Addicts, maps and sharp syntax

Clean Language’s use with addictions
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I found an old email from 1997 in which Penny Tompkins replies to Bernard Frit (nlp-now.net/nlp-addict/) about Clean Language’s use with addictions. I thought it was worth posting both because the content is still relevant, and you can see how our thinking has stayed much the same, and how much it has evolved. 

Penny: Many thanks for you comments on our article [Less Is More: The Art of Clean Language]. I’m deep into writing a book on David Grove’s work and haven’t surfaced much recently. I’ll respond to your comments in the order you wrote them.

Bernard: I’ve found interesting and useful the concept of ‘clean’ language and particularly its very sharpened syntactic pattern. During last weeks seminar I surprised myself sometimes employing ‘clean’ questions with our patients.

Penny: Great. That’s the very best way to notice the effects – to use clean language consistently and congruently.

Bernard: The linguistic structure of ‘clean questions’ is very close to Andreas’ Core Transformation questions even though they aren’t so systematic. By the way, Core Transformation, like ‘clean questions’, drives the patient into his own internal metaphors helping him to enhance his internal world’s awareness through embedded metaphors.

Penny: I have been trained in the Core Transformation process by Tamara Andreas and I recognise the similarities. However there is a fundamental difference in the underlying purpose. As I see it Clean Language is primarily as a modelling tool, i.e.. it allows a client to model their own patterns (be they behavioural, cognitive, metaphoric or whatever). Knowing your own (maladaptive) patterns is often a fundamental step to increasing choice – to follow the pattern or to do something different. The funny thing is that when the pattern transforms in the metaphor the client often doesn’t have to do anything as changes automatically manifest in their life – mostly to their surprise and delight (although sometimes it means tough decisions have to be made). We have written a major new article Symbolic Modelling to be published in Rapport 38. It will be reproduced on our web site and it explains much more about the modelling aspect of our work.

Bernard: We use Core Transformation with addicts. This way of working helps them to figure out that there is a ‘whole world’ inside, built upon metaphors. ‘Clean questions’ are a big interest to us when working with addicts because their brains are sometimes so ‘anaesthetised’ that they can’t understand anything else than their own words, particularly at the very beginning of the therapy. That can’t be done by Core Transformation questions as they require a higher level of understanding.

Penny: In working with people who have addictive patterns of behaviour we find a number of choices are not available at the time they most need them. In other words they are so “in” their pattern that they apparently have little or no long or wide perspective at the time they take their ‘decisions’ to over-eat or over-drink. At other times, in the therapy room for instance, these resources may well be available to them. I am sure Ernest Rossi’s state-dependent learning theory is very relevant here. Another way of saying this is, when the client most needs all their resources they do not have a mapof how to respond differently.

Although not directly related to ‘addictive behaviour’, let me give you an example of a person who would compulsively return home to check everything was turned off – 15 to 20 times – before he could leave. James and I helped him modelled his pattern (mostly in metaphor) and he discovered the “force” within his stomach that made him go back whenever he got to his garden gate. When we were sure he was fully associated into his pattern we asked him: “And when you get to the end of the garden, what stops you continuing onto work even though you can feel the force in your stomach?” His face was a picture – blank and puzzled as he stared into space. He sat motionless for many minutes, then he tried to talk but could only get the first few words of each sentence out before lapsing back into silence. Eventually he shook himself out of the state and admitted he had never thought of it before like that and that he really didn’t have an answer.

We only saw him once more and he didn’t report a miracle cure. What he did say was that he thought of the question whenever he went out, and although he couldn’t explain it, he wasn’t returning to check as much as before – just 5 or 6 times. He wasn’t doing anything different it was just that he found it a bit easier to leave.

As you might guess there was a lot more going on in this man’s life than a “simple” compulsion. The point of me telling the story is to illustrate that sometimes a person just does not have a map at all for new behaviour. When this happens a new map has to be built bit by bit and I don’t know of any way for the client to do this quickly. Sure, Erickson installed the February Man into one client’s memory for just this purpose [here is a summary], but note it took many sessions of several hours each and there are no reports of him doing this with lots of his clients. I think it takes a special kind of client (and therapist!) for this intervention to replace good old-fashioned learning by experience!

Despite many people’s criticism (in the NLP movement at least) of AA, the program does provide an opportunity for people to build completely new ‘maps’ of behaviour without alcohol over a period of time.

Bernard: In my ‘map of the world’ therapist’s beliefs and presuppositions are the key point for patient’s changes. I can’t imagine that using ‘clean language’ in the way described in the documents you sent to me, will prevent the therapist against expressing any of his beliefs or presuppositions to the patient. Even though the use of therapist’s wording is minimal, tone of voice, facial expression, body’s gestures are still present and they are obviously more unconsciously meaningful than the single digital auditory of a ‘traditional’ therapeutic wording.

Penny: To be sure. Which is why Clean Language also relates to how to use your voice and body. Attached is an extract from the draft manuscript of our forthcoming book on just this topic. [See instead: Clean Language Without Words]. I would really appreciate any comments you might have so we can improve the text before publication.

You say you would like to post something on Clean Language and using metaphor on your site. Feel free to use any of the material on our site (with due reference of course). If you are thinking of us writing a new article specifically on addictions that would have to wait  until after our book is finished – next year. Please let me know what you had in mind.

Many thanks once again for your thoughts. I really appreciate what you are doing in the field of addictions. And how you are making so much information available to so many.

Best wishes,

[James’ comment. And we thought our book, Metaphors in Mind, would be published “next year” – It took a further two years!]

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