|Frequently Asked Questions
(answered by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley)
Who was David Grove?
What is Grovian
Why 'Clean' Language?
do Penny Tompkins and James Lawley fit in?
What is Symbolic
What is NLP and how does it relate to
What is the difference between
standard NLP modelling and modelling in a therapeutic context?
See also further questions and answers at Less FAQs.
Who is David Grove?
David J Grove, M.S. was a New Zealander of Maori and European descent, whose unique
psychotherapeutic approach, experience and style made him one of the world's most skillful and innovative therapists.
In the 1980s he developed clinical methods for resolving clients'
traumatic memories, especially those related stemming from child abuse and war PTSD. He realised many clients naturally described their symptoms
in metaphor, and found that when he enquired about these using their
exact words, their perception of the trauma began to change. This led
him to create The Philosophy and Principles of Clean Language, a way of
asking questions of clients' metaphors which neither contaminate nor
distort them. David Grove documented his approach in Resolving
Traumatic Memories: Metaphors and Symbols in Psychotherapy
(co-written with Bazil Panzer. Published by Irvington, New York,
David Grove continued to develop his approach and pioneered the
clinical side of the 'healing the wounded child within' movement in
America producing a number videos and audio tape sets (which are
unfortunately no longer available).
During the 1990s his interests widened to include the examination
of nonverbal behaviour, perceptual space and inter-generational
trauma resulting in a therapeutic approach which integrates four
domains of experience — semantic/cognitive, somatic, perceptual
space, genealogical — and produces profound healing (see Problem Domains).
By the early 2000s, David developed Clean Space and Emergent Knowledge. He continued to innovate up to an including the day he died in January 2008.
David conducted seminars, workshops and healing retreats around the
world. He was constantly developing new ideas and creative methods, so the
articles and transcripts published on this web site should be
considered as illustrative snapshots of what he was doing at the time, and not necessarily representative
of the whole body of his work (see interviews with David and articles by David).
29 Dec 2000 (updated, 10 Feb 2005, Jan 2008)
What is Grovian
Metaphor is how we give meaning to the most important and complex
aspects of our lives. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson conclude, in
their ear-opening book Metaphors We Live By: "Metaphors are not mere
poetical or rhetorical embellishments ... [they] affect the ways in
which we perceive, think and act . Reality itself is defined by
The Metaphor Therapy developed by David Grove is a process that
facilitates profound change by working within a
person's own symbolic representation of their problem or issue.
Client's words, gestures, sighs, lines of sight and other
non-verbal cues provide entry to this out-of-awareness symbolic
world. "Metaphor" David said "mediates the interface between the
conscious and unconscious mind."
When a client says "I keep running up against a wall", David Grove
not only assume this metaphor is an accurate description of the
person's experience but also that it is the best and most complete
description available to the client at that moment. Thus, what
kind of wall it is, where it appears to be within the
client's perceptual space, its size and shape, the
direction of the running will all be symbolic of the
'replicating mechanisms' that "keep" this person repeating the
particular behaviours they describe as "running up against a wall" —
over and over again. The sum total of a client's autogenic metaphors is
called their "metaphor landscape" which forms the context within which
their symptoms are healed and they change. As the process unfolds new
information becomes available to the client, enabling them to unstick
stuck states, make new choices and change behaviours.
8 Jan 1998
Why 'Clean' Language?
Clean Language is at the heart of David Grove's Metaphor Therapy
(and our Symbolic Modelling). At the core of Clean Language
nine simple questions are used 80%
of the time. (These are translated into a number of languages
elsewhere on this web site.)
Clean Language is an extraordinary language because
everything you, as facilitator, say and do is intimately
related to what the client says and does. Since each Clean Language
question takes as its point of departure the client's
last verbal or nonverbal expression, there is minimal
need for them to translate and interpret your words and behaviour. And
because the client's response always informs your next question, the
organisation of the client's information leads the interaction. Thus
the entire focus of the process becomes an exploration of the
client's model of the world from their perspective,
within their perceptual time and space, and using
Clean Language has three functions:
- To acknowledge clients' experience exactly as they describe
- To orientate clients' attention to an aspect of their
- To send them on a quest for self-knowledge.
Of course Clean Language influences and directs attention — all language does that.
