A Fire that’s Good Enough

A six phase session
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The following annotated transcript comes from our twelfth webinar with a group of Ukrainian psychologists and psychotherapists who want to use Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling to support themselves and their clients living through the horrors of war.

The aim of these sessions, facilitated by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, is simply to demonstrate Symbolic Modelling ‘live’. The annotation gives some idea of what we take into account in deciding which Clean Language question to ask, and when.

Transcripts of previous demonstrations with this group are available at:

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

This transcript is illustrative of a number of features:

  • Although every question is selected individually taking into account the latest information provided by the client, when you review a transcript you can see that we tend to ask questions in clusters. That is, we ask a number of questions one after another that are all heading in the same process direction. We call these ‘vectors’ although in the commentary that follows the transcript, James refers to them as ‘phases’. Knowing how and when to select, maintain and switch phases/vectors is an advanced skill. Making decisions based on shifts in the client’s attention is the main reason our sessions (mostly) seem to flow smoothly.

  • The multiple use of the ‘And what kind of …?’ question (which accounted for a quarter of all questions asked in this session) demonstrates that where the question invites the client’s attention to go is more important than which question is asked.

Key: C = Client, P = Penny, J = James.

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

When we capitalise the words, ‘Problem’, ‘Remedy’ or ‘Outcome’, we are using the definitions specified in the PRO model. When these words are not capitalised they are being used in a more everyday sense.







And what would you like to have happen?



First I would like to have more time to do things that I need to do. And second, what I want to have happen – I want to have a feeling that everything that I do is good enough and that I do it exactly in the way that I want it to be. Two desired Outcomes. It would seem that if the first desired Outcome happens without the second happening, the client may not be in a better position than they are now. 



And you would like to have more time to do the things you need to do. And have a feeling that everything you do is good enough in exactly the way you want to do it. [C: Yes.] And when you have that feeling that everything you do is good enough, what kind of feeling is that feeling? Therefore the second desired Outcome is the starting point for the session. This question invites the client to attend to their sensory, “feeling” experience.



This is a feeling that I was able to do everything good. And if we talk about metaphor, it would be a metaphor of elevation.



And that feeling is a feeling of elevation. And what kind of elevation is that elevation when you feel what you do is good enough.



This is a feeling that’s real. And I feel like I am larger. I’m bigger. I see myself normal size, but it’s like outside of me there is some air and this air has something like electricity.



And outside the air is like electricity when you feel that elevation. And whereabouts outside is that air and electricity? Following the client’s attention on their spatial perception of “outside”.



For now I can say that it’s in front of me, and when it’s in front of me I feel as if I can do even more. It’s like an electricity field, and this electricity field works by itself. It’s doing something by itself. Something is going on in it. [Laughs] I am a generator. The client is self-modelling and as a result realises that they are generating the electricity. 



And what kind of generator is that? No need to repeat back the client’s words which relate to the “electricity field outside” since these would take her attention away from the new metaphor-of-self.



I’m a generator that generates happiness that’s different for everybody because happiness is a different thing for everybody. This generator generates happiness that is different for everybody.



And you’re a generator that generates happiness that’s different for everyone. And when that generator generates happiness what kind of generator are you when you’re that generator?



I have a feeling that this happiness, it begins to widen. It begins to go further. Through some connections. It goes further.



And happiness begins to widen, it has some connections, and it goes further. What kind of connections are those connections as happiness begins to widen? Penny has used the same Clean Language question for five of the last six questions. More important than which question is asked, is where it invites the client to attend to. Note the subtle acknowledgement of an ongoing process (indicated by the client’s “begins”) with “as …”.



This happiness goes further through the connections, and these connections are connections of people. And these people have their own connections. And through their own connections this happiness goes further and further.



And when that happiness goes further and further through those connections of those people, then what happens? So far every question has invited the client to develop the location and form of symbols in the desired Outcome metaphor landscape. This question follows the client’s attention, inviting them to notice the effects of their desired Outcome happening.



This happiness through connections, and connections of connections, goes further and further and covers everything. It covers all of the earth. Of course sometimes there are some places that it cannot cover, but there are times when it can cover everything.



And when that happiness goes further and further, and connections between people, and it covers all the earth, what happens to your feeling of being good enough? Continues to invite the client to notice the effects of their desired Outcome happening, in this case, on their second desire to “feel good enough” (C2).



What happens in my feeling that I’m good enough? This feeling has some time frames, I don’t have it always. And I’m like an electrical station that has worked. But at some moment it has to stop because there’s no resource to continue the work. And when this electricity station stops I begin to think ‘Oh this was not done good enough. This I didn’t do. And this I didn’t do.’ The client explains that there are times when she cannot continue to generate electricity, and that is when the “not good enough” thinking begins. 



And so it’s like an electrical station that sometimes has to stop. And when that electrical station stops, what would you like to have happen when it stops? Given the “electrical station has to stop” sometimes, this question invites the client to consider how they would like to respond when that happens.



