Article Categories
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Clean Language
Article Selections
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]

about workshops run by

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

1. In a nutshell, what is Symbolic Modelling?

2. Will this workshop suit someone who doesn't know anything about Symbolic Modelling but who loves metaphor?

3. Will I have a chance to practise Clean Language and find out about my own metaphors?

4. What kind of people would most benefit as participants?

5. What will I get from attending the workshop?

6. What ideas underpin your approach?


And answers to: General FAQs about this work

Question 1
- In a nutshell, what is Symbolic Modelling?

Symbolic Modelling uses personal metaphors to facilitate clients and groups to work with higher levels of experience — core beliefs, sense of identity and purpose, the spiritual — as well as complex and seemingly intractable issues that are not amenable to traditional techniques.

Metaphors and symbols are like threads which weave together to create a continually unfolding tapestry — the fabric of our existence. Metaphors are so fundamental, pervasive and embedded in thought, word and deed that they tend to remain out of our awareness.

Through Symbolic Modelling we become aware of the way our metaphors define our experience. Then we can create a model of how our symbolic mind-body-spirit perceptions work together as a perfectly functioning system. This model of self, or 'metaphor landscape', exists as a living, breathing, dynamic, multi-dimensional world within and around us. As we explore this symbolic world it begins to evolve, thereby creating the conditions for a transformative shift in the way we perceive our self and our relationships. And as this happens, our everyday thinking, feeling and behaviour change as well.

Even after 20 years of facilitating people with Symbolic Modelling we are still in awe at the unexpected and creative ways people find to change themselves. One client found that not only was her anxiety like butterflies in the stomach but that one particular butterfly had to open its wings and fly out of her mouth – but it couldn’t. You can probably think of several ways to help that butterfly, but we doubt you would ever come up with what worked for this client: All the other butterflies had to stand in a line and on the signal ‘go’ flap their wings in unison to create sufficient updraft to propel the particular butterfly up and out of her mouth!

Question 2
- Will this workshop suit someone who doesn't know anything about Symbolic Modelling but who loves metaphor?

It depends what you mean by 'metaphor'. Often people think of metaphor as poetry, and traditional or therapeutic storytelling (like Milton Erickson used to do). Although we have  had many hypnotherapists and storytellers on our courses, that is not the kind of metaphor we work with.

We work exclusively with client-generated Cognitive Linguistic-type metaphor (see introductory metaphor articles or Lakoff & Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, or Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, or James Geary, I is Another).

Unlike the majority of psychology, which aims to discover generalities about humans, Symbolic Modelling seeks out the unique and idiosyncratic organisation of each individual’s map of the world. For example, a client said they were “at a crossroads” in their life. While this is a common metaphor, after a few Clean Language questions it was clear that this crossroads was unique. It involved train tracks, an approaching train, a barren land on one side of the tracks and lush nature on the other. And while the desire in the client’s chest wanted to take the small leap across the tracks, their legs were stuck because the hands of responsibility in their stomach held them back. The idiosyncratic is important because as Aristotle said “There is no science of the individual”.

Anyone who has an interest in how metaphors represent and influence each individual's idiosyncratic experience and behaviour will learn lots from the workshop.

Question 3
- Will I have a chance to practise Clean Language and find out about my own metaphors?

Definitely. We find that the most natural way to get to know this work is by experiencing it both as a facilitator and as a client.

Throughout the workshop participants will have a chance to each ask other Clean Language questions and to practise the Symbolic Modelling process. During activities we will be on hand to provide in-the-moment coaching.

We would expect everyone to leave with a metaphor for a personal resource and to work in metaphor with a personal desired outcome.

Question 4
- What kind of people would most benefit as participants?

