Frequently Asked Questions

(answered by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley)


Who is David Grove?

What is Grovian Metaphor?

Why 'Clean' Language?

Where do Penny Tompkins and James Lawley fit in?

What is Symbolic Modelling?

Further questions and answers on Less Frequently Asked Questions and the Caroline Myss website Experts Forum.

Who is David Grove?

David J Grove, M.S. is a New Zealander whose unique psychotherapeutic approach, experience and style make him one of today's most skilful and innovative therapists.

In the 1980s he developed clinical methods for resolving clients' traumatic memories, especially those related to child abuse, rape and incest. He realised many clients naturally described their symptoms in metaphor, and found that when he enquired about these using their exact words, their perception of the trauma began to change. This led him to create Clean Language, a way of asking questions of clients' metaphors which neither contaminate nor distort them. David Grove documented his approach in Resolving Traumatic Memories: Metaphors and Symbols in Psychotherapy (co-written with Bazil Panzer. Published by Irvington, New York, 1989).

David Grove continued to develop his approach and pioneered the clinical side of the 'healing the wounded child within' movement in America producing a number videos and audio tape sets (which are unfortunately no longer available).

During the 1990s his interests widened to include the examination of nonverbal behaviour, perceptual space and inter-generational trauma resulting in a therapeutic approach which integrates four domains of experience -- semantic/cognitive, somatic, perceptual space, geneolgical -- and produces profound healing (see our Interview with David Grove and David's Resolving Problem Domains Through Metaphor Therapy ).

David conducts seminars, workshops and healing retreats around the world (visit Because he is constantly developing new ideas and creative methods, the articles and transcripts published on this web site should be considered as historical documents and not necessarily representative of what he is doing today.

What is Grovian Metaphor?

Metaphor is how we give meaning to the most important and complex aspects of our lives. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson conclude, in their ear-opening book Metaphors We Live By: "Metaphors are not mere poetical or rhetorical embellishments ... [they] affect the ways in which we perceive, think and act . Reality itself is defined by metaphor."

The Metaphor Therapy developed by David Grove is a process which facilitates profound change by working within a person's own symbolic representation of their problem or issue. Client's words, gestures, sighs, 'lines of sight' and other non-verbal cues provide entry to this out-of-awareness symbolic world. "Metaphor" David says "mediates the interface between the conscious and unconscious mind."

When a client says "I keep running up against a wall." David Grove not only assume this metaphor is an accurate description of the person's experience but also that it is the best and most complete description available to the client at that moment. Thus, what kind of wall it is, where it appears to be within the client's perceptual space, its size and shape, the direction of the running will all be symbolic of the 'replicating mechanism' that keeps this person repeating the particular behaviours they describe as running up against a wall -- over and over again. The sum total of a client's genic metaphors is called their Metaphor Landscape which forms the context within which their symptons are healed and they change. As the process unfolds new information becomes available to the client, enabling them to unstick stuck states, make new choices and change behaviours. (See the annotated transcipts of David at work: Ann's Anxiety about Cancer and Paul's Fear.)

Why 'Clean' Language?

Clean Language is at the heart of David Grove's Metaphor Therapy (and our Symbolic Modelling). At the core of Clean Language nine simple questions are used 80% of the time. (These are translated into a number of languages elsewhere on this web site.)

Clean Language is an extraordinary language because everything you, as facilitator, say and do is intimately related to what the client says and does. Since each Clean Language question takes as its point of departure the client's last verbal or nonverbal expression, there is minimal need for them to translate and interpret your words and behavior. And because the client's response always informs your next question, the organization of the client's information leads the interaction. Thus the entire focus of the process becomes an exploration of the client's model of the world from their perspective, within their perceptual time and space, and using their words.

Clean Language has three functions:

Of course Clean Language influences and directs attention -- all language does that. Clean Language does it 'cleanly' because it is sourced in the client's vocabulary, is consistent with the logic of their metaphors, and only introduces the universal metaphors of space, time and form.

Where do Penny Tompkins and James Lawley fit in?

We attended our first David Grove workshops and healing retreats in 1995. We were so impressed by what they saw and what we personally experienced that we decided to identify what David Grove was doing that was so effective. Over the next three years we used a process called modelling. This involved observing him work with clients (including our selves) and spending hour after hour poring over recordings and transcripts. We looked for patterns in the relationship between what he was doing and the way clients responded that contributed to the changes they experienced. These patterns were integrated into a generalised model which we tested and fine tuned&emdash;cycling through observation, pattern detection, model construction, testing and revision many times.

While our model is based on David Grove's work and incorporates many of his ideas, he has a different way of describing his approach. Our model was derived more from our observation of him in action than from his explanation of what he does. It was also shaped by our desire for others to learn the process easily and for it to apply to a range of contexts in addition to psychotherapy (such as education and business).

As well as employing many of David ideas, we have also drawn upon cognitive linguistics, self-organising systems theory, evolutionary dynamics and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). The result, a process called Symbolic Modelling, is fully descrbed in our book Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling (The Developing Company Press, 2000). There is more About Us if you want it.

What is Symbolic Modelling?

In a nutshell, Symbolic Modelling is a method for facilitating individuals to become familiar with the symbolic domain of their experience so that they discover new ways of perceiving themselves and their world. It uses Clean Language to facilitate them to attend to their metaphoric expressions so that they create a model of their symbolic mindbody perceptions. This model exists as a living, breathing, four-dimensional world within and around them.


When clients explore this world and its inherent logic, their metaphors and way of being are honoured. They discover that their metaphors can limit and constrain or be a source of creativity and development. During the Symbolic Modelling process their metaphors begin to evolve. As this happens their everyday thinking, feeling and behaviour correspondingly change as well.

Some clients benefit just from having their metaphors developed with a few clean questions. For some the process leads to a reorganisation of their existing symbolic perceptions, while for others nothing short of a transformation of their entire landscape of metaphors will suffice. As a result clients report that they are more self-aware and at peace with themselves, that they have a more defined sense of their place in the world and how to enrich the lives of others.

The components of Symbolic Modelling -- autogenic metaphor, modelling and Clean Language -- can be used in three ways: to model successful strategies and states of excellence; to facilitate change; and to facilitate individuals and groups to create new metaphors (see diagram).

Three ways of using the components of Symbolic Modelling

The components of Symbolic Modelling can be used together as a stand-alone process. Or any one of them can be used in conjunction with other methodologies.

For a more extensive description, see our articles on Clean Language and Clean Language Without Words; the role of Clean Language and Metaphor in relation to NLP; an overview of Symbolic Modelling an example of Modelling Background Knowledge and a detailed Case Study; and for an applications outside of psychotherapy see Symbolic Modelling in Education, Learning Metaphors and Healing Metaphors.

Contact Information

All information on this web site (unless otherwise stated) is © copyright 1997-2005 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 or James Lawley
The Developing Company
PO Box 349, LISBURN, BT28 1WZ, United Kingdom
Tel/Fax UK: 0845 3 31 35 31 * International +44 845 3 31 35 31

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Last updated 25.10.02