10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes more

When desired outcomes can’t happen
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The following annotated transcript comes from our thirtieth webinar with a group of Ukrainian psychologists and psychotherapists. The group’s purpose is to learn how to use Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling to support themselves and their clients living through the horrors of war.

The sessions have evolved into a mixture of training, supervision of client cases and live coaching/therapy with the participants.

Transcripts of other demonstrations with this group are available at:

This transcript is illustrative of a number of features:

  • How to work with a client who has a number of desired outcomes which are “not possible”.
  • How exploring and fully acknowledging a client’s current reality can spontaneously lead to insight and change.
  • How we use variations of ‘When [Problem] what would you like to have happen?’ to acknowledge circumstances the client cannot influence and to invite a desired Outcome given their current reality. (This approach derives from our Problem-Remedy-Outcome model. The nine examples in the transcript are marked in the annotation by ‘PRO’).
  • How we work with a client who had deceived themself for several years about their own behaviour. [Link to self-deception article available soon]

The annotation describes our thinking when deciding which Clean Language question to ask.


C = Client, F = Penny or James.

The client’s responses and our questions were translated by Anna Stativka.

The format of the Clean Language questions is highlighted in bold to make it easier to see their structure.







And what would you like to have happen? 



I have several things that I would love to have happen. First I would like to be in time with the management of all my work. And another thing, I would like to connect or to be in balance with my work and my life. Balance my work and my life. 



So you’d like to be in time with your management of your work and to be in balance with your work and your life.Waiting to see if the client picks one of her two desired Outcomes.



Last time I notice that it’s like I have no life. I have only work. I have no time for life.Specification of the Problem.



So no time for life. So when you have only work, what would you like to have happen?Invites the client to identify a desired Outcome given the Problem. (PRO)



It’s not like I have no time for life. It’s like all my activities that are for my own life – not for work – I can do them, but I feel that I don’t refresh myself. I don’t restore my energy during the weekend.Further specification of the Problem.



And when you don’t restore your energy during the weekend, what would you like to have happen?Although the client uses metaphors, she has not overtly said she wantsto “refresh myself” and “restore energy”, therefore we continue to invite her to identify a desired Outcome given the specific Problem pattern. (PRO)



I would like, for example, to get up Monday morning with a clear head. That I am full of energy I would like also to have time for swimming. I usually had time for swimming because I have a break for three hours during my working day, and I have time for swimming. But in the last two weeks I have no time for it.The client gives several desired Outcomes.



So time for swimming, and to get up on a Monday morning with a clear head. And so what needs to happen on the weekend foryou to get up on a Monday with a clear head?Although the client has stated a desired Outcome about Monday morning, presumably it will not happen unless something different happens over the weekend, when currently, “I don’t refresh myself” (C6).



One day on the weekend – Sunday, Saturday – has to be without people, without meetings without communication. Maybe with some online communication but not live communication. Just to lay down, relax, watch something. 



And when you have one day on the weekend, without people and meetings and communication and you just want to lay down and relax, what happens just before you lay down and relax?Similarly, since it is not currently happening, the process of “lay down and relax” presumably needs something new to happen beforehand.



Well I decide. I make a decision that I have this day. That I can devote only to myself. 



And what kind of decide is a decide that you will devote one day to yourself?“I decide” is something that could influence the client’s system, so we aim to develop it into an embodied metaphor.



This is a normal decision. But sometimes there are some circumstances in my life that don’t allow me to make this decision.However “circumstances don’t allow” the desired Outcome to happen – and that’s a Problem.



So some circumstances don’t allow you to make the decision. So what would you like to have happen when there are those circumstances?Therefore we invite the client to consider a desired Outcome giventhe problematic “circumstances”. (PRO)



I would like to be 20 years younger! 



Wouldn’t we all like to be 20 years younger! [Laughter] And when you’re not 20 years younger, what would you like to have happen?We validate the desire while acknowledging the outcome is not going to happen. Since it is impossible, we repeat the question.(PRO)



I don’t know how to influence this situation with these circumstances. I don’t know. 



