Clean Language is a method developed by David Grove to dialogue with a client's symbolic representations and metaphoric expressions. One of the most fascinating aspects of David's therapeutic wizardry is his use of Clean Language to communicate directly with client's non-verbal expressions. Our model of what David does, called Symbolic Modelling, attempts to capture the essence of his approach. This article briefly describes how you can use Clean Language to enhance your non-verbal communication with clients.
While we communicate through what we say and how we say it, we also communicate through what we do with our bodies and non-verbal sounds (such as sighs, coughs, clicks). Non-verbal communication is a natural, universal and mostly out-of-awareness process in which we 'cannot not' engage. As Edward Hall realised:
David Grove goes further:
Just as every word or phrase used by a client has a purpose, contains meaning and has an array of associations, so all non-verbal behaviours are connected to a vast well-spring of knowledge. When Symbolic Modelling we consider repetitive non-verbal communication a pointer to, or a source of, a client's recurring (mostly unconscious) patterns.
What types of information do we encode non-verbally? As well as the more obvious kinesthetic experiences (touch, feelings and emotions) and proprioceptive processes (bodily position, movement and balance), we also use the non-verbal to encode: perceptual space; pre-verbal, pre-conceptual and idiosyncratic knowledge; traumatic incidences and amnesic memories; meta-comments (responses to our words and actions); family lore, genealogical traits and cultural codes; spiritual connections and life purpose -- to name but a few examples. Perhaps Isadora Duncan knew more than she could tell when she said "If I could say it, I wouldn't need to dance it!"
In Rapport (Issue 35) we explored aspects of Clean Language which relate to verbal communication. This article describes how you can use your voice and body to honour and utilise the way clients communicate non-verbally through their (1) Perceptual space; (2) Body as metaphor; and (3) Non-verbal sounds.
In other articles (Rapport, Issues 36, 38,39) we have illustrated how metaphors of space are pervasive in language and are a universal and fundamental component of experience (ref. 4). We have a "mind-space" which acts as a "theatre" where we 'see,' 'hear,' 'feel' and 'act out' our perceptions. The configuration of this mind-space is revealed by our use of spatial metaphors (ref. 5). In addition, how our body has learned to orientate in space is essential to how we make sense of the world and understand our place in it. Said another way, cognition is an embodied experience (ref. 6). When our mindbody-space contains symbolic content we call it a Metaphoric Landscape.
You can think of the client having a perceptual space around and within themselves. Their body will indicate where symbols are, in what direction they are moving, and how these symbols interact. It is the relationship between the client and their Metaphoric Landscape that prompts their body to dance within its perceptual theatre.
Given the chance, clients unconsciously orientate themselves to their physical surroundings in such a way that windows, doors, mirrors, shadows, etc. correspond to symbols in their Metaphoric Landscape. By asking clients to choose where they want to sit in a room and where they want you to sit, they will align their perceptual and physical space and place themselves where they feel most comfortable and safe. As David Grove says "space will become your co-therapist if you pay it due regard."
Since you want to keep the client mindful of their Metaphoric Landscape, it is vital that your marking of space aligns with their perceptual space and not yours. Therefore, it is important to notice how clients consistently use their body to indicate the location of a symbol so you can refer to it as if it existed in that place. When the client follows your hand gesture, glance or head point they should be led to the precise location of their symbol. This is making your movements congruent with their perceptual space. For example:
Therapist: And it's scary. And when it's scary, where is it scary?
C: [points down to his right.]
T: And when scary [point down to client's right], whereabouts [point down to client's right]?
C: Down there [points with right foot].
T: And down there [looks where right foot pointed]. And when down there, whereabouts down there?
C: About 6 inches away.
T: And about 6 inches away. And when scary is about 6 inches away, that's scary like what?
C: Like standing at the edge of a sheer drop.
To keep your language 'clean' it is preferable to reference a client's behaviour non-verbally until they have converted it into words. This encourages symbols to lay claim to their own patch of "perceptual real estate," as David sometimes refers to it, and in this way the client's space becomes "psychoactive".
