Psychotherapy in Northern Ireland, specialising in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling

Clean Language & Symbolic Modelling

What is
Clean Language?

Clean Language refers to a set of questions originated and developed by
New Zealand therapist and genius, David Grove, in the 1980s. His work formed the basis for Symbolic Modelling, developed in the UK by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins in the 1990s.

Penny Tompkins describes Clean Language:

Clean Language is ‘clean’ because it keeps the facilitator from unwittingly introducing their metaphors, assumptions or suggestions into a conversation (no matter how well meaning these may be). Clean questions encourage metaphors, ideas, self-reflections and ah-ha’s into being. When personal change is the goal, Clean Language invites a client's perceptions to evolve and change organically — one question at a time.

‘Clean’ does not mean ‘no influence’.  All language influences and Clean Language wouldn’t be much use if it didn’t have an effect. Because of its ability to respectfully invite clients to attend to particular aspects of their inner world, Clean Language influences the direction of a client’s mind-body-spirit process (without contaminating the content of their experience). Other processes may do this too, but none do it so cleanly or in quite the way that Clean Language does, and none are so tailored to work with metaphor."

What is Symbolic Modelling?

James Lawley and Penny Tompkins were working as psychotherapists in London when they came across David Grove (who sadly died in 2008). So fascinated were they by David's way of working that they spent 4 years modelling his work.

Penny Tompkins describes how Symbolic Modelling initially developed:

"Symbolic Modelling began when James Lawley and I undertook an extensive modelling project of the work of psychotherapist David Grove in the mid 1990s. We added to our clincial practice of David's work by devouring books on cognitive linguistics — the academic basis for the significance of metaphor in thought, word and deed."

"A real breakthrough came when we recognised how the principles of self-organising systems theory and evolutionary dynamics could apply to the way Metaphor Landscapes change and evolve. We integrated these ideas into the theory and practice of Symbolic Modelling published in 2000 in our book, 'Metaphors in Mind' and demonstrated in our DVD, 'A Strange and Strong Sensation'."

"Originally, Symbolic Modelling was made up of three components. In a nutshell, it is a method which uses Clean Language to facilitate individuals to learn to self-model through becoming aware of the organisation of their metaphors and symbols. By using their exact metaphors as the raw material for the modelling process, a living, breathing, four-dimensional world within and around them emerges — a Metaphor Landscape. During Symbolic Modelling their metaphors begin to evolve. As this happens their everyday thinking, feeling and behaviour correspondingly change as well."

"Once a person has had a chance to discover themselves in a 'clean environment' they come to value their own experience in a new way, and probably for the first time they come face-to-face with the self they have created — 'uncontaminated' by the other person in the room. It can be a unique and sacred experience."

If you are interested to learn more about Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling, there are a number of introductory articles available at