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First Published on this site 11 January 2001

The case for making the metaphor therapy and clean language of David Grove, and the symbolic modelling of James Lawley and Penny Tompkins a part of the INLPTA Practitioner and Master Practitioner training
Identity Change with Grovian Metaphor

Robert Smith

'Man's achievements rest upon the use of symbols.
For this reason, we must consider ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of life,
and those who rule the symbols, rule us.'
Alfred Korzybski [1]


Grovian metaphor is a therapeutic change technique created by New Zealander David Grove. It is based on the client accessing the content of their unconscious mind in a metaphoric form. This is done by the therapist asking questions that allow the metaphoric landscape to develop. Through this process, the solution to the problem is developed. The process ensures that all content comes from the client and that there is no projection or interpretation by the therapist.

James Lawley and Penny Tompkins as Master Modellers extended Grove's work beyond a model aimed at a therapeutic setting. Their work now includes educational and business settings. What they did in the modelling process was to discover the format of questioning that Grove uses, which they call 'symbolic modelling using clean language'.

This paper extends their work beyond what it is and how it works into why I believe it is a powerful tool for change in such a wide range of environments. Metaphor has always played an important role in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and if NLP is to develop and grow into the new millennium it will need to assimilate into the syllabuses new technologies of change such as the work of Grove, Lawley and Tompkins.


As an NLP trainer I am constantly looking for new ways to help people with their personal development, including me. A couple of years ago I went to a Grovian metaphor workshop in London with James Lawley and Penny Tompkins. I subsequently returned to a series of follow-ons as the bug had bitten me and I had some terrific results working with people. I am now convinced that Grovian metaphor needs to be included as a vital part of the INLPTA Practitioner and Master Practitioner syllabuses.

I experimented with the ideas based on the teaching of James and Penny and evolved my own way of doing it. I have never met David Grove and in fact have modelled his modellers. This is not dissimilar to the way I learned NLP because I never got to work with Richard Bandler until I had become an NLP trainer. On reflection, when I finally came to work with him, because I had had so many excellent trainers who explained NLP at a conscious level, I could truly marvel at his genius. Other people, who were also working with me on that training, had not had such a rigorous training as me. They therefore missed some of the brilliance of his work. If the pattern repeats itself, as I believe it will, when I finally meet David Grove and have the opportunity to work with him, I know I have a treat in store.

Grove originally had some involvement with NLP in 1978. His main interest was for using NLP in business. Regrettably - or maybe not - there were not enough people for the business course so he had to join the therapy group. He developed an interest in working with phobias and trauma. He then studied Ericksonian hypnosis, as well as being influenced by the works of Virginia Stair and Carl Rogers. He began to realise that he was developing in a totally different direction from his peers. He continued to develop his work in the USA. A great driving force behind his work was that little had been done to help the Vietnam veterans with their post-traumatic stress disorder.

Grove even used metaphor to describe his way of working: 'Metaphors are like the genes of cells or the DNA - genetic codes that replicate. So if you want to change a repetitive or habitual experience, it's the replicating mechanism that matters.' [2]

What I plan to do in this paper is to explain where Grovian metaphor fits in with the body of knowledge called NLP and give the concepts and principles behind it. Second, I will outline my understanding of why it works so well. Third, I want to explain the processes and procedures involved in using Grovian metaphor as a development tool.

Where it fits within NLP

Metaphors have always played an important role in NLP. As such Grovian metaphor dovetails perfectly with other aspects of NLP. A metaphor is 'indirect communication by a story or figures of speech implying comparison. In NLP metaphor covers similes, parables and allegories'. [3] 'Metaphors are mere poetical or rhetorical embellishments . . . [they] affect the way in which we perceive, think and act. Reality itself is defined by metaphor.' [4] Gregory Bateson, the grandfather of NLP, had some wise words on the subject: 'Metaphor, that's how the whole fabric of mental interconnections hold together. Metaphor is right at the bottom of being alive.' [5]

James and Penny see the process of Grovian metaphor and symbolic modelling as primarily modelling the client's unconscious, with change being a by-product or application of the clean language technique. Clean language is a process in which the therapist/facilitator asks questions that enable the client to develop their metaphoric landscape free from any therapist/facilitator influence or projection. This is in contrast to the meta-model questioning of NLP, which thaws out the frozen distortions, deletions and generalisations, giving the client a new interpretation of an event.

