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Verbatim transcript

A 50 minute Symbolic Modelling session facilitated by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley in front of a group in January 2009.

It is followed by the client's report six months after the session.

Summary of main features of the session:

This session has an unusually high number of exchanges – perhaps twice as many as might be expected. This may be due to both the going-back-and-forth-over-the-same-ground nature of the session, and that (wisely) the client keeps out of the details of the family dynamic.

The client does not experience any dramatic insight, shift or catharsis. This is common when reality wont budge and the client cannot accept that. Instead, this session demonstrates the more common slow, repetitive and partial realisations which may accumulate into a significant effect over time.

Apart from standard facilitator vectors (such as developing a Metaphor Landscape of the structure of client's desired Outcomes, proposed Remedies and current Problems), the main vector followed by the facilitators in this session is to keep foregrounding 'current reality' as defined by the client – even if it is painful. The client says, they have to "Live with the reality that it is what it is"; sometimes, as in this case, that's easier said than done.

When current reality is in the foreground of the client's awareness, we repeatedly ask variations of:

And what would you like to have happen, when that's how it is?

This question encourages the client to not only accept their current reality but also to take the next step and ask themselves: 'given current reality isn't going to change in the near future, if ever, then how would I like to respond to the situation?' Of course, this is not an easy question to answer, especially if you really do not want to accept the consequences. Our aim is for the client to consider the question enough times that they:
  • Notice the effect on their system of considering this question
  • Discover the multiple ways they avoid considering the question
  • Get used to staying in the state required to consider the question – and to start wondering about their answer.
Another feature of this way of working is persistence – to hold the client's attention in one place. Since this is not ordinarily socially acceptable the facilitator needs to be aware that they may have a reaction and tendency to back away from this approach. Also, as a facilitator it might seem like you are going round in circles, but each circuit reveals the current pattern more and more clearly. That makes each circuit part of an iterative feedback process where the client embodies the bind and their Metaphor Landscape learns from itself. As a result the client is likley to experience subtle shifts, and the facilitator's job is to notice them and invite the client to attend to the shifts.

NOTE: All Facilitator-generated words are embolden to distinguish them from the Client's words, and to make it easier to see the syntax of each question.

F0 And what would you like to have happen?

C1 I’d like to have some resolution to the problem that’s going on in the family. Even if it simply means that I understand it better. Because it's possible I can’t do anything physically or emotionally to other people. And that I have to change my attitude. So if that’s the case then that’s what I would like. What I’d really like to do is bang their heads together [laughter], but I can’t do that. I’ve already been banging my head against a wall for nine months. [Pause] I’d like to just calm down, I’m shaking. [Pause] I’d like to better understand so that I can live with it.
Lots of desires for change:
1. "Resolution to problem in family"
2. (If not #1 then) "Change attitude"
3. "Bang heads together" (solution to #1?)
4. "Calm down" (here and now)
5. "Better understand"
6. "Live with it"
NOTE: Although these may look like desired Outcomes, we'd classify the first five as Remedies (see Coaching for P.R.O.'s).
The client's Problem is that she "can't do anything" about the situation.
F1 Better understand so I can live with it. And is there anything else when you would like to have some kind of resolution to the problem going on in your family?
Directing client's attention to the first mentioned desire — the one she would "really like".
C2 Well it might sound paradoxical, but I’d like it to come from within. Not from within me, but within them. But clearly by having this session I’ve been trying to think of ways in which I can engineer it, so it’s dishonest I suppose in this way. But a resolution is a resolution - I’d be happy with that.
Ah, the old chestnut: I want them to want to do what I want!
F2 And when you have a resolution, how would you know you have a resolution?
Attending to the evidence for how the client will know it would happen.
C3 Oh I’ll know! Because my children will talk to each other, they’ll be able to be in the same room together, they’ll be able to have dinner together at home, and not check to see if the other one’s coming over. It will be very obvious.  Just as it’s very obvious that they’re not talking now.
That's clear sensory-based evidence.
F3 And that’s obvious, your children will be talking to each other. And it’s possible you’ll have to change your attitude.
Now on to the client's second desire – a seemingly 'reluctant' (our metaphor) "have to".
C4 Yes, it’s possible.
F4 And how would you know if you had to change your attitude?
Attending to the client's evidence. Unusually this Clean Language Question (CLQ) asks "if" – rather than "when" as in F2 – because that's what the client said in C1.
C5 I don’t think it’s my attitude that’s creating the problem. But I do have an attitude towards the problem. It’s not doing me any good. So how would I know? I have to change my attitude to it because I’m so uncomfortable with it the way it is. And they’re not making any move in that direction. So it seems like it’s not going to happen any time soon. But I need more peace of mind about it. That’s p-e-a-c-e!
"not doing me any good" and "so uncomfortable" are the effects of the client's Problem.

