Part 2 continued ...
4 How can the information within a pattern be
"Since all symbols have attributes,
and all attributes have functions,
and all functions serve a purpose, all symbols are potentially useful
somewhere, somewhen or under
Lawley and Tompkins, Chapter 7
Discernment of internal patterns is just that, discernment —
nothing will change as a result until the client is able to decode
(put meaning to) the information their unconscious has scrambled and
compacted into the metaphor. As clients decode this information they
realize what their symbols signify, and become aware of a different
kind of internal processing. This can be a defining moment. And it is
at this moment — when the system recognises its own organisation,
when internal intention is revealed, when conscious and unconscious
knowing come together — that the information in the pattern is
How can you as a therapist facilitate release? After all, if the
unscrambling and release of information from what has hitherto been a
conservative (self-preserving) pattern was a predictable and logical
process, all a person would need would be a well-meaning friend to
point out the obvious. Given that most of us require something more
than a friend to bring about change, let alone deep structural
change, is there a formula that will work for any clean language
therapist with any client under any conditions?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes. I shall reveal it when you have
read the following oath:
I shall not attempt to change, resolve or
reconfigure the client's problem pattern.
I shall not guess what needs to happen for the pattern to
change, resolve or reconfigure.
I shall only seek to encourage the conditions for change,
resolution or reconfiguration.
Here is the formula: four things you can do to facilitate the
release of information in the pattern and to encourage the conditions
for change if the client so chooses.
(i) Ask potential resource symbols for their intention, and for
what needs to happen for that intention to be fulfilled.
It's a magic roundabout.
And it's a magic roundabout. And when it's a magic
roundabout, is there anything the magic of that roundabout
would like to do? [No supposition here that 'magic' is
good or bad, or that it can change 'roundabout' — or
anything else — for better or worse. The intervention
acknowledges that magic exists as a symbol in the landscape,
confirms that it has been constructed as a modifier, and
draws attention in non-specific terms to its potential.]
It would like to change the circles the roundabout has
been going round in for years to spirals that continue to
develop without repeating themselves.
And can magic change the circles ...? [Client
having articulated the intention of the symbol, therapist
invites symbol — if appropriate — to fulfil it.]
With the right input of energy at the right moment,
All symbols have resource potential. A resource symbol may
at a given moment be overt and its potential obvious
('magic'), or latent ('roundabout') and require
interaction with another symbol or another context before it is able,
as David Grove puts it, 'to confess its strengths'. Resources may
appear in the most unlikely places. One of my clients transformed a
30-year pattern of addiction after finding a redemptory resource in a
metaphorical garbage can. Others have found them in bottomless pits,
dense fog, tightly bound knots in the stomach. Identifying and
activating potential resource symbols is one considerable way in
which the information within a pattern may be released.
(ii) Focus the client's attention on the pattern. This may
sometimes mean persisting with clean language beyond what seems the
call of duty:
I've been going round in circles for years.
And you've been going round in circles for years. And
you've been going round in circles for years. And you've
been going round in circles for years. [Client now has
unequivocal affirmation of the pattern, and during this has
probably been associating back into it.] And when you've
been going round in circles for years ... [What next?
Almost any clean language question will do. There could be
information locked in the sheer repetition.] ... what
kind of going round is that going round?
Clockwise. [New information. Therapist may simply
affirm it and return to 'circles' or 'years', or draw
client's attention to the new metaphor with a space, time or
form question, or note the phonetic ambiguity (see Part I
about homonyms) of 'wise'. Any one of these interventions
could be the key to unlocking the pattern and releasing the
(iii) Draw the client's attention to the wider context in which
the pattern manifests.
I've been going round in circles for years.
[Could ask 'How do you know you've been going round ...?'
or 'How many years?' or 'How does going round in circles
relate to X or Y (something else in the landscape or the
client's life that client has identified)?' Decides to
invite client to explore the space-time parameters within
which the pattern appears] And what happens just before
going round in circles?
And when you're stuck, then you're going round in
circles, then what happens?
And when they stop, then what happens?
I'm stuck and it starts all over again.
Client has identified a strategy which provides him with
a wider context for change.
(iv) Give creative assignments that encourage the client to
explore their pattern in other ways — by mapping, drawing, sculpting
their personal metaphors, by acting them out or physicalising them,
by researching key words or symbols, or by any creative means
possible. It was not until Colin mapped out the context of his
circles (above) that we discovered six other places to explore — before stuck / during stuck / between stuck and circles / between
circles and stop / during stop / and between stop and stuck —
any of which could contain a resource or an impetus for not repeating
the start, or for moving on from the end, of the unproductive
I have been witness to a hundred ways in which clients have used
mapping, etymological or symbol research, etc to release information.
This morning a client saw the word ANGER in her metaphor landscape.