Modelling is not a part of NLP; it is the heart of NLP. As a modelling process it could therefore be argued that Grovian metaphor and symbolic modelling are already NLP.

In NLP Richard Bandler and John Grinder first modelled Erickson's work, part of which was Erickson's amazing ability to design, write and deliver metaphoric stories that had a real therapeutic impact on the client. [6]

Grovian metaphor is completely different from Ericksonian metaphor in that the metaphor itself is evolved by the client, not the therapist/facilitator. This puts the client in control of their own symbols and 'those who rule the symbols, rule us'. [1] This must be the ultimate in client-centred therapy! 'Unlike Jungian archetypal symbols, which have universal applicability, Grovian metaphors are idiosyncratic and very personal to the client. And the metaphor model requires no interpretation by either the therapist or the client ... [the client] just know[s] that something has shifted.' [7] David Grove goes further by calling his work 'information-centred therapy' because it focuses on the symbolic information rather than the on client sitting in the room in dialogue with the therapist (as in Rogerian therapy). The process that is entered into is that of a trialogue between the client, their metaphoric information and the therapist/facilitator.

Grovian metaphor can start with a word, a noise, a symbol, a simple gesture, a drawing, a clay model or a sensation (like a knot in a person's stomach which has already changed into a metaphor).

We have considered metaphor and the difference between Ericksonian and Grovian metaphor. Now we will consider modelling and how Grovian modelling differs from the usual NLP modelling process. NLP modelling is defined as 'the process of discerning the sequence of ideas and behaviour that enable someone to accomplish a task'. [8] Robert Dilts has another definition: 'The process of observing and mapping the successful behaviours of other people.' [9] The perspective taken in the usual modelling process is that of second position, where the modeller: identifies someone with specific skills; gathers information on how they do those skills; constructs a model of how it works; steps into the model themselves as a means of testing the model; and finally streamlining it before designing a training course to pass on the information to others.

Symbolic modelling is different from the NLP modelling process in that it is modelling the first position. By that I mean that clients, with the aid of clean language, model themselves; thus getting insight into their unconscious patterns - what we might call their mental DNA. And referring back to Grove's words: 'If you want to change a repetitive or habitual experience, it's the replicating mechanism that matters.' [2] Once the patterns have emerged, the solution lies within them. This is better explained by the NLP presupposition:
'People have all the internal resources they need to succeed.' [10] And it is the role of the Grovian metaphor to help discover and access the client's resources.

Tompkins and Lawley take Robert Dilts' logical levels and break them down to three levels of modelling. First, the behaviour and environment is a sensory form of modelling and the tool that we use in NLP to achieve that is the meta model. Second, beliefs and capabilities is a conceptual form of modelling which relates to Robert Dilts' strategy of genius. Finally, the spiritual and identity level they believe is covered by a metaphoric form of modelling, which is Grovian metaphor.[11] It could be argued that Grovian metaphor isn't modelling. However, the process of symbolic modelling and clean language most certainly is modelling. I would submit that Grovian metaphor and symbolic modelling using clean language must be included as a part of the NLP syllabus on two counts: first, the modelling process and, second, the metaphoric process.

How the metaphor unfolds is by the use of clean language. This enables the client to develop their own symbolic metaphor. There is then no projection from the person asking the questions. After completing my training with Tompkins and Lawley, I set up my own research group of six clients for a blind test. I asked each one to come along with a problem they had tried over a long period of time to solve and had not solved. I asked them to resist the temptation to tell me what the problem was and to allow it if possible to become a symbol before they came to do work with me. There was absolutely no way that I could project any of my own agenda on to the sessions. Yet we still got resolution. The clients got to some deep issues using Grove's caring, gentle and kind technique. It certainly isn't a wizz-bang process of instant therapy. It takes time. The transcripts of two of the six sessions are appended. Details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

As a result of my original trials and further work with clients, I have developed my own style of using Grovian metaphor. There are usually three sessions of three hours each. Halfway through each session the client creates some sort of map of where they have got to so far with the use of clean language. This is a tangible representation such as a drawing, a model or a collage.