7. "Peace of mind" is a desired Outcome (for a meta-state "about it" – see our notes on Levels and Michael Hall's Meta-states and Symbolic Modelling.)
F5 And you need more peace of mind about it, and that would be a change of attitude.
Staying with the latest desired Outcome.
C6 Yes, I suppose because I’m full of angst about it now and if I got peace of mind that would be a change of attitude.
More on the client's Problem "so uncomfortable" (C5) and "full of angst".
F6 And what kind of peace of mind is that peace of mind?
Starting to facilitate the client to develop a richer description (more attributes, more distinctions) of her desired Outcome.
C7 I need to be able to stop caring so much. Be more nonchalant about it. You know, if they don’t want to see each other, speak to each other, have dinner together [shrugs shoulders], so I don’t know, I suppose I need to be more of a father and less of a mother, if I can use stereotypes.
8. "Stop caring so much" is another Remedy.
9. "Be more nonchanlant, more of a father" is more description of the desired Outcome.

F7 Is there anything else when you need to be more of a father and less of a mother and stop caring so much and be nonchalant?
Continuing to develop the desired Outcome.
C8 Well what I’m trying to say is there seems to be nothing I can do to bring them together, but I need to feel better about it because I feel dreadful about it. So I need to develop the ability to not care so much. I don’t know how you do that. That’s what I mean by if I can’t resolve the problem, get some resolution in my head – just go more Buddhist, I don’t know, accept it. Convince myself that these are choices they are making, that only they have the power to change and yadiyadiyadi. There’s nothing I can do.
10. "I need to feel better because ..." is a Remedy

11. "Develop ability to not care so much" seems like a proposed means of achieving the desired Outcome which includes (12) "go more Buddhist; accept it".

"Convince myself" is another indication of what we called 'reluctance' in F3.

"Nothing I can do", repeated twice, is both the client's Problem and the client's current reality – the truth of her situation (see also C1 & C5).
F8 So convince yourself. So when you convince yourself, resolve it in your head, more nonchalant, and less caring, more like a father than a mother and you have that peace of mind, what happens to your want them to talk to each other?
This recaps the attributes of the client's desired Outcome, and then enquires about the effect on her "really" want (C1). Our aim is to acknowledge all of her experience, and as they say in NLP, to check the ecology of the desired Outcome.
C9 It diminishes.
F9 Whereabouts is that want when it diminishes?
Starting to get the symbols located in the client's perceptual space.
C10 Well it’s in here [points to chest].
F10 Whereabouts in there?
C11 In which ventricle?

F11 [Nods]

C12 In my heart.

F12 And what kind of want is that want when it’s in your heart?

C13 What kind of want? [Long pause] It’s a loving parent’s want.

F13 And it’s a loving parent’s want that wants children to talk to each other.

C14 Children to care about each other. I think they care, they just don’t talk.
F14 And that’s what you want in your heart?

C15 Yes.

F15 And they’re not talking and it doesn’t seem like in the near future  ...
First example of foregrounding the client's current reality.
C16 Correct.  
F16 So that [point to heart] would diminish ...

