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First published in Rapport, journal of The Association for NLP (UK), Issue 50, Winter 2000

with clean language and autogenic metaphor
Part II of a two-part paper

Philip Harland

"How can client patterns be discerned, decoded and the information within them be released?"
David Grove1

"People do not seek help because they have a problem.
They go to a therapist because they realise that without intervention the repetitive nature of certain thoughts, feelings and behaviours will continue into the future. They notice there is a pattern in their life which they do not like and do not know how to change."
James Lawley and Penny Tompkins 2

There is a tremendous need in most of us for continuity and consistency. Even when our patterns are unproductive we'll go to a great deal of trouble, literally and metaphorically, to hang on to them. My purpose in the second part of this paper is to help you reflect on ways of facilitating clients to decode and release problem patterns. You will notice an emphasis on the use of clean language and autogenic metaphor.

Metaphor is a container for complex information from the unconscious.

Autogenic metaphor is metaphor generated spontaneously by the client and untainted by therapist suggestion or interpretation.

Clean language is a minimalist intervention methodology which allows the client to self-model their unconscious process at the threshold of consciousness, the place where conscious awareness connects to original source, the place where change can be facilitated, known and matured. 3

Philip Harland trained in analytic and humanistic psychotherapy, is a Master Practitioner of NLP, and over the last five years has studied extensively with David Grove, originator of Clean Language, and with Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, co-developers of Grove's work and of their own innovative approach, Symbolic Modelling. He is one of the original members of the London Clean Language Practise Group and co-ordinates a Metaphor and Clean Language Research Group.

In Part I of this paper (Rapport 49 Autumn 2000) we considered two questions:

1 What is a pattern?

A repeated behaviour, feeling, thought or belief was described in terms of a configuration in the client's internal landscape with coherence and continuity which could be identified in space, time or form, or any combination of these (see figure 1). A problem pattern is simply a pattern that gives the client problems.

2 How can patterns be discerned?

Two kinds of discernment were identified: associative discernment based on guesswork, where the therapist fills in 'missing' bits of client information with internal patterns of the therapist's own; and direct discernment based on clean language questioning, where the true client pattern cannot help but emerge. 4

Part II asks:

3 How can patterns be decoded?
(And compares the approach of different models of therapy)

4 How can the information within a pattern be released?
(And explores what happens next, and examines how clean language works)

Figure 1: defining pattern

Note This paper has a bias towards psychotherapy, but the art of clean language and symbolic modelling applies to any area of human facilitation -- education, communication, training, consultancy -- so you might allow the therapist-client paradigm to act as a metaphor for consultant-client or teacher-pupil or whatever you wish.

3 How can patterns be decoded?
deciphered/unscrambled/figured out? 5


I'll be going along quite happily and suddenly, wham, I'm doing the same old thing again, my head is spinning, I'm on a rollercoaster and there's like a big black vortex that sweeps me up off the ground and I have no control. I'm terrified, I'm very confused. You know only yesterday I ... (client goes on)

Going along ... wham ... same old thing ... head spinning ... rollercoaster ... vortex ... what is this client's unconscious communicating? These are all metaphors that are isomorphic (correspond in form) with internal patterns. But the language is cryptic. The information is in code. Would it be easier to translate if the client were more succint?


(half an hour later) I've been going round in circles for years.

Still seems pretty hopeless. Well, never take a metaphor for granted. The client has progressed from several descriptions of the problem to a simple description of the pattern. It's at a higher logical level.

Clean language

And you've been going round in circles for years. And when you've been going round in circles for years, what kind of circles are those circles?


It's like I'm on a roundabout.

Now what? The client has simply translated one disabling pattern into another, and still has no control. Or has he? Never interpret. Never presume.


And it's like you're on a roundabout. And when it's like you're on a roundabout, is there anything else about that roundabout?


It's a magic roundabout.

In two clean language questions Colin's metaphor has moved from implacably binding problem to potential resolution with infinite [magic] possibility.

Most clients will express themselves even more circuitously. Below is a symbolic representation of a certain client pattern. Imagine the client is saying something you cannot make head or tail of -- it might as well be in code.


Encoded pattern problem - part 1

Remember the client is already manifesting in some way the pattern that brings them to therapy. This first part represents the whole. The pattern is isomorphically present. But what kind of pattern is this? In Part I we considered how all patterns manifest in space, time and/or form. There are obvious spatial components here: A seems to be above B in some way, and B is further on a bit. Is that enough to decode it? We could hazard a guess -- repressive parent, subordinate child desperate for autonomy etc. Perhaps as the client goes on the pattern will become more apparent:


Encoded pattern problem - part 2

We can now suppose that this pattern is continuing not just in space but over time. If you had made an intervention based solely on its spatial components you may well have been wide of the mark. This client is manifesting another pattern altogether, though with no insight of their own into it they might well have gone along with yours. For a while. Before relapsing.

