Article from

First published on on 27 November 2007

Using Metaphor, Clean Language
and Herbal Medicine
for whole system healing

Nancy Doyle and Lulu Sanderson

The wisdom of the body

Nancy:  My interest in combining symbolic modelling with herbal medicine started with a personal experience several years ago.  I was trying to conceive and was exploring my relationship with my body through metaphor.  I developed a symbol which represented anger in my tummy, as ‘two little clenched fists’.  I later discovered that both my fallopian tubes were blocked at the end.  I was struck by how accurately the true state of my physiology was represented in the subconscious wisdom that the modelling drew out.  It got me thinking that my body knew something that my conscious mind did not.  What else could I know if I knew where and how to listen?

Lu: One of my client’s experience of having undergone a termination, was that she’d received little after care from the orthodox medics. She decided to take herself for a long walk to spend time alone; to process what was going on, both emotionally and physically.  She found herself drawn to certain flowers and plants, which she picked and tied.  When she came to see me, for some healing herbs, we discovered that most of what she’d picked, were in fact the therapeutically indicated herbs that I would have prescribed anyway.  

In my training as a medical herbalist, I was taught to always view the body in both health and disease as a whole.  One cannot separate the physical body from the mind or the spirit of a person. I studied anatomy and physiology, clinical diagnosis and the therapeutics of treating the whole person using medicinal plants, nutrition and social interaction.  However, when I started my practice I quickly realised that the clients’ experience of physical symptoms was more  powerfully influenced by their minds than I had ever imagined.  I found my training in this field inadequate in assisting my clients to initiate change in deeply ingrained patterns of how they view their health.  This is when I turned to Nancy…

Who’s in charge of the patient?

Nancy: What I love about coaching with Clean Language is the way it encourages clients to be in charge and have ownership of their own stuff.  Personal development happens naturally and ecologically with their system evolving when they’re ready.

Lu never told me what to do about my health or diet.  She gently made suggestions, one at a time, which allowed me to gradually shift over a period of years.  I incorporated her changes slowly and became interested in finding out for myself what changes in diet suited me best.  I became aware of the influence of caffeine on my anxiety and insomnia, of wheat on my digestive tract and my need for vegetables!  I learned to tune in to what my body needed instead of what I thought I should need or what I craved.

In my work with the long-term unemployed and disengaged learners I’ve been developing ways to encourage independence in the same way as Lu did for me.  I use systemic and symbolic modelling to create a learning system within which clients can learn from each other and themselves.  They become engaged in, and curious about, their own thinking and behaviour.  This creates the conditions necessary for them to formulate their own plans rather than be told what to do.  They borrow from each other the ideas and tips that they’re drawn to — the individuality within any large group providing sufficient diversity to accommodate different needs.  Through careful and rigorous evaluation over the past 5 years we’ve found that this process works quickly to enable participants to gain a sense of agency over their lives.

Where does the change come from?

Lu: I have observed from myself and my clients that often we have an innate knowledge that certain behaviour is detrimental to health, e.g. excess eating or drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or lack of exercise, but we don’t know how to ‘kick the habit’.  Was this also true of less obvious patterns such as craving carbohydrates, struggling into work despite a bad cold or ignoring hunger signals?

When I started a Bachelor of Science in Herbal Medicine my driving force was my son — he was 2 years old then. I wanted him to have the best, and least chemically invasive start in life. I studied books on natural health and herbs and made up recipes for treating, colds, coughs, colic and the like.  These worked, so I hungered for more knowledge.  It was not until 8 years later when I was starting my practice and busy growing, picking, and processing herbs for medicines that someone asked, “So how did you get into herbal medicine?”. I replied, “Well, I’ve always been a herbalist”.  I wasn’t sure where this answer came from, but quickly reflected back to the many hours and days spent as a young child picking and pulverising petals, leaves and grass into gloopy experiments in the pursuit of making ‘perfumes’, or ‘hedgehog soup’.  This, I believe is where medicine begins — like when a dog is sick it goes and eats grass in order to make itself vomit (to get rid of the poison).  Surely like animals we have the same innate ability?      

It is well known that a large part of the brains’ functionality is not yet understood.  Are these innate instincts part of that?  In developing this work with Nancy and in other practices I have pursued, the subjective evidence suggests that we ALL do have these instincts.  What fascinates me about symbolic modelling and clean language, is that these are tools which facilitate us in accessing those instincts.  If we understand something or, even if it just ‘feels right’, we are likely to make lasting, positive changes and therefore be healthier for life.

Nancy:  I firmly believe that the body affects the mind as much as the mind affects the body.  We are one whole being, not divided into halves or thirds which are ruled by a dominant consciousness.  What if the lack of clarity in your thinking is mirrored, or even caused by poor circulation which results in not enough oxygen in the brain?  Should you work on the concept of clarity or improving the circulation? How about both?  The important thing is to find the change you want, in the way that is most gentle to you at the time.

For me, in my quest to conceive, that change came from a series of small shifts; a personal journey in metaphor and self discovery, a healing process in herbal remedies for my body as well as a gradual, but massive lifestyle change in diet, smoking, exercise etc.  After a journey of five years, my gorgeous twins are a testament to the power of combining your healers!  My angry clenched fists became safe, strong hands which held my boys while they grew in my womb and then gave birth to them.  

The Health4Life course - 26-27 January, 2008

Lu and Nancy:  The Health4Life course is us wanting to give others the benefit of the experiences we have given each other over the years in herbal medical treatment, coaching, listening and personal development.  We want to create a space where people can relax, explore what they already know about what they need and gain confidence in that self knowledge.  We aim to make the weekends cosy, take good walks outside, eat wholesome food together, do yoga or stretching in the morning and give people time to work on their own as well as with us and each other.   

Wherever people are in their health journey we’re hoping to provide an interlude of lovely attention to help you on their way. If you want to find out more and book yourself on, you can get in touch with us via  Trust your instincts!


Lulu Sanderson has been practicing Herbal Medicine since completing her BSc in Herbal Medicine 2002.  Lulu is a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists which has regulated the profession in the UK since 1864.  All members have been trained to a degree level in orthodox medical sciences and herbal therapeutics. Lulu has 6 years experience of working with a group known as The Medical Herbalists who travel throughout the country, providing professional drop-in herbal medicine clinics and first aid at major events.  Lulu also enjoys walking and gardening, and likes to combine these with her love and knowledge of herbs, leading various herb walks, talks, growing and gathering of herbs.  

Nancy Doyle is a Chartered Organisational Psychologist, who specialises in systems thinking.  “My experience is in creating self-awareness that leads to shifts in behaviour patterns – for individuals, in schools, with people who are long term unemployed, management teams and more.   I have always been struck by the lack of awareness of the relationship between what we eat, do and think and how we then feel – and the major improvements that can be made by relatively minor changes. My aim with Health4Life is to address this problem the clean way – by focusing on what we’d like to have happen instead of the stress and ill health that results from bad habits”.  Nancy is the Co-Director of Training Attention Ltd and runs the Mid Sussex Clean Language Practise Group.  Nancy also works as a volunteer running cooking classes for new mums through the Impact Foundation, a charity devoted to preventing disability through nutrition.



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