Article from

First published in Humanising Language Teaching Year 4; Issue 6; November 2002.

Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling

James Lawley and Penny Tompkins

The Developing Press Company, 2000.
ISBN 0-9538751-0-5

Reviewed by Mario Rinvolucri

Who is this book for?
This is the answer to be found in the book's blurb:

What do you do as a therapist, teacher doctor or manager when your client, student, patient or colleague says: " It's like I'm hitting my head against a brick wall," "I've got a knot in my stomach",or "I'm looking for the right path to take? Metaphors in Mind describes how to give individuals the opportunity to discover how their symbolic perceptions are organised, what needs to happen for these to change and how they can transform as a result. Based on David Grove's pioneering therapeutic approach and use of Clean Language, symbolic modelling is an emergent systemic and iterative way of facilitating the psychotherapeutic process.

Are the authors right to feel that the book will speak only to the bizarre sub-group of "process" professionals mentioned above, to whit managers, medical doctors, shrinks and instructors? My feeling is that that the discoveries shared between these covers will interest anybody who works in a "helping/intruding/ self-comforting / professions, to whit:

priests of all kinds
social workers
probation officers as well as the four professions mentioned above.

The book could well interest people working in the "interrogation professions" and people that come to mind are:

journalists (especially TV and Radio)
sociological research interviewers
Job interviewers
military extractors of information (i.e. on the US Guantanamo Bay base) etc.

Anybody working as a composer, lighting artist, playwright, painter or any other of the so-called creative jobs will treasure this book for its insight into the huge lake of individual's sub-conscious mind.

Linguists from George Lakoff to Chomsky, via Ron Carter and Mike McCarthy will delight in this book, if it were to come their way.

I could now go into the intellectual explanations Lawley and Tompkins offer of their new, Grovian way of working but I would prefer you to listen to them at work with a client in a therapy situation (From page 253):

Th. And what would you like to have happen? Standard opening question
Cl: I'd like to have more energy because I feel very tired.
Th: And you'd like to have more energy because you feel very tired. And when you'd like to have more energy, that more energy is like what?
Requests entry into metaphor
Cl: It's like I'm behind a castle door.
Th: And it's like you're behind a castle door. And when behind a castle door, what kind of castle door is that castle door?
Cl: A huge castle door that's very thick, very old, with studs, very heavy.
Asks to attend to the nature of the perceived symbol, thus developing its form.
Th: And a huge castle door that's very thick, very old, with studs, very heavy. And when a huge castle door is very . thick, very old, with studs, very heavy, is there anything else about that huge castle door?
Cl: I can't open it and I get very, very tired trying to open it.
Develops further- if the door has five attributes, maybe it has more
Th: And a huge castle door that's very thick, very old, with studs, very heavy. And when a huge castle door is very . thick, very old, with studs, very heavy, is there anything else about that huge castle door?
Cl: I can't open it and I get very, very tired trying to open it.
Invites client to notice the nature of the relationship between perceiver and perceived.
Th: And like struggling on your own, not getting anywhere and banging your head on a wall. And as it takes a lot of energy banging your head on a wall, what kind wall is that wall? Develops form of new symbol.
Cl: A castle wall of thick granite and I get very frustrated and very angry. Client's attention shifts to the perceiver.
Th: And a castle wall of thick granite and you get very frustrated and very angry. And when very frustrated and very angry, where is that very frustrated and very angry? Locating " very frustrated and very angry" will determine if this is one or two feelings and start to develop their form
Cl: In here ( touches solar plexus region)
Th: And when in here, whereabouts in here?
Cl: Exactly in here. Hollow. Full of darkness.
Still locating
Th: And exactly in here. Hollow. Full of darkness. And when hollow is full of darkness, is there anything else about that darkness? Develops form of new symbol
Cl: It's very dry.
Th: And it's very dry. And when darkness is very dry , its very dry like what?
Still developing.
Cl: It's dry like a desert. Desert in hollow in body in castle

etc…… ( the above is less that one seventh of the whole interview)

The central principle of this method is to help the client to explore her own sub-conscious via careful elicitation of relevant metaphors.

Freud invited the client to reach into the sub-conscious through a process of free association and via analysis of dream images.

Moreno got people to move beyond and below the confines of conscious awareness by getting them to act out scenes from their present, their past and their future. His way developed into psychodrama.

I firmly believe that Grove, Lawley and Tompkins have found a new road out from the narrow confines of conscious awareness.

My enthusiasm for their technique is based on personal experience. When Judy Baker, one of their trainees, supervised my teaching and teacher training last summer, she sometimes used metaphor elicitation to help me bust through a block in my understanding of what may have been going on in my classes. Several times I was able to see to the bottom of things, that on the conscious surface, baffled me completely.

How can we use the Grovian techniques in our language teaching? Here are a series of question without answers?

  • What would be the effect of using the text quoted above as a listening comprehension, with all its iterative, hypnotic qualities?
  • What use could be made by a story-teller of the idea of starting many sentences with "and"?
  • Could a student get into role as a major character in a literary work, or in a film, and could she then be interviewed in a metaphor eliciting way? How might this help students delve into the character's mind and heart at deeper levels?
  • Could students be asked to read half of the transcript quoted above and then go on to write about the problem, in role as the "client".
  • Could students be asked to read a page of the transcript above and then carry the interview on for another page or two?

None of these ideas have been tried out in class, yet.

If you do try any of them, please let HLT know and let the authors know.


Founding editor of Humanising Language Teaching (HLT) and author of over 20 books in the field of English Language teaching (collaborating on all but two) Mario has a vast international reputation.   

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