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James' comments

Dear Steve,

Thanks for the opportunity to comment on your manuscript.  Your summary of Clean Language seems as accurate as you could get in a few pages.  Penny and I have no concerns about you publishing 'as is', with one exception – we request that you credit David Grove as the originator of Clean Language.

Your chapter helped me to improve my ability to distinguish between scope and category shifts and how to apply that to the Clean Language. Although I had never thought of it before, it now seems obvious and appropriate that the vast majority of Clean Language questions request information about scope.

As you say, a number of the original 9 basic questions ask the client to attend in similar ways. We noticed this too and so we revised the model and published it in an article Clean Language Revisited in 2004.

Reading your manuscript prompted a whole number of thoughts which I have taken the opportunity to highlight  below.

1.  We consider Clean Language the 'means', modelling the 'method', and metaphor the 'medium' in which we work.  We feel it’s important to keep in mind that these three aspects operate at different logical levels. Clean Language is a set of questions and a behavioural description of how to ask them devised by David Grove. People have used these questions in a whole variety of ways, many of which have got nothing to do with modelling, symbolic or otherwise. It is even possible to be downright dirty with Clean Language. Symbolic Modelling is a way of working with human perception. It  can be applied to a therapeutic setting, and with subtle changes, to many other contexts.

2. We maintain that 'being clean' is good practice when modelling or facilitating self-modelling. Of course there are times when it's valuable to 'be dirty' or leading but does the modeller have a very good purpose for doing so, and are they aware how much of their own map (metaphors, assumptions and presuppositions) they are adding into the modelling process? Having observed many hundred people (many of whom are NLP trained) attempt to model we have noticed that most simply have no idea when they are introducing their metaphors into the modelling process. At worst, the modeller ends up with a model that is as much about them as it about the exemplar. At best, the exemplar either has to keep correcting the modeller or translating the extraneous metaphors into their own. Either way it can be inefficient and frustrating for the exemplar.

3. Given that you classify the ‘Anything else?’ question as asking the client for more detail and the ‘What kind of?’ question as asking the client for an explicit categorization of their experience, perhaps you could comment on how you’d classify the following examples:

C:    It’s in my heart.
T:    And is there anything else about that heart?
C:    It’s red.

C:    It’s in my heart.
T:    And what kind of heart is that heart?
C:    It’s red.

C:    It’s in my heart.
T:    And is there anything else about that heart?
C:    It means I can be all of who I am.

One of the features of most CLQ's (as the examples above demonstrate) is that they give the client wiggle room to respond in their natural manner.

4. I feel that one of the most important things to appreciate about using Clean Language is that it was originally designed to be used within the symbolic or metaphoric domain of experience.  David Grove found, after many years of clinical experience, that to work in the symbolic domain requires a special approach. Until a person has experienced, say, 30 minutes of working in their own symbolic domain, they simply cannot appreciate what that is like. I've lost count of the number of people who have told me that it is such a different experience to be asked the questions than to watch someone answer them. So far we have not discovered any other questions that encourage and maintain a symbolic perspective as elegantly as does Clean Language.

5. You give the example of a therapist being able to introduce a new category of thinking to someone who is 'stuck'. As you say it is a "double-edged sword" to be "protected" from introducing content. Equally, introducing a new category is double-edged sword as doing so may undervalue the function of stuck, or some useful aspect of it, as well as the client's own ability to get unstuck.

In Symbolic Modelling we assume that "stuck" is serving a purpose or function (not necessarily a ‘positive’ intention). Therefore in Symbolic Modelling we will facilitate the client to explore their subjective experience of the metaphor "stuck". If nothing else this is an opportunity for the client to learn about how they do "stuck".

In most cases, however, the exploration leads the client to make new connections, take a new perspective, reframe, or some other useful response that may not have been available had we offered them a new categorization. Of course there are times when it is valuable to offer content. Teachers, for example, are paid to do just that.  And, it is my experience through training therapists from dozens of different schools that for many the desire to come up with a new categorization or solution is akin to an addiction. Many coaches, for example have said "But what's my purpose if I don't offer solutions?", "Good question," I reply.

6. In your example about forgiveness, you say that "It would take most clients a very very long time to find this essential recategorization on their own."  In Symbolic Modelling I would likely give the client a good opportunity to notice what they do when they can't find a recategorization, and to ask them to attend to that dilemma.  I might well say:

"And when you want to forgive and they don't deserve forgiveness, what would you like to have happen?"
"And when you want to forgive and they don't deserve forgiveness, then what happens?"  

At first some clients will either not understand these questions or find a way to not answering them (especially the first one). However if I continue to repeat the question, say four to six times, the client eventually attends to their current reality: that they both want to forgive and continue to believe that the other person does not deserve forgiveness, and that they do not know how to do both.

When this place/state is accessed, very often a new way of seeing the situation or themselves emerges spontaneously. If it doesn't, as a last resort, I can still make a suggestion about what I know about forgiveness (which they may or may not find helpful). In my experience, some clients need to fully appreciate that their tried and tested methods of solving problems will not work with this class of experience, before they become open to a new approach.

