‘Trauma is a result of an overwhelming sense of danger, powerlessness, and fear. Healing is a result of feeling safe, empowered, and supported’
No, not a post about housework! Clean Language – what do you think when you read that? Maybe you think it means not swearing or saying something rude. That’s a good start but there is another meaning, something that was developed by David Grove, a Psychologist from New Zealand, after he worked with veterans from the Vietnam War. David noticed that the traumas the servicemen and women had been through meant that they often couldn’t remember details but did remember the feelings involved. They also tended to use metaphors to talk about their experiences and it was these imaginative descriptions of events which made Grove come up with his Clean Language Technique.
The Clean Language technique involves asking simple questions with time and space to think about the answer. Used in therapy, there is no interpretation of the clients answers. Over time the practice has developed to help people find their purpose, as well as deal with trauma, as it allows the time and space to spot patterns of behaviour, visualise successful outcomes and come up with answers. Reading about the technique, I began to understand how simple, or clean, questioning can really help someone to come to a realisation about pretty much anything.
If we set ourselves a goal, there are all kinds of pressures around that, along with a sense of failure should we not achieve our stated aim. With clean language, the question is more simple. If we are dealing with an issue from the past it could be ‘What would you like to have happened?’ and if is something that hasn’t happened yet – ‘What would you like to happen?’.
For example, let’s say I want to drink more water (it’s true, I do!), so I could ask myself ‘What would I like to happen?’ and the answer might be ‘ I want to drink 2000 mls of water every day’. I could then ask myself ‘What does this look like?’ to which I might say ‘It looks like 4 herbal teas and 3 glasses of water’. By doing this, I can clearly picture, or visualise, the actual drinks I would need to consume to ensure I am achieving what I want to happen. Then I could ask myself ‘When am I going to have these drinks?’ to which I would specify the points in my day when 4 herbal teas and 3 glasses of water would fit in. Doing this makes it much more likely that I will actually do it.
Imagine doing the exercise above with a bigger subject, such as changing job or dealing with a difficult relationship. Breaking down the questions so you can clearly see what it is you want and how you will achieve it, can really help. Simply starting with ‘where do I want to be in a year?’ could be a great starting point. Once you can visualise or describe how you will feel, what you will be doing, who you will be doing it with, you can ask yourself ‘How will I get there?’ and then break it down into more specific questions.
From a simplistic point of view, asking ourselves these types of questions can really help us to get to the heart of what we want and need without setting ourselves unrealistic, or idealised, goals which we are unlikely to achieve and which end up making us feel like failures. Then, instead of giving up and resigning ourselves to thinking negatively, we can move forwards until we achieve our goal whether that is healing from the past or looking towards something in the future. Of course, this is just one way of exploring our thoughts and many situations, particularly if it involved trauma in the past, will require the support of a trained therapist.
We’ve touched on visualisation in this post and that is something I plan to come back to at a later date, exploring how we can extend on the questioning techniques described above to visualise what that actually looks like. But for now, can you use clean language to help with something you’d like to achieve? The tiny tweak this week is to ask yourself a simple question – what do I want to happen? It could be about anything but give it a go and see if asking that question helps you to break down what you want and give you the motivation to go for it. Do let me know!
Until next time xx
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