David Grove's clinical research suggests that the direction, angle and focus of our eyes are often correlated with the perceptual viewpoint experienced in a memory or symbolic representation.
By noticing where clients look and the focal point of their gaze you can gather information about the location of symbols inhabiting their Metaphoric Landscape. How does this work? Imagine a child who, having just been beaten, looks up in vain to search a father's face for a sign of love. This incident may remain "imprinted" as part of a "state-dependent memory." (ref. 7) From then on similar feelings of being unloved may invoke the same posture and upward gaze. Alternatively, looking up at the same angle and focal length may access similar feelings or the memory. Over time the 'line of sight' becomes evident as an habitual part of the client's symptomatic behaviour. (ref. 8)
Lines of sight are most easily observed when the client fixes their eyes in one particular direction (such as staring out of a window), or at one particular object (eg. a mirror, book, door handle), or is transfixed by a pattern or shape (eg. a spot on the carpet, wallpaper motif, shadow) or gazes de-focused into space. Even a momentary glance into a corner or over the shoulder is unlikely to be a random or meaningless act, but rather a response to the configuration of their symbolic world.
As well as lines of sight indicating the location of a symbol, a client may orientate their body and view to avoid looking at a particular space. For example, a client entered our consulting room and sat at the right-most end of a sofa. He crossed his legs and angled them to his right. His shoulders inclined right as well. For most of the session, he had his left hand beside his left eye, like a horse's blinker. When his hand momentarily dropped away and he glanced to his left he was asked "And where are you going when you go there?" [looking along the client's line of sight]" He looked to his left for a few seconds and a massive sob emerged from deep within. When he had recovered his breath he said "Oh God, there's something there (glance to left) and I don't know what it is. I haven't seen there in a very long time. If I look there I will be trapped and it will be compulsive viewing." Later the client realised that wherever possible, in meetings, walking down the street and at home, he would arrange to have people he was with on his right.
Given the choice, where a client sits will likely be determined by their dominant lines of sight. Investigating these can reveal information that would otherwise be unavailable to the conscious mind.
Some clients' relationship with their Metaphoric Landscape is such that they prefer to explore it by moving around, rather than by sitting and describing it. They may need to walk around the room, occupy the location of symbols, or enact elements from a scene. By 'physicalising the space' the client can access information, gain further insights and derive a better understanding of the structure of their perceptual space.
In addition to utilising the space of the consulting room, David Grove also encourages clients to find physical surroundings that have symbolic significance for them. As a consequence he has conducted sessions on hill tops, on lakes and at every time of the day or night in order to synchronise the client's symbolic and physical terrains. Clean Language is used at all times, even in the most obscure of environments.
As well as delineating and interacting with their perceptual space, client's bodies communicate all sorts of other symbolic messages. Sometimes information may only be available to them when they adopt a particular position, or move part of their body in a specific way. Alternatively, it may be that certain words can only be expressed hand-in-hand with certain actions. Any part of a client's body, or their whole body, can be a living non-verbal metaphor:
We recommend you see clients' behaviour as an expression of symbolic patterning, rather than as 'body language' to be read (ref. 9). By making the body expression the focus of a Clean Language question (usually resulting in a metaphorically equivalent verbal description) this patterning can be explored.
For example, at his first session a client delivered an unbroken hour-long description of his predicament. He ended with "So that's how it is" and looked expectantly at us. Penny replied "And so that's how it is. And when that's how it is, that's how it is like what?" He looked away, his head turned to the left, chin pointed up high. While he was considering the question his mouth started to open and close in a rhythmical fashion without sound. He was still deep in thought when James asked, "And [matched angle of head and mouth movement]. And when [repeated non-verbal] that's [repeated non-verbal] like what?" The client returned to the mouthing movement a few times and said, "I feel like a goldfish coming up for air in a de-oxygenated pond." He had captured his predicament in a single paradoxical metaphor. And his body had acted it out before he knew what to say. Now he could work with the metaphor rather than swimming round and round, suffocating in the detail of his description.