In fact the series has a very simple code. This is a pattern not just in space and time, but also form.6

If you take this puzzle as a metaphor for any client presentation there might be information for you as a therapist in the way you approached it.

(i) Chances are that you postulated one or two theories quite early on and attempted to fit the pattern to them, discarding parts of the theory that didn't fit and holding on to parts that might, until the theory so completely fitted the pattern that it couldn't possibly be anything else. In other words you took an objective view of the evidence and confronted what you detected directly. The scientific method.

(ii) Or perhaps you decided not to be enticed by the form in which the puzzle appeared and approached it obliquely. You detached yourself in some way, took an intuitive path of your own and either through belief or fancy imagined that the solution would follow. You worked in an indirect way on the pattern from outside it.

(iii) Or you may have supposed some kind of affinity with the pattern. You sat with it as it unfolded in the way that Einstein is said to have imagined himself riding a beam of light in order to understand relativity. You worked directly or indirectly on the pattern from as close as you could possibly get to it.

(iv) And maybe there is another way. What led you to try to 'solve' it at all? No one asked you to. I guess like me you made an assumption that that's what you ought to do. And now that you have, how can you be sure you're 'right'? What if this arrangement of the Roman alphabet is only one component of a far more sophisticated conundrum that dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumerian pictographs, and further back still to a time before writing?

If you simply allowed yourself to be with this client's puzzle, made no assumptions and applied no propositions, assisting it only to know itself, you would be identifying with the pattern from within the pattern, privy to its inherent logic, respectful of its unique purpose, and the owner would eventually have all the information they needed to decode it for themselves -- if that is what they wanted to do.

To summarise: we can predicate four ways of decoding patterns (figure 2):

(i) working directly on the pattern from outside the pattern

(ii) working indirectly on the pattern from outside the pattern

(iii) working in/directly on the pattern from alongside the pattern

(iv) working directly with the pattern from within the pattern.

Figure 2i
Figure 2ii
Figure 2iii
Figure 2iv
from outside
from outside
from alongside
from within

Figure 2: four ways of decoding client pattern

(i) working directly on the pattern from outside the pattern


As I was saying, A / B C D / E ...


[who is probably not even thinking of the notion of 'pattern'] Hm. I notice you have placed A and E above the line and B C D below, now I wonder what you make of that?

Most of the standard talking therapies -- cognitive, client-centred, psychoanalytic, humanistic -- might start in this way: aspiring to objectivity by remaining 'outside' the pattern. Yet if you analyse this therapist's intervention carefully you will notice they have already introduced three patterns of their own into the client's system. 'Placed', 'above the line' and 'below' are therapist-generated metaphors.

A gestalt therapist might go on to suggest confronting the pattern -- placing A E F on one chair, B C D on another, and polarising the obvious division between the two in the expectation of some sort of ideographical integration. A transpersonal therapist might want to stress the spiritual dimension:

Would you agree, B, that you are more than your shape?

A transactional analyst might see the differences rooted in critical parent above the line and adaptive child below. An existential therapist might focus on the 'givens' of human existence for poor old B -- death, alienation and suffering: ok, so now what? A Freudian might check this information from the client against a generalised model of transference and sexual development in order to help the client come to terms (after a couple of years or so) with its underlying pathological structures:

I suggest to you that B really wishes to sleep with A but first must kill C ...

Even a client-centred (Rogerian) counsellor, wary of interpretation, attempting to reflect the client back to themselves, would be predisposed -- in common with these other therapies -- to paraphrase the client's words and to install non-client material unwittingly.

In most talking therapies the therapist is in control of the process and interventions come from within the therapist's own patterns, whether inbuilt or acquired. Here is an excerpt from a recent television documentary of a (male) psychotherapist of unspecified alignment talking to a (female) patient who suffers from so-called body dysmorphia. Diane is a pseudonym. She has been seeing the therapist for several months. Opposite are my comments.


Good to see you again, Diane. How many hours a day would you say is spent thinking about your appearance now?

Therapist setting client agenda and characterizing the pattern.


Probably about six.

Client answers in therapist's terms.


Six hours a day. So it's still ...

Note that apparently inconsequential 'still' -- anchoring the client to the problem pattern she was in when she first came months ago.


Yeh ...


Very significant.

Well, he thinks it is.


Yeh. It's a lot less. It used to be seventeen, maybe more. But within those six hours a lot of that will be positive. I'll still be preoccupied, but I'll be thinking good things, just sort of how I'd like to have my hair next and that sort of thing.

Client attempts to re-set the agenda and rearrange the pattern.




And also thinking about how I'm happy with my hair or how I'm happy with something I've got on.

Seems ready to find encouragement in anything -- even that noncommital 'uhuh'.