When it stops I feel sad. When I have this elevation feeling and when I do this work like an electrical station, I have a feeling of elevation and then everything is fine, and everything is very good. But when this electrical station stops I begin to see that things are not so good as I was thinking, and I begin to think that maybe I was doing something wrong because things are not so good that I was thinking when I was in this electrical station state. Effectually repeats C18.



And when you see that things are not as good as you thought what would you like to have happen when that’s what you see? Given the question at J19 was not answered, it is repeated.



When I see that things are not as good as I was thinking when I was in this electrical station state, then I begin to go inside myself. A similar answer to C18 and C20 with extra detail of the client’s current process.



So you go inside yourself, and what would you like to have happen when you go inside yourself? The particular formulation of the questions at J19 and J21 are often difficult for the client to answer. They prompt the client to conceive of something new at the moment when their existing pattern starts. Often, as in this case, the question needs to be asked a number of times before their client can access an answer.



I would like to have enough time for myself in order to make a break to do an upgrade. The client defines a new desired Outcome. Although similar to the first desire in C2, “have enough time” has changed from “to do things I need to do” to, “for myself to make a break”.



And have time for myself in order to make an upgrade. So what kind of time for yourself do you need when you go inside?



I would say that I don’t need too much time. And I study a lot now, and when I study I see that before I was doing a lot of mistakes, and I was doing these mistakes because I had no time. So now I begin to understand what is going on. “begin to understand” indicates the start of a shift of perspective.  



And now you understand. And so what happens inside, when you take time for yourself? This question invites the client to consider the effects of the new perspective in the place and time (“inside, when …”) where her attention will be.



When I have time for myself there is a process inside, and it’s like a natural process, like in nature. Something has to go away, something new can develop, something is burned out, something is just beginning to grow. And it’s like nature, like a natural process. And now I understand that I want to be always in this elevated state. But to be in this elevated state, this inner state is also needed. It’s like a preliminary stage, or a new stage for this new element. To go to this new level, and go to this new game, I need this inner process. “now I understand” indicates more self-realisation. In particular that the “inner state” is a “needed preliminary stage” for the client to continue in an “elevated state”.



And when you need this inner process, this inner state, where is this inner state? Inviting attention to stay in the place where the resource “this inner state” is needed. 



It’s like that [gestures] from here to up here [indicates on the body].



And when from here [points to client’s body where gesturing took place], that’s like what? Since the client is fully engaged in their inner world Penny invites them to identify a metaphor for this bodily experience.



It’s like fire.



What kind of fire is that fire?



It’s like, you know, everybody has fire inside – his own or her own kind of fire. Even our earth has a fire inside. And I am part of the process of this fire. So I have too.



And even the earth has fire inside. [C: Yes] And everybody has fire inside. And I have fire inside. And is there anything else when you have fire inside like that?



No, I don’t know, I don’t see anything else about this fire. [Pause] But now I begin to see that I’m just living and everything is going on as it has to be. I’m just living my life and I do what I’m here to do. And I don’t need to think too much about it. I cannot make everybody happy. Because people come to me in very different states. And this makes me more calm. It makes me calmer. “But now I begin to see …” indicates further self-realisation. 



And you don’t need to make everybody happy, and you’re just doing what you are here to do. [Pause] And you need to take time for yourself. [Pause] And so what needs to happen for you to take time for yourself so that you can go inside and go to a new level? Inviting the client to identify the necessary conditions for the desired Outcome at C24 to happen.



Maybe I have to relax about my age. A new condition. 



And you maybe have to relax about your age. And as you relax about your age, what kind of relax is that relax?



It’s like an old calendar that you throw away and you don’t know what year it is now.



So it’s like throwing an old calendar away. And is there anything that needs to happen for you to throw that old calendar away? Invites the client to consider if there are further necessary conditions.



When I was thinking about the calendar, I had thrown it away. And now I think that maybe I will not pay attention to certain things. Just will acknowledge something. The client has instantly enacted “throwing an old calendar away”.



So you’ve already thrown it away! And you will [just ignore] some things. And then what happens? James is surprised that the change has already happened and mistakenly says “just ignore” when the client had said “not pay attention”.



I will continue doing what I do. And at the same time I will be open to new levels, to something new. “And at the same time I will be …” indicates a new way of being.



You will continue to do what you do, and open to new levels. And then what happens to that fire, to your fire inside? Inviting the client to attend to the effects of the changes that are happening. 



It’s not so big as it was. It’s inside. It’s here [gestures to body]. And it becomes more structured. “… as it was” and “it becomes …” indicates further changes.



More structured. So it’s inside there, and it’s more structured. And then what happens to a feeling of not being good enough? Continues inviting the client to attend to the effects of the changes on the Problem pattern (C18). 



I no longer have this feeling that I’m not good enough, or that I’m doing something wrong. I now have a feeling that I do what I can, here now. And at the same time I’m open. “I now have a feeling …” indicates more changes.



You have that feeling that you do what you can, here and now, and you’re open. And is there anything else you need right now? Finding out whether the client is ready to bring the session to a close.



