First published in Human Givens: Radical
Psychology Today, journal of the European Therapy Studies Institute, Volume 8, No. 1, Spring 2001
Book Review by Pat Williams
REVIEW OF: Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic
by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins
ISBN 978-0-9538751-0-8 published by The Developing Company
Research has recently shown that metaphor is neither arbitrary nor
a decorative optional extra, but indivisible from human thought and
action -- which would explain why metaphorical work is currently so
interesting to the therapeutic world. If metaphor is, so to speak,
hard-wired into the brain, then making changes in the metaphorical
landscape will be tantamount to making changes in cognition. That, in
turn, will surely generate healthy changes in thoughts, feelings, and
behaviour -- the very objective very of therapy.
Long before the current interest in metaphor manifested, however,
psychotherapist David Grove was helping his clients enter the truth
of their own metaphors: first discovering and experiencing the
inhibiting force of their personal symbols, and thereafter finding
revealed their own powerful, personal metaphors for growth. He coined
the lovely phrase 'clean language' for the method he developed (and
is still developing) in which the therapist's associations are kept
clear of the client's metaphors, and in which adjectives and adverbs
can be lifted off, one by one, from the nouns they qualify - thereby
removing the associative emotions from those nouns. What is
experienced as a dangerous task, for example, is simply ... a task --
quite neutral, when the adjective disappears.
Grove developed a pattern of recursive questions which allows
metaphors to emerge into the light of awareness and help the client
unwrap perceptions one by one: questions which freeze the perceptions
in time, so that they do not race from one to the next to the next.
This gives the client an opportunity to explore a moment, a place or
an event in great detail. And the metaphors may even be non-verbal:
for example, right at the outset the client determines where the
therapist will sit, so that he or she does not barge into the line of
sight of a client's symbolic perception of the surrounding space.
The book is for the most part Lawley and Tompkins' account of
Grove's work, and their own. Grove himself says in the preface that
while his work remains in the therapeutic context, the authors have
synthesised elements from a variety of sources, such as NLP, clean
language, and systems thinking, and by doing so have taken it into
the fields of education, health and social services. They have also
systematised and formalised what was intuitive in Grove's work. But
this is the way of the world: Milton Erickson's followers have done
the same, and in doing so, it could be argued, have made his methods
Keeping language clean is difficult to describe, but easily
demonstrated, so I was grateful for the long and useful transcripts
of sessions. Here is a taste:
C: I'd like to have more energy
because I feel very tired.
T: And you'd like to have more energy because you feel
very tired. And when you'd like to have more energy,
that's more energy like what?
C: It's like I'm behind a castle door.
T: 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?
C: A huge castle door that's very thick, very
old, with studs, very heavy.
T: 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?
C: I can't open it and I get very very tired
trying to open it.
T: And you can't open it and you get very very tired
trying to open it. And as you get very very tired trying to
open it, what kind of very very tired trying is that?
C: Like I'm struggling on my own and not getting
anywhere. It takes a lot of energy. I feel like I'm banging my head
on a wall.
But seven transcript pages and many metaphors later the client can
open and close the door at will, and 'gold' has filled the 'hollow'
and cooled the 'dry darkness' of the 'desert' within her.
The close attention all this pays to the client's inner
metaphorical world is meticulous and marvellous: it can only make for
effective work and I personally would like to learn more about it.
The crux of it, I think, is that Grove has developed not so much a
stand-alone therapy but a brilliant hypnotic technique, in which the
metaphors do not have to originate from the therapist; in which the
client is in a waking trance, internally focused but actively
engaged, as metaphor after metaphor is unpacked until clients are
brought to the door of their own truth.
The bulk of the book takes the reader through the process of
symbolic modelling and the stages of working with clients in the
symbolic domain, and there are useful introductory chapters on
metaphor in general. Lawley and Tompkins are immersed in the theory
and practice of their work, but they are not natural writers: I found
their dense and intricate book hard going, even when animated and lit
by their metaphors. So it's a book to study, if you're interested in
these techniques. Otherwise, if you're simply interested in metaphor,
the most fruitful approach would be to dip into it, often, but a
little at a time.
© 2001 Pat Williams and Human Givens