Chatting with Penny & James

Chatting with Penny & James

I talked with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley about their focus for their 3-day Enhancing and Integrating Your Symbolic Modeling Skills at Clean Convergence 2019.

In 2019 Penny & James will be presenting a program titled A Clean Approach to Working with Physical Symptoms and the Ecology of Systems.

“Metaphor is the natural language of physical symptoms and the process of healing. When clients explore the inherent logic of their metaphors and the system of which they are a part, they can discover ways to improve their well-being. Also, we can apply the metaphor of ‘healing’ from working with an individual as a system, to working with a family, team or an organization as a system of individuals. At the training will explore guiding principles, ethical issues, intentions behind problems, paying attention to the ecology of relationships – and more. You will learn through demonstrations and debriefs, guided facilitation, discussion and small group activities (with personal coaching).”

Clean Convergence is an annual program hosted each January by the Clean Language Institute and me, Sharon Small. We offer three different workshops as well as a 3-day self-modeling retreat for personal or professional development.

Penny and James bring their A-Game to each Clean Convergence at which they train. Here are some links to quick video testimonials from some of their fans from down under.

Roz is a professional mediator, media coach, and educator. She speaks briefly about how clean has helped her in both her personal and professional life


Greg is a professional coaching trainer. Greg speaks on the value he has found in his work with Penny Tomkins & James Lawley


Leona is a private therapist and coach. Leona speaks about her time with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley’s an a course on physical symptoms.


Sandy Hall is client director for HumanKind works in organizational development. Sandy recommends anyone in organizational development to work with Penny Tompkins & James Lawley.


 Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop

 Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop

Putting Clean Language to work in Business: Like a kid in a sweet shop

Mike Blukket is a student of Penny Tompkins & James Lawley. He is also a coach and member of the British Psychological Society. He had the opportunity to facilitate multi-award winning culinary artist Heston Blumenthal to tap into his personal creativity. We’d like to share some of this journey with you.

You can read the full article online

“I have found our work to explore my metaphoric sweet shop really helpful on a number of levels. At first it helped me regain my creativity and now that creativity has itself fed back into using metaphor to enhancing our customers’ dining experience.” Heston Blumenthal O.B.E.



Would you like to become more proficient in working with metaphor?

Clean Convergence consists of 4 programs with 11 days of instruction, personal development and skills development. Workbooks and support materials are provided, as are delicious home made lunches built to your dietary needs. Our venue will be a home style environment with walks and nature available for your down times. The San Luis Obispo area of California is part of the American Riviera (Mediterranean climate) with access to beaches, wineries, horse back riding, hikes and scenic cycling routes.

Gleanings From Twyla

Gleanings From Twyla

“You can learn a lot by watching”
Yogi Berra

Here is a fun observation exercise adapted from Twiyla Tharp and her book The Creative Habit.

My intention of sharing this adapted exercise with you is not as much about stimulating creativity as much as attending to how you do observing and what difference that makes to the meanings you make of what you see and hear…and, perhaps,even how creative you are already.

The Exercise

This weekend go someplace where you can do some people watching. Bring something to write on/with.

Choose someone or people to pay attention to and then write down everything they do until you get to 20 items.

The boy gets on the skate board, write it down. His mother says something to him. write it down. She moves her hands side to side, write it down. He looks to the right, write it down…and so on.

It shouldnt take you long to collect 20 items of observation.

Now as you read your list, notice how your imagination works creating an interpretation, a story about what you observed. This is creativity at work.

Was the mother concerned that her son would fall, maybe run into other people walking near where he was riding? Was the boy on the skate board happy and having fun, out for a day off of school, on vacation? How did you interpret what you observed?

What difference, if any, did you notice between when you were attending to only writing down observations and when you moved to attending to interpretations of what you saw?

How are they the same?

How are they different?

What else did you notice?

Now do it again and only write down those parts of your observation you find interesting. You may find it takes a bit longer to get your 20 items.

And notice what happens to your observations when you apply that filter find interesting” and how that effects both the kinds of things you notice and how you interpret them.

How was the first observation exercise the same or different to the second one?

Did you enjoy one more than the other?

Did you learn more about yourself and or other people doing one more than the other?

Is there anything else you noticed?

I would love to hear your experience with this exercise. To share, simply post a comment below.

How Clean Language Helped Save My Relationship With My Daughter

How Clean Language Helped Save My Relationship With My Daughter

All I could picture was my heroin-thin daughter running down the road with her coat flapping in the cold wind, thinking, “Oh my God, she’s going to die! She’s going to die.”