You don’t know how to influence the circumstances. So what would you like to have happen when you don’t know how to influence the circumstances?Another repeat of the question when the client’s reality is she doesn’t know. (PRO)



I’m thinking that maybe I can take one more day during the week – the middle of the week. To devote it to myself. Or maybe I can afford myself two days on some weekends in order to feel that I have time for restore my energy.The client is considering her options.



And maybe take a day during the week or two days at some weekends. Anything else about that ‘maybe’?This question aims to invite the client to consider the likelihood of doing either option.



What else about this maybe? I know what to do and how to do it but it’s not always possible.A similar answer to C14. It confirms that since the client “knows what and how to do”, the problem must be elsewhere.



So where does it come from that it’s not possible, when you know how to do it?Inviting the client to consider the source of “not possible”?



Sometimes it comes from the outer circumstances. And sometimes it comes from the understanding that there are things that are important, that it’s important to do. And you think that it’s not possible to do all the things all together. 



So it’s not possible to do all of the things together. And you want to devote a day to yourself and to rest without people. And that would mean you would wake up on a Monday with a clear head. And so what happens when you don’t take a day to devote to yourself and your relaxation?From C14 our line of questioning (vector) keeps ending up in “not possible”, so we try another avenue: The effect of continuing the current pattern.



It’s like I lost my interest to clients. I lost my interest for my walk. Usually I am full of interest to my clients, how they move, and if I’m not with a clear head on Monday I’ve lost this interest to my clients and to life and to the small  pleasures of life. 



Okay, so you lose interest in clients, in your work and in the small pleasures of life, and then what happens?Continue on the same vector.



I has some feeling that I would like to lay down in the corner and sleep. 



Lay down in the corner and sleep. And then what happens to your clients when you lay down in a corner and sleep?Continue on the same vector.



Maybe, it sounds strange, but my clients are okay, nothing happens to them. But usually I feel a lot of pleasure when I see that our session with the client was successful. And when I would like to lay down in the corner, I don’t feel this pleasure even if the session was good. It’s like I say, ‘Oh okay, it was good’. Like that.

Even my friends, when we have video calls with each other and they ask me to go out or to do something together, and I say ‘No, I’m tired. I don’t want to go anywhere’, and my friends they say ‘Oh, we don’t notice. You look like you always do. You look normal’. But I know that I’m not normal.




Not normal. And so when you don’t have a day devoted to yourself and relax, then you lose interest in your clients and your work and you want to sleep in the corner. And you don’t feel the small pleasures of life and you don’t even feel the pleasure of successful sessions. That’s when you don’t take that day for yourself. And so when that’s what happens when you don’t take a day for yourself, what would you like to have happen even when there arecircumstances that mean it’s difficult to take a day for yourself? We recap the effects of the existing pattern, aiming to fully acknowledge and re-present to the client her current reality – with all its problems – and then invite a desired Outcome given the circumstances she cannot influence. (PRO)



When it’s called like that, and I don’t allow this day for myself for me. There will be one of two things. One thing: At last I allow this day for myself, or I get sick. And if I get sick it’s for sure that I will lay down. 



So you get to lay down if you get sick, or you get so tired that you take a day for yourself. [C: Mm-hmm.] So what would you like to have happen then?Continue to invite a desired Outcome given the result of carrying on with the current pattern. (PRO)



I would like to have less ideas that I would like to validate, or I would like to have less things to do. Maybe I have to learn to limit them. These ideas and things to do. 



Limit the ideas and things to do.We were not sure we understood the client’s first answer, so (to ‘buy time’) we just repeat back without a question.



Or maybe I would like to have more endurance, more resilience to be able to endure, to deal with more pressure. 



So either to learn to do less things or to have more endurance, to limit things. Anything else about those two options?Adding the word “options” was unnecessary and mildly unclean.