OK. I haven't seen that so often, where you're saying, you're saying it's not negative things, it's things where you're comfortable with.

Maybe because what she is saying is 'thinking how I'm happy with my hair', but he doesn't acknowledge that. Is he committed to a pattern of his own?



Uncertain of her discernment of her own pattern, she's ready to endorse whatever his might be.


As if you're trying to reassure yourself.

Reassured by that 'yeh', he comes clean.


(Pauses for several seconds) Yeh. Maybe. Yeh. Mm. Now you say that I don't know if that's such a good thing, but I was under the impression that that was all good. (Uncertain laugh) Even though I was still preoccupied it was ...


Well it does suggest you're still quite vulnerable.

If she wasn't she will be now.


Yeh. (Nods) Yeh. I suppose you're right.

No comment.

In the space of two minutes the therapist has made three direct suggestions ("it's very significant", "you're trying to reassure yourself", "you're still quite vulnerable"), used one word ("six") that was Diane's alone -- out of 131 possible -- and placed her gently back in the unresourceful pattern that will probably keep her in therapy for years. 7

I'm not saying this therapist was mistaken in his interpretations of Diane's pattern, and clearly we don't know the full history of the therapy, but I do suggest that the underlying methodology allows at least as high a possibility of being unhelpful to the client as the guesswork of the average clairvoyant (and I judge clairvoyants to be averagely helpful people). Of course not all talking therapies operate in this way. In cognitive work the suggestions will be more blatant; in humanistic interventions they may be more subtle. I have practised in both and I am not knocking either. I am making comparisons.

(ii) working indirectly on the pattern from outside the pattern

A way of working shared by the behavioural, physical, postural, sensory, expressive and 'healing' therapies. I include homeopathy and traditional medicine, or drug therapy, among the physical therapies. I have worked in behavioural and expressive therapies. My knowledge of the other models comes from study and personal experience.

Drug therapy supposes the body to be somehow in a state of conflict with our sense of self and our emotional and spiritual experience. Drugs work on the brain in the hope of indirectly modifying patterns in the mind.


Oh dear, A seems to go above the line, B below, I'm not sure where to put ...


Sounds like you're depressed. I think we'll put you on a course of amitryptiline.


I don't know, doctor, what do you recommend?


You can have an injection or take the pills.


What kind of pills are they?


Pink. Unless you prefer the blue.

I have worked with many clients who were concurrently on drug therapy, and my sense of the best drugs did for them was to dull the problem without touching the pattern that produced it. Dulling a problem is an understandable way of coping with the stress of reality, but hardly a way of developing the potential in a client's life.

Body and postural therapies -- acupuncture, massage, reflexology, Feldenkrais etc -- all work to one degree or another from outside. They aim to relieve the symptoms of negative patterns -- pain, tension and stress -- through movement or manipulation, and to influence internal events indirectly through mind-body or 'energy' connections.

Behavioural approaches such as 'familiarisation', 'aversion' or 'flooding', where the client is gradually introduced to more and more of the phobic trigger, work in the belief that changing behaviour changes thinking changes feeling, an essentially indirect approach.

'Healers' believe their power comes from God or from universal psychic energies. The healer is the indirect conduit and the patient the passive receiver. Energy is believed to be transmitted in some indeterminate way from one to the other. My experience of Reiki healing was that the sheer concentration of the therapist obliged me to focus on internal balance in a way I would never -- or perhaps could never -- do alone. Again, an indirect effect.

Expressive therapies, including art, music, dance, primal therapy and anger release, work at one stage or several stages removed from the pattern. They explore the expression of feeling rather than its construction, and seek liberation -- of something, usually a symptom rather than a cause. You could call it the hopeful domino theory of therapy: free one component and trust the rest will follow.

Although most of the non-drug based indirect therapies describe themselves as 'holistic' and talk of the patient as a body-mind-spirit whole, they are in fact partial and work on the mind in a secondary way via posture, muscle tension or 'energy lines'.

(iii) working in/directly on the pattern from alongside the pattern

I count hypnotherapy and NLP in this category, and I have practised in both. The hypnotherapist or the NLP therapist guides the client through a process, and from the client's point of view the process may be entirely internal.


There's this A and this B and ...


And as you see A and B, and hear the sound of my voice, and your breathing gets deeper, I want you to ...


[Shifts from A B C to] Z - Z - Z ...

In hypnotherapy all that is required of the client is to respond passively and positively to the direction of the therapist. Once in the trance state, what happens next depends on the suggestivity of the client and the resourcefulness of the therapist. The effectiveness of the work is based on the therapist-led re-creation of generalised client resources which are brought to bear on the problem pattern obliquely.