There is an epidemic of drug use among young Americans, as well as in many other parts of the world. We’re seeing a generation of college-bound, middle class kids falling into using heroin as a party drug. The consequences can potentially be devastating for the young people.

But what about parents?

How are parents equipped to deal with this when it enters their families and homes? Tragically, over the past couple of years, I found out for myself. It was hard. To tell the truth, it almost destroyed my relationship with my college-age daughter. I believe that I was so lucky to have the resources of Clean Language available to me. If I had not, I don’t know if I would have gotten through what happened, and that precious relationship may not have survived. I would like to share my story in the hope that it may offer hope and help to other parents or professionals who have to deal with drug use. In the autumn of 2013, I had started to notice my daughter, Taylor seemed to be having difficulties. I kept an eye on what was going on with her, and it became apparent in April 2014 that she was using heroin. (She was smoking it, which at the time I didn’t even know you could do, and that gives you an idea of how little I knew.) Although Taylor was managing to hold down a part-time job, she had failed two semesters of college, and I couldn’t help seeing that she was getting “heroin-thin.” So the drug use was interfering with her school, was starting to interfere with her work, and it was definitely negatively affecting her health. I brought Taylor home from college, and offered her a choice. She had the option to stay home and do her best to clean up, and she had the other option to find her own way, which would mean she did not live under our roof. When I asked her, she made it clear that living on the street was not an option for her. So we started the process of getting her off the drug, and facing the inevitable withdrawals. Something I learned later, in my journey to understand more about heroin, is the way it affects the future-thinking part of the brain. So Taylor wasn’t really able to think about “what’s next,” – it was really hard for her. We decided we needed more help. Taylor agreed to go to the drug and alcohol program near where we live.

Deep, Dark Trauma”

On her intake interview, she was interviewed for about twenty minutes, then they brought me into the room.  When I was there, the girl, who must have been in her mid-to-late twenties, looked at my daughter and said in all sincerity,

“You know, most girls, with the kind of drug use that you’re showing, have had a deep, dark trauma.”

At that point, I just bit my lip. I didn’t dare open my mouth, I was so mad. I noticed my daughter look from me to the woman and back to me. Neither one of us said anything. I remember thinking to myself, “I bet you do find that. Because, if they don’t have a deep, dark trauma when they come in, I would imagine that you guys just pick away until they make one up.” When we got in the car to leave, my daughter looked at me and her eyes got wide and she simply said, “Deep, dark trauma my ass!” We both knew there was no unusual trauma in Taylor’s life, beyond the normal childhood stresses. I asked her later why she was using, and her explanation was that it took her to her happy place, and that was all. I learned that, for Taylor, her initial use was all about pleasure, not about running away from any trauma or pain. But, of course, that didn’t fit with the support system that was available to us. To her credit, Taylor attended that service for several weeks, but eventually had to give it up. The staff could only keep digging away to find some alternate, dark reason why she was using, as though they couldn’t believe that somebody might actually use drugs for pleasure. Their whole mode of working did not work for Taylor.

Dangerous Therapy

I remember the addiction worker’s comments threw me straight back to a time when I was working with my own memories of sexual abuse, and how sick the system was. I spent ten years as a client of therapy, immersed in its victim mentality, until I decided to break free. My own family had started in therapy when my brother was quite young. I remember he was described as “out of control” and he was prescribed various ADD medications. When that didn’t work, they put my mom on Valium — which really didn’t work for someone with four young kids! That was followed by two years of Transactional Analysis. Over all that time, I did not notice any positive change in my brother. In fact, he ended up creating his own demise aged twenty-four, the victim of a drug-related murder. In my book “The End of Therapy” (2015), I write at length about how frequently therapists make massive assumptions, even when they do not mean to. I also describe how those assumptions can hurt the client, unless either the therapist of the client is able to discern them. Let’s be clear that I am not saying that no cases of drug use are in response to trauma. What I do say in the book is that forcing people to re-live the “reasons why” they have suffered may not be most beneficial for them. Reprogramming our thought patterns or behavior using NLP or CBT may help to a degree, but I have always imagined a better way, which engages a client’s imagination and passion towards a life that they want, and then help them find the behaviors and actions that will help propel them, in an observable way, towards that outcome. “The End of Therapy” explores my journey that resulted in my finding that better way.


