Over a period of years David Grove identified questions that would least influence clients in their metaphorical journey, hence the term 'Clean Language'. Carol Wilson, "Metaphor and Symbolic Modeling for Coaches."
Even though metaphors are commonplace in everyday language, we sometimes miss their potential to open doors that logic and its accompanying censors keep firmly locked. Think about it. If logic ruled the day, you could simply say "I'm going to stop feeling defensive when someone criticizes me" or "I want to lose 15 pounds" and voila! It's done. Just as our unconscious patterns and resistances defy logic from their right-brain location, they can also be accessed and transformed with metaphor.
It's really fun to follow a client's metaphor and see where it leads. And I've found that people will accept suggestions they might otherwise find strange or silly, if presented with confidence. So, for example, when I asked a client about her loneliness, she said it was like being stranded on a desert island. Dropping assumptions about my role as 'helper,' I followed her into her own metaphor, trusting that her internal resources would lead us somewhere healing. (It's a long story, but a key player was a talking bird, a guide neither of us could have anticipated.)
If you come into metaphor play with your own worldview, make assumptions about what clients 'see' in their metaphors, and take them where YOU think they should go, this negates their experience and dismisses the potential for their own solutions. Psychologist David Grove suggested that metaphors are not only symbolic of a problem but also contain clues to solutions. He developed questions he called "clean," meaning they don't engage a cognitive process but rather keep clients in relationship with their own metaphors.
Angela Dunbar's article, "Using Metaphors With Coaching," will give you a good start with Clean Language. The first question is always "What would you like to have happen?" and clients are typically in a logical, left-brain mode, as my client was when she said she wanted to feel connected instead of lonely. So it may take a while for a metaphor to arise, but soon, as you follow the client's lead, a whole metaphorical landscape begins to appear.
Here are a few examples of clean questions and content taken from a session of about 30 minutes. I'll use the word "bird" to represent my client's metaphor (one of many before she became aware of a voice, which then became a talking bird):
- To develop awareness: "What kind of voice is that voice?" or "Whereabouts is that voice?" or "Is there anything else about that voice?" (She 'sees' a bird landing next to her.)
- To understand the bigger picture: "Then what happens?" or "What happens just before?" or "Where could that bird have come from?" (She says it's a talking bird that comes from the ship she sees in the distance.)
- To explore relationships and connections: "And is there a relationship between that talking bird and feeling connected?" or "And when the bird talks to you what happens to feeling connected?" (She says when she reaches the ship she'll be connected, and the bird is telling her how to reach the ship.)
- To find out how the goal can be reached: "What needs to happen for you to feel connected?" or "And can that connection happen?" (The client at first says she has no way to get to the ship, she can't swim that far; but eventually the bird tells her how to build a raft and she is able to do that.)
A complete session is very much in flow and may move between questions, as new metaphors and even new goals appear.