Article from

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 Modelling
by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins
ISBN 978-0-9538751-0-8 published by The Developing Company Press

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 more accessible.

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


Pat Williams has worked as a psychotherapist for many years. She was involved from the beginning in the development of the human givens approach to psychotherapy, and is a tutor for MindFields College. Pat can be contacted via

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