NLP works with the subjective experience of the client as represented externally by the client. The neurolinguistic model says that all our subjective experience is coded in sub-modality distinctions in the sensory cortex of the brain. Problem patterns therefore have a coherent structure. Once the client gains access to that structure it can be described, and if it can be described it can be decoded. And if it is decoded in the context of a well-formed outcome for change, change will happen.


So there's this A and this B and ...

NLP therapist

Hang on a minute, what's your outcome here? What do you want?


I want to get rid of A of course.


And what will that get for you?


I'll feel better about B.


Ok, and what will that get for you?


What do you mean?


[Tries another technique] When you say 'A' do you get a picture, a sound or a feeling? Is that in black and white or colour? Moving or still? (etc etc)

Information about client patterns comes from sensory representations elicited conversationally by the therapist and reported cognitively by the client. That is arguably direct information, but cannot help but be modified by its dependence on the therapist's own (nlp and subjective) patterns and on the client's translation of their internal experience into a language the therapist can 'understand'. Thus the work remains generalised and takes place in the vicinity of the pattern at best.

Excellent indirect or partial modelling of client patterns is possible with NLP techniques such as sensory calibration, sub-modality analysis, meta-programme elicitation, strategy sequencing, logical level differentiation and meta-model questioning, all of which require exquisite attention on the part of the therapist to client process. However, these procedures are of necessity therapist-led and will not all (or always) apply to the client sitting in front of you.

And as most of the client changework that stems from NLP modelling depends on the therapist-led superimposition of good feelings over bad so that the bad have less significance, the resulting patterns (particularly in the case of therapist-generated metaphor and so-called 'sleight-of-mouth' reframes) are likely to derive more from the ingenuity of the therapist than the singularity of the client. The only NLP-inspired change models I know that are exclusively client-information-led rather than therapist-procedure-led are symbolic modelling, autogenic metaphor and a conversational variant on both I call the mirror-model. 8

(iv) working directly with the pattern from within the pattern

Imagine you are a therapist from another planet. You know all about electro-magnetic waves, but you have never experienced them as 'sunlight'. 'Sunlight' is an alien concept to you, but it has enormous significance for your earth-bound client. Now the extraordinary thing about clean language (assuming that as a therapist from another planet you came here for the training), is that you don't have to know a thing about 'sunlight' in order to help your client explore it and use it for transformative therapeutic purpose.

Autogenic metaphor is a glorious resource for any therapist. It contains information about client pattern that is purely client-generated. It comes from the unconscious direct. The therapist does not have to reconstruct, paraphrase or 'understand' the information, and this minimises generalisation, deletion and distortion.


There's this A....

Clean language therapist

And there's this A. And when there's this A, what kind of A is this A?


I don't know. It reminds me of the frame of an attic roof.


And is there anything else about the frame of an attic roof?


Oh no. I remember being in the attic ... I'm two or three and I'm terrified ...


And when you remember being in the attic, and you're two or three, and you're terrified, where is that terrified?


(Pointing to heart) Here.


(Replicates gesture) And here. And does terrified ... here ... have a size or a shape?


Yes. (Gestures) About this big.


And (replicates gesture) about this big. And when terrified is ... here ... and ... about this big, that's terrified like what?


Oh god, like a balloon about to burst.


And like a balloon about to burst. And when a balloon about to burst, what kind of balloon is that balloon, before it was about to burst?


Well, it's beautiful, red, light and firm, and I'm having fun with it.

Never-before-discerned patterns begin to emerge through clean language modelling as the therapist facilitates the client to identify component parts of their metaphorical perceptions, to develop those components in form, space and time, to elucidate key relationships between components, to discern patterns across their perceptions of those relationships, and to notice the relationship of those patterns to their lives. As the client explores their perceptual space in a state somewhere between trance and full awareness they are in essence modelling themselves. It is the client, not the therapist, who determines the significance of their perceptions. And as the system learns about its own organisation a context for self-generated change is created, and it is the client, not the therapist, who determines what needs to happen for the system to evolve.

In NLP therapy, client outcome is elicited and explored cognitively -- that is, in a state dissociated from the internal pattern which produced the client's need for the outcome. Outcome in clean language therapy can be elicited in a variety of states, but is normally explored, and always evolves, in a state directly related to the pattern's intrinsic need for self-resolution -- that is, from within the pattern itself.

Figure 3 summarises these various approaches to working on or with problem patterns. In my own practice I find autogenic metaphor therapy using clean language to be as respectful as client-centred counselling, as inner-resource-finding as hypnotherapy, and as mind-changing and modelling-efficient as NLP. It can be as spiritually-integrative as transpersonal therapy, as expressive as art therapy, as liberating as any humanistic intervention and as past-revelationary as psychoanalysis. It is without doubt the most holistic means of conducting therapy I know. And clients get to keep their clothes on.

comparison of problem patterns figure 3

Figure 3: working on or with problem patterns, a comparison

Continued in part IIb ...

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