Resources, embodied metaphor and Clean Language

Recognising, accessing, developing and enhancing
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Published in Rapport, 82, Spring 2024, pp. 30-32

This article is about how we facilitate clients to recognise, access, develop and enhance personal resources – qualities that can be drawn on to respond more effectively to difficult circumstances.

Let’s start with a story about one of our clients, a young entrepreneur who wanted to be relaxed and confident while making cold calls to potential new customers.

As the session progressed he discovered a deep sense of dread every time he thought about making a cold call. He said it was like “a heavy, solid stone at the very bottom of my stomach”. And in these moments, all of his attention went to the feeling of that stone which prevented him from picking up the phone.

Using Symbolic Modelling we facilitated him to explore his embodied sense of the metaphoric stone – its size and shape, its heaviness and its other characteristics. We then asked: ‘And what kind of solid is the solid of that stone?’. To his surprise he discovered that in the solid was a “powerful beam” that could shine up from his stomach to his heart and all the way down in to the ground! 

As a result he became “light-hearted and grounded”, the stone became a “solid core” and he felt he was a “man of substance”. His posture changed, his voice changed, and his attitude to cold calling changed.

What are resources?

Ah, resources – jewels in a treasure chest. Sometimes on top, sparkling in the light, and often hidden deeper down, loyally laying there, waiting to sparkle when the light finds them.

We define a resource as anything a person values or proves to be useful. It can be something physical or a skill, a belief, a personal quality, a state or even an awareness. In fact almost anything can be, or can become a resource, given the appropriate circumstances. This is the whole basis of reframing.

Working ‘cleanly’ means presupposing that people either already have sufficient resources or can develop the resources they require. Clients don’t need us to suggest resources, and as the example above shows, they are quite capable of reframing themselves!

To grasp the idea of a resource it is useful to consider two distinctions: preference and possession. Does a person like or not like an experience, and do they have or not have it. 

Table 1 illustrates that a resource is something we already have and like. This contrasts with other experiences that we would like to have (outcomes), desire to not have (remedies), and those problems we don’t like having.

Table 1

ProblemDon’t like


RemedyWould like


Not have
Outcome Would like





A strategic approach to working with resources

In a coaching, therapy or any facilitative process, working with resources involves three stages: recognise, develop and enhance.

Recognising resources

Resources are everywhere – when you know what to look for and are attuned to the signs. During a session they can be: explicit, implicit or potential.

Explicit and implicit resources. Take the sentence “I know my strengths”. The strengths of that person are explicitly a resource. And less obvious, implicitly, so is the knowing that they have those strengths. Both can be developed into a rich and embodied awareness by starting with Clean language questions such as:

And when you know your strengths, what kind of strengths are those?

And when you know your strengths, where is that know?

Another example of both explicit and implicit resources is a desired outcome. For instance, “I want more confidence” contains two inherent resources: the perception of the outcome and the desire for it. 

Firstly, getting clear about what a person wants, in this case “confidence”, creates direction and motivation – technically known as a feedforward pathway. The idea of the future outcome is itself an explicit resource. 

Secondly, the desire is an implicit resource. Some people are not clear about how they know they want something. They can be inhibited by childhood injunctions such as the double-binding: “Those who want don’t get”. You can facilitate them to access the embodied experience of their wanting with:

And you want more confidence, and where is that want, right now?

Potential resources are qualities a person has yet to appreciate. Perhaps counterintuitively, one of the most fruitful places to look for a potential resource is within the structure of a problem! For example, a client says “it’s like being chased by a determined monster”. Clearly this is a problem for them and, within that metaphor, the determined of that monster can be isolated and developed:

And what kind of determined is that determined?

Often these implicit resources hidden within a problem prove to be just what the client needs to achieve their outcome.

Locating resources in time

A problematic state is usually sandwiched between resourceful states – before and after the problem pattern. Figure 1 shows four places where resources are commonly lurking unrecognised. Facilitating a client to identify what happens at these times often reveals resources the client has under-valued and under-utilised.

Figure 1

Pulling-back time. The challenge with resources is not just identifying them, it’s accessing them when they are needed the most. Once a problem pattern (repeating sequence) has started to run, it can be hard to interrupt. You’ll know this if you’ve ever been in an ongoing argument you can’t get out of. The best time to access a resource is before the problem pattern starts. 

As the diagram shows there are two particularly important before times: just before the start of the problematic pattern [Position #2] and some time before that, when the person was in a prior more resourceful state and able to prepare for the possibility of the problem happening [Position #1].

To get to these before times, David Grove “pulled back time” by asking the Clean Language question:

And what happens just before [problematic event]?

This question may need to be asked several times until the client is attending to the moment just before they enter the problematic state. When their attention is held there, the client can discover the first signs of the problematic pattern starting. These signs can inform the client’s system that they are at a ‘choice point’ [Position #2]. And an often hugely impactful question to ask at such a choice point is:

And when [first sign of problem] what would you like to happen?

