Article Categories
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Clean Language
Article Selections
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
First published in Anchor Point, Vol. 15, No. 3, March 2001

Book Review by Judith Lloyd Yero

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, 2000

Metaphor was once thought to be merely a literary device used by authors to add interest to their writing. Recently, an Anchor Point contributor described metaphor as "the primary nutritional supplement for our imagination" (1). It is that and much more. Since the publication of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's Metaphors We Live By (2) in 1980, metaphor has been increasingly recognized as a fundamental component of human cognitive processing. In their more recent book, Philosophy in the Flesh (3), Lakoff and Johnson suggest that much of human thought and understanding, particularly about abstract concepts, is metaphorical.

David Gordon (4) and Charles Faulkner (5), among others, have added to the NLP toolbox with their work on metaphors. Now, with Metaphors in Mind: Transformation Through Symbolic Modelling, psychotherapists and NLP trainers James Lawley and Penny Tompkins provide therapists with a fully-developed Metaphor Model that addresses the symbolic/metaphoric domain of human experience. Lawley and Tompkins make a strong argument that this domain must be added to the sensory and cognitive domains explored in the Meta Model and Milton Model if therapists are to fully address a client's "subjective experience."

Lawley and Tompkins have spent recent years modeling the work of David Grove, a New Zealand-born therapist now working in the United States. Grove recognized that clients often described their problems in metaphoric terms--"It's like I'm beating my head against a brick wall." He also noticed that many therapists "continuously shifted the client's frame of reference by introducing their own models of the world" (6). For example, a therapist might respond to the "brick wall" statement with,

"Why are you punishing yourself?" (a presupposition from the therapist's model);
"How do you feel about that?" (directing the client to access only the sensory domain); or
"What do you think that means?" (directing the client to access the cognitive domain).

Each of those questions not only ignores the original metaphor, but directs the client to comment on his/her experience, rather than further developing and exploring the metaphor's symbols (my head, the brick wall) and their relationship (beating, against).

Grove developed a method called Clean Language (see Watch Your Language!), which "fully preserved and honored the client's experience." By using only the client's own words with a set of simple context-free questions, Grove facilitated clients in exploring and mapping their metaphoric landscapes. When those landscapes become sufficiently detailed, change often occurs spontaneously in both the metaphor and the client's perceptions of the "situation" that the metaphor represented. Behavioral changes then follow.

Lawley and Tompkins have developed Grove's methods into the therapeutic model they call Symbolic Modelling. Rather than being client- or therapist-centered, Symbolic Modelling is information-centered. The client, therapist, and metaphoric information comprise a system in which change occurs. The role of the therapist is to facilitate clients in self-modeling their own metaphoric landscape.

The authors say that their intent was to create a model that could be easily learned and applied to a range of contexts in addition to psychotherapy. In Metaphors in Mind , they have clearly described just such a model, providing the reader with an eminently useful balance of theory and practical application.

Organization and Content

Metaphors in Mind is presented in five parts. Part I introduces theoretical and background knowledge about metaphors, modeling, and self-organizing systems. Examples of typical metaphors and symbols are provided. The myriad ways in which symbolic experience can be expressed through verbal and nonverbal behaviors, material objects, and imagination are examined. The relationship between a client's cognitive processes and metaphoric landscape is explained.

Part II introduces the basic philosophy and methodology of Clean Language. The nine basic Clean Questions are described, along with their purpose of helping clients to develop their metaphors and symbols and to locate them in space and time. When one first encounters Clean Questions, the syntax seems a bit awkward and the questions themselves almost too general. Lawley and Tompkins clearly explain the rationale behind the syntax. The effectiveness of the questions comes in their ability to send clients on a search of their own perceptions rather than pulling them out to comment on their experience.

Part III consists of a stage-by-stage description of the Five-Stage Therapeutic Process. Extensive client transcripts are used to illustrate and explain how the process unfolds.

Part IV describes a number of applications of Symbolic Modelling outside of individual psychotherapy. Examples from the domains of education, health, spirituality, physical therapy, business, and organizations are given.

Finally, Part V offers the reader richly annotated transcripts of the authors' work with three different clients. These are not only fascinating reading, but the step-by-step explanations assist the reader in fully understanding how the process evolves and change takes place.

A New Way of Thinking

Symbolic Modelling, according to Lawley and Tompkins is "a new way of thinking about change." The therapist presupposes that change can occur spontaneously once clients have explored and developed their metaphor landscape to a sufficient degree. The system has learned from itself. The therapist's role then becomes one of facilitation in that development, rather than understanding or interpreting the client's processes. "Facilitators need to operate from a state of 'not knowing'." Why? Because the metaphors and symbols that emerge are often illogical, fuzzy, and unpredictable. They frequently defy the laws of nature and the rules of causal relationships. They make sense to the client because of the inherent logic of the metaphoric landscape in which they are embedded. While the therapist may create his own model of that landscape as it is described, he cannot assume that he "understands" it. The authors therefore advise therapists that,

"Your purpose is not to analyze or interpret the client's experience. It is not even to understand it. Rather it is to offer them the opportunity to become aware of their symbolic perceptions with minimal 'contamination' by your metaphors." (p. 27)


"There is no need for you to make something happen or to solve anything; rather your aim is to encourage the appropriate conditions in which change is the specified response. These conditions will exist within the inherent logic of the Metaphor Landscape." (p. 47)

Steve Andreas has described the three "frames" from which effective therapists must work. One of those frames is "A LOT of humility about how little they know, and how complex human beings are" (7). As described in Metaphors in Mind, Symbolic Modelling admirably adopts that frame while producing a remarkably effective therapeutic process. Having both seen and experienced the process in action, I can testify that it is a unique and endlessly surprising experience for both client and therapist. Of greater importance, it is a powerful new tool for change. Metaphors in Mind makes a significant contribution to both the understanding of human thought processes and the range of therapeutic models available to the "helping professions."


1. Diol, Surinder (2001). Imagining a New Reality. Anchor Point. Vol. 15, No. 1, p. 15.

2. Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

3. Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh. New York: Basic Books.

4. Gordon, David (1978). Therapeutic Metaphors. Meta Publications, Cupertino, CA.

5. Faulkner, Charles (1991) Metaphors of Identity. Genesis II. Longmont, CO

6. Grove, David (1998) The Philosophy and Pronciples of Clean Language. A talk given at a Clean Language Research Day in London, 13 November 1998.

7. Andreas, Steve (2000) NLP Practitioners Doing Therapy?! Anchor Point. Vol. 14, No. 6, p. 26.

© 2001 Judith Lloyd Yero and Anchor Point

Judy Yero
Judith Lloyd Yero is a teacher and director of Mindsight Educational Services. She is certified as an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer. Judy has authored, Teaching in Mind: The Unexamined World of Teacher Thought, a book about the ways in which teachers' beliefs and metaphors influence their behaviour. You can contact Judy via: 
 »  Home  »  More Resources  »  Reviews of Metaphors in Mind  »  Review of MiM in Anchor Point
Article Options

et le
clean language

James Lawley and
Penny Tompkins

16-18 June 2017

more info
in French

view all featured events