By Judy Rees and Wendy Sullivan for Changes Magazine, Autumn 2008

Could you be missing out on the true magic of metaphor?  You’re probably well aware of how telling stories can change people, in the tradition of teachers, healers and leaders from Jesus Christ to Milton Erickson and beyond. A story or metaphor packs a powerful punch – like a miracle pill it carries highly-concentrated ideas and suggestions past our conscious filters to work its magic on the unconscious mind.

But these days there’s another world of metaphor to explore. Linked to latest work in cognitive linguistics, it amounts to a new way of thinking about the way people think.

Let me show you. Take a handful of coins from your pocket, and arrange them to represent you and your family or closest friends.

Now imagine that (for reasons beyond your control) one of them has to be removed. Which one do you choose to remove?

.

.

.

.

What just happened? Take a moment to reflect on your experience.

You probably had no difficulty representing people using coins (that is, using coins as a metaphor for people). You didn’t need much explanation because metaphor is ‘hardwired’ into your system. We easily and naturally tend to think of one thing in terms of another, in metaphor. According to Steven Pinker and other cognitive scientists, thought is fundamentally metaphoric.

For most people, once the coins have taken on that metaphoric representation, taking one away has emotional significance. Thinking and speaking in metaphor seems to trigger a more embodied, emotionally-rich experience than using conceptual language. Metaphor gets to the heart of things.
Because we think in metaphor, we speak in metaphor – our everyday language contains several metaphors per minute. We usually don’t stop to carefully select the metaphors which pepper our everyday language; they simply spill out from our unconscious minds.

What if we could use the unconscious metaphors of everyday speech to form a bridge between the conscious and unconscious minds, to bring metaphors into awareness? Psychotherapist David Grove created Clean Language to do that, and discovered that it helped his clients to heal from major trauma.

What is Clean Language?

The relationship between the conscious and unconscious has been likened to that between an elephant and its rider. The rider represents the ‘controlled’ processes of the mind, the planning and reasoning taking place in conscious awareness. The elephant represents the hundreds of automatic operations we carry out every second, unconsciously.[1]

In many personal development processes, the rider is taught ‘tricks’ by which to control their elephant. But when Clean Language is used the rider becomes aware of what is going on for elephant, improves his communication with it, and finds ways to change which suit them both.

At a glance, it may look as thought two people’s metaphors are similar. Lots of managers talk about business in terms of sport or in terms of war, for example. But with a little exploration, each person’s metaphor turns out to be wonderfully idiosyncratic and may have deep personal significance. If someone roughly imposes their assumptions while working with your personal metaphor, it can feel quite uncomfortable!

David Grove devised a set of questions which contained as few assumptions and metaphors as possible. By combining these questions with the client’s own metaphoric words, he had an effective way of helping them to explore their internal metaphoric landscapes, reach ever-deeper levels of rapport with their unconscious minds, transcend limiting beliefs and behaviours, and find resolution and healing, all without imposing his ideas.

Inspired by the effectiveness of David’s work, James Lawley and Penny Tompkins studied his approach, codifying and extending it. They called their work Symbolic Modelling, and their comprehensive book, Metaphors in Mind: Transformation Through Symbolic Modelling, was published in 2000.

David died earlier this year at the age of 57, but lived to see his ideas catch on well beyond the world of psychotherapy.

The Clean Language questions can be used to gather information, to help someone to clarify their thoughts, or to help people make profound changes in their lives. They are used in all kinds of coaching: with executives and sportspeople, in healthcare, in schools. They can be combined with other disciplines, including NLP and hypnosis, complementary therapies such as shiatsu and aromatherapy, and various facilitation and consulting models. They can be used by parents with children, in research, with business teams and other groups. They can even be used in sales!

And what is more, Clean Language is easy to learn. To get started check out:
· Our book, Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds, due out in November 2008
· Clean Change Cards, which put the questions at your fingertips
· The CD A Taste of Clean Language with an overview and demonstrations.

Contact Judy and Wendy via www.cleanchange.co.uk

[1] Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis

One Response to “Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds”

  1. [...] Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds by Judy Rees and Wendy Sullivan, Changes Magaz… [...]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.