Clean Language does it 'cleanly' because it is sourced
in the client's vocabulary, is consistent with the logic of their
metaphors, and only introduces the universal metaphors of space, time
See also: What constitutes Clean Language?.
do Penny Tompkins and James Lawley fit in?
We saw our first David Grove demonstration in 1993 and attended our first David Grove workshops and healing retreats
in 1995. We were so impressed by what they saw and what we personally
experienced that we wanted to know what David was doing
that was so effective. Over the next four years we used a process
called modelling to create a model of which way of working. This involved observing him work with
clients (including our selves) and spending hour after hour poring
over recordings and transcripts. We looked for patterns in the
relationship between what he was doing and the way clients responded
that contributed to the changes they experienced. These patterns were
integrated into a generalised model which we tested and fine
tuned — cycling through observation, pattern detection, model
construction, testing and revision many times.
While our model is based on David Grove's work and incorporates
many of his ideas, he has a different way of describing his approach.
Our model was derived more from our observation of him in action than
from his explanation of what he does. It was also shaped by our
desire for others to learn the process easily and for it to apply to
a range of contexts in addition to psychotherapy (such as education
As well as employing many of David's ideas, we have also drawn upon
cognitive linguistics, self-organising systems theory, evolutionary
dynamics and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). The result, a
process called Symbolic Modelling, is fully described in our
book Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through
Symbolic Modelling (2000) and demonstrated in the DVD A Strange and Strong Sensation.
more about us if you want it, and a list of our articles.
29 Dec 2000.
What is Symbolic
In a nutshell, Symbolic Modelling is a method for facilitating
individuals to become familiar with the symbolic domain of their
experience so that they discover new ways of perceiving themselves
and their world. It uses Clean Language to facilitate them to attend
to their metaphoric expressions so that they create a model of their
symbolic mind-body perceptions. This model exists as a living,
breathing, four-dimensional world within and around them.
When clients explore this world and its inherent logic, their
metaphors and way of being are honoured. They discover that their
metaphors can limit and constrain or be a source of creativity and
development. During the Symbolic Modelling process their metaphors
begin to evolve. As this happens their everyday thinking, feeling and
behaviour correspondingly change as well.
Some clients benefit just from having their metaphors developed
with a few clean questions. For some the process leads to a
reorganisation of their existing symbolic perceptions, while for
others nothing short of a transformation of their entire landscape of
metaphors will suffice. As a result clients report that they are more
self-aware and at peace with themselves, that they have a more
defined sense of their place in the world and how to enrich the lives
The components of Symbolic Modelling — autogenic metaphor,
modelling and Clean Language — can be used in three ways: to model
successful strategies and states of excellence; to facilitate change;
and to facilitate individuals and groups to create new metaphors (see
The components of Symbolic Modelling can be used together as a
stand-alone process, or any one of them can be used in conjunction
with other methodologies.
For a more extensive description, see the articles in the Symbolic Modelling category.
29 Dec 2000.
What is NLP and how does it relate to Symbolic Modelling?
The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
designates Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy (NLPt) as "Experiential
Constructivist". This sums up how NLPt therapists work in a way that
distinguishes them from other approaches. Of course there are lots of
overlap, but differences define identity, so let's take those two
words one at a time.
NLP facilitators consciously work with a client to change their
"internal map" or "model of the world". Constructivists believe it is not possible to know
anything about "the external territory" directly. All knowing is filtered through our map,
and, as all maps are inaccurate representations of the world,
it is the client's perception of the world, and not the world itself,
that empowers or limits them. NLP is unique because it takes the map
metaphor literally and because it assumes that people construct their
map using five "internal senses" or "representational systems"
(Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory). This map
consists of representations of the Present State, the Desired State
and Resources that enable the client to achieve their Desired State.
Rather than diagnose and categorise people or their symptoms from
the outside, NLP therapists construct a model of the client's map
from the client's perspective, and then seek to facilitate the
client to change their map toward their Desired Outcome.
Why do NLP therapists work this way? Because of Richard Bandler
and John Grinder's insight in the 1970's that experience has a
structure and that when that structure changes so does the
experience. (Actually, what they noted was that our representation of
our experience has a structure and when that changes so does our
experience. Practically it amounts to much the same thing.)
Each time we talk to a non-NLP based therapist about how they work we are reminded that this fundamental notion of NLP is still a radical
idea. Some other approaches use some aspects of this
methodology, but to our knowledge, none of them make it central to all
that they do.