If the drawing goes to the edge of the page, I would encourage the client to add another page as an extension. And if the client goes to the edge of that page, they would add another page. This can frequently lead to my office floor being covered in drawings of the metaphor by the time this part of the session is over. Some profound insights come from the client being able to see the whole picture. Another way that I have used drawing is to get the client to draw the metaphor on transparencies and then I ask them to examine their picture from the four quadrants of the visual Cartesian co-ordinates. [12]

In the case of models, I simply supply the client with a box of coloured Plasticine that they can use to create their representation of the metaphor. This again gives them the opportunity to step back and get some insights, this time in 3D. A collage can encompass the best of both worlds, using both two- and three-dimensional representations. And the most profound way of clients understanding their model is for them to visualise it in space and take the opportunity to walk around and be part of - and yet not part of - their metaphor.

The purpose of all these techniques is to enable the client to focus on where they need or want to continue developing their metaphor for the rest of the session. The client goes through a similar process at the end of each session. They are also encouraged to do homework by researching the symbols. And before returning for the next session they are encouraged yet again to update their metaphoric map. This is because it seems that the unconscious processing continues until resolution has been achieved.

As the metaphoric landscape unfolds, the transformation comes from the client. The seed of change is planted in among their landscape and as it develops the seed grows, unfolds and blossoms until the whole landscape is transformed.

Why it works so well

As a prerequisite to the success of working with Grovian metaphor, I would like to use the words of the Harvard psychologist David McClelland: 'You've got to want to change, be allowed to change and to find someone who can help you change.' [13] In this case I would modify his quote to: 'You've got to want to change, be allowed to change and to find someone who can ask clean questions.'
To consider why Grovian metaphor works, I have divided it into four sections: postlateral thinking; prepersonal recovery; preverbal healing; and transpersonal development.

1. Postlateral thinking

Post-lateral thinking is moving from straight-line processing to higher logical levels, where usual language becomes inadequate to deal with the complexity of the problems. So it is thinking about thinking about thinking.

According to John Grinder, 'Neuro-Linguistic Programming is an epistemology; it is not allowed to make substantive decisions, to offer the comfort of the "correct path". It offers the opportunity to explore, it offers a set of pathfinding tools. It is for you to select and explore these paths, whether you find comfort or challenge or hopefully, I would say, the comfort of challenge . . . The finest compliment that I ever got from Bateson, was the statement to me that NLP was a set of Learning III tools.' [14]

Bateson had difficulty explaining the Learning III level so I am sure it will be useful to review Bateson's logical types of learning. Level 0 is the stimulus response. This is the stage where no true learning occurs. What is retained is done so by rote. (When the fire bell goes you make your way to the fire assembly point; two twos are four; etc.) Level I is applied learning. It is about the utilisation of a skill learned and how it can be used. (How do I apply the times table?) Level II is learning how to learn. This involves spotting the patterns and models, and being able to step back and observe from the meta position. (It's fascinating to notice the patterns of nine in the nine times table.) Level III is learning how to learn how to learn. This is the stage where you need to re-organise your structure so that what you do is normal. By normal I mean normal in the new environment in which you find yourself.

No wonder Bateson had difficulty writing about this area! Thank goodness that we can move to this logical type of learning using symbols rather than the cumbersome English language. Grovian metaphor gives us the tools to be able to deal successfully with postlateral thinking in the normal complexities of everyday problems that may occur in a counselling/therapeutic relationship or mentor/mentoree relationship in business. These include the knotty problems of double- and treble-binds where once again spoken language is inadequate to move forward.

Post-lateral thinking not only deals with problem solving but provides the tools to develop humanity's striving for purpose, 'the intrinsic motivation and the importance of activity and mastery for its own sake'. [15]

2. Prepersonal recovery

Prepersonal recovery is the process of discovering and dealing with experiences before conception that have an impact on the client's life, whether real or imagined. It only matters that the client's unconscious mind believes that they are true.