She was concerned. I invited her to map it out. She wrote 'anger' on
a piece of paper, stuck it to the wall, studied it for a moment and
said, "Oh. I've used lower-case letters, and I've written it in
black. I thought it would come out in capitals, and be red and
dramatic, this is old anger, I know why it's there." Having
defined the symbolic attributes of 'old anger', she was able to make
a conscious connection to her current state and move on. I remind
myself to cherish the unique creativity of every client. 9
And then what happens?
"When a symbol changes it not only alters itself,
likely to influence other symbols.
If enough changes occur, or a change of sufficient significance
the client's symbolic perceptions reorganise
and a transformed metaphor landscape emerges."
Lawley and Tompkins, Chapter 5
When the information in a pattern is released the result is likely
- translation or
With reassignment, one or more elements in the metaphor
landscape reorganise(s) to modify form or function, but the
underlying pattern stays the same. The system remains in
self-preservation mode. It shifts its organisation sideways so as not
to change. Colin may know a little more about his circles, but life
goes on pretty much the same.
With rearrangement, elements in the metaphor landscape
reorganise their relationship to each other, but the underlying
pattern stays the same. Colin may feel a little differently in his
circles, he may go round in a slightly different way, he may
experience some insight into the effects of going round, but he is
not yet ready to change the going roundness of his system.
Reassignment and rearrangement generally mean the client having to
go round the loop again. My job as a therapist is to continue drawing
Colin's attention to any part of his landscape that has the potential
for change (which may be any part); to help move elements forward in
time; and to consider how new relationships between elements might
With translation, the pattern changes but its
underlying structure stays the same. Colin may have hoped that his
conscious awareness of the pattern would have been enough to
transform it, but what happens is that his circles reappear in
another guise and he experiences no significant change in his
essential sense of himself or in other people's awareness of him.
Time spent re-experiencing the pattern in this way may seem
fruitless, but can be very useful. Clients use it to test and confirm
their patterns to themselves. Some use it to better recognise when
they are — and when they are not — in the pattern. Some explore
what have hitherto been unconscious patterns with more awareness. In
Colin's case he begins to adjust his behaviours and feelings, he
finds himself going round more slowly and less often, and gradually
his circles widen and he is able to see more of the world.
With many clients that may be enough. Translation may be all a
person wants or can handle for the time being.
Colin will decide if and when he wants to break out of the loop
and make a structural change, and meanwhile I can direct his
attention to the smaller changes he has already made, and invite him
to extend their evolutionary potential.
"Translation itself is an
absolutely necessary and crucial function for the greater part of our
lives. Those who cannot translate adequately ... fall quickly into
severe neurosis or even psychosis ... but at some time in our
maturation process, translation itself, no matter how adequate or
confident, simply ceases to console."
Ken Wilber 10
With transformation, the nature of the pattern
changes completely. Rather than the pattern modifying, it
metamorphoses. What results is a qualitatively new pattern
of organisation. It may occur suddenly and spontaneously as
a result of self-modelling, or it may happen gradually or
One of my clients used his transformation of what had been a
phobic fear of the dark as the catalyst to resolving his relationship
with his mother en route to a radical change in his sense of himself.
A client with arachnophobia (and a whole raft of unwanted behaviours,
feelings and beliefs associated with it) chose to tackle her patterns
the other way round — by first resolving a childhood trauma that had
no obvious connection to the phobia. Both clients experienced the
effect as cumulative — increasing the energy for resolution through
successive addition. (See figure 5)
Figure 5: two clients in cumulative transformation
The complete resolution process is summarised in figure 6. Colin
illustrates a part of the process in figure 7.
Life events processed by the unconscious result in
repetitive patterns of behaviour/feeling/thought/belief
presented by the client in isomorphic code to the therapist
who facilitates the client with clean language questioning
to self-model information from the unconscious including
autogenic metaphor creating a context for the client's
conscious discernment and eventual decoding of their
patterns, and as conscious and unconscious knowing come
together the information in the pattern is released for
reassignment or rearrangement (producing no significant
change) and thence back into the questioning, discernment
and decoding loop; or translation (producing modified
behaviours/feelings/thoughts/beliefs); or transformation
(resulting in new ways of being or becoming).
Figure 7: client example
And what happens next?
A member of our research group came to the seminar on pattern
unprepared. Normally this colleague is very well prepared — a
familiar, self-preserving, highly productive pattern. They decided to
give a presentation on what it was like in the days leading up to the
seminar to have changed this habit of a lifetime. They felt nervous
and uncomfortable, unable to anticipate what would happen, and aware
of an almost irresistible pull to revert to the familiar pattern of
having something prepared — that is, to relapse.
Many clients report unfamiliar feelings when they make significant
change. As therapists we need to remember that old patterns offer
advantage, and changing them may not always bestow immediate benefit.