C17 The angst would diminish.
Client corrects facilitator.
F17 The want for them to talk would diminish, the angst would diminish, and you’d be more nonchalant, you’d be more at peace and there’d be a resolution. So what kind of peace is that peace?
Recapping the effects of the desired Outcome happening and then returning to the desired Outcome itself.
C18 It’s an acceptance that I can’t make things happen the way I want to them to happen.
"Acceptance" reappears (see C8).
F18 It’s an acceptance you can’t make things happen.
C19 That things will happen in their own time.
F19 And when you accept that things happen in their own time, whereabouts is that acceptance?
C20 That acceptance will sit right next to the want [touches chest].
F20 In the heart, right next to the want.
C21 Yes, it’s a big heart.
F21 So right next to it. Anything else about that sitting right next to it?

C22 Well, the pain will go, or diminish. As I lower my expectations.
A cause-effect belief.
F22 The pain will go as you lower your expectations when that acceptance sits next to that want in that heart [points to heart]. Is there anything else about that acceptance sitting next to that want in that big heart?

C23 Well there’s fear in there too.
New symbol "fear".
F23 Whereabouts is that fear?

C24 It’s wrapped up there with the pain of the want and the acceptance – failure, lack of acceptance.
Presumably the "pain of the want" is actually the pain of the want not being satisfied.
F24 And the fear is wrapped up with the pain and lack of acceptance.  So whereabouts is that?

C25 It’s hovering over the other things.

F25 Inside the heart.

C26 Um hum.
F26 It’s hovering over. What kind of hovering?

C27 It’s like a pollution cloud.
F27 Anything else about that pollution cloud that’s hovering over?

C28 It’s not going to stay over forever. It’s eventually going to go. Unless it goes away it’s going to rain down on everything.
Two possible effects of the current situation.
F28 So unless it goes away it will rain down.

C29 Yes.
F29 Anything else about that pollution cloud?
C30 [Long pause, and then whispers] I don’t think so.
Given the ease of providing information about "fear" to the last four questions, this response seemed strange but we decided to accept the client's statement – for the time being.
F30 And so when there’s a pollution cloud hovering over a want and next to that is an acceptance, what would you like to have happen?
Having located and developed "fear" into a metaphor "pollution cloud", what would she like when that's how it is?
C31 [Wiping tear from eye] I would like the conflict between the two sorted. I’d like them to see each other.
Back to her first, apparently unattainable, desire.
F31 That’s the want [points to heart]?

C32 That’s the want.

F32 And the acceptance is: that it looks like it’s not going to happen in the short term and then there’s a pollution cloud over the top and that’s how it is.
I should have said "seems like" and "anytime soon" (C5) but I couldn't remember the exact words, so used words with the same sentiment to reiterate her current reality.
C33 Yup.

F33 So what would you like to have happen when that’s how it is?
Repeat of F30.
C34 I suppose I need to do something about my want.
F34 You suppose. What kind of something do you need to do about your want?
"You suppose" acknowledges the 'reluctance' (F3, C8). Then moves on to develop the "need to".
C35 Change it.  Live with the reality that it is what it is. [Wipes another tear.]
Repeats metaphor of "live with" (C1).
F35 Live with that reality, even if you don’t want it.
"Even if you don’t want it" are not the client's words but are inferred.
C36 Yes.
F36 And you’ve been banging your head against that wall and it is what it is.
Foregrounding the client's current reality (as in F15, F32).
C37 Yes, but it doesn’t change. It just gets worse.
"It gets worse" implies the situation is 'escalating'(our metaphor) – which will usually motivate someone to try something different.
F37 So is there anything else about that living with the reality even though you don’t want it?
Continuing to attend to the desired Outcome and current reality but now at the same time.
C38 Only I suppose the urgency of it.
A new temporal factor "urgency" that may be contributing to ''gets worse" or vice versa.
F38 The urgency.

C39 Yes.
F39 So where does the urgency come from?
Directing client's attention to the source of "urgency".
C40 I would like it to be resolved before I die, and I don’t know how long I’ve got. And [shrugs shoulders and long pause] ...

F40 And you’d like it to be resolved before you die. And to better understand it so that you can live with it.
Since client is processing deeply our aim is just to keep that going, bringing in her original desired Outcome, and see what happens.
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