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Problems, Remedies, Outcomes

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Practice Group Report

The theme of this month's meeting was the PRO (Problem, Remedy, Outcome) Model. This followed on from last month when we were looking at what aspects of experience to ‘go for’. At the start of a session, developing the client’s outcome makes it easier to know what to go for as the metaphor landscape develops: you know what you are trying to achieve. And sometimes, developing the outcome is all that is needed for the client to have a significant ‘shift’ in their perception.

For these reasons, the question “What would you like to have happen?” is often used at or near the beginning of a Symbolic Modelling session, to invite the client to pay attention to what they want. But clients don’t always respond with an outcome-type statement, such as “I want x”. Sometimes they continue to pay attention to the problem, and other times the way they word their reply suggests that what they want is a remedy, a quick-fix - they want to not have the problem.

Given that it is useful to direct the client’s attention to what they do want, James Lawley and Penny Tompkins developed the PRO model to help facilitators to distinguish between these three kinds of answer and to know what question to ask next which will help the client to pay attention to their outcome.

We started our Practice Group session with a quick reminder of this model…


PROBLEM statements are characterised by:

  • dislike of a current / future situation stated or implied

  • no words of desire

REMEDY statements:

  • describe something that hasn’t yet happened

  • contain a description of the problem

  • contain a desire / want / need etc. for the problem not to exist / to be reduced

OUTCOME statements:

  • describe something that hasn’t yet happened
  • contain a desire / want / need etc.
  • do not refer to the problem (even if you can guess what the problem is)

If the client’s attention is on the PROBLEM, you can ask What would you like to have happen? again, to get them to pay attention to their outcome:

Facilitator: What would you like to have happen?
Client: I am really stressed.
Facilitator: And you’re really stressed. And when you’re really stressed, what would you like to have happen?

When the client’s answer is a REMEDY, asking Then what happens? can get them thinking about their outcome:

Facilitator: What would you like to have happen?
Client: I’ve got a stress rash and I’d like it to go away.
Facilitator: And you’ve got a stress rash and you’d like it to go away. And when stress rash goes away, then what happens?

When the client’s response suggests they are paying attention to their OUTCOME, help them to develop this by asking Anything else? or What kind of?

Facilitator: What would you like to have happen?
Client: I’d like to be more relaxed.
Facilitator: And you’d like to be more relaxed. And when more relaxed, what kind of relaxed is that relaxed?

Having clarified these distinctions, we then went on to do a warm-up activity in two teams - each team had a list of client responses and categorised them according to whether they were a problem, a remedy or an outcome. This created a lively discussion, as we discovered that some statements were part remedy, part problem, and some which were technically remedies, seemed better served by the question What would you like to have happen? than Then what happens?

Next, two group members volunteered to be clients so we could practice keeping their attention on their outcomes. First we worked with the outcome ‘I want more paid work’ and then the stress rash (remedy), cited above. Both times we succeeded in getting the client to pay attention to their outcome and staying with the outcome for the majority of the time. And both of them reported that they got useful insights from the session.

Some people acknowledged that they were tempted to ask about problems and remedies and that it was only the discipline of the exercise that kept them on track. We are so easily beguiled by problems… So much so, that the group voted to spend our next meeting focussing on problems, and how to develop them. That should prove interesting!

  • For a more in-depth discussion of the PRO model, see Penny & James’s article Coaching for P.R.O.s 


About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.


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