Article from

First presented to The Developing Group, 8 July 2017.

Going Live

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

Principles of Symbolic Modelling

Although there is only ‘now’, we get seduced by the idea/metaphor that there are other times. We talk about the past and future as if they exist rather than being figments of our momentary imagination. As clean facilitators we retain the knowledge that whatever the client is saying or doing, neurologically and physiologically 'It's happening now' – a principle we explored at The Developing Group in 2003.

We also assume that the client’s behaviour is always embodying their current model of the world but they are often unaware of it. When we ‘go live’ we are inviting the client to attend to that model, metaphor or behaviour, in-the-moment, as it happens. In this way the client becomes aware of, and stays close to what is happening for them ‘right here, right now’.

Why go live?

When the client is aware of what they are experiencing ‘in the now’, they can get direct, high-quality information for self-reflection. This is self-modelling as it is happening. Because the modelling is close in time to the actual behaviour or perception (rather than many days, months or years after or before) it is usually very present for the client and they are therefore likely to have a heightened awareness of it.

The observer effect assumes that the observer affects the observed by the process of observing. Everything you say and do affects the client's neurology and that is a good reason to stay as clean as you can when working 'in the now.’ And, when a client self-models they are also hearing, seeing and feeling their own behaviour and perceptions. They become an observer of themselves. This establishes a feedback loop by which the client’s in-the-moment awareness affects his or her perception, which affects his or her awareness and so on.

By using the client’s metaphors you facilitate them to model in the way they are perceiving, making it easier for them to self-model what is happening moment-by-moment. When things change in the here and now the client knows something has changed – they, and their world feels, sounds, or looks different. Furthermore, embodying new perceptions in the session is a rehearsal for being able to live the change out in the world.

Going live is especially useful with physical symptoms, when clients report sudden sensations or when something unusual happens that is not mentioned. When a client becomes aware ‘it’s happening now’, the process gets recursive (there are wheels-within-wheels). By facilitating them to maintain this level of awareness they often discover that what is happening is a metaphor for other aspects of their life. ‘Staying put’ – maintaining attention on a manifesting pattern – will often result in spontaneous change.

For an example of how ‘going live’ works in a Symbolic Modelling session, see the short transcript: I Want a Clean House.

When to go live ...

There is an art to the timing of a question which brings now more into awareness. A clear indicator is when the client is already moving in this direction; they may say, “Oh this always happens” or “Actually I’m feeling it now”. Harder to assess are indicators outside of the client’s awareness.

Below are eight conditions which can prompt us to ‘go live’.

1. Doing an anomalous behaviour

A client came for “an inability to maintain a relationship”. She described her ideal relationship as “like a sofa that was just the right size for two, with pillows that fit perfectly but were independent and could be moved around.”As she talked she nestled into our sofa, leaned back, adjusted the pillows, and when she had it just the way she wanted she said “Bliss!”. A few moments later the client suddenly said “Excuse me”, scooted to the edge of the sofa, reached into her bag on the floor, pulled out a water bottle and began to drink. It was a startling change of state. When asked “And what just happened? What happened just before ‘Excuse me’?”, she paused for quite a while before replying, “This is exactly what I do in a relationship. When things are great between us and my partner starts to make loving advances something in me snaps and I have to get out of there. In real life I go and do the dishes, or say I have emails I have to take care of. Just now when I felt the bliss, the snap happened and I had to get out of it.”

2. Repeating a behaviour associated with a key part of their landscape

A client described how she “pushed fear back” saying it was like “pushing a wave back into the ocean”.  She went silent, staring into space, seemingly experiencing the scene as she described it. Her right hand raised, palm up. Her left forefinger began tracing a line up and down, up and down the right palm as she continued talking about fear, the wave and the ocean. She seemed totally unaware of what her hands were doing. When asked “And what do those hands know?” she looked at them, “Oh!”. She stayed silent and watched the finger go up and down, eventually saying, “That is the indentation a wave makes when it continually disturbs the sand in the same place. I’m only just realising I can’t hold all of the waves back all of the time.”