Over the next eight months, Taylor iterated with using on and off. However, I soon realized that when you have been using drugs habitually, and you have friends who still use, it is incredibly difficult to stay off them. That cycle continued until it brought us to the point of breakdown. On one occasion I remember Taylor was coming into the house carrying armfuls of clothes or belongings. I said something to her and she replied “Yes mother,” in a sarcastic tone. I just grabbed whatever she was carrying and told her to get the hell out. She ran out of the house, and I went after her. All I could picture was my heroin-thin daughter running down the road with her coat flapping in the cold wind, thinking, “Oh my God, she’s going to die! She’s going to die.” I could have gone crazy. But I didn’t. I remember asking her to come home, and we were able to talk later.

Life-Saving Tools

I believe that the reason we overcame that breakdown was thanks to the tools of Clean Language.

About Clean Language

Clean Language was created by New Zealand-born psychologist David Grove in the 1980s, and it takes a radical stance to therapy, or to any kind of facilitation. In Clean, the facilitator maintains a stance that is outside the other person’s psychic space. They may ask questions — but only Clean questions — and these help the client to discover her or his own answers. The facilitator responds using the client’s language and metaphors, always careful to add no ideas or concepts of their own.

Change Does Not Happen in a Day

I now understand that many processes are iterative, and I can appreciate that my daughter may need to go through the cycle many times, each time making one more advancement, in order to reach where she needs to be. In fact, the Clean Language methodology fully embraces iteration. And I have been able over these months to prompt her, gently and persistently, with clean questions like,

  • “What would you like to have happen?”
  • “What needs to happen for this?”
  • “Is there anything else that needs to happen?”

At first, we were only able to think ahead a few days at a time.  And, over time, we could start to look further into the future about what Taylor wanted for her life. Sometimes I think I must sound like a broken record. But it keeps me from speaking the fears and the crap and the manipulation that I could so easily spew out. An example was that recently, I discovered evidence that Taylor was using a little heroin at home. She lied to me about it. I could easily have freaked out. But I didn’t. Because of my training, I was able to access the Clean stance. So I approached her with a Clean question, such as, “When I have evidence that you have been using, and you have lied to me, and using at home while you’re living here isn’t an option, what needs to happen?” Taylor was then free to volunteer information about how she was using. She told me that the clinic knew. She told me she was doing her best, and that she needed to stop seeing certain people. This is the point where I think she really decided — for herself — that living on the street was not for her. That was the point she decided to go to a Methadone clinic. She has been attending that clinic continually for over eight months, making the 35-mile round trip every day without fail. In that type of Clean transaction, I was able to stop and to let my daughter design her own solution. The outcome of this, so far, is that she has been able to stay in rapport with me, which means that when I have a suggestion or an idea (which I always will as a parent!) she is not adverse to hearing me, and is not constantly triggered to defend or to resist. She has remained both compliant and pro-active on her own part. I cannot imagine that, if I did not have access to these tools, questions, and way of thinking, that we would still have this type of relationship. Is it an ideal situation? No. Is it completely resolved? No. But it is friendly. The Clean stance has helped me not to take it personally, and instead to maintain and respect the boundaries that each of us must have. I can honor my daughter’s choices, even if I don’t like them, while looking to what I want to have happen, as a mother.

How Clean Language Has Helped

Where the Clean methodology and stance has been so helpful, and has really been a key to my survival, is that it really helps me tend to my daughter and her thinking, at the same time really keeping my fears and worries and anxieties out of the context of our conversations. Because, if I went in with all of my fear and anxiety over it, I knew we would be at each other’s throats. I know that what I want Taylor to do, and what she is actually doing, are two different things. I want her to stop. I want her to go back to school and be that magical, innocent child again. So it helps my sanity, even when things get heated or when I get anxious, I can ask her Clean questions about what she wants and about what needs to happen to help begin to repair whatever fall-down or disappointment she is having, whether it’s work or the clinic, or even the stresses of living at home.   Clean Language can help a person begin to design their own outcome, irrespective of what we may think they need. In fact, it is one of the core beliefs that each person knows better what is right for them than we ever can. And that is incredibly freeing. That is the key to me. It is her life, and her choice. Even if I hate what’s happening. I am so grateful that, even after having had to face the conversation of confronting my daughter with the drug paraphernalia, and telling her that she could not continue with those actions, or she would have to find someplace else to live… the very next day we still went for a manicure, pedicure and a movie together. Because she wants to spend time with me. Although she is still using heroin periodically, she is doing her best with work, and still regularly attends the Methadone clinic. But most of all, we have a relationships that is vital. I know that, even if my daughter were to have a complete breakdown, were to fall into the gutter, we have such a strong relationship and deep love for one another, even under incredibly trying circumstances. I have no doubt that I would not have been able to get to this point without the tools of Clean Language.