What is “Clean Language Therapy ”?

In 1993 a therapist friend told that she had attended a 3 day workshop called “Healing the Wounded Child Within” by David Grove a New Zealander. She told me that we were using similar language patterns and that she had purchased his materials (workbook & 8 cassette tapes) and wanted to know if was interested in borrowing them. I studied the materials and was able to talk to David on four or five occasions. I used David’s materials when I worked with Nancy in 1994: (https://clintmatheny.com/nancy-healing-sexual-abuse/).

It wasn’t until 1999 did David’s “Clean Language“ got the attention it deserved and it happened in the UK. David’s untimely death occurred in 2008.

I hope within the next fifty years “Clean Language Therapy” becomes the most used model in mainstream Psychotherapy.

The accepted methods of treating trauma 30 years ago were to encourage clients to ‘desensitise’ by talking through their experiences; David, however, noticed that this often re-traumatised patients and instead listened to them describe their symptoms spontaneously in metaphor, for instance ‘it feels like a ton of bricks’, and found that exploring these metaphors alleviated their disorders.

To encourage this process, he repeated patients’ own exact words back to them and developed a series of simple questions which would carry the least possible influence from the therapist. Because this honoured the patient’s experience, ideas and values without contaminating them with those of the therapist, he named this technique “Clean Language”.

We both have had mixed results with clients taking psychotherapeutic medications (benzodiazepines & barbiturates) because clients have to be able to access their emotional feelings to do this process.

Many of my clients are surprised by these unusual clean language questions as is this woman that had been experiencing fear daily for over twenty years. This woman experienced a trauma when her father committed suicide by shooting himself with a shotgun in an adjoining room.

For over twenty years she was experiencing PTSD symptoms of fear and always being hyper vigilant. She had to always sleep facing a doorway and she had to have security at the hospital where she worked look under her car before she could enter it. The session lasted for less than thirty minutes and I used “clean language” as an intervention so she could successfully resolve her trauma and PTSD symptoms. This is a humorous 90 second followup interview I did in 1999:

These are nine basic Clean Language questions that I use to clarify the speaker’s meaning when they use a metaphor:
And what would you like to have happen?
And is there anything else about ..X..?
And what kind of … is that …?
And where is …?
And whereabouts?
And what happens next?
And then what happens?
And what happens just before …?
And where could … come from?
And that’s … like what?

I believe that interviewers, coaches, therapists, and business consultants will greatly improve their communication skills by letting their clients take the responsibility of solving their desired outcomes by using this communication model.

I have been using “Clean Language” interventions for the past twenty-eight years. Over twelve years ago I developed a modified procedure that I call, “Back to the Future”.

See the two “Back to the Future” post and  “Recommended Books & Links” post for more information on “Clean Language” .

Watch this 3 minute video by Judy Rees;

More information from Judy:



Back to Top