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Clean language: Trust the Patient

7. October 2022
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Books reviewedPhilip Harland: Trust me, I'm the Patient. Wayfinder Press, London 2012.

"Clean language" is a non-judgmental questioning technique designed to help patients tap into unconscious knowledge. Philip Harland and his therapeutic school are convinced that the patient knows the solution to his or her problem.

In his book "Trust me, I'm the Patient", author Philip Harland explains the approach of his teacher David Grove, who developed the "Clean language" technique. It is based on two rules: Operate from a state of not knowing. And ask questions that have no imputation of meaning beyond the questions themselves.

This approach puts the patient center-stage. The therapist has the role of a midwife, helping the unconscious to cross the threshold to consciousness. We step back and do not contaminate the process with our own assumptions, suggestions or emotions. In this way we shift the power imbalance in the therapist-client relationship. And we strengthen the patient's trust in the process, which opens up his or her own dormant resources.

The theory section of the book is followed by a practical section in which Harland reproduces exemplary therapeutic conversations. He provides a large catalog of "clean language" questions. In doing so, Harland, who is also a screenwriter, raises awareness of ambiguity and word play. He encourages asking questions in order to tap into the "parallel worlds" in the subconscious. For from the wealth of associations, sensations and experiences, we can only communicate partial aspects with language at a time.

For Philip Harland, a key to the unconscious is metaphors. "If we suppose metaphor to be the coded message, then Clean language is a formula for deciphering the code," Harland says. And with that knowledge, we open up the possibility for our patients to heal and change.

Even if one does not regard the approach as the only possible way to proceed in therapy, in our opinion the book is a must-read for therapists. It encourages us to take a critical look at the influence we have on our patients. Taking into account that, in our view, therapeutic action is not possible without a relationship - of whatever kind - with our patients.

More about Clean language

To learn more about Clean language see the Website of Penny Tompkins und James Lawley.

This Podcast might also interest you

Michelle Weiner Davis also assumes that patients know the solution to their problems. However, she consciously influences the perception of her clients by showing them where they have already successfully changed something in their lives. And she encourages them to try new things. Podcast Change your life by brief therapy

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