I now begin to understand that I limit myself in somethings. I put some limitation on myself. I feel that I limit myself. For example I want to learn languages. And at the same time, I want to be a professional in some narrow area. And at the same time, I begin to learn something else, something else, something else, and something else – and then I think ‘Why are you running so fast?’. “I now begin to understand …” indicates more self-realisations. 



So take all the time you need to get to know more about a feeling of ‘I  do what I can in the here and now’ … And take some time to get to know that ‘I’m open’. And begin to wonder ‘What happens next?’. Recapping some of the client’s realisations and changes, and suggesting how the process can continue after the session. 



And as you become familiar with being a generator of those connections for all those people that go out … And that your fire is part of the earth’s fire … And you cannot heal everyone … But you can do what you are here to do … And that’s good enough. [Pause] Thank you very much volunteering.


What I’ll do is give a little commentary on the process. And then we can take some questions about what we were doing.

There were a number of phases to this session.

The first phase was facilitating the client to develop their desired outcome statement into a rich metaphor landscape consisting of the feeling of elevation, the air outside being like electricity and the connections. That was Penny’s first seven questions. (P1-C14)

Penny then starts a second phase (and I continue) inviting the client to consider the effects of their desired Outcome happening. This prompts the client to explain that when the electricity generator has to stop, a pattern of problematic “not good enough” thinking begins (C18).

Now we follow the client’s attention and switch to a third phase inviting them to consider what they would like to have happen when the generator stops, and currently the problematic thinking pattern starts. I asked a variation of this question three times in a row before the client described how they would like to be when the generator stops. I ask the question repeatedly because we’re looking for the client to set the next direction for the work. We don’t want to make the decision for them.

The new outcome was to have time for myself in order to upgrade (C24). This starts a fourth phase, facilitating the client to develop that statement into an embodied metaphor, in this case, “a fire inside” (J25-C36). While this was happening did you notice that the client reported they were getting several new understandings and new realisations – suggesting an ongoing shift in perspective.

The fifth phase started when I ask the client ‘what needs to happen for you to take the time’ (the new desired Outcome). This revealed another necessary condition, to “relax about my age” which would be like “throwing an old calendar away”.

Even before I could ask the next question the client enacts the metaphor (C42) and my modelling had to catch up because the client process was ahead of me. This suggested that a change had occurred in real-time. This change in the metaphor landscape initiated the sixth phase: facilitating the client to explore what happens as a result of the changes – what we call maturing the changes. And this continued until we began to bring the session to a close.

So any questions or comments about that session?

Participant: That was very beautiful. I was watching and I understand about the first and second stages of the work, but I am not sure about the last stage ‘maturing’.

James: Okay. As soon as a change has occurred we start maturing that change – whenever it happens. The client said, “I had thrown it away.” So a change in the metaphor landscape had already happened. Then, in a variety of ways, we keep inviting the client to follow the effects of the change, to discover what happens and see where it goes. We don’t know where it will go, and we don’t predict or try to determine where it will go.

Penny: In an earlier webinar we gave out a chapter with an overview of Symbolic Modelling Lite. And you’ll see in that the process of maturing described and you’ll see that maturing can happen at any time. Does that answer the question?

Participant: Yes, now I understand that I need to read the document for it to be more clear to me.

Penny: Anyone else?

James: If there are no more questions, I’ll add something else about this session. This session illustrated one of the principles behind this work. We believe that change is an entirely natural and an entirely inevitable process of nature, including humans. Changes occur when the conditions are right for them to occur. And this is particularly true of inner changes. When the inner conditions of a human are right, they will naturally and automatically start to develop.

Now the interesting thing is when we come to the world as babies, the conditions for learning are completely there and we do nothing but learn and develop for several years from the moment we are born. But as we become adults, we somehow acquire processes that inhibit us from learning and developing. As the client said, we limit ourselves.

And in therapy, there are two broad approaches to that. One is to remove the limitation, and the other is to develop the conditions under which change will happen anyway.

And what we have found is that if the client develops those conditions, often the limitations just fade away. Now, sometimes they don’t. And when that happens it normally means there is something valuable in that limitation that has to be uncovered first. It’s like the system is saying, ‘to get your attention I am going to give you pain until you get the learning’.

Our preference is to develop the conditions first and only go into the pain if necessary. In this case it was not necessary. And I believe the client has lots of new ideas and experiences to work with, so they can develop and upgrade, and they can start doing that right now.

The client might need to take some time to learn how to take time for herself. But that’s okay. It’s all part of being human.

We’re going to leave you to do your practice now, but before we do we wonder if the client would like to have the final say. Is there anything you’d like to comment on?

Client: Yeah, I’m very grateful for the session because today I had the chance to say something that I wanted to say from a very early age – that I want people to be happy. And in some trainings, I try to say that is my desire and I am told you cannot want this. You have to have something concrete; you have to have some plans, something real. And now I feel that this is what I want. And what I wanted always – to make people smile and to make people happy. And now I understand that. Now I understand something about myself. Thank you so much. Thank you.

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