It may also be that the forgiveness dilemma is but one example of the client experiencing other, structurally similar, dilemmas. If this were the case I would refrain from adding any suggestions as to how to resolve the forgiveness issue because this might reduce the opportunity to address the larger question: How to deal with such dilemmas.

7. This leads me on to my next point.  Clean Language is anything but "non-interventionist". The examples I give above are hugely interventionist because they attempt to define the context in which the client attends. The difference between a clean intervention and a leading intervention is not just one of content, but also of the closeness with which the intervention stays to the logic of the client's map.  Clean interventions attempt to work within the logic.  Many other interventions attempt to work against, outside, or to defeat the client's logic.  Again, this can be very useful.  However, we say to our trainees that they have to earn the right to be dirty, and they do that by demonstrating that they have the flexibility to stay clean, even when the going gets tough.  

8.  The Where? and Whereabouts? questions might seem almost identical, but that's not what people who have attempted to translate these question into other languages say.  For example in French there is no equivalent of 'Whereabouts?'.  In English 'Whereabouts?' can either mean 'where more specifically?' or 'where more generally?' depending on the context, and because of that it is a very useful question.

9. I see that the distinction you make between "useful" and "not useful" to the client "depends on the results".  That's fine for evaluating an intervention after the results are known, but it's not much help before making the intervention because (a) you cannot know the result in advance and (b) once you've made one intervention it's impossible to go back and find out what would have happened if you had made another (clean or not) intervention.

10. I heartily agree that the art of Symbolic Modelling is in the choice of which question to ask of which words.  And that therapists with particular training are drawn to ask about particular classes of experience.  In addition, there is an almost irresistible tendency for novices to ask questions about metaphors and symbols which have significance for them [rather than the client]. This is very subtle and out-of-awareness because most therapists have no idea which symbols and metaphors will unconsciously activate and bias their attention.  As part of our training we insist therapists become intimate with their own favoured metaphors so that they can consciously counter their magnetic effect.  It's a bit like [job] interviewers being trained to recognise their own prejudices so that they can take steps to make the interview fairer for the candidate.  

11. It is worth noting that when we are using Symbolic Modelling in a therapeutic setting we have a different intention to what might be called 'standard' NLP modelling.  In the latter, the aim is to find a generalised model that has wide applicability.  In Symbolic Modelling we are looking for the unique, idiosyncratic aspects of the client's map - the bits that make them them and nobody else.  This means that while each client's Metaphor Landscape may have common features it will have elements that do not conform. And the latter will evolve in a way that is within the logic of the Metaphor Landscape particular to the client.  Symbolic Modelling seeks to work alongside this personalised "arrow of evolution" recognising (as complexity theory teaches) that a change in the initial conditions may lead to all sorts of unpredictable outcomes.  To use another metaphor, because a human is a self-organising system, the unfolding of their story emerges through its telling.

STEVE: I also have a question for you. Are there any sorts of problems that you think Symbolic Modelling is inappropriate for, or that you don't get satisfactory results? For instance, I would think that it would not work well for a phobia – at least without some careful preparation.

There are areas where we think other approaches are probably more applicable than Symbolic Modelling.  For example:

- We have successfully used Symbolic Modelling with phobias (the client gets the ‘distance’ by examining a metaphor for the phobia or symptoms) but unless there is something unusual about a phobia then techniques such as the fast phobia cure and EFT are more efficient.

- Unless the practitioner is experienced in working with clients who have a poor grasp on consensual reality, we do not recommend Symbolic Modelling is used with this client base.

- There are probably better approaches for working with people who have a very low level of self-awareness or who have a low-capacity to learn how to be self-reflective.

- Clients who want/need advice or external feedback should look elsewhere.

Otherwise, we and our colleagues have used Symbolic Modelling successfully in settings as diverse as maximum security prisons and kindergartens. We have found that Symbolic Modelling is particularly suited to those areas not easily resolved by traditional techniques, e.g.
  • The big or highly generalized issues of life.
  • A vague or ill-defined sense something’s wrong, fearful, unsafe, missing, etc.
  • Intractable and double-binding problems.
  • High-level identity and spiritual stuff.
  • Obsessive and addictive behaviour.
  • Subtle and pervasive dissociations/splits of perceiver.
  • Misaligned, distorted perceptions of epistemology (this could be time, space, and in particular, scale).
  • Situations where a lot of transference and counter-transference may be operating, e.g. In Northern Ireland some counsellors work with clients who directly or indirectly have had a hand in physical violence against a family member or neighbour of the counsellor.  In these situations the discipline of Clean Language and the use of metaphor really helps the counsellor to keep their personal stuff out of the therapeutic relationship.

Warm regards,

James Lawley
17 September 2005

Steve Andreas & James Lawley
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Metaphor and

Clean Language


James Lawley
Penny Tompkins


(in English)

November 29-30

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