Paul MacLean describes three brains within the brain in terms of evolutionary animals: the early reptilian, the lower mammalian and the higher mammalian. He sees them as a hierarchy, each higher brain enfolding the one immediately lower to it. 'When the psychiatrist bids the patient to lie on the couch, he is asking him to stretch out alongside a horse and a crocodile .... The reptilian brain is filled with ancestral lore and ancestral memories and it is faithful in doing what its ancestors say, but it is not very good for facing up to new situations . . . The lower mammalian brain plays a fundamental role in emotional behaviour. It has a greater capacity than the reptilian brain for learning new approaches and solutions to problems on the basis of immediate experience. But like the reptilian brain, it does not have the ability to put its feelings into words.' [16]

Ken Wilber, talking about MacLean's reference to the psychiatrist's couch, goes even further. 'We lie down with planets and the stars, the lakes and the rivers, the plankton and the oaks, the lizards and the birds, the rabbits and the apes - and, to repeat, not simply because they are neighbours in our own universe, but because they are components in our own being, they are literally our bones and blood and marrow and guts and feeling and fears.' [17]

Wilber's brilliant work of tracing the course of evolution relies heavily on Koestler's notion of 'holons'. Wilber himself offers a Reader's Digest version of holons: 'Reality is not composed of things or processes; it is not composed of atoms or quarks; it is not composed of wholes nor does it have any parts. Rather, it is composed of whole/parts or holons. This is true of atoms, cells, symbols, ideas. They can be understood neither as things nor processes, neither wholes nor parts, but only as simultaneously whole/parts, so the standard "atomistic" and "wholistic" attempts are both way off the mark. There is nothing that isn't a holon (upwardly and downwardly for ever).'[18]

I use the word 'prepersonal' to describe the course of evolution for the particular client up to the time that they were conceived. In talking about prepersonal it is important that the personal starts from the point of conception. I therefore disagree with Steiner's suggestion that all children start at birth from a position of I'm OK, you're OK. [19] What if a sense of not OKness is experienced before birth? It has long been established that the child in the womb can hear the mother's voice through the amniotic fluid. 'If a trauma comes in the womb, such as an attempted abortion, an accident to the mother which puts the foetus at risk, a persistent and repeated negative attitude of the mother and so forth - then just because the foetus has had to deal with it before this separation has had a chance to take place, the most primitive defences may be used.' [20]

Prepersonal might include issues in the family history that are passed unconsciously from generation to generation. These are known in Transactional Analysis as the 'hot potato'. [21] They might also include previous lives of which the client is aware. I am constantly surprised by the number of clients, when asked the two clean questions to move time backwards, find themselves at the beginning of time itself. There seems in this process some therapeutic revelation, insight or perception. Whether they be true or a figment of the client's imagination is completely irrelevant.

The real issue is whether or not the client believes it. It is really important at this stage to state that clean language ensures that no false memory syndrome is encouraged or cultivated.

3. Preverbal healing

Preverbal healing is dealing with the earliest stages of child development, where language has not yet been developed. Therefore, any healing that takes place can only be dealt with at a metaphoric level as words are inadequate to create deep change.

In terms of human development, the early stages are enfolded into the later stages in the same way that an onion develops layers as it grows. If the early stages are not fully developed the later stages still develop as layers but the heart of the onion remains incomplete. Using Wilber's notion that everything is connected to everything else. If the early stages of child development are not fully healed, the opportunity for the person to continue growing is thwarted, never getting to the transpersonal stage.

Many of the concepts that have developed in cognitive psychology owe their origins to Piaget. His work on developmental stages (or spiral, as he would later call it) has become the underpinning to our understanding of intellectual development. Central to his thinking was that humans act on the world to learn how to control it or at least survive in it. Any wound to the psyche at the preverbal stage actually strikes at the heart of survival issues for the client.

At the same time as Piaget was studying intellectual development, Freud was studying emotional development. We have already seen from the works of MacLean the difficulty of the reptilian part of the brain putting feelings into words. Freud also spoke about an inner drive: 'The libido is the life force, the instinctual drive.'[22] It was not until recent years [23] that the importance of emotional intelligence was fully recognised. According to Goleman, [24] the emotional skill set is a fundamental requirement for success in life. He also concludes that emotional intelligence can be taught. [25] I believe that Grovian metaphor will become recognised as the key to integrating both the intellectual and emotional stages of our identity. Wilber says that identity can occur at each stage. Therefore Grovian metaphor and symbolic modelling using clean language help to complete each stage, allowing the person to transform and move to a higher level.

These two threads of intellectual and emotional growth were recognised by Berne as essential to one's sense of human worth, which he called OKness. This sense of OKness presupposed 'the basic drive for health and growth fuelled by physis and a need for loving (libidinal) recognition', [26] physis being the life force. No matter how far you have moved through the developmental levels, I agree with Stan Woollams that under severe stress the person is 'rubber-banded' back to the source or original pain that the situation triggers. [27] Again this demonstrates the real importance of healing the early wounds.