One of my addictive clients said his dependency pattern was like
going down a familiar road — it supposed a kind of mobility —
whereas changing the pattern was like arriving at a junction where
there were too many exits and not enough signposts, a paradoxical
situation in which he could only progress by standing still. This
client needed to find out a great deal more about the destination
before he would commit to the route. Others realise they have changed
a pattern only through feedback from others who knew the old patterns
well. And some will change a pattern and forget they ever had a
What all clients in clean language therapy have in common is a
commitment to themselves that stems from the knowledge that the
changes they make are theirs and theirs alone. They
have not been imposed or suggested by the therapist. I believe this
fosters a more natural, lasting and reliable resolution.
To conclude: a few more questions
Is a common characteristic of all problem patterns the fact that
they are illusory? The self reflecting the self in some way? How are
we so adept at doing this? Why would anyone believe a likeness was
The conditions for change may require a moment when we perceive,
consciously or not, that the problem is actually a simulation, a
construct, a tale we tell ourselves, a bind of our own making. Such a
moment may require hours of perseverance on the part of the therapist
who recognises that a client's persistence in seeing their patterns
as eternal, the circles as endless, is just part of the pattern.
The reason clean language works is that as a reflective
methodology it pays immaculate attention to the self-referential
nature of problem patterns. Systems theory describes the output of
the system re-entering the system as the next input to influence the
next output. What clean language does is enhance/concentrate/deepen
the quality of the input. Applying the theory to autogenic metaphor
or symbolic modelling we can see how clean language works (figure 8):
client information [original coded output]
affirmed by therapist clean language reflection
re-enters and informs client system [enhanced
focused by therapist clean language question
re-enters and prompts client system [further-enhanced
prompts client response-information [deep structural
affirmed by therapist clean language reflection
re-enters and prompts client system
focused by therapist clean language question
re-enters and informs client system
prompts client response-information
Figure 8: how clean language
In Part I we raised the question of who is influencing whom in the
clean language process, client or therapist? In fact it is the
information manifested by the client and affirmed, focused and
enhanced by clean language that self-activates the system and keeps
it updated. And as the unproductive pattern in the system is detected
and decoded, as the information is released and the pattern
transforms, the system is no longer subject to self-delusion and new
more flexible patterns form.
And Colin's circles? At first they reorganised into bigger, more
interesting circles as he was able to see more of what was going on
around him. Then they translated into creative spirals as his energy
took on a life of its own. Finally they transformed by becoming so
wholly absorbed into the wheel of life that he's forgotten he was
ever going round in circles at all. And today you might say he has
come full circle — he's a psychotherapist using clean language to
© 2000 Philip Harland
Sources and special thanks
The Metaphor and Clean Language Research Group: for the seminar on
'Pattern' this comprised Clive Bach, Philip Harland, James
Lawley, Frances Prestidge, Wendy Sullivan, Penny Tompkins.
James Lawley and Penny Tompkins, co-authors of
Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through
Symbolic Modelling, the definitive book on clean language,
symbolic modelling and Grovian metaphor.
Notes to Part II
1 Psychotherapist David Grove, originator of
Clean Language, at the London Clean Language Practise Group, November
2 Quotation on pattern from Chapter 7,
Metaphors in Mind (see Sources above).
3 More information on autogenic/Grovian
metaphor, symbolic modelling and clean language (and their
relationship to NLP) from the
www.cleanlanguage.co.uk website. And see
articles by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Philip Harland and
others in back numbers of Rapport.
4 Discerning different kinds of pattern —
spatial, sequential, formal: see Chapter 7 of
Metaphors in Mind.
5 A code is a system of words or signals used
for other words or signals to secure brevity or secrecy, and decoding
is David Grove's metaphor for deciphering/unscrambling/figuring out
the pattern that the client's system of words, gestures, drawings etc
represent. If decoding suits/pleases/resonates with you as a
metaphor, ok, otherwise do substitute your own.
6 Credit to Wendy Sullivan for introducing this
A/BC pattern to our research group and getting us to decode it when
we thought we'd finished for the day. The letters above the line have
only straight lines, the letters below have curved lines.
7 Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic counselling,
with their emphasis on conscious insight by the client, may be the
comparatively prolonged processes they are because neural connections
from the cortex (the 'seat of reason') to the amygdala (the
'emotional processor') have been found to be weaker than connections
from the amygdala to the cortex. This may explain why it's easier for
emotion to govern reason than the other way round. (Joseph Ledoux,
The Emotional Brain, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998)
8 Philip Harland, The
'Mirror model' - A Guide to Reflective Questioning,
Rapport, Autumn 98 and www.cleanlanguage.co.uk. An NLP- and
Grovian-inspired counselling model using mostly clean language.
9 Lots more about mapping and other assignments
in Chapter 9 of Metaphors in Mind.
10 Ken Wilber, The Essential Ken Wilber,