Clean Space workshop

Facilitated by James Lawley and Michael Oskam

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Original article in Dutch: Sinnige, Madelon (2019). Bijgewoond: Clean Space. Workshop begeleid door James Lawley en Michael Oskam, Haptonomisch Contact, nr 1, 30e jaargang, maart 2019, pp 12-13. Download: CleanSpace_MadelonSinnige_HC2019_1.pdf.

The workshop took place in The Netherlands in October 2018.

Madelon is haptonomy practitioner in Delft, the Netherlands. This article is published in Haptonomisch Contact, a journal for haptonomy practitioners and therapists. Haptonomy, a bodymind approach, helps clients to be more aware of their body and feelings. This helps people to feel more ‘at home’ in themselves and in their relationships with others.

As haptonomy practitioners we know the importance of proximity and distance, movement and taking up positions. We explore them using positioning and movement exercises to help clients experience these nonverbal interactions  in real terms.

Clean Space also works with finding positions, termed here as ‘establishing spaces’. The spaces represent aspects of the client’s experience. Thus, the client’s inner experience is brought out into a working space and a network of possibilities is created to solve problems or generate new ideas.

What exactly is Clean Space? How can it help when counseling clients? And has it added value for me as a haptonomy practitioner?

Getting acquainted

2012: a friend uses Clean Language questions to ask me about an experience I had. With close attention, no judgment whatsoever, and reflecting back my own words in his questions, I am invited to explore my experience. I like it and would like to do more of it.

I study Clean Language books, go on a Clean Language training course, and today I am participating in the Clean Space workshop. James Lawley, psychotherapist and an authority on Clean Language, facilitates the workshop together with Michael Oskam. Michael works as an organizational psychologist and is Clean Language trainer in the Netherlands. In 1995, James met David Grove, who developed Clean Language and Clean Space to heal trauma. Together with his partner Penny Tompkins, James studied David’s working method and turned it into a model. Today, we are going to work with this model: reduced to the essentials to facilitate teaching and transferring it.

Clean Language and Clean Space

Prior to the workshop, we have been sent information taken from the book Insights in Space (James Lawley and Marian Way, 2017). Clean Space is part of the Clean Language methodology. Clean Language was developed first. It aims to explore the experience of the other person without, as a facilitator, introducing your own ideas and beliefs. It offers a set of standard questions in which the exact words of the client are used to reflect their experience back to them. Thus, the client’s experience is recognized and validated and further exploration is facilitated. That helps to get to the core of the problem as well as to the client’s desired outcome efficiently and ‘cleanly’. The ‘clean’ aspect is also the core of Clean Space: the client is given the space they need to explore their own experience and the facilitator supports this without offering their own perceptions, ideas and beliefs.

Using Clean Space

After a short demonstration of a Clean Space process we are handed a step-by-step guide containing the model in essentials. All process steps, with standard instructions and questions, are about an A4-size text.

We work in pairs. I work with someone who introduces ‘back pain’ as the subject of exploration. On a sheet of paper she draws a person with a curly line on the back. I point to the sheet and say: “And place that where it needs to be.” She hangs it on the wall, at the height of her own back. I continue: “And place yourself where you are now in relation to that.” She walks around and finds a space. I ask: “And what do you know here?” After having repeated key words from her answer, I point to her drawing and ask: “And is there anything else you know here, about that?” Then I give her pen and Post-it Notes to write down a name to mark this space.

We continue: “And find another space.” When she is at the second space, I ask her the same questions as before about the space and about what she knows here about her subject of exploration. Like this, I guide her in establishing six spaces in the room to help her explore and learn about her subject.

Now that she has established the spaces, I guide her back to each of them. At each space, she can update the information as well as establish links between the different spaces. For her, there is an important link between her spaces named ‘relaxation’ and ‘work’. When establishing ‘relaxation’ in the first round, I saw her body alternate between slumping and keeping herself upright, while her face showed tension. Now, having returned to this space, she knows that relaxation also requires work. Her body is upright in a relaxed way and her face is relaxed. She is happy to notice her back pain is disappearing.

The entire process lasted less than half an hour. It’s good to see the changes in her body and hear them back from her. She collects her paper and Post-it Notes. What remains is our shared space …

Clean Language, Clean Space and haptonomy

I am impressed by the clarity of the Clean Space methodology and by what it can offer a client wishing to explore a specific topic. Interacting with the working space, the client mirrors their inner experience in the outer world. This enables positive change to take place in the client’s body and belief system.

However, as a haptonomy practitioner it takes an adjustment to stay at a distance in guiding a client through the process. Nevertheless, doing so offers me added value. Since I have worked with Clean Language, I have become very aware of my own assumptions and ideas, precisely because they may not be included in a Clean Language session. This awareness helps me to let go of my own prejudices, thus making me less biased and more open. This works positively in my haptonomy sessions, where open, affirming contact is important.

Of course, building an open, good contact with a client is also important when working with Clean Language and Clean Space. Being calmly present at the edge of the client’s working space and aligning with their pace and dynamics helps the client. My haptonomy skills work well for me when doing so.

At the end of the workshop, I talk to James and Michael about haptonomy and Clean Language / Clean Space. They are interested in further exploring possible cross-links. Input from other haptonomy practitioners is welcome!

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