Article from

First presented at The Developing Group 30 Nov 2013

'Solution Focus' Through a Clean Lens - Parts 1-4

James Lawley and Penny Tompkins

We were recently invited by a group of experienced Solution Focus (SF) practitioners to compare and contrast Symbolic Modelling and Clean Language (SyM & CL) with the SF approach.

The originators of SF, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, were influential in the design of both our Framework For Change and Symbolic Modelling Lite, so we were delighted to take up the offer.

In preparing our talk, we quickly realised that while SF and SyM shared much, there were fundamental differences at all levels: principle, process and practice.  It was also clear that slightly modifying some of the SF questions would make them 'cleaner'. As a result SF would retain its essence while adding in some of the advantages of a clean approach.

In Joining Up The Work of David Grove we used a 'join up' rather than 'integrate' philosophy. Similarly, we aimed to join up both SF and Clean in ways that preserve the nature of each. And the way we did this could be applied to many other methodologies.

A comprehensive comparison of SF and SyM is beyond the scope of this paper. However, by looking at specific similarities and differences between the two approaches we hope to illuminate both methods.

The paper is in four parts (each available as a pdf download):
1. Comparison of principles, processes and practices
2. Analysis of a SF session

3. Summary of similarities and differences

4. List of common SF questions and cleaner versions

Coincidently, another article on a similar theme was published at the same time by Schenck, Klaus (2013). "So What's a Meta For?" InterAction - The Journal of Solution Focus in Organisations, Volume 5, Number 2, November 2013, pp. 35-53(19), SFCT.  Purchase from: Dr Schenck says the approach of "Clean Language" has cultivated a whole set of questions that may be helpful to know about, and useful for extending the toolbox of Solution Focus questions.


Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy since 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. They have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:

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