Describing NLP has never been simple, personally I like the idea that it is the study of the structure of subjectivity (Dilts et al 1980). Modelling, in its many forms, is the main tool used to uncover and illuminate the structure; language the main tool used in creating or enabling changes in the structure. The fundamental insight for me is the idea that we might use the same familiar building blocks for our internal subjective experience as we do in our external 'objective' experience. Both use the same forms of representation: the familiar Visual + Auditory + Kinaesthetic + Olfactory + Gustatory. How satisfying and simple of nature to reuse the tools it had evolved over millions of years and extend them to deal with all those things that are either intangible or not present. Picking blackberries I can see the berries in front of me (and taste a few); I can imagine the berries on the back of the bush, that these red ones will be ripe shortly, that that nettle will sting me and that the blackberry and apple crumble will taste just wonderful with just a scoop or two of really cold vanilla ice-cream. Perhaps the berry I'm focusing on is a part of my current reality, all the rest is surely a part of my subjective experience as is my idle chatter to myself as I search for the best berries.
Gregory Bateson (1972:139), one of the unwitting progenitors of NLP, said that "in Freudian language the operations of the unconscious are structured in terms of primary process characterized as lacking negative, lacking tense, lacking in any identification of linguistic mood and metaphoric. Consciousness talks about things or persons In primary process the focus of discourse is on the relationships which are asserted to obtain between them." It is in dealing with this primary process that the power of NLP lies and where its defining distinction from other talking therapies is to be found. Certainly NLP uses words. Yet, at its best it recognises that those words are only the gateway to the underlying primary process.
In practice, much of the energy of NLP goes into the two areas of modelling the elicitation of strategies -- and of 'tools and techniques' though there are some notable exceptions including: Richard Bandler's DHE interior decoration for the mind; Tad James' time-line work; Charles Faulkner's exploration of life metaphors; Lucas Derks' Social Panoramas and most recently James Lawley and Penny Tompkins' development of metaphoric landscapes. It seems to me that in the longer term it is this kind of work that will provide the bridges between NLP and the rapidly developing fields of evolutionary and cognitive psychology.
James and Penny set out five years ago to model the work of David Grove, a therapist working in the USA who achieved remarkable results by using the client's language. There are of course parallels with the pioneering work in NLP in modelling Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson though this time James and Penny started out with the knowledge of that earlier work and the subsequent quarter century of modelling development. The result of their work was an addition to the NLP field of the technique known as 'Clean Language', essentially a process to enquire into the deep structure lying under the words the client uses. Part II of the book 'The Heart of Symbolic Modelling' contains a full description of Clean Language with a useful summary as an Appendix.
This is not the place to explore Clean Language so here is a minimalist example to give you a flavour: Client "He knocks on the door" Therapist "And as he knocks on the door what happens?" Here, the 'and as' joins the question to the client's response; the repetition paces their experience; and the 'what happens?' is an invitation to explore that experience further with another transderivational search.
The language is clean in the sense that there is total pacing of the client and no content introduced by the therapist. Yet there is a therapeutic intervention in the choice of response. Here for example the therapist might have inquired into any part of the reported metaphor: "And what kind of a he / door / knock is it " for example. James and Penny have explored the kinds of question that can be used and give some guidance to when they may be appropriate though in the end this is the contribution of the therapist.
Part III of the book 'The Five-Stage Process' explores the process that the client goes through or is guided through. First they 'Enter the World of Metaphor' shifting their attention from their external reality to some internal symbol that has meaning for them. Next is 'Developing Symbolic Perceptions' explore the symbols that they find and adding attributes to them "it's a big thick castle door". Third is 'Modelling Symbolic Patterns' looking at the symbols in relationship to each other and noticing the patterns that are there and that repeat. Fourth, 'Encouraging Conditions for Transformation' finding ways in which the patterns might shift or change, be resourced or transformed in a way that enables evolution or transformation in the landscape. And lastly 'Maturing the Evolved Landscape' as it settles into a new form. This process is the 'how to' guide that enables a therapist to get some idea of how the process is unfolding and to make choices between the possible Clean Language responses. Part V of the book contains three complete annotated transcripts of sessions that show the flow of work through these stages. Parts of these same transcripts are used throughout the book to illustrate the text and it is refreshing to be able to see them as a whole as well as in multiple snippets.
I have talked here, as James and Penny do, of a Client / Therapist relationship. This is the place from which David Grove worked and where James and Penny have done most of their exploration. However, like most NLP techniques it has much broader applicability. Part IV 'Conclusion: outside and beyond' contains a whole series of short descriptions of applications of the work in different fields from Public Speaking to Health to Maths to Anger Management. Clearly there is much more to be written and explored in the whole area of applications and we would be wrong to think of this as a solely therapeutic development.
Equally I believe we would be wrong to think of this work as solely an NLP development. I have spoken of it here in terms of NLP and James and Penny have extensive experience in the field of NLP as psychotherapists, trainers and coaches. Yet if NLP is indeed the study of the structure of subjective experience then we should expect that it will overlap with any other study of that field and there have been many of these. To use an analogy, the surface structure of the models may differ but the deep structure must have strong similarities if the model is to have any validity.
And the deep structure of Metaphors in Mind is the 'Metaphor Landscape' 'the sum total of a client's embodied symbolic perceptions'. Part I of the book 'Background Knowledge' explores and establishes metaphor and of metaphoric symbolism in the context of subjective experience. James and Penny bring together ideas from Lakoff & Johnson, Carl Jung, Ken Wilber, Daniel Dennett, Maturana & Varela and others in a wonderful journey round the field. And yet I'm left with a lurking suspicion that there is at least one more layer down. To return to Gregory Bateson you may recall that he said that the relationship is the focus of the primary process not the things or persons. "A metaphor retains unchanged the relationship which it 'illustrates' while substituting other things or persons for the relata." If I have a single disappointment with this book it is perhaps that the focus lingers a little too long and lovingly on the symbols and doesn't quite pay enough attention to the relationships.
That aside, this book is a tour de force, a magnificent contribution to the study of the structure of subjectivity and to the fields of therapy and personal change. I deeply hope that James and Penny will see their work acknowledged as the important contribution that I believe it to be.
© 2000 Bob Janes
* "Give you a reason upon a compulsion! If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries I would give no man a reason on compulsion, I." Henry IV part 1.
Bateson, Gregory. (1972:139) Steps to an Ecology of Mind: a revolutionary approach to man's understanding of himself. Ballantine Books. New York, NY. ISBN 0-345-33291-1
Dilts, Robert B, John Grinder, Richard Bandler & Judith DeLozier. (1980) Neuro-Linguistic programming: Volume 1: the study of the structure of subjective experience. Meta Publications: Cupertino CA. ISBN 0 916990 07 9.
Pinker, Steven (1997). How the Mind Works. The Penguin Press: London. ISBN 0-713-991305.
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