Again, this question may need to be asked several times before the client takes on board that their likely initial reaction, “I don’t want it to happen”, is not answering the question. Rather, this question invites the client to really consider: given you have been here many times before, how would you like to respond at this choice point? Then a desired outcome tailor-made to the moment can be identified and developed.

Pulling time back further will locate the client’s perception at a prior resourceful time [Position #1]. Examples of puling back time are shown in Table 3 rows 1-11.

Developing a resource. Once a resource has been recognised, whether it is a signal, a process, a desired outcome or a learning, the verbal description can be “made physical” and developed into an embodied experience. While this can be done conceptually, we find it is more effective to facilitate the client to identify and develop an embodied metaphor for the resource. 

One way we do this is based on a three-step process David Grove originated in the 1980s:

1. Locate the feeling/state by asking two or three ‘Where?‘ questions.

2. Identify the form (attributes) of the feeling/state with basic developing questions:

And is there anything else about [feeling/state]?

And what kind of [feeling/state] is that?

And does that [feeling/state] have a size or a shape?

3. If the client has not yet switched into metaphor, invite them to identify a metaphor by slowly asking:

And when [attributes of resource], that’s like what?

This process is illustrated in rows 12-21 of Table 3.

Moving time forward. When people consider a problem they often get stuck in a repetitive loop, especially if it has been a long-standing pattern. However, in virtually all cases, the client will have ways to temporarily ‘get out’ or ‘get beyond’ the problem – until the next time!

Clean Language questions that “move time forward” can facilitate the client to “self-model” the ways they have extricated themselves from an unwanted state [Position #3]:

And what happens after [problem]? 

And then what happens?

And what happens next?

The client can then use their exit strategy earlier and reduce the duration or impact of the problem. 

Also, after they have exited the problematic state, they will be in a more resourceful place to reflect on the pattern and learn from the experience [Position #4]. Rows 22-31 of Table 3 demonstrate how to move time forward.

Enhancing resources

Once a resource has been recognised (in metaphor, or not) its value and impact can be further enhanced. Table 2 shows five ways we facilitate the client to do this.

Table 2

Related and nested resourcesAnd is there anything else about [a part of the resource]
The source of the resourceAnd where could that [resource] come from?
The sequence for accessing the resourceAnd what needs to happen for [resource]?
The effects over timeAnd when/as [resource] then what happens?
The effects of the resource on other aspects of the client’s system (e.g. problems)And when [resource] what happens to [problem]?
For the last two years we’ve been supporting a group of Ukrainian psychologists to learn to use Symbolic Modelling during a time of war. One member of the group trained doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who were working in towns recently liberated from Russian occupation. The doctors learned to facilitate civilian and military patients to discover a personal resource, and how to ask Clean Language questions to develop it into a embodied metaphor. Later, when our colleague checked back with the doctors, they said developing resources was one of the processes they used the most. They said that many interventions “stayed in the room” when the patient left, but with what they called,“inside-themselves metaphors” their patients could take their resource with them, and access it whenever they needed to.

To finish …

Let’s return to the story of the entrepreneur whose “solid stone” helped him make “light-hearted” cold calls. We found out later that after he left the session he went straight to a rock shop and bought a stone the size, shape and colour of the one that had been in his stomach. He returned to his office, sat the stone on his desk and before every cold call he would hold the stone, access his resource state and make the calls.

It didn’t take long for his colleagues to get curious about why he was having more and more success with cold calling. When he told them about the stone some of them began to borrow it when they had a difficult call to make. Not only had he discovered a resource for himself, it ended up becoming a resource for the whole office!

Table 3

Recognise and locate BEFORE resources



I fall into a pit



And what happens just before you fall into a pit?



I lose my footing.



And what happens just before you lose your footing ?



I’m on the edge. [Position #2]



And when you are on that edge, before you lose your footing, what would you like to have happen?



I need to take a step back.



And what kind of step is that step-back step?



It makes me pause and think.



And what happens just before you take that step back, and pause and think?



I maintain my sense of self. [Position #1]

Develop resources



And when you maintain your sense of self, where is that sense?



Here. [Touches chest]



And whereabouts here?



[Touches chest]



So when that sense of self is there, does that sense have a size or a shape?



It’s round [Gestures].



And is there anything else about that sense there, that’s round?



It’s got a soft energy.



And that sense is round … and soft … and energy … like what?



Like the sun.
  [Continue developing and enhancing the resource metaphor]

Recognise and locate AFTER resources



And what happens after you fall into a pit?



Eventually I say ‘enough is enough’.



And then what happens?



I pull myself together and carry on. [Position #3]



And when you say ‘enough is enough’ and you pull yourself together, what would you like to have happen?



To not keep going through this again and again.



And what needs to happen to not go through this again and again?



I have to notice I’m walking towards a pit and go round it. [Position #4]



And when you notice that, where do you notice it?



In my head.
  [Develop “notice” into an embodied metaphor]

Part 1 of this three-part series is available at:

Modelling in the symbolic domain

Part 2 is available at:

Introducing Clean Language

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