NLP and Clean Language: The Historical Links

Clean Language may not be “NLP in disguise”, but the two approaches to personal development have shared roots. And as more and more NLPers and hypnotists around the world discover Clean Language, the more I’m being asked to fill in the detail.

Here’s what I’ve assembled. There’s sure to be someone who disputes everything I write here – nothing’s simple in the history of personal development. And if you have connections to add, please comment below.

David Grove was an NLPer

The late David Grove (1950 – 2008) was an NLPer and an Ericksonian hypnotist before he created Clean Language in the 1980s, but then split from the NLP world.

David Grove is on the record as saying so to Penny Tompkins and James Lawley in 1996, here. Apparently he said: “My first association with NLP was back in 1978. At first I wasn’t interested in the therapy side, I really wanted it for business. One time I went along for an NLP business workshop and they said “Oh I’m sorry, not enough people have showed up, you’ll have to join the other group.” So that’s how I first became interested in phobias and trauma.”

David also told me so.  When I interviewed him at the NLP Conference in London in 2005, he mentioned that it was the first NLP event he’d attended in many, many years, so I asked him why he’d dissociated himself from NLP. We were walking at the time and I had neither a notebook in my hand nor a dictaphone running, but my recollection of his answer was, “Bandler was taking too many drugs at the time. And I was squiring Grinder’s ex-wife about, and I didn’t like how he treated his son.” Despite some active searching, I’ve been unable to find the woman he was referring to.

Paul Scheele told me he knew David when they were both studying NLP, and shortly afterwards – I think this would have been in Minneapolis. He said that David threw himself into learning with huge energy and determination – he took a psychotherapy degree in super-quick time, for example. Paul remembers David being fascinated by people’s personal metaphors, even then. For example, they once went together to pitch for some business work. David spotted a model plane in the guy’s office and started peppering his language with “flying” metaphors. This all came up while Paul was interviewing me about Clean Language for an online event – he was audibly shocked to hear the news that his close contemporary had died.

I’m also in touch with someone who was studying NLP in the US during the 1980s when David appeared as a visiting trainer, demonstrating some of his newly-devised Clean Language processes. By their account, he was clearly very familiar with NLP and had close friends in the NLP world.

The name “Clean Language” also provides evidence of NLP roots. In NLP, “clean language” minimises content introduced to a therapeutic intervention by the practitioner. David took that idea and ran with it, keeping the name as he went.

And, David certainly made a very comprehensive split from NLP. By the time his only book (co-authored with B.I. Panzer) was published in 1989 he was describing himself as having done “considerable work with Ericksonian and strategic family therapies”, but his bio doesn’t mention NLP. In the immediate aftermath of his death, I was asked by his ex-partner, Cei Davies Linn, to remove references to NLP from his online obituary on the grounds that they were not true, and that he had never had anything to do with NLP.

Clean Language and Provocative Therapy

Another interesting link between Clean Language and NLP is through the late Frank Farrelly. Frank, creator of Provocative Therapy, had a profound influence on the early days of NLP – Richard Bandler modelled him extremely closely, to the extent that the two men shared several distinctive mannerisms.

I understand that Frank and David had both done their therapy training at the University of Minnesota, where, David told me, they shared a mentor.

In one way both Frank and David were working on the same problem – how to keep the therapist’s “stuff” out of the client’s world. Frank’s plan was to offer the client such absurd presuppositions that they would simply laugh, rather than accepting them. David’s approach, by contrast, was to see how “Clean” he could be.

Reconnecting Clean and NLP

When Penny Tompkins and James Lawley met David in 1994, they were deeply embedded in the NLP world – for example, they ran the London NLP Practice Group which existed at that time. Penny had a very profound experience at one of David’s workshops and the couple set out to model (in an NLP sense) what he was doing. By their account, he was initially very reluctant to be involved. But over several years, their persistence paid off. Penny and James wrote a number of articles for NLP journals and eventually synthesised their model into the book Metaphors In Mind (2000). In that book, Penny and James say explicitly that they have drawn on NLP in creating their model of David’s work, Symbolic Modelling.

Since then, Clean Language has become an established part of many NLP trainings, especially in the UK. For example, Sue Knight (author of NLP At Work) and Toby and Kate McCartney include significant amounts of Clean in their NLP courses.

Recent Developments

NLPer Andrew Austin built on some (but not all) of David’s ideas in devising his Metaphors Of Movement approach, which has been endorsed by leading American NLPers Steve and Connirae Andreas.

James Tripp’s Hypnosis Without Trance also contains significant elements of Clean Language. (Full disclosure – James and I are currently working together on Clean Language For Hypnotists.)

7 Comments

  • Greg Turner

    19/04/2017

    Judith Delozier who is still actively involved with NLP and was one of the group of early developers was married to John Grinder. So perhaps she is the woman who David Grove squired around. Her names appears as one of the authors of Vol 2 of “Patterns of Hypnotic Techniques of Milton Erickson”

  • JR

    19/04/2017

    Thanks @Greg, it definitely wasn’t Judith, she says she’s never met David. I think it’s a woman called Kathleen.

  • caitlin walker

    20/04/2017

    In terms of the early years, I’m no expert.
    I do think it’s worth a mention that Penny and James, modelling David were clearly highly skilled and experienced NLP modellers and NLP Psychotherapists and their learning from that discipline will have had a huge influence on their modelling of David and their coding of his work.
    As well as this, so many of those who took their model of David’s work and indeed those of us who were learning from them as well as modelling David alongside them have a strong NLP background – my training in NLP started in 1989 I know Systemic Modelling is influenced by NLP as well as TA.
    I therefore think that Clean Language – as many people are teaching it and are using it today will have NLP influences in many aspects of their practice and in their delivery.
    Chris Grimsley and Glenda Sutcliffe who worked extensively with David and have had Clean Language as part of their NLP trainings since the mid 2000’s have a style of NLP teaching that I believe was already closely aligned with David’s values. Cricket Kemp has also had Clean Language, within her NLP North East company, since 2000. Jennifer De Gandt who heads up Clean Language and EK France is also an old school NLPer.
    Also whatever David’s connections with NLP while he was developing Clean Language, he spent a lot of time hanging out with NLPers while he continued to develop it and the wrangling and wrestling that we were all doing will also have had an influence along the way.
    I imagine Cei will know a lot and might share more of her thoughts there are others around in those early days who may well remember more.

  • Ronald van Oosten

    21/04/2017

    Well, there is a Kathleen Grinder who is a registered agent for Unlimited, Ltd., John Grinder’s company. That might be her.

  • JR

    23/04/2017

    Sounds pretty likely! Any contact info?

  • Corrie van Wijk

    24/04/2017

    From what I learned about NLP and Clean Language, the difference is that NLP uses models and clean questioning is tailor-made.

    David strived for a scientific approach and resented NLP. Having said that, NLP might be more close to neuroscience than any other approach, but at the time psychology was not as biological than it is now.

    With Emergent Knowledge he tried to follow a scientific line and he started a book on that, which I now try to write.

  • Ronald van Oosten

    24/04/2017

    Kathleen Grinder
    330 North Mathilda Avenue Suite 205 Sunnyvale CA 94086

    Phone Number
    (408) 366-0960

    I got this off the Internet. I hope you will find her. Please share the gems you uncover.

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