3. Doing their outcome or accessing resources

When the client describes a resourceful or desired state they can be facilitated to embody it in the moment and identify a metaphor to go with the sensations. These two work together to enhance each other. They might say something like:
I feel … hot / excited / good / light / awake / open / ready
I am … confident / aware / loving / alive / skilful / kind
I … know / realise / notice / sense / understand / believe / hope / trust
These statements can usually be developed into an embodied metaphor using the three-step ‘State to a Metaphor’ process (developed from David Grove’s 'Feeling to a Metaphor’):
a. Locate the feeling/state by asking a 'where' question three times, e.g.
• And when you feel [  ], where do you feel [  ]?
• And when you (are) [  ], where is that [  ]?
• And whereabouts [location of state]?
• And whereabouts [location of state]?
b. Develop the form (attributes) of the feeling/state using:
• And when [  ] is [location of state], ...
... what kind of [  ] is that [  ]?
... is there anything else about that [  ]?
... does that [  ] have a size or a shape?
c. If the client has not yet described a metaphor, invite them to identify to a metaphor by asking:
• And when [attributes of state] is [location of state],
  that’s [attributes of state] like what?
Once a metaphor has been identified, usually its form will be further developed, i.e. more of its attributes are identified using the What kind of ...? and Is there anything else about ...? questions.
Alternatively, for a client who wants to be assertive and who suddenly says, “I don’t like your questions”, you might ask:
F: And what just happened when ‘you want to be more assertive’?
Or you might respond to a client who wants to be more trusting and who says:
C: Well I suppose I’ll just wait and see what happens.
F: And as ‘you wait and see’, what happens to ‘be more trusting’?

4. Demonstrating the pattern they are describing

You can utilise the situation like the one in the I Want a Clean House transcript:
5F: And so what is ‘one thing’ you would like to ‘stay with for a while’ in this session?
If the client is experiencing their (reaction to a) bind or internal conflict in the moment, you can ask:
And when [binding pattern], what would you like to have happen (right) now?
Or, invite them to find out what they do next when they are in the experience:
And as [reaction to binding pattern], then what happens?

5. Surprised by their own perceptions and reactions.

A client who says something like, “I wasn’t expecting that!” is indicating that something surprising just happened. You can invite the client to ‘go live’ by asking them to attend to that experience:
F: And what kind of ‘that’ is that ‘that’, that ‘you weren’t expecting’?

6. Having a response but not reporting on it, or they go quiet for a long time
e.g. (extract from When Science and Spirituality have a Beer):
C: [Chuckles, crosses arms and legs in the opposite direction, and rocks on his chair.]
F34: What’s happening now?
C: I was thinking about what I said before. Because that picture of a second skin is not very close to the third part I wanted to feel. [Pause] I don’t need that second skin. I’d like just to have that third part.

7. Presupposing there is an element of an experience happening in the moment
e.g. (extract from Accepting Acceptance):
C107: The longer it goes on the harder it gets and that self gets closer.
F109: So how close is ‘that self’ at the moment?
C111: Not very far.
F111: Whereabouts is ‘not very far’?
C112: Do you mean in meters?
F112: I’ll take any measurement.
C113: It’s just hovering over there [head points over left shoulder] … It just follows me around.
F119: And what would ‘that self’ [points over her left shoulder] like to have happen when ‘it’s hovering’ and ‘following you around’?
C120: That self? [pause, body shifts and rocks] I don’t know.
F120: What just happened?
C121: What just happened? [Smile] What makes you think something just happened? [Pause] I have a sense of that self being about to pounce. [Turns whole body left and points behind.] If I don’t keep my eye on it, it’s just waiting. Waiting for the axe to fall.

8. Experiencing a change.

When a change occurs during a session, going live on the change is a form of maturing. It can consolidate and deepen a change there and then. For example, going live can facilitate the client to identify the sequence of how they changed from one state to another or a metaphor for the change, e.g. (extract from When a Natural Energy Sparks):
C18:  I don't know. I feel a kind of a lightness [points to head]. Maybe it was there but it just started to move a little bit.
J19: So ‘maybe it was there’ and ‘it started to move’. And as ‘it started to move’, what kind of ‘move’ is that ‘move’?
C19: Come up. To grow and move up. [Enacts the movement.]
J20: ‘It started to come up’. And as ‘it started to grow and come up, it started to grow and come up’ like what?
C20: It's only coming up a little bit at the moment [gestures] but it's kind of like, like lava coming up a volcano, but not like going shoooof at the top.  It feels like a heat energy rising, as in a very warm energy rising.

