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Penny Tompkins and James Lawley
Developing people through modelling personal metaphors

We are Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, co-developers of Symbolic Modelling and leading authorities on the use of Clean Language and self-originated metaphor for personal and professional development.

Our book, Metaphors in Mind is a comprehensive guide to our approach which we demonstrate in a DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation. We also have an extensive introductory online training in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling. James’ latest book (with Marian Way), Insights in Space, is the first to be dedicated to Clean Space.

Our passion is using Symbolic Modelling to develop the developers of others (therapists, counsellors, coaches, consultants, managers, leaders and teachers), to research new applications of metaphor, and to continue our own personal evolution. We aim is to facilitate people to see the repeating patterns in their lives, to recognize how these patterns can change, and to trust in the subsequent unfolding of their spirit.

We run The Developing Company, are married, and are based in London.

For a listing of our articles see:

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

Penny Tompkins

James Lawley and blogs

What we do and what we've done

We are supervising psychotherapists first registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy in 1993. We have a private practice and teach Symbolic Modelling to therapists, counsellors, coaches, managers and teachers throughout the world.

We offer consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline and The University of Yale Child Study Center. We have used the process to facilitate a wide range of groups and teams: from the NASA Goddard Space Center in Washington DC to the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

We have featured on the BBC Radio 4 programmes Word of Mouth and Metaphor for Healing in a special 'clean' edition of the South African journal New Therapist, see Polished Verse.   

In 1991 we established (with Sandra Ridolfi and John Goldman) the Central London NLP Practice Group which at its peak met every Tuesday and Thursday with over 100 attendees.

We helped found the Association for NLP (UK)'s Psychotherapy and Counselling Section in 1992 — the first NLP organisation recognised by UKCP, the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy – which has since become an independent body NLPtCA, the Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy and Counselling Association. We are both active members and James has held several leadership roles.

James was lead trainer on the Northern School of NLP's two-year Psychotherapy Diploma which prepared NLP Master Practitioners for accreditation with NLPtCA and subsequent registration with UKCP. We have also been involved in some interesting modelling projects which we have published on our web site: of clown trainer Vivian Gladwell; of leading NLP'er and master modeller Robert Dilts; a number of facilitators who are excellent at systemic outcome orientation and modelling the written word.

We have been awarded Life Time Membership of CANLP, the Canadian Association NLP "in recognition of their valuable contribution" and were appointed the first Honorary Certified Trainers of INLPTA, the International NLP Trainers Association for a "significant contribution to the expansion of NLP". More recently AOCS, the Association Of Coaching Supervisors have made both of us honorary members.

A brief history

Have you ever noticed how the major turning points in life are seldom planned? And so it was for us.

Penny: I am an American, but I have lived most of my life in Britain. For 18 years I was a director of a company manufacturing oil field equipment, with sales offices world-wide. Attendance at a 12-step program unexpectedly triggered a train of events that resulted in me leaving the company, leaving my marriage, and embarking on a journey of intense self-discovery.

James: Meanwhile, I was enjoying the benefits of being a senior manager in the British telecommunications industry until the day I realised that becoming a more successful businessman was not my life purpose. I left business and set off on a year's travel which included joining an expedition to look for undiscovered Mayan temples in the jungle of Belize! To my surprise I discovered a long-hidden sense of my spiritual self.


Our paths crossed in 1991 while studying a form of applied psychology called neuro-linguistic programming and we began a personal and professional partnership. We became psychotherapists registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) through the Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy and Counselling Association (NLPtCA) in 1993 and established a private practice in London.

In 1995, Penny's intuition to seek out a therapist called David Grove — originator of Clean Language and pioneer in the therapeutic use of client-generated metaphor — was yet another turning point. This started a five-year research project, culminating in the publication of our first book, Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling and the training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation.

One of our most important contributions has been the establishment of The Developing Group in 1997. It's a regular gathering of practitioners of Symbolic Modelling and other elaborations of David Grove's work. Since October 2001 the group has been a venue for the testing of our latest developments. The majority of the notes  provided as background reading to the events are available from the above link.

James teamed up with Marian Way and in 2017 they published the first book dedicated to David Grove's Clean Space and its development over the last 15 years, Insights in Space: How to use Clean Space to solve problems, generate ideas and spark creativity.

A major area of interest has been the application of a clean approach to qualitative research. In particular the development of Clean Language Interviewing and the formalisation of a Cleanness Rating. This has led to several academic publications and a whole host of PhDs. We have compiled a listing of academic and professional articles and thesis. Here are the peer-reviewed papers we've had published:

van Helsdingen, A. & Lawley, J. (2012). Zuiver belevingsonderzoek: het vermijden van onbedoelde beïnvloeding in kwalitatief onderzoek, Kwalon, 17(3):43-50. Download from: Translated from the original Dutch version as Modelling Shared Reality: avoiding unintended influence in qualitative research, Kwalon: Journal of the Netherlands Association for Qualitative Research Vol 3, October 2012. Available in English at

Tosey, P., Lawley, J. & Meese, R. (2014). Eliciting Metaphor through Clean Language: an Innovation in Qualitative Research, British Journal of Management. Vol. 25, 629–646. < Purchase at: Download a free preprint version:

Linder-Pelz, S. & Lawley, J. (2015). Using Clean Language to explore the subjectivity of coachees' experience and outcomes. International Coaching Psychology Review, 10(2):161-174. Download a free preprint version: Linder-Pelz_Lawley-ICPR_preprint_15_Jun_2015.pdf.

Lawley, J. & Linder-Pelz, S. (2016). Evidence of competency: exploring coach, coachee and expert evaluations of coaching, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice. Download a free preprint version: Lawley&Linder-Pelz_CIJTRP_preprint_03_May_2016.pdf.

Lawley, J. (2017). Metaphor, Embodiment and Tacit Learning. Chapter 2 in Becoming a Teacher: The dance between tacit and explicit knowledge. V. Švec, J. Nehyba & P. Svojanovský et al. Brno:Masaryk University, pp.106-114. Download: Lawley2017-Chapter2-Metaphor_Embodiment_Tacit_Learning.pdf.

Lawley, J. (2017). Clean Language Interviewing: Making qualitative research interviews verifiable. Chapter 3 in Becoming a Teacher: The dance between tacit and explicit knowledge. V. Švec, J. Nehyba & P. Svojanovský et. al (Eds.) Brno: Masaryk University, pp.115-122. Download: Lawley2017-Chapter3-Clean_Language_Interviewing.pdf.

Lawley, J. & Manea, A. I. (2017). The Use of Clean Space to Facilitate a “Stuck” Client – a Case Study, Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy, 20(4):62-70. Download:

Lawley, J., Tompkins, P. & Manea, A. I. (2018). The Analysis of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy from a Clean Language Perspective., Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy, 21(2):3-20. Download full article:


Symbolic Modelling uses personal metaphors to facilitate clients 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.

A more extensive introduction to Symbolic Modelling is available at Frequently Asked Questions or in numerous articles accessible via the Articles Categories in the left hand panel.

The only book
dedicated to
David Grove's
Clean Space

Insights in Space

James Lawley
& Marian Way

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