Helping clients explore issues at a deep level

An interview with James Lawley
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First published in Coaching at Work

magazine of the CIPD, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, July 2006.

Metaphors can help clients reach the parts few other techniques can reach. James Lawley, co-author of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, told Liz Hall, editor of Coaching at Work:

 “Things can happen in a metaphor that can´t happen in everyday language.”

On 13 September 2006, Lawley will present a seminar with his wife and co-author, Penny Tompkins, on Using Metaphors in Coaching, at the annual CIPD´s Coaching at Work conference.

The metaphors approach is based on a belief that because metaphor plays such a central role in how people think, reason, plan and make decisions, when they changes their metaphors, they change the structure of their experience and how they make sense of the world. Metaphor has been used in therapy and self development for many years.

Lawley and Tompkins have developed a process based on work by trauma therapist, David Grove around 20 years ago. Known as Symbolic Modelling, the process focuses on honouring and exploring a client’s own metaphor using “clean language”, language which is not “contaminated by the interviewer and by unconscious metaphors”. Grove developed the clean language method in the 1980’s.

Lawley said he helps clients create an inner experience which is real to them:

“We help people create an experience using their own metaphors. For example, we have worked with someone for whom making a decision was like going to the dentist. For that person, that is an absolutely true statement so we work with that metaphor. What is interesting is that while we are working on going to the dentist, we are really working on decision-making”

Another of Lawley´s clients said he felt like there was always a conflict between his head on one shoulder and his heart on the other.

“How we approached this is that we believe him and work as if this metaphor were accurate. We discover that there is a third point aside from the heart and head, his stomach which represents his intuition. His heart and head needed to become one with his stomach and to him this made complete and utter sense.”

Lawley and Tompkins´ seminar will explore areas such as why metaphors are essential to advanced coaching, how to enrich and evolve metaphors, how coaches can use their own metaphor for coaching at their best and how to ask “clean questions.”

Lawley said the approach was different to narrative therapy, which some coaches are keen to embrace within coaching (see Coaching at Work, news, issue 6).

“In narrative therapy, people tell their story whereas we work with people´s inner perceptions of their stories. It´s more like living and creating a movie and we work with the movie and inner feelings rather than the actual story,” he said.

“I suppose it´s the difference between someone telling me the story of a film and what the film is like, and working with that person while they are watching the film, from the inside.”

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