Making Space for Insight and Change: Using the Metaphorical Process of Clean Space

By Barbara Stainman and Gina Campbell

Consider the following statements:


In listening, we don’t take these phrases literally in a spatial way, but they capture a client’s reality quite accurately. Metaphors connect to clients’ often unconscious feelings, beliefs, and thoughts around career issues. As Kerr Inkson asserts, metaphors are “excellent shorthand representations of the way speakers think about their careers.” Client metaphors support career as embedded in story and personal narrative, and provide a respectful and creative approach to generating insights. Furthermore, clients stuck with “analysis paralysis” can use a non-cognitive approach that offers new possibilities.


The Clean Space process as developed by psychotherapist David Grove provides an experiential approach. As the facilitator directs the client with simple questions to move about a space, it becomes “psychoactive”; the client’s internal “knowing” is projected into the room. Immersed in self-exploration instead of self-explanation, the client examines his or her conscious and subconscious beliefs, fears, hopes, values, etc. Neither the client nor the facilitator knows what will happen, and insights emerge naturally, often surprisingly. The facilitation is called “clean” because it is not created or contaminated with the facilitator’s words, metaphors, or agenda.


What’s a session like?


Jaime’s experience provides an idea of what might happen in a Clean Space session. She wants to explore what she might do after she graduates from college. An art major, she loves to be creative and to work with others. Beyond that, she doesn’t know what she wants to do.


The facilitator invites her to summarize her dilemma, which she does with a single word. She writes “career?” on a post-it, and places it on a blank wall. As Jaime begins describing her issue with her career choice, the facilitator listens for key words describing other aspects of her dilemma, and directs her to find additional spaces for each. From each new space, as Jaime tunes inward, she finds more information. Once she has identified all her spaces, she continues to move about between them, creating a web of ideas, feelings, and insights.


From Space #1: This is where I am now, facing “career?”. It just seems like one big, humongous question, looming at me. My mind is blank!


From Space #2: From here I know I can continue to work for a year after graduating at the college’s theatre. It’s run by professionals, and I can continue to be a set-design grunt. I’ll keep learning, maybe make some connections. Great! Dilemma solved!


From Space #3: (Long pause…) This space feels scary. This is a space about the unknown. It’s confusing, and I feel uncomfortable here. It feels familiar, this feeling.


From Space #4: Oh!.... From this space, I realize…I can’t stay at the college theater, not really. It’s more of the same. It’s safe and comfortable, but I have to spread my wings. Time to move on.


Jaime moves back to Space #1 at the facilitator’s invitation. Facilitator: What does this space know now from here?


Jaime: This space now understands that I don’t have to find the career I’ll do for the rest of my life! I just have to find a next good option. I feel a sense of relief here, like it’s going to be okay. All I need to know is the next step. I can be like an explorer; explorers don’t know what they’re going to find… I can be open to possibilities!


Although this is an abbreviated transcript of a session with only the client’s answers, you can see that, with this new perspective, Jaime realizes she doesn’t need a “perfect” answer. She reaches this conclusion experientially, not cognitively. She knows now that she can be like an explorer, and she feels motivated to consider a wide range of options with new-found enthusiasm.


A typical session can last from 20-60 minutes, and you can readily integrate a Clean Space exercise with other activities. As an enjoyable experiential modality, one must experience it to truly appreciate it. Contact the authors for possible opportunities at upcoming conferences to learn more details and to experience Clean Space exercises.



Inkson, K. (2006). Metaphor: A New Way of Thinking About Careers. Career Convergence Magazine, Retrieved 3/18/2011, https://careerconvergence.org/"margin-bottom: 0in;"> 



Gina Campbell, (M.Ed. in School Counseling) is the founder and director of Mining Your Metaphors, offering training in Symbolic Modeling and Clean Language in the U.S. and Canada. Certified in both Symbolic Modeling and poetry therapy, she has a private practice focusing on working with clients’ metaphors. Website: www.miningyourmetaphors.com Contact: gina@miningyourmetaphors.com


Barbara Stainman, MS, MSW, MCDP, CPRW, is a private practice career counselor in Denver. She has been trained in Clean Language and uses metaphors extensively in helping clients achieve clarity and focus in their career transitions and job search. www.blscareerservices.com, barb@blscareerservices.com

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