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James Lawley

James LawleyJames Lawley is a UKCP registered psychotherapist, coach in business, and certified NLP trainer, and professional modeller. He is a co-developer of Symbolic Modelling and co-author (with Penny Tompkins) of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling. For a more detailed  biography see about us and his blog.

The role of identifying
By James Lawley | Published  14 07 2011

Having studied hundreds of Clean Language sessions Penny Tompkins and I have concluded that experienced facilitators make maximal use of just four fundamental modelling processes: Identify, Develop Form, Relate over Time, and Relate across Space:

To establish, recognise or distinguish what something is; to name and give something an identity; to individuate an element or characteristic. At each level a different kind of something can be identified: an attribute, a symbol, a relationship, a pattern, a context.
DEVELOP FORM To elaborate what has been identified; to identify enough attributes of something that its nature becomes apparent; to bring a (symbolic) perception to life – like a pre-digital photograph emerging from developing solution.
RELATE across SPACE To identify relationships between separated things, places, perceptions, frames, contexts, etc.
To identify a sequence of events (Before - During - After); to identify temporal relationships such as: cause, effect, contingency, precondition, provenance and expectancy.

These four modelling processes are ‘fundamental’ because they are so widely applicable. They can be used them to model resources, desired outcomes, problematic situations, changes, the structure of excellence, conflict, corporate metaphors, etc. The figure below shows how the four processes relate to each other and how they invite a client to attend to different aspects of their experience:[1]

You may have noticed something interesting about the definitions of the four modelling process above – they all include the word ‘identify’. Now what is significance is that?

I think it suggests that the most basic process in modelling is the identification of things, relationships, events, processes, patterns, etc. 'To identify (with)' has four meanings, all of which apply to its use in Symbolic Modelling, to:

1.  determine, establish, ascertain, make out, diagnose, discern, distinguish; verify, confirm; figure out, get a fix on

2.  recognize, single out, pick out, spot, point out, pinpoint, put one's finger on, put a name, to name, know; discern, distinguish; remember, recall, recollect

3.  associate, link, connect, relate, bracket, couple; mention in the same breath as, put side by side with

4.  empathise with, be in tune with, have a rapport with, feel at one with, sympathise with; be on the same wavelength as, speak the same language as; understand, relate to, feel for.

Thus 'identify' is a process that involves all of the above simultaneously. To 'determine' or ‘distinguish’ something (meaning 1), you have to 'recognise' it or 'pick it out' from everything else (meaning 2). Having done so, you are now 'associated' with it, you have a 'relationship' with it (meaning 3), which requires an 'understanding' and some kind of 'feeling for' it (meaning 4).

This got me thinking: If the four fundamental modelling processes all involve identifying, is modelling a process that consists almost entirely of identifying? For the most part I concluded it was.  This is partly why modelling is such an unusual skill. The aim is to identify the attributes, components, relationships and patterns of an ability [2] in such a way that the resultant model identifies what is salient to the ability. I know that other things are involved, but mostly these happen after most of the identifying has been completed.

Doesn't this make the whole notion of modelling so much simpler? The modeller is doing one thing over and over – identifying. Sure you are identifying different aspects of experience and different levels of organisation but it is all a process of identifying. This means a modeller is, in effect, continually asking themselves: What am I seeking to identify now? Or if they are facilitating self-modelling: What am I aiming for the client/exemplar to identify now? In terms of the client/exemplar, you are not seeking to remove, replace, reframe, convince, change, explain, justify or any of the other things that humans spend most of their life doing.

One last thought, when self-modelling is involved and what is identified is an aspect of the self, then the whole process becomes reciprocal. The identifier, the identified, and the identifying process are all intimately connected. They are separate only for purposes of identification and reflection.[3]

1 For more on the four modelling processes see our article 'REPROCess and the First Principle'.

2 Attributes, components, relationships and patterns are four generic levels of organisation, see our article 'Levels: all the way up and all the way down'.

3 See our PPRC (Perceiver-Perceived-Relationship-Context) model in 'Paying Attention to what They're Paying Attention to'.


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