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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.

Off-piste interventions in Clean Space
By James Lawley | Published  21 07 2011

An experienced practitioner of clean approaches recently asked:

Today I did a Clean Space process with a coachee. At a certain point he talked from a space about the possible source of that space. Words like: I wonder why I do that. So I said: Find a space that knows about where 'mindfucking' could have come from. It produced new insights and the possibility of letting stuff go. Do you or Penny have similar experiences? If not, I would like your feedback on it.

It is not clear whether 'mindfucking' is the client's word or yours, so I'll answer both ways.

1. If the word originated with the client, then yes, we have experimented with combining Clean Language questions and Clean Space instructions – which is how I see an instruction to:

- Find a space that knows about where [client word] could have come from. 

In Joining Up the Work of David Grove, I call this a 'Question/Instruction-Level Join Up' and I gave a couple of examples:

- Find a space that know what you would like to have happen.
- Find a space that knows what needs to happen for [client’s desired outcome].

I think there is a lot of mileage in such combined questions/instructions and there are caveats. The key ones being: (a) the intention of the facilitator and (b) their awareness of their intention! (I say more about these below.)

2. If I assume the word is yours that makes it more of an off-piste intervention. The short answer is, no, I can't recall doing anything quite like this in Clean Space and I never saw David Grove name a space for a client. However, it seems this client got a lot from it and that's what matters, not that you stay 'pure' to some theory or process.

My guess is that you were jumping to the pattern level and attempting to provoke an out-of-the-ordinary (for this client) response. If you have seen the client run this pattern a few times and given that I know you to be an excellent modeller, then it is likely you were 'ahead' of him in terms of his self-awareness. If your choice of metaphor works for him and your timing is good (and it's true, timing is everything) then you may well have been able to help accelerate the client's process.

From a systemic point of view you are contributing feedback from outside the client's system. If it is high quality, such feedback can be most valuable, especially when delivered at a pivotal moment.

As a rule, in a clean process, the imposition of such content by the facilitator has greater effect the more rarely it is used.  But therein lies a number of risks.

You may lose rapport, the client may not feel so safe with you, and they may start to play along rather than engage with their process. And one thing is for sure, you will never know what the client would have done if left to their own devices.

I remember a couple of times when David Grove made a 'throw away' comment (if there was such a thing) about my metaphors. On one occasion it opened up a new way of thinking that I found very useful. On another I spent weeks thinking about what he had said, trying to work out if it applied to me or not. To my horror, months later, I even found myself doing the very thing he had suggested would happen (and I didn't want to happen), but to this day I don't know if I would have done it if he hadn't said it!

I'm not against these kinds of interventions per se, my concern is that every time I step on this slippery slope of content intervention I feel the pull to to take another step – especially if I think my intervention has been successful – and then where do I draw the line?

A key, if not the key variable is the facilitator's intention and how much ego is attached to it. As a rule, if ego is involved then the facilitator may not be open to gauge the client's response cleanly, and hence the facilitator's agenda and personal stuff will become part of the mix. That can still produce a valuable outcome (there are whole 'relational' psychotherapies based on this principle) and it can sure add even more complexity to something already complex – and from what I have seen, offer lots of opportunities for extra meandering. Once the waters are muddied they take a good while to clear.

Lastly, in terms of teaching others to use off-piste interventions, some people struggle to learn to do clean effectively because they can't keep their own stuff out of the process.  Even if they use perfectly clean questions, their intentions and values inevitably come through. (I know we cannot not do this, so it is always a matter of degree.) My approach is to start from the most basic of principles and add levels of sophistication as and when students have demonstrated they can do the simpler/cleaner stuff competently.

(See Penny and my paper Clean Space Revisited for an example of starting with a Lite version of Clean Space and having the option to add and add and add.)


Clean Language
Symbolic Modelling

James Lawley
Penny Tompkins

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