nature of problem patterns. Systems theory describes the output of the system re-entering the system as the next input to influence the next output. What clean language does is enhance/concentrate/deepen the quality of the input. Applying the theory to autogenic metaphor or symbolic modelling we can see how clean language works (figure 8):


client information [original coded output]
affirmed by therapist clean language reflection

re-enters and informs client system [enhanced input]
focused by therapist clean language question

re-enters and prompts client system [further-enhanced input]
prompts client response-information [deep structural output]
affirmed by therapist clean language reflection

re-enters and prompts client system [still-further-enhanced input]
focused by therapist clean language question

re-enters and informs client system [still-further-enhanced input]
prompts client response-information [deeper-structural ouput]
affirmed (etc)

Figure 8: how clean language works

In Part I we raised the question of who is influencing whom in the clean language process, client or therapist? In fact it is the information manifested by the client and affirmed, focused and enhanced by clean language that self-activates the system and keeps it updated. And as the unproductive pattern in the system is detected and decoded, as the information is released and the pattern transforms, the system is no longer subject to self-delusion and new more flexible patterns form.

And Colin's circles? At first they reorganised into bigger, more interesting circles as he was able to see more of what was going on around him. Then they translated into creative spirals as his energy took on a life of its own. Finally they transformed by becoming so wholly absorbed into the wheel of life that he's forgotten he was ever going round in circles at all. And today you might say he has come full circle — he's a psychotherapist using clean language to facilitate others.

© 2000 Philip Harland

Sources and special thanks

The Metaphor and Clean Language Research Group: for the seminar on 'Pattern' this comprised Clive Bach, Philip Harland, James Lawley, Frances Prestidge, Wendy Sullivan, Penny Tompkins.

James Lawley and Penny Tompkins, co-authors of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, the definitive book on clean language, symbolic modelling and Grovian metaphor.

Notes to Part II

1 Psychotherapist David Grove, originator of Clean Language, at the London Clean Language Practise Group, November 99.

2 Quotation on pattern from Chapter 7, Metaphors in Mind (see Sources above).

3 More information on autogenic/Grovian metaphor, symbolic modelling and clean language (and their relationship to NLP) from the website. And see articles by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Philip Harland and others in back numbers of Rapport.

4 Discerning different kinds of pattern — spatial, sequential, formal: see Chapter 7 of Metaphors in Mind.

5 A code is a system of words or signals used for other words or signals to secure brevity or secrecy, and decoding is David Grove's metaphor for deciphering/unscrambling/figuring out the pattern that the client's system of words, gestures, drawings etc represent. If decoding suits/pleases/resonates with you as a metaphor, ok, otherwise do substitute your own.

6 Credit to Wendy Sullivan for introducing this A/BC pattern to our research group and getting us to decode it when we thought we'd finished for the day. The letters above the line have only straight lines, the letters below have curved lines.

7 Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic counselling, with their emphasis on conscious insight by the client, may be the comparatively prolonged processes they are because neural connections from the cortex (the 'seat of reason') to the amygdala (the 'emotional processor') have been found to be weaker than connections from the amygdala to the cortex. This may explain why it's easier for emotion to govern reason than the other way round. (Joseph Ledoux, The Emotional Brain, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998)

8 Philip Harland, The 'Mirror model' - A Guide to Reflective Questioning, Rapport, Autumn 98 and An NLP- and Grovian-inspired counselling model using mostly clean language.

9 Lots more about mapping and other assignments in Chapter 9 of Metaphors in Mind.

10 Ken Wilber, The Essential Ken Wilber, Shambhala 1998.

Philip Harland
Photo of Philip Harland Philip Harland is a neurolinguistic psychotherapist with a private practice in London, England. He has written many articles on Clean Language for professional journals and the internet. In 2009 Philip published the first book related to David Grove's last innovations, Emergent Knowledge, 'THE POWER OF SIX: A Six Part Guide to Self Knowledge'. You can order a copy from or

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