  • Anyone interested in the type of metaphor described above
  • Clearly people who work one-to-one: psychotherapists, counsellors, coaches, etc.
  • Body workers who want to make use of their client's metaphors that spontaneously occur in treatment.
  • NLP'ers who appreciate that modelling is at the core of NLP.
  • Teachers who provide personal support for their students.
  • Managers who coach or give employees performance reviews.
  • People who work with couples, teams, etc.
  • Researchers, especially those who use interviews and other qualitative methods.
We've also had participants who are:
  • IT people who are interested in systems (they love this work!).
  • GPs/Physicians who want to recognise and utilise their patient's metaphors.
  • Teachers/Managers who want to help students/colleagues develop resource metaphors for learning or working at their best.
  • Professionals who want to be able to recognise the 'nature of metaphor' for use in marketing, motivation, decision-making, etc.

Question 5
- What will I get from attending the workshop?

The opportunity to learn from three different perspectives:

As an Observer you will:
  • See two of the world’s leading practitioners demonstrate how this approach works in live situations.
  • See how metaphor structures our experience.
  • Learn how to take on a systemic view of the nature of change.
  • Discover how the relationship between interior and exterior space is fundamental to the way we make sense of the world.
As a Facilitator you will have a chance to put the above into practice and:
  • Work directly with clients’ inner symbolic world in a naturalistic way.
  • Train your attention to focus on what is salient in the client’s information.
  • Listen with new ears; see with new eyes, ask questions in a new way.
  • Learn how client's words can become embodied and psychoactive.
You will also find out about your Self:
  • Your own personal metaphor landscape.
  • How self-organising change works from the inside.
  • The difference it makes when your metaphor landscape goes psychoactive.
  • How to incorporate this approach in to your work.
  • Us trying to 'sell' you on the ideas.
  • A step-by-step technique to be followed blindly.
  • Promises this will instantly transform your life and all your clients.
  • Analysis of clients’ process based on theories of personality.

Question 6
- What ideas underpin your approach?
“Science has now moved from the Age of Reductionism to an Age of Emergence, a time when the search for ultimate causes of things shifts from the behaviour of parts to the behaviour of the collective. There can be no doubt that the dominant paradigm is now organizational.”
Nobel Prize winner for Physics, Robert Laughlin, A Different Universe, 2006
Cognitive science and psychology are part of this fundamental paradigm shift. No longer do leading thinkers use metaphors of machines, engineering, linear cause-effect, problem-solution, centralised control and power.  It seems the world is decentralised and complex through and through. Reductionism is having to hand over its crown to the new science of emergence. The paradigm shift is based on three new ways of making sense of human experience:
  • Humans, individually and collectively, self-organise. Self-organising systems have no central control. Instead they are based on dynamic intelligent networks, that are complex, adaptive and emergent.
  • Metaphor is not some figurative icing on the narrative cake, it is intrinsic to language, thought and deed.
  • Knowledge for the most part is not based on abstract concepts and well-defined categories, but embodied with a fuzzy, non-linear logic.

These developments require a radical new view of how human's change. One that accepts that although transformative change is indeterminate and unpredictable, the conditions for serendipitous events can be encouraged. Symbolic Modelling, has been rooted in this new worldview since its inception a decade ago. Symbolic Modelling is not just about thinking in terms of systems, it is a way to facilitate systemically.

Few approaches implement the new paradigm as congruently as Symbolic Modelling. Based on the groundbreaking work of David Grove, Symbolic Modelling integrates the Grovian 'clean' philosophy, the use of client-generated metaphor, the facilitator as a modeller, and systemic outcome orientation into one integrated package. The principal focus of this approach is the client's relationship with their own ‘metaphor landscape’ — a psychoactive 4-dimensional, imaginative world existing within and around them. The emergent dynamic feedback loop provides an inherent directionality, often guiding the client to places they didn’t know they needed to go, and to outcomes that surprise and delight both them and their facilitator.


Read: 60 articles published in academic and professional journals

Download: Theoretical Underpinnings of Symbolic Modelling v3.pdf

Penny Tompkins & James Lawley
Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy since 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. They have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:
 »  Home  »  More Resources  »  Books Videos etc  »  Workshop FAQs new
Article Options
NLP Conference



May 18 2019

Penny Tompkins

James Lawley

Choice Points

for more information
view all featured events