Sometimes clients cannot describe their experience in words because it was encoded pre-verbally, or related to an unspeakable traumatic event or connected with a mystical experience. In such cases, Clean Language is an effective means for direct communication with non-verbal behaviours without the client ever needing to express themselves in words.
We make a distinction between the vocal qualities used to convey words and the expression of other sounds. Whenever a word is spoken, both the word and the way it is pronounced carry information. The word is the point of reference, because the vocal qualities used to produce the word cannot easily be addressed separately. In contrast, non-verbal sounds (such as sighs, in-breaths, throat clears, coughs, blows, clicks, groans, grunts, gurgles, laughs and non-verbal expressions or exclamations such as oh-oh, ah, uhm-m-m, etc.) act as both the point of reference and the carrier of information.
David Grove has recognised that these sounds are as much a source of symbolic information as words or pictures. Furthermore, non-verbal sounds usually encode knowledge which is out of the client's awareness. The sound can be regarded either as a symbol itself, or as an 'entry point' to unexplored areas of the client's Metaphoric Landscape.
In NLP matching a client's words and pronunciation is a way of acknowledging their experience, encouraging them to remain focussed on their perceptions and gathering information about the structure of their experience. The same applies when matching non-verbal sounds. However, if you wish to enquire about a particular sound, make that sound a 'noun-phrase' within a clean question. Thus a client who precedes a statement with a big sigh might be asked:
T: And [replicate big sigh] you give up. And when [big sigh] what kind of [big sigh] is that [big sigh]?
C: [sigh] I don't know.
T: And [sigh] you don't know. And when you don't know [big sigh], is there anything else about [big sigh]?
C: I can't find the words.
T: And you can't find the words. And when you can't find the words about [big sigh] is there anything else about words you can't find?
C: They're locked away.
You may have noticed that the therapist acknowledged both the non-verbal and the verbal responses and in so doing validated them as equally appropriate and useful. Through developing what she knew about the metaphor "locked away" the client found a way to unlock the words so that she did not have to "give up" anymore.
Another way to utilise a non-verbal sound is to regard it as a temporal marker. You can ask questions which 'move time forward' or 'move time back' by using a non-verbal sound as the point of reference. An example of moving time forward is "And [replicate sound]. And when [sound], then what happens?". And an example of moving time back is shown below. The client periodically took in a breath through her teeth. This made a suction-like sound which in and of itself was not particularly noticeable, however, over a period of time the sound directed our attention to ask:
C: [Long pause] My God, that's the sound my grandfather used to make when he was angry and his teeth became loose.
T: And that's the sound your grandfather used to make when he was angry and his teeth became loose. And is there anything else about that sound?
C: It was terrifying. I used to stand behind my mother.
Although this habit of making a sucking sound had been pointed out by others, she had never made the connection to her grandfather or realised its significance. Clean Language then enabled her to explore and transform her 'hiding from confrontation' pattern that was symbolised in a grandfather's long-forgotten false teeth.
Symbolically speaking, everything a client says or does is information about the structure of their experience and therefore who they are. Modelling a client's non-verbal behaviour with Clean Language acknowledges their way of being, provides them with information about how they make sense of their perceptual world, and enables them to establish a Metaphoric Landscape within which appropriate change can take place. Once this has happened, their Metaphoric Landscape will go on working for them long after they walk out of your consulting room.
Clean Language is remarkable in that it can work just as
effectively without words as it can with words. It provides a method
for using non-verbal expressions directly, or indirectly by eliciting
a metaphor for the non-verbal behaviour. Either way, Clean Language
is invaluable for entering the "universe of behaviour that is
unexplored and unexamined" (ref. 1).
Rapport Magazine can be obtained from The Association for NLP (UK): 01384 443 935
Penny Tompkins and James Lawley are both certified NLP trainers and UKCP registered psychotherapists. For information about Symbolic Modelling and the work of David Grove, see the Site Index.
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