When I presented a paper on Grovian metaphor at the 1999 NLP Trainer's Training, Wyatt Woodsmall pointed out to me that the voice tone and cadence used to deliver the clean questions was very similar to that of a parent talking to a small child. He also pointed out some of the similarities to the work of Dr Alfred A Tomatis.

Tomatis, a French ear, nose and throat specialist, made some astounding discoveries centred around hearing and the voice. He developed a whole system of helping people to learn. He proposed that the foetus listens to the mother's voice and that the voice acts as a stimulant to emotional growth and development. After the child is born the parent translates the child's sensory experiences into a symbolic form called language. The child's use of language will then mould who he is and this is reflected in the culture in which he lives.

For people with learning difficulties Tomatis would use the mother's voice filtered through liquid to simulate the amniotic fluid. This would be used as part of the therapeutic process to restore the symbiotic relationship between mother and child at the critical preverbal stage. This assists their learning, communication and attention span and reduces their level of frustration. It is striking that the voice tone used in Grovian metaphor is that of a parent talking to a child. Also, the area of most significant change to people that I have worked with seems to have its roots in the preverbal phase. Such is the power and depth of symbolic modelling using Grovian metaphor.

The whole thing about working with symbolic metaphors is that they are so semantically packed. To use a metaphor, a picture is worth a thousand words - or maybe a symbol is worth a million. The meaning in the symbols represents the identity of the whole person. The preverbal experience can only be represented by symbols because there are no words at that stage of child development to describe what is a sensory-only based experience - the basic, primitive intelligence.

4. Transpersonal development

Transpersonal or spiritual development is a way of going beyond words to the transverbal stage. There are some parallels with core transformation, another technique that reaches this level, where words seem inadequate to describe the spiritual nature of the experience. The client describe the experience as oneness, wholeness or an ecstatic feeling, yet has difficulty putting into words this stage of personal development.

To give some insight into this stage, I will examine the concepts of Clare Graves. Graves was a professor of psychology at Union College in New York State who started his research in isolation after World War Two. This research was carried out mainly in North America. Further research in South Africa was undertaken by Bik, a student of Grave. Similar to Piaget, Graves believed that people move through developmental stages. However, unlike Piaget, Graves considered that this continued throughout life. Further, he believed that this happens not only individually but at a group level and culturally. [28]
Graves proposed that, as humanity faces ever new challenges to its existence, humans develop a new system to cope with the new world's demands as they arise. In doing so the systems already developed remain in place; and if at any time the world reverts to an earlier system, humans have the coping mechanisms to deal with this previous system.

In addition, Graves believed that each new system has its own sense of identity, attitudes, rules, values, beliefs and ways of thinking that enable humans to adapt to the new order. He also observed that humans live in an open system with limitless levels for human development. He postulated that the individual, group and culture respond only to the attitudes, rules, values, beliefs and ways of thinking that are consistent with the current system to which they belong.

Graves has identified eight levels of development that humanity has gone through so far. I will summarise these briefly. [29]


The innate ability to suck, grasp and make sense of the world.
Learning style: Instinctive to survive. 'I don't know what there is to be had.'


The world is perceived as a scary, mysterious place and there is a dependency on a strong person to look after them.
Learning style: Classical conditioning. 'I want it, but only if you say I can have it.'


The desire to come out from dependency and have the power over others.
Learning style: Operant conditioning. 'I want it, and I want it now.'


The perception that there is only one true way where duty and honour is everything.
Learning style: Avoidant part of conditioning plus a cognitive ability to put off reward until later. 'I want it, and I can wait until I deserve it.'


An attitude of self-determination - using science to make things better.
Learning style: Problem-solving, action, life situations, discussion and experiments. 'I'm fed up with waiting; I want it now, and I deserve it now.'


Moving from self-focused behaviour to consensus and the well-being of other people.
Learning style: Exploring feelings, watching other people's actions and enhancing interpersonal skills. 'We should all have some of it.'


Able and willing to change with new environments, can see the big picture.
Learning style: Self-directed, seeking knowledge through a broad view of life. 'I want it but not at the expense of others or the environment.'


