“Metaphor is right at the bottom of being alive” Gregory Bateson
What is Symbolic Modelling?
A deep process of change facilitated by using the imagery, symbols and metaphors we commonly use to describe our experience
A natural, deeply respectful, effortless and organic process of change
A new, different way of working in psychotherapy which contacts, connects with and uses our own natural inner change and growth process to encourage positive change
Why use Symbolic Modelling in therapy?
Because we all use it naturally – all the time!
Because the process taps into the way we naturally and instinctively change, grow and evolve. Therefore it is fully respectful of you, the changes you want and all the aspects of your life which are involved.
Have you noticed how often you say or hear common phrases:
It’s like “I’m banging my head against a brick wall”
I’m “going round in circles
I’m “down in the dumps”
It’s like “a bottomless pit”
I’m “on top of the world”
She won’t “let go”
I can’t see “the wood for the trees”
My mind’s “gone blank”
I need to “move on”
It’s “a stabbing pain”
We use these words not as literal descriptions but “symbolically” to try and explain our experience in a way which is meaningful: we all instinctively understand when someone tells us “It’s like I’m banging my head against a brick wall!” or “I’m going round in circles”. We commonly describe our problems and difficulties in these ways; you may begin to notice how often you use metaphors or symbols to communicate or make sense of your experience. A metaphor enables us to describe the many facets and the way we experience the problem. By working with that experience (which is a mixture of thoughts, feelings and behaviours) in Symbolic Modelling it naturally starts to change and evolve.
Working with Metaphor in psychotherapy means working at a deeper level than normal, logical thinking or communication and offers the potential of deeper levels of positive change. Paying attention to our individual metaphors in Symbolic Modelling, by asking questions, causes these metaphors and symbols to start changing -or “evolving”. As the metaphors evolve your understanding shifts. This produces inner change – in how you feel or think – and outer change – in how you act or behave.
Therefore “I can’t see any way ahead ” or “It’s a dead end” in response to a pondering a difficult choice might become “I’m on the right path” or “Everything’s suddenly become clear”: relating to discovering the particular course of action to take or a change in perception with profound consequences.
Symbolic Modelling has been developed by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins from the work of David Grove, originator of Clean Language. Persephone psychotherapist, Denise Marleyn, who has been trained by the co-developer and co- originator of Symbolic Modelling, James Lawley (international trainer and psychotherapist) and Wendy Sullivan, is one of a very limited number of psychotherapists trained in and using this new and effective technique.
So what’s so special about Symbolic Modelling?
Whilst many therapies work with metaphors and symbols, and imagework is already considered an effective technique, Symbolic Modelling is a more respectful, organic and more effective way of working as it is non-invasive and non-directive: the therapist does not guide the client’s imagery or suggest symbols (Imagine your gut as a river) as is common in psychotherapeutic or hypnotic imagework; instead the psychotherapist asks the client for her own metaphor (link to metaphor above). This allows the client to connect to her own natural inner evolutionary change process.. The difference between this and other therapy approaches is due to the use of Clean Language. Symbolic modelling is developed from understanding and research into systems theory and emergent systems – which are at the “cutting edge” of understanding how we work.
What happens in a Symbolic modelling session?
Your psychotherapist will begin by asking you what you would “like to have happen?” This enables you to define what you what to achieve, either as a result of the therapy or in your life. Your psychotherapist will then continue to ask “Clean Language” questions to facilitate your enjoyable, engrossing process of self-exploration of the personal metaphors you use to describe and define your life experience. As you continue to explore and gain insight into your personal inner metaphors they will gradually and naturally start to evolve leading towards positive change
Read what the originators of Symbolic modelling ( James Lawley and Penny Tompkins) have to say:
Metaphors and symbols are like threads which weave together to create a continually unfolding tapestry — the fabric of our existence.Metaphors are so fundamental, pervasive and embedded in thought, word and deed that they tend to remain out of our awareness.Through Symbolic Modelling we become aware of the way our metaphors define our experience. Then we can create a model of how our symbolic mind-body-spirit perceptions work together as a perfectly functioning system. This model of self, or Metaphor Landscape, exists as a living, breathing, dynamic, multi-dimensional world within and around us. As we explore this symbolic world it begins to evolve, thereby creating the conditions for a transformative shift in the way we perceive our self and our relationships. And as this happens, our everyday thinking, feeling and behaviour change as well.
How does Symbolic modelling work?
Symbolic modelling uses our personal metaphors. These metaphors define our experience; both how we experience and how we describe it. When we start to describe and pay attention to our metaphors they spontaneously start to change and “evolve”. Continued focusing on a positive goal leads naturally, easily and spontaneously to positive changes.
Your psychotherapist helps you tap into, and helps track, your inner process with the aid of specialised training in Symbolic Modelling, making use of specific respectful, careful Clean Language questions, enabling you to attain greater self-understanding, insight and to easily discover the right solution for you. As the process is internally directed by you : your “inner wisdom”, also called the sub-conscious, unconscious, intuition or gut feeling, you can both trust and appreciate the results.
Any changes will be fully in line with what your intuition or “inner wisdom” knows is best for both you and for all those affected by you: this “ecological”, holistic, or “big picture” way of working can be especially helpful where others are also affected by decisions taken or internal conflicts may be present. This process is generally experienced by the majority of clients as both enjoyable and engrossing: you may find yourself moved by the experience of connecting to your deeper self.
Symbolic Modelling can be used for both resolving problems and for personal and psychological growth/self-development; finding your true self, finding your life purpose, improving relationships, improving self-esteem, improving performance, making difficult decisions and life changes amongst many other applications. Symbolic modelling is particularly effective for long-held intractable problems, changing negative core beliefs and for questions of meaning and purpose.
Why choose Symbolic modelling?
Symbolic modelling can be effective for problems which have been resistant to other techniques.
As Lawley and Tompkins say:
“Symbolic Modelling uses personal metaphors to facilitate clients to work with higher levels of experience — core beliefs, sense of identity and purpose, the spiritual — as well as complex and seemingly intractable issues that are not amenable to traditional techniques.”