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The Meta Model

This is a model of language intended to allow psychotherapists to put their clients back in touch with an enriched model of their world of experience. The premise behind it is that when clients are telling their tales of woe, those woes are due to their having an impoverished model of the world. The Meta Model offers a set of questions through which therapist and client can address the words in which those tales were told and, thus, excavate an enriched model of the world. The hope is that with this enriched model of the world the client's presenting problem will resolve or dissolve. (This was prior to the NLP developers generating an avalanche of techniques for change.)

It is a little difficult to say quite how many distinctions the Meta Model contains. It depends on how you differentiate between categories and the distinctions within them when the names of categories are sometimes also the names of distinctions (the result being at least as confusing as this sentence). Let's just say the Meta Model identifies about a dozen different ways to question the language people use, in order to get a fuller description of what they are talking about.

It is worth noting that a fuller description can be fuller in relation to content or structure, or both. A fuller description of content involves enriching the way an experience is being presented. Someone telling us they went "on holiday" doesn't tell us very much. But they could go into detail about where they went, what they did, the sights, sounds, smells and tastes they experienced and it can (virtually) seem as if we had gone there, too.

A fuller description of structure will be less familiar to us as we do not ordinarily use structure as a focus of attention. In the holiday example, a focus on structure would lead us to be interested in what meanings the person made out of their experience (including those meanings they were not aware of having made), the sense they made of their various observations of the locals, plus what response they had to all the things they experienced.

The status of the Meta Model was somewhat ambiguous, being proposed both as an adjunct to all forms of psychotherapy and as, itself, the means to therapeutic ends. Therapeutically, it offered two aids to practitioners. Firstly, through a set of questions it made available a means to extend almost infinitely the richness of a client's description of their presenting problem. Secondly, it provided a framework for patterning the characteristic ways in which the client created their dysfunctional model of the world. For instance, it might be that the client was prone to global, black and white thinking, or to failing to notice any caring messages from others, or to assuming others were criticising them without adequate evidence, or to making unwarranted generalizations, or to making idiosyncratic attributions concerning the meaning of others' behavior, etc. Noticing such patterns gave the therapist useful information about the consequential structure of the client's thinking.

In terms of the patterning we are interested in for the process of modeling, it is the Meta Model's information gathering function which is of most relevance. The Meta Model questions, and more particularly the emphasis the model (and NLP in general) puts on language and what can be revealed in and through language, have informed our own elicitation procedure and the specific elicitation questions we use.

What We Want From the Meta Model

For our purposes in the enterprise of modeling, there are two questions in the Meta Model that are particularly important. These are:

"What, specifically?"

"How, specifically?"

When we talk of something there is always, inevitably, a lot left out. There's always more to be said. In parallel to Jacques Derrida's claim that there is no closure to the text, so there is no closure to the mouth.

Regarding how someone manifests an ability, there are going to be lots of "whats," things (material, conceptual, sensory or from any of the other major experiential food groups) about which we want to know, and lots of "hows," processes about which we are going to want to know. So the two questions - "What, specifically?" and "How, specifically?" - are good places to start. Pop them into your virtual pocket and you can whip them out to get you more information about anything. They can take you a long way. Careful with how you use them, though. Used iteratively they can bore through the crust of social niceties in seconds and leave your respondent blinking in an interrogation spotlight. Nobody expects to come home to the Spanish Inquisition.