Although we construct unique maps of the world, we cannot
construct any old map. The kind of body and neurology we have has
evolved because we live in the kind of world that we do, and that
massively constrains the kinds of maps we can create. Thus our maps
are experiential in that they emerge out of our experience of the
sensory world. Furthermore, unless my map of common human experiences
is somewhat similar to yours we are not going to be able to
It works the other way round too. Our psychology affects our
physiology. As Robert Dilts puts it, "Mind and body are one systemic
process". By now most health professionals have caught on to the idea
that the mind affects the body, but few understand it in such a
direct way as it is meant in NLP.
Also, while we may join the client in their construct of past and
future events, changing perceptual position, etc. we realise the
client doesn't actually change the past or predetermine the future or
step into someone else's shoes -- rather it is LIKE they do, i.e.
these are metaphors. NLP is experiential in that we recognise we are
working with the client's experience in this precise moment,
even if they (and we) call it something else.
The Early Days of NLP
In the 1970's Bandler and Grinder studied some renown therapists
and coded some of what they did in a number of models: Meta Model,
Representational Systems, Milton Model, etc. These models were
further applied to "the study of the structure of subjective
experience" leading to yet more models and therapeutic techniques.
Although NLP was originally conceived as the process of studying,
coding and replicating (ie. modelling) excellence, NLP also came to
stand for set of techniques that resulted from the modelling
Bandler and Grinder did not use NLP to model Fritz Perls, Virginia
Satir and Milton Erickson because the notion simply did not exist at
that time. And they never set out to define a stand-alone process, but that is what they (and others) created.
The Early Days of Symbolic Modelling
In the 1990's we (Penny Tompkins and James Lawley) modelled a
renown therapist, David Grove. As a result of our study we
constructed a number of models of his work: the categorisation of Clean Language, the components and
levels of embodied symbolic perception, etc. We discovered that
David's primary approach was to facilitate his clients to self-model
their own symbolic representations (NOTE: this is our
explanation/metaphor, not his). These models were further applied to
the study of the symbolic structure of experience leading to yet more
models and an integrated therapeutic process, called Symbolic
We did not use SyM to model David Grove because the notion simply
did not exist at that time. In fact we used many standard NLP
modelling techniques and we devised a few extra ourselves. We did not
set out to codify a new method of modelling, it came about as a
by-product of modelling David. SyM is still primarily conceived by us
as a modelling methodology which has applications in psychotherapy,
education, health, organisations, research, etc.
The explanatory part of SyM borrows ideas from cognitive
linguistics, self-organising systems theory, evolutionary dynamics
and NLP. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have shown, we not only
continually speak in metaphor, we think, reason, understand and act
in ways that are consistent with our metaphors. And that most of our
metaphors are derived from the way human bodies interact with their
environment, i.e. they are experiential through and through. Mind is
an embodied phenomenon, from the electro-chemical level all the way
up to the highest psychological levels.
SyM has made explicit several additional ways to model. SyM
facilitates the client to self-model. To do this the
facilitator/therapist also models the client's symbolic map (or 'metaphor landscape' as Grove called it) using the client's exact
metaphors as the raw material for the modelling process. When used in
a therapeutic context, the result is that clients often experience
Over the last 6 years, we have found that SyM is especially suited
to working with 'higher levels' of experience – core beliefs,
identity, sense of purpose, the spiritual – as well as complex and
seemingly intractable issues, binds and double binds that are not
amenable to traditional techniques.
If what defines NLP is an experiential constructivist world view,
the application of the study of the structure of subjective
experience, the process of modelling and applying the results of
modelling, then, in our opinion, Symbolic Modelling qualifies under
every one of these criteria.
June 2001 (with slight revisions Jan 2004)
What is the difference between standard NLP modelling and
modelling in a therapeutic context?
I think there is huge confusion about the difference between
modelling in traditional NLP and modelling in Neuro-Linguistic
Psychotherapy (NLPt) and Symbolic Modelling (SyM). Let me see if I
can shine some light on this subject.
Classically in NLP, modelling is the process of a Modeller
identifying an Exemplar (a person, or people who are exemplary
of some behaviour of skill), constructing a model of how they do what
they do, and facilitating other Acquirers to learn to take on
the constructed Model (see Introducing Modelling to Organisations for more
on the five-stages of a modelling project). John McWhirter calls this
"Product Modelling" because the output is a
physical product (representation) that if followed should produce a
specific result. For example, the first five books of NLP were the
product of John and Richard's modelling (NLP didn't even exist as a
concept back then). Some, but by no means all, NLP Master
Practitioner programmes still include a little on Product modelling
in the form of "modelling project".