Not only seeing the big picture but fascinated by the dynamics of the world view.
Learning style: Self-directed and intuitive - likely to be the mentor to others. 'I'll go without, so the world can have it.'

I believe that Grovian symbolic modelling has specific applications at the FlexFlow and GlobalView developmental stages of Clare Graves' work. At the FlexFlow stage there is concern for the big picture view, ways of developing integrated structures and the nature of chaos and change. At the GlobalView stage the thinking style becomes even more multidimensional, being concerned with the synergy of life and world order.

Ken Wilber integrates science and religion into what he calls the marriage of sense and soul. [30] This connects matter with physics with biology with psychology with theology with mysticism into the 'great nest of being'. Other philosophers call the 'great nest of being' the connection between matter, body, mind, soul and spirit. And as there is no spoken language for soul and spirit, the transpersonal can only grow out of the personal. The mystic traditions have techniques to effect this transition. Grovian metaphor opens up possibilities for developing the transpersonal world.

We have examined how Grovian metaphor work. Now I want to look at the practicalities of working with someone using these concepts.

Processes and procedures for Grovian metaphor and symbolic modelling

In presenting the process I am using a linear map. However, the process is richer than just a step-by-step instruction guide. Often the landscape changes without fully maturing at the end of a session. This could then be transformed into a picture, drawing, collage or some other metaphoric representation. The client may return a day, week or month later and that representation may well have developed further. That would then become the new starting-point. It is essential, therefore, that people wishing to use these highly effective tools should undergo training and proper supervision before embarking on using them with clients.

As I said earlier, generally I have been using three sessions of three hours each. In between the sessions the client does some form of metaphoric representation (picture collage, etc) or research. For example, one client was left with a clear image of his face distorted by looking in the back a spoon. He looked up a book of symbols and identified with one of an Indian elephant-god. He read the text that went with the symbol, and that gave him food for thought about his own personal development. Very important is the fact that it was his symbol, his choice to go and look it up and his interpretation of the information given about the symbol. The facilitator had no input into the content and in no way interfered with the client's learning.

There are five phases in the process of Grovian metaphor: [31]

1. Entry into the metaphor

The metaphor can be started as part of an ordinary conversation, during training or as a part of therapy. The facilitator may pick up a word, a nonverbal signal or any other way of representing what is going on for the client.

a. Verbal

The facilitator may select a particular word as a starting point. For instance, the client says: 'I feel bad.' The facilitator then picks up the word 'bad' and begins his questioning to develop the metaphor. The starting point could also be a sigh, a deep intake of breath, a whistle, a mmmmm - in fact, any noise, voluntary or involuntary. The most powerful noises are the ones made outside of awareness. The facilitator might bring the client's attention to the mmmmm.

b. Nonverbal

This could be a hand gesture, the way the client sits, the shrug of shoulders, tilt of the head or the line of sight. The client could twitch slightly, fiddle with a ring or lick their lips. Each of these could be used by the facilitator. Once again, the outside of awareness factor can make them a powerful starting point for the intervention.

c. Other

So far we have talked about verbal and nonverbal ways of clients expressing themselves. Another way might be awareness in the room of art or craft that someone else has made. There is a picture in my office of a pig. When I asked the client how she felt she said: 'See that pig up there? That's exactly how I feel.' Any art or craft that the client has made to represent how he or she feels and thinks about the presenting problem is another starting point. One client brought in several pictures of cats and tigers that she had drawn. 'I'm changing from being a timid cat to a strong tiger,' she said. The facilitator used the metaphor to develop a higher metaphor.

2. Forming symbols

So far, the entry into the process is common to many forms of therapy. Now we move on to what makes Grovian metaphor unique. Metaphoric symbols can be formed inside or outside the body. They can also be part of the body. The link question for the facilitator to use is: 'And that is like . . . what . . ?'

a. Inside

In response to the client who says: 'I feel bad,' the facilitator says: 'And . . . "feel bad". And . . . when "feel bad" . . . and that is like . . . what . . ?' The client may reply: 'A knot in the stomach.' The metaphor has begun. In the case of the mmmmm the facilitator says: 'And . . . [SOUND]. And . . . when [SOUND] . . . that is like . . . what . . ?'