The second opportunity to have more endurance sounds better for me, because it’s not always possible for me to limit my things to do, or ideas. 



Not until you get sick. [C: Mm-hmm.] So whenyou get sick, then you limit the things that you do. Keeping in awareness the reality that the client can “limit things” when she “gets sick”.



Mm-hmm. But, it happens rarely, not often. 



I’m glad to hear that. So it would be better to have more endurance. So what kind ofendurance is that?We infer that the client wants to continue with the “more endurance” desired outcome.



This endurance is not moral. It’s not psychological. I have enough of it. It’s a body endurance of my vessels, of my muscles, of my body – physical.Specifying the desired Outcome.



It’s a physical body endurance. And is there anything else about a physical endurance like that, the physical endurance of your body? 



I don’t see anything else except that when I am too tired, my blood pressure becomes high. And it can continue for two days. When I’m too tired. 



That’s when you’re too tired and what you want is more endurance of the body. And so where does endurance of the body like that come from?Inviting the client to consider the source of the “endurance of the body” she wants.



Well sometimes I think that people who are now at war in the trenches, they have a more difficult life for now. Or I think that if I will not do this nobody will do. Sometimes also I make some experimentation with some vitamins or minerals or food supplements that are supposed to give me more endurance and more energy and they do, but not so much. 



So that’s what you already do. And so where would the more endurance come from?It is not clear how the answer at C46 will give her ”more endurance”, so repeat the question.



During the last three years it has become much less – yoga, swimming, walks, biking in my life. 



Yes, and what you’d like is more endurance. So where is the more endurance going to come from?And again.



Maybe from some physical activities, or workouts and I cannot say that I have no time for this. It’s always possible to have 20, 30 or 40 minutes in the morning to do yoga for example.[Pause] At the same time when I’m waking up in the morning I cannot force myself to get up and I stay in the bed for maybe for an hour. So that’s why I have no time for workouts. And it happens to me during last two years, maybe. And then I have no time.The client describes some specific circumstances which prevent her from doing activities in the morning which, presumably, would improve her well-being and maybe her “body endurance”.



So you can’t force yourself to get out of bed in the morning. Anything else about not getting out of bed in the morning?Attending to the Problem.



When I’m thinking about it, I think that I know an answer. Three years ago, my sibling, my brother has died and very soon [before] my cousin has died also. They were both men. And they were very good friends with each other and with me. So maybe that’s when it all started for me. 



Maybe that’s when it started three years ago. So what happens when you’re lying in bed in the morning and you want to get up to do your yoga and you can’t, and you don’t get up, what happens?We acknowledge where the pattern “maybe” started in the past, and invite the client to attend to the current specifics of “not getting up”.



When I stay in bed I say to myself, ‘Okay I will take 10 minutes’. I will read something or use Duolingo and it will be for 10 minutes and then 10 minutes is passed, and I give myself more 10 minutes and more 10 minutes and more 10 minutes. 



And so when you say ‘I’ll take 10 minutes’, what happens when you say you’ll take 10 minutes? Do you believe you’ll take just 10 minutes?Given that this has been going on for several years, is the client aware that in saying to herself “I’ll take 10 minutes” she is deceiving herself?



[Laughing] When I tell myself for the first time, yes I believe that I will take only 10 minutes! But then, I don’t believe it 



Okay, and so do you believe it and then you don’t believe it. So how many times have you stayed in bed and gone 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes? How many times have you done that?Inviting the client to appreciate how many time she has self-deceived.



I don’t know for how many times I say this 10 minutes. I know that I do it until I have just enough time to get up, to take care of my mom, to feed her and give her some medicine, and be ready for a session with a client.The client interprets the question as ‘how many times in a morning’.



I mean how many times in the past haveyou done the 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes?. How many days in the past?Repeat the question emphasising “days in the past”.



It goes on for three years. And I became aware of this only now when we are talking with you.This is important. It is “only now” that the client is aware of how she has been deceiving herself for three years.