This is patently not what happens in NLPt, so why is
modelling the foundation of NLPt? Because NLPt and SyM use a
different kind of modelling.
Accreditation Procedures for an individual wanting to be registered
with The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy
say that applicants have to demonstrate knowledge and experience of
"behavioural modelling" but no where is this defined.)
Modelling in a therapeutic or any facilitatory context for that
matter, uses what Penny Tompkins and I call 'modelling in-the-moment'
(or what Phil Swallow called "Modelling for the moment"). In
this kind of modelling there is no 'product'. The therapist does not
construct a formal model. Sure they may make notes but these do not
constitute a consistent, coherent and complete model. The reason? The
therapist does not have time to do this. Psychotherapy is a dynamic
process. The client is always producing new information and the
therapist has to constantly update his/her model of the client's
model. Furthermore, the whole point of NLPt is that the client
changes their model and very often that happens right then and
there, in the session. As soon as this happens any formal model the
therapist had constructed would be out of date.
The 'output' of modelling in-the-moment is the behaviour of the
therapist. The therapist has to gather information, update their
incomplete model, and respond using their model of the client model
-- all within a few seconds! In NLPt and SyM, modelling does not
produce a 'product' it results in a 'process' and more explicitly, a
series of interactions which aim to enable the client to achieve (or
at least move in the direction of) their desired outcome.
In Product Modelling there is an Exemplar and an Acquirer. Who
plays those role in NLPt and SyM? I suggest that the client is
playing both roles simultaneously -- and that's an ever-present
conundrum of psychotherapy.
Every client is the Exemplar of getting the (unwanted) outcomes
they so consistently get. Equally they want to Acquire their own
desired outcome. And as an Acquirer they are faced with the situation
that their current model works fine and seemingly doesn't have the
room for a new and improved version. Furthermore, their existing
structures have been honed, often over decades, to maintain
themselves even when presented with repeated 'logical' solutions from
family, friends, therapists, them self and other well-meaning
helpers. Somehow the client's system has to figure out how to
re-organise itself so that new possibilities become available when
their system's natural tendency is to change only to stay the same.
Penny and I go even further, we think the client is also the
Modeller in that they are self-modelling their own perceptions.
(This, I hasten to add, is not a wide-spread view in NLP circles.)
A few other distinctions between NLP and NLPt modelling are:
- Clients are exemplars of doing behaviours which they do not
want and in contradistinction to Product Modelling a therapist has
to learn how to not take on their client's strategies.
- It is considered unethical in NLP for the Modeller to have an
intention for the Exemplar's model to change, while
psychotherapists are paid to have just such an intention.
- I really want to highlight the following: Who owns the
outcome? In Product modelling the Modeller decides what
they want to model (their desired outcome) and the Exemplar agrees
to be part of the process but rarely has any outcome beyond being
helpful. When modelling in-the-moment, the client owns the
outcome and the NLPt therapist agrees to set aside their own
agenda and work toward the client's outcome.
- The situation gets more complicated when the therapist runs an
NLP technique which has a pre-given outcome e.g. a 'Forgiveness
Pattern', which the client may not have asked for – maybe because
they did not know it was possible. (I am not commenting on the
efficacy of the technique, I pointing out that who owns the
outcome can get blurred once the therapist moves out of a
bottom-up modelling in-the-moment frame and into a top-down
Finally, modelling is not the province of NLPt alone. Many of the
founders of the major schools were brilliant modellers. In addition
to Satir, Erickson and Perls (who were the original exemplars for
NLP), I'm thinking of Freud, Jung, Berne, Lang, etc. The two key
differences with NLPt is that:
(a) the followers of those great minds were expected
to apply or improve the models created by the founders. They were not
explicitly tasked with continuing to model (although all of the best
therapists I have observed have developed their own semi-conscious
ways to model); and
(b) John Grinder and Richard Bandler gave the world a way to
conceptualise working directly with the organisation of the client's
map, i.e. the structure of their subjective experience.
23 October 2005
For more on the different type of modelling see What is Therapeutic Modelling?