How To Use Clean Language In Hypnosis
By Judy Rees
And when it’s there, is there anything else about it? Does it have a size or a shape?
And when it’s there, and it’s that size and that shape, it’s like…. What?
Before reading on, draw a quick diagram or picture to represent your answer.
Whatever you drew will almost certainly be a metaphor: it compares the abstract concept of joy to something much more tangible.
And your metaphor will be entirely unique. Sometimes it’ll strike others as surprising, or even bizarre – like Will Pharrell’s metaphor for Happy, “like a room without a roof”.
It’s more likely your metaphor will share certain similarities with other people’s metaphors – a great many people will experience joy as having up-ness and/or outwardness, warmth and brightness.
But the details of every person’s metaphors are different.
For example, two people might both say that their joy is like a bird flying free. But ask a few simple questions about the metaphor – “What kind of bird?” for example – and very soon the differences will emerge.
Clean Language works with this phenomenon to provide a powerful and deceptively simple technique to help people to change in profound ways.
What’s Unusual About Clean Language?
Clean Language was devised by the late David Grove – an enthusiast for Ericksonian hypnosis – in the 1980s. What began as an experimental approach to working with traumatised individuals in therapy has developed into a coaching tool, a research methodology, and a way of developing groups and teams.
While Clean Language shares superficial similarities with other therapeutic approaches, key principles which make it unusual (if not unique) include:
- Noticing and utilising the client’s own metaphors, rather than metaphors introduced by the therapist/coach/facilitator. In ordinary English, we use about six metaphors per minute: similar densities are found in other languages. These metaphors emerge from the client’s unconscious mind because, as the scientists are increasingly realising, we think in metaphor, at both a conscious and unconscious level.
- Using a specific set of questions with the aim of minimising the introduction of content – including presuppositions and metaphors – from the therapist/coach/facilitator (“staying Clean”). The clients’ exact words are used as far as possible.
- Not making any deliberate attempt to change the client or their metaphors. Instead, the approach relies on modelling – the therapist/coach/facilitator helps the client to find out about their own way of doing things, their own inner world, their own metaphors. Change (where change is appropriate) comes from the client, not from the therapist/coach/facilitator.
Current understanding of David Grove’s work owes a lot to Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, two NLP trainers who modeled his approach (and published the book Metaphors in Mind).
To the casual reader, Clean Language may appear to echo the NLP meta model. However in practice it often has a strong physical component and can be more of a somatic than a linguistic technique, with strong similarities to Eugene Gendlin’s Focussing.
After developing Clean Language and teaching it extensively, David Grove went on to create a number of explicitly body- and space-based techniques including Clean Space and Emergent Knowledge.
You had a small taste of Clean Language in the activity which opened this article. Now lets go a little deeper.
Take your metaphor for the feeling of joy (the one you drew), and give it a label if it doesn’t already have one. For example, “A bird flying free”.
Then ask yourself a few Clean Language questions:
- What kind of <label> is that?
- Is there anything else about <label>?
- Whereabouts is <label>?
Continue to ask the same questions (in any order) about your answers. Use only these questions and your own words (represented by “X” here):
- What kind of X (is that X)?
- Is there anything else about X?
- Whereabouts is X?
And notice what happens! Many people will find that the emotion of joy deepens as they explore the metaphor – where attention goes, energy flows.
Clean Language In Practice
Naturally, this self-guided activity gives only a hint of what can happen in a session with a trained facilitator, who will ask Clean Language questions in a more structured way.
- In therapy, clients often enter a state of deep absorption in their own inner landscape which has been likened to a hypnotic trance. (In his early days, Grove taught this technique only to qualified hynotherapists.) As they explore their metaphors, these often seem to shift and change of their own accord, without requiring the client’s conscious intervention. A Clean Language-based psychotherapy session typically uses only Clean Language – the therapist doesn’t combine it with other techniques.
- Clean coaches will often keep the tone more conversational, moving back and forth between the metaphor and the real-life subject it represents. A Clean coaching session may well generate crystal-clear outcomes and a sharp to-do list. But the list will often include a mixture of real-life and metaphorical items: “Research training courses” alongside “Talk to my octopus every day”. Coaches often blend Clean Language with other approaches (such as the GROW Model etc).
- Healthcare professionals will often use Clean Language questions to elicit the details of a patient’s metaphorical description of a symptom, as a small part of a more conventional appointment.
- Hypnotists who have a basic understanding of Clean Language will often use the Clean Language questions to elicit details of a client’s metaphoric landscape, to find out how the client is thinking about a topic at an unconscious level. This information is then used to construct a tailored conventional intervention.
- More unusually, James Tripp has used his knowledge of Clean Language (and another Grovian technique, Clean Space) to innovate Hypnosis Without Trance.
To Find Out More
- Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees
- Clean Approaches For Coaches by Marian Way
- The Five-Minute Coach by Lynne Cooper and Mariette Castellino
- From Contempt To Curiosity by Catilin Walker (out April 2014)
Judy Rees helps people to hear what’s going on at a deeper level. Using the Clean-Language-based process X-Ray Listening, she coaches intelligent professionals in moving beyond the stress-centred corporate hamster wheel. She is the co-author of Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds and the owner of www.learncleanlanguage.com