James Lawley

Where do metaphors live? The use of mental space in Symbolic Modelling

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Presentation description:

Utilising mental space was a feature of David Grove’s psychotherapy from the 1980’s until his death in 2008. Grove realised that clients’ metaphors were located in mental space, inside and outside their body. He called the embodied-3D map of those metaphors a 'psychescape' or 'metaphor landscape'. In addition, Grove realised that “interrogating metaphors until they confessed their strengths” required a special class of questions he developed and called Clean Language

From the mid-1990’s onwards Penny Tompkins and I formalised and generalised Grove's approach as Symbolic Modelling. We have applied the method in many areas in addition to therapy, including most recently research interviewing. In this presentation I will explain how we facilitate clients to locate metaphors in their mental space; how the symbolic modeller engages in a ‘trialogue’; and how the client’s metaphor landscape develops into a psychoactive, emergent context for spontaneous and organic change to occur.


James Lawley is a partner in the Developing Company, psychotherapist, trainer, organisational consultant and independent researcher. At his core he is a modeller. He co-authored Metaphors in Mind and Insights in Space – the first comprehensive books on Symbolic Modelling and Clean Space – and many articles published in professional and academic journals (all freely available at cleanlanguage.co.uk).

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