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 »  Home  »  Blog  »  Difficulties Modelling David Grove
James Lawley

James LawleyJames Lawley offers psychotherapiy to individuals and couples, and coaching, research and consultancy to organisations. He is a co-developer of Symbolic Modelling and co-author (with Penny Tompkins) of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, (with Marian Way) Insights in Space: How to use Clean Space to solve problems, generate ideas and spark creativity and an Online training in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling. For a more detailed biography see about us and his blog.

Difficulties Modelling David Grove
By James Lawley | Published  10 06 2013
Download a print-friendly version: 2013-06-10_Diffiuclties_Modelling_David_Grove.pdf

I’ve just been asked two intriguing questions:

  • How long after you started modelling David Grove did you start training others?
  • And what were your main difficulties in modelling David Grove?

I replied:

Starting to train David's work

Penny Tompkins and I first saw David Grove present his work at an evening talk at Regent’s College, London in 1993. But it wasn’t until May 1995 during a residential therapy retreat that we decided to model him.

Our first aim was to be able to use his process in our therapy practice and get similar results.  Later we wanted to find ways to use the process we were modelling in application areas other than therapy.

We gave our first presentation on David's work, Evolving Metaphor – A Grovian Approach, to the Association for NLP Annual Conference in November 1995.  

We ran our first 'pilot' weekend workshop (for 12 invited guests) in July 1996 and our first open workshop in September (part 1) and November (part 2) of that same year (i.e. 18 months after starting to model him).
At that stage we were very much recapitulating David's model of what he did since we had only just begun to formalise his work into our own model. The process of modelling, codifying, testing and refining our model took several more years, culminating in Metaphors in Mind (2000) – and continues to the present day.

I can think of four main difficulties:

1. The lack of information about how to model. Richard Bandler & John Grinder had not described how they modelled their exemplars. Their books described the product of their modelling. So, we reread their first five (pre-NLP) books with the intention to 'reverse engineering' their process. We asked ourselves: What must they have done that resulted in these books?

We identified several ways they might have modelled their exemplars and we adapted these to modelling David. And we added a few others:

  • Observing David working with clients.
  • Listening to audio tapes of his sessions.
  • Being his clients (and afterwards listening to the recording of the session).
  • Deep trance identification and unconscious uptake.
  • Analysing transcripts for the questions he asked.
  • Fitting what he did into existing NLP models (e.g. Logical Levels and Perceptual Positions. This proved a useful stepping stone but eventually we had to abandon most of them and devise models from within the logic of David's approach).
  • Once we got the basics of the approach, looking outside the field for other descriptions of similar kinds of processes we had modelled (both from David, and from his and our clients).
  • Lots and lots of discussion between the two of us (neither of us could have done it alone).
  • Exploring David’s and our models with a supportive group of like-minded individuals.
  • Testing, testing, testing our ideas: first on ourselves, second on volunteers, third with our clients, fourth in training workshops. We called this trial-and-feedback.
  • Writing - articles, manuals, handouts (this helped us get very clear about what we were actually saying).

In short, we had to develop our own 'bottom-up' modelling methodology.
2. At first David did not want to co-operate with our modelling of him. When we first approached him he said "You do what you do, but I don't want you asking me any questions and I don't want to see you doing what I'm doing. I don’t even want to know you’re in the room."

He also refused to teach us (or anyone else) Clean Language and his early Child Within process, so we enlisted the help of Norman Vaughton for two weekends to do that. Later David softened when he saw we were respectful of his work, serious about modelling him and we weren't going away! However, David (like most experts) was not very aware of his own internal process and even when he was ready to answer our questions he could not give us much insight into his intutive decision-making. We put this down to most of his attention being in the client's landscape so that he had little left for self-modelling.
3. Penny and I had both done small modelling projects on our NLP Master Practitioner programs but we had never attempted anything on this scale. We often got overwhelmed both by the magnitude of David's approach and because he kept coming up with new stuff (some of which didn't easily fit with his previous work). David was in the UK twice a year and it seemed he had a new idea to chase (his metaphor) every time he returned. Eventually, we went to a higher level description that encompassed the range of David’s innovations – boy, was that a stretch!
4. It took Penny Tompkins and I at least a year of modelling David to fully realise that we needed to distinguish between three types of information:

A. What David did in a client session, i.e. the behaviour we could observe and record.

B. General concepts and models David derived from observing his clients that guided his behaviour. (Examples of two such models were: T-1, T, T+1; Observer, Observed and the Relationship between.)

C. His explanatory theories.
And to realise that the relevance of the information – from a modeller’s perspective – went from A (high) to B to C (low).

We noticed we could get mesmerised by (C) and that these explanations could distract us from learning to reproduce (A) – sometimes because they didn’t match up, other times because they just were not necessary.

We thought modelling David would take us a year but it took us over four!

For 20+ articles about modelling see:


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