So where is that aware that you’ve been doing it for three years?  Right now, where is that awareness?Inviting the client to locate and therefore attend to the new “aware”.



Somewhere here [touches her upper body].  



And whereabouts here? 



I have some warm feeling in my chest. 



What kind of warm feeling is that warm feeling in your chest? 



Now it’s just the anniversary of when my cousin died and my brother died in December three years ago. 



And now is the anniversary. [Pause]  And what just happened?We were going to facilitate the client to develop a metaphor for the “warm feeling” but something shifted in the client’s state, so we wanted to find out what was happening for her.



What happened is your question? I’m thinking that something is changing in my relationships with this, my cousin and brother. It’s like  – I’m thinking – if, if – that I’m lucky to have this brother and cousin. I’m lucky that I had them in my life. And this is what this feeling is about.


And I have another answer to James’ question about 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes. Now I see that last two weeks, during last two weeks. I do it much more longer. This 10 minutes, 10 minutes.

Ah, so the feeling is about a “relationship” with a deceased brother and cousin.

The client has another insight.



So you have the anniversary of the death of your brother and your cousin, and the warm feeling. And you have the awareness of the 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes, many times in the last three years. And you’d like more endurance and to be able to do exercise in the morning – yoga. And when you have all that, what would you like to have happen in the rest of this session?So much is happening so quickly  that we invite the client to set the direction for the rest of the session.



I’m thinking that I have all the answers for myself for now. And I think that I was ignoring this question about 10 minutes for myself. And now I think that maybe I have to go to church and light a candle and to pray for my brother and my cousin. And maybe I have to have two alarm clocks. One for waking up,  and another one for getting out of bed.

Having awareness of the “10 minutes” pattern is likely to have a significant effect on the system.

Once a client is aware of deceiving themself it is hard to un-know that!

And now the client is generating actions for herself that she can do.



Okay, so if you have all those answers, are you okay, if we we stop now?A lot has happened in a short time. It’s time for the client’s system to assimilate the changes and to see what happens as a result.



Yeah. Thank you very much. 

James: We’ll open this up to the group observing. I suggest that the group discuss what they think we were doing, and what they noticed about the way we worked with this client and the topic. Okay? So we’re going to leave you to manage it yourselves and we’ll come back in 15 minutes.

[15 minutes later]

Participant 1: We were thinking that you will start to form metaphors from the very beginning. And we noticed that localisation in body was done only in the end of the session. All the work was pointed to helping the client to understand the details of her situation – not to forming metaphors. And the result was very useful for the client.

And I’m thinking that this kind of strategy would be especially useful with people who do not have the ability to form images. And our conclusion is that this strategy and this style is another way to work. It was very useful for me and for our group today to see that it’s also possible to work like this.

Participant 2: I wrote down your questions and I noticed that there were two main questions during the session, first: ‘What you would like to have happen?’ and second, ‘What happens when …?’. These two questions helped the client to get the deep reason why it is happening like that in her life now.

[NOTE from P&J: We were unaware of it at the time but half, 17 of the 33 questions we asked included the word “happen” !]

And only at the end of the session was there was a question: whereabout does this understanding exist. And I would say that was a turning point.

One more question that I thought was very important was when you asked: Do you believe yourself when you say that you will take only 10 minutes?

Thank you so much for this work.

Participant 3: I just want to add something. We were expecting that from the beginning you will start to form the client’s metaphors about “refresh” and what it means to be full of “energy”. But you didn’t do this. My question is why did you decide to do it in the way you did?

Penny: Why did we decide to do what we did? Good question!

There’s something in the back of our minds when we’re starting a session which we call ‘getting to it’. And ‘it’ is often contained not so much in the words but in the logic of what the client is saying.

We’re modelling the logic of the client’s information. And as you saw, you can model a client’s logical strategy with Clean Language questions as well as develop a metaphor landscape.