With the gesture, the facilitator can draw attention to it nonverbally or match and mirror it. In both cases the above wording would be used as the basis for starting the metaphor. The client may be holding their head. In response to the facilitator's opening question, they say: 'My brain feels like it's going to explode.' The process has begun.

Similarly, the client may draw a picture of a volcano exploding and say: 'My stomach feels like a volcano exploding in it.' The facilitator has another entry point.

b. Outside

The client who says: 'I feel bad,' could reply: 'I feel like there's a wall around me.' The person holding their head could say: 'I've got a weight pressing down on me.' The client who drew the volcano says: 'I'm being chased by hot lava.'

c. Part

'I feel bad' could be interpreted as: 'My heart's broken.' The person holding their head says: 'I feel that my brain's detached from the rest of me.' The volcano picture is perceived as: 'I'm nervous and my stomach's like a volcano.'

3. Exploring attributes, space and time

a. Attributes

The purpose of the questions that are concerned with attributes has the function of directing the client's attention to noticing more about a certain symbol. 'And . . . volcano. And . . . when volcano . . . what kind of volcano is that?' The client might reply: 'It's a black, fiery volcano, with lots of power. Scary, really.'

b. Space

'Space' questions help to develop the landscape and position the symbols in their relationship to one another. 'And . . . black, fiery volcano. And . . . when black, fiery volcano . . . whereabouts is black, fiery volcano . . . ?' The reply might be: In a range of mountains over there' - pointing in a particular direction.

c. Time

The reason for questions about time is to move the metaphor forward either/or/both backwards and forwards. 'And . . . in a range of mountains over there. And . . when in a range of mountains over there . . . and then what happens . . . ?' The reply might be: 'A mountain stream is formed.'

The above sequence has been written in a linear fashion. The questions would not necessarily work in the way they have been described here. For instance, the facilitator may ask several questions examining the attributes and relationship, then move back and forth in time through another series of questions. This is where the science turns into an art.

4. Transformation

The facilitator will notice physiological changes as the client's metaphoric landscape changes. This can often be accompanied by deep emotions, including tears, and comments such as: 'It's taken me a lifetime to let go of this.'

Ken Wilber talks about translation and transformation. In translation the winds of change blow over a desert and the face of the desert is changed, with new hills and vales. This is a translation. The desert is still a desert. Transformation comes when a well is formed, palm trees grow and the desert blossoms as a rose.

5. Maturing the transformation

The desert may well have blossomed as the rose, and the job is only done when the birds have filled the trees and the camels have brought new residents to till the ground and to grow new crops. It then moves to becoming a thriving community, complete with its smells, tastes, noises along with the beautiful landscape. Then the client knows that the job is done at a very deep level.


In Grovian metaphor there are nine basic clean language questions that do 80 per cent of the work. These are designed for the beginner as absolute rules to ensure that the therapist/facilitator keeps their own stuff out of the process. As a starter they are more than enough to work with people to create significant change. All the questions are prefaced by 'And [THEIR WORDS, GESTURES, ETC],' 'And when ... [THEIR WORDS, GESTURES, ETC],' followed by a clean language question (one that has no value judgment in the facilitator's words).
The questions are:

Forming a symbol - the what


Awareness of attributes

2. And what kind of [THEIR WORDS, GESTURES, ETC] is that [THEIR WORDS, GESTURES, ETC]?

3. And is there anything else about [THEIR WORDS, GESTURES, ETC]?

Developing the landscape - the where

4. And where is [THEIR WORDS, GESTURES, ETC]?

5. And whereabouts?

Moving time forward - develops causal connections

6. And what happens next?

7. And then what happens?

Moving time backwards - accesses causation

8. And what happens just before?

9. And where could [THEIR WORDS, GESTURES, ETC] come from?


We have discussed the words, yet words in themselves are not enough. Now we need the song. Words and song must go together as a horse goes with a carriage.

What is the song? It is the catalyst that unfolds the client's metaphor. It is the means to keep the facilitator out of the process. To put a song in linear fashion is not the easiest thing. As mentioned in the section Why it works, I believe it is one of the most important aspects for creating change at the preverbal developmental level.

The pace of the delivery is about half that of normal talking speed. The tonality has a sing-song focus on the tonality, with a sense of wonderment. Children are reassured by tonality even when they can't understand the words. And the song includes everything else as well, whether it be a sigh, a tut or even a sharp intake of breath.