When not to go live …

There are indicators for when it’s probably not useful to go live:
  • The client is experiencing an unresourceful state, unless you are confident to do so would serve their desired outcome (use the PRO model instead).
  • There is a chance you may be drawn into the client’s landscape as a symbol and you are not sure how to handle it (for an example of how to do it well, see Marian Way’s Clean Approaches for Coaches, pp. 148-149).
  • You have an outcome for the client and you are trying to make something happen.
  • You have little time left.
How to go live

a.  You will need to notice the individual cues given by the client – so it is essential that you are not lost in the client’s story, but instead remain in a modelling state; attending to the organisation of their experience and calibrating their non-verbal responses.

b.  Going live is often most beneficial when the client’s landscape is psychoactive. Asking ‘Where?’ questions not only encourage psychoactivity, they are a way to go live when asked of a feeling or other sensation happening now.

c.  Look out for when the client’s behaviour in the room is isomorphic with their description of the pattern (the person starts doing it, not just describing it). Two cues that this is happening (which the client may be unaware of) are their non-verbals and meta-comments:
Non-verbals.  As people describe their experience, they start to live it and their non-verbals indicate what is happening in their perception,
e.g. If a client moves their feet while describing wanting to play in a garden, you can ask ‘And what kind of [indicate feet moving] is that?’ or ‘And what do feet know?’. If the non-verbal is not easy to replicate or reference, such as the client having turned red, ask ‘And what’s happening now?’

Meta-comments are comments made by the client about their own narrative or current experience. Meta comments often indicate that there has been a change in perceiver and/or perspective. You can invite the client to attend to the current moment by asking about the meta-comment. If a client says ‘Oh, I feel funny!’, you can use the ‘State to a Metaphor’ mentioned above to elicit a metaphor for ‘feel funny’.
Other examples:
C:     I realise I do not want to go there.
F:     And where is ‘not want to go there’?

C:     I now know I have to do this.
F:     And where is that ‘know you have to do this’?
or     And how do you ‘know you have to do this’?

C:    I’m a good person [pause] I hate myself.
F:    And what happened between ‘I’m a good person’ and ‘I hate myself’?
A client who wants to be decisive:
C: Strange, I’m not sure anymore.
F:     And what happened just before ‘not sure’?
A client who would like to be confident in their own opinion:
C:     … [Looks at F] Does that make sense?
F:     And what happened after ‘…’ and before ‘does that make sense’?

d.  To facilitate the client to maintain attention on the present, keep the work spatial either within their perceptual landscape, or by encouraging them to enact it. For the client to be consciously registering their representations they must be happening somewhere in the client’s mind-body perceptual space. By asking questions which reference space (directly, by presupposition, or non-verbally), the client’s experience will remain active in their consciousness long enough for their system to learn from it.

e.  You don’t want to go live with every gesture or meta-comment.  Choose moments when your calibrating indicates the client is experiencing a significant or fundamental aspect of themselves:
The higher the level, the more significant; the lower the level, the more fundamental: “More significant … because more of the universe is reflected or embraced in that particular wholeness … More fundamental, because everything above it depends upon it for its existence” (Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality p.63). By this definition symbols are more fundamental, relationships and patterns are more significant and patterns of organisation are more significant still. Metaphors in Mind p.290.
f.  If the client has emotional reactions about you, keep an awareness of what is yours, what isn’t yours – and be aware it may be happening now.

Questions for Going Live

Below are some questions which commonly facilitate ‘going live’.

[…] refers to a sensation, experience or behaviour the client is having or doing in the now:

Identify – Experience
And what just happened?
And what's happening (for you) now?
And how do you know […] right now?
And what do/does [body part] know?
Identify – Intention
And what would (you/symbol) like to have happen (right) now?
And what needs to happen for [desired outcome that can be experienced here and now]?
Develop Form
And what kind of […] is […]?
And is there anything else about […]?
And where is […]?
And does […] have a size or a shape?
Relate Over Time – Sequence
And what happened just before […]?
And what happened between [first part of …] and [second part of …]?
And when […], then what happens?
Relate Across Space
And when […], what happens to [metaphor]?

Earlier versions of these notes appeared in the Clean Change Company manual for modules 5 and 6, 2007-2013.


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:

All information on this web site (unless otherwise stated) is Copyright © 1997- Penny Tompkins and James Lawley of The Developing Company. All rights reserved. You may reproduce and disseminate any of our copyrighted information for personal use only providing the original source is clearly identified. If you wish to use the material for any other reason please contact:

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

The Developing Company, PO Box 349, LISBURN, BT28 1WZ, United Kingdom
Tel./Fax. 0845 3 31 35 31 * International: +44 845 3 31 35 31
email: info }at{