We’re impressed that you noticed the main two questions we used. And there was another very important question we asked, which was ‘And what happens just before …?’. It’s important because ‘What happens just before’ can get the client to the beginning of a sequence of events. I’ll give you an example. If a client says “I want to have confidence so I can fulfil my dreams”, a lot of facilitators will ask ‘What kind of dreams?’ to help them develop the ‘dreams’.

But the beginning of that sentence was ‘I want to have confidence’. Logically, if they don’t have confidence, they probably aren’t going to fulfil their dreams. Okay? Developing ‘dreams’ is fine, and at some point you will need to direct attention to ‘confidence’ and then back to the beginning of the sequence that results in ‘confidence’.

James: Another thing about our approach today. You expected us to develop a metaphor at the beginning. But the thing to consider is: develop a metaphor of what, and for what?

You see, we don’t develop metaphors just because we like metaphors, there’s got to be a good reason to facilitate the client to identify and develop a metaphor.

At the beginning of every session we are trying to find out: What’s the nature of this topic? And what’s the nub for the client? What’s the central core of the issue?

Penny: The ‘getting to it’.

James: For the first 30 minutes all we were doing was trying to help the client, as you said, describe their situation, lay it out, and for them to understand what was actually going on for them.

In this case, every time we tried to explore a desired outcome the client told us it couldn’t happen. So every avenue we invited the client to explore didn’t go anywhere. There is no reason to develop a metaphor for what can’t happen.

It is a horrible situation to be in, a very difficult situation, but that’s the client’s reality. So what we were doing was, if you like, holding a mirror up to the client and saying, like it or not, this is what you are saying is your reality.

It wasn’t until the client said that if they could do their morning exercises it would help them but “I can’t force myself to get out of bed” (C50) – that we had something to work with. Our reasoning is that there must be some process to the client wanting to get out of bed (which physically they can do) and them not getting out of bed. How do they do that?

Penny: And about the ’10 minutes’, the client even said “I believe myself and I don’t believe it” (C56). This is interesting because it has been going on for three years – a clear indication of self-deception.

When the client said “I became aware of this only now talking to you” (C60) it indicated a shift. The awareness was new information and a surprise for the client – always a good sign!

James: And that’s a change! So now we have something to develop in to a metaphor: that awareness.

Penny: And from the warm feeling in the chest, her attention went to her cousin and her brother and the anniversary of their death. And the realisation that she wanted to go and light a candle and say a prayer. This is her system telling her what she needs to do next. And it came from that place of awareness.

Once the client had that realisation and made those connections she had gotten something significant out of the session.

James: Here’s a very important point. We did not have any permission or contract with the client to work with her about her brother and her cousin’s death. In order for us to work with this subject matter we would have needed the client to give us permission or tell us that’s what she wanted to work with. That’s why we didn’t work with it but stayed with her original desired outcome.

It’s not our job to decide what the topic is, the client must decide the topic. If they want to change the topic during the session, then they have to decide that, not us.

Client: I have a lot of gratefulness for this work. I had not imagined, I didn’t imagine that I will go to this topic like I did.

James: [To the client] Thank you.

[To the group] Any any last question or comment before we leave you to work together?

Participant 4: I have a comment. I am listening to this discussion now. And now I have some ideas about my own reason for the same behaviour. And it also didn’t connect with things that I was thinking before.

James: I imagine there are a lot of people in Ukraine who have this difficulty of finding time for themselves, because you’re in the middle of a war. It a very, very difficult position. And we don’t know how long the war will continue. And your support for your clients needs to be able to keep going for – who knows how long, weeks months? So it’s vitally important that you look after yourself.

And one reason for that is so you are a role model for your clients. If you want your clients to look after themselves you need to role model looking after yourself!

Penny: We look forward to seeing you facilitating each other at our next meeting. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll learn from our in-the-moment coaching of your facilitation.

We’ll leave the Zoom link open so you can continue and practice and we’ll see you in a month’s time.

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