If NLP is to grow and develop it must embrace new ideas. Otherwise it will quickly be assimilated into other models. What Grovian metaphor brings to the party is a holistic framework. Let us therefore quickly assimilate it into NLP.

So we have the Meta Model to deal with the sensory world and the Milton model to deal the eye of mind (concepts and strategies). Finally, we have the Clean Language model based on Grovian metaphor to deal with the eye of contemplation (symbols).

I believe Grovian metaphor has reached the level where it needs to be recognised as a vital part of all INLPTA Practitioner and Master Practitioner training.

© Robert Smith


1. Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity - An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics, International Non-Artisotelian Library Publishing Company, Lakeville, Connecticut, 1933

2. 'And What Kind of Man is David Grove?', an interview by Penny Tompkins & James Lawley, Rapport magazine, Issue 33

3. Introducing NLP, Joseph O'Connor & John Seymour, Aquarian/Thorsons, Harper Collins, 1993

4. Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson, 1998

5. Gregory Bateson speaking to Fritzjof Capra, quoted in 'Meta, Milton and Metaphor, Models of Subjective Experience', by Penny Tompkins & James Lawley, Rapport magazine, Issue 36

6. Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton Erickson, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, 1975 and 1977

7. 'Meta, Milton and Metaphor, Models of Subjective Experience', by Penny Tompkins & James Lawley, Rapport magazine, Issue 36

8. Introducing NLP, op cit, page 243

9. Strategies of Genius, volume 1, 2 and 3, Robert Dilks, 1994 and 1995

10. The User's Manual for the Brain, Bodenhamer & Hall, Crown House Publishing, 1998

11. 'Symbolic Modelling', Penny Tompkins & James Lawley, Rapport magazine, Issue 38

12. Flick-flack Technique, Dave Marshall, Performance Enhancement, 1995

13. Trainer's Training Collection, James & Woodsmall, Advanced Neuro-Dynamics, 1993

14. Turtles All the Way Down: Prerequisites to Personal Genius, Judith DeLozier and John Grinder, Bonny Doon, 1987

15. From Pavlov to Piaget, D Wood, CLMS, Leicester, 1988

16. Paul MacLean, quoted in Ghost in the Machine, A Koestler, Random House, New York, 1976

17. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The spirit of evolution, Ken Wilber, Shambhala, 1995

18. Wilber, op cit

19. Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Scripts, Claude Steiner, Grove Press, New York, 1974

20. Rowen, 1988, quoted in The Importance of Relationship in the Therapeutic Process, Robert Smith, 1995

21. Episcript and the Hot Potato Game, Fanita English, TAJ Bulletin, Volume 32, 1969

22. Understanding Human Behaviour, McConnell (ed), Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1977

23. Emotional Intelligence, Imagination, Cognition and Personality, P Salovey & J D Meyer, 1990

24. Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, Bloomsbury Paperbacks, London, 1995

25. Stone & Dillehurst, 1978 and Soloman, 1988, as quoted in Salovey & Meyer,1990, op cit

26. Integrative Pyshcotherapy, Petruska Clarkson, Blackwell, London, 1992

27. 'Cure!', Stan Woollams, Transactional Analysis Journal, 1980

28. Spiral Dynamics, Beck & Cowan, Blackwell, Oxford, 1996

29. Adapted from 'Clare Graves' Emergent Cyclic Double Helix Model of Mature Adult Bio-Psychosocial Behaviour', W Woodsmall, Training for Excellence, Advanced Neurics, Honolulu, 1988; and Beck & Cowan, 1996, op cit

30. The Marriage of Sense and Soul, Ken Wilber, Renaissance, 1996

31. This is based on the work of James Lawley and Penny Tompkins in training courses, supervision and three training booklets produced by The Developing Company, London, 1999

Robert Smith
Robert Smith is an experienced management and personnel consultant with a particular interest in human communication. He is at the forefront of behavioural modelling and has a flair for developing others. Robert has a Master of Business Administration and is a Certified Master Trainer of NLP. He is a registered psychotherapist with the United Kingdom Council of Psychotherapists (UKCP). He has acted as a consultant extensively in the UK, the USA, Europe and the Far East. He is the author of Up Your Aspirations, the application of NLP to negotiation. 
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