Review of Frank Farrelly's Provocative Therapy
By Peta Heskell
Any of you who have been on the receiving end of a Richard Bandler training will instantly recall the involved stories which seem to be lead nowhere, the outrage, the shock and the humour of his highly effective methods. Have you ever wondered whether he might have, in true NLP fashion, modelled this distinctive behaviour from someone? If that thought has crossed your mind and even if it hasn't, take note of the name Frank Farrelly because he is one of the subjects that Bandler modelled in the early 70s.
Most of us who know something about NLP will probably be familiar with the early modelling projects on Fritz Perls, Milton Erikson and Virginia Satir, but I had not heard of Frank Farrelly until I was invited to spend a day in the company of Frank, courtesy of the Sue Knight organisation.
Who is Frank Farrelly? Frank is the developer of Provocative Therapy. Provocative therapy is a wild form of confrontational therapy that cuts the quick a problem, throws it up in the air, bathes it in outrageous humour and opens up the possibilities of change. It works because Frank Farrelly has a deep understanding of the human condition and he knows how to make people laugh at themselves. I sat down in a circle with 10 eager participants and Frank and as he began to speak and as I watched and listened to....the voice, the actions, the wild approach mingled with a wicked humour, it could have been Richard Bandler talking to me. I sensed that this would be something extraordinarily special.
Several of the participants had already had the opportunity to model Frank's techniques on a previous Sue Knight NLP training and they had returned to 'get more of Frank'.
The structure of the two days was identical consisting of individual 30 minute therapy sessions carried out in front of the other participants. Each 'client' got the opportunity to work with Frank on a problem of their choosing. Prior to each session Frank reminded the group of their contract to refrain from making any comments other than laughter. I spent so much time laughing I was quite happy to keep my mouth shut until the end of the session when we were invited to comment.
If your idea of 'therapy' is the kind of session where the therapist may just ask questions and listen then Frank will shock the pants off you. Provocative therapy it is called and provocative it is!
The first participant, a rather good looking guy in his 30s, who incidentally had brought his wife along, took his place in the hot seat... "What's your problem" Frank growled. He was torn between spending time with his family and spending more time at the office. Frank looked at him and said...You have the handicap of beauty..he then meandered into stories about the types of power..organisational, charisma, money, class and beauty. He related a meaningful metaphor about the millionaire who wanted to choose a wife and tested them by giving them £25,000 to spend. The first invested it, the second spent it all and the third put it in the bank. Which one did he marry 'The one with the biggest titty's....Where was all this leading...? It was leading the client to accept reality, see the funny side and become more flexible.
The techniques became more obvious when Frank interviewed another participant. 'What's YOUR problem?' Frank bored into him with his mischievous eyes. "I'm not getting the results I want'. Frank looked at him, drew in a breath and replied...Sonny, before you get out of the bed in the morning I want you to pucker up those lips and get ready to KISS ASS!. 'That's not my model of the world' was the rather uncomfortable reply. This session turned into a demonstration of provocative therapy at its best. As I observed this process, constantly intermingled with outrageous humour, I began to understand what Frank was doing and it was so simple.
Frank drills down to the raw juice of the matter. Rather than taking his clients through the pain of the past and spending years waiting for them to plough through the murk to gain awareness, his vast experience enables him to see the truth with an uncanny clarity. He then confronts his clients with this truth couched in wild humour. This makes the client sit up - they are confused but Frank has planted some serious seeds for thought. I rather suspect that one or two of the subjects might have woken up some time later with that 'aha' feeling. Later on that evening I asked myself what did kiss ass really mean to me....In straight terms it has all the nuances of brown-nosing, grovelling, and generally cowtowing to anyone who can do something for us. Not, I suspect, a pleasant association for most. In deeper terms I began to see it as a vulgar but true metaphor for what I call networking, knowing the right people, and a plain fact of life. We have the choice to react to these 'home truths' as opportunities or problems. I know how I want to react. How about you?
Frank's provocation is deliberate. He forces his clients to confront reality and learn to appreciate and accept it with humour. NLP defines this as a pattern interrupt. Clients are shocked out of their wallowing, taught to laugh at themselves and encouraged to see another side.
One lady complained that her family never helped her around the house. 'They won't clean the dog, cat, goat and budgie shit from the floor' she wailed. She lived on a farm. Frank was on a roll. 'You should have swallowed it instead' and he wasn't referring to the shit! Roars of laughter. But what was the deeper intention? Was Frank trying to make her understand that she chose to have a family and all this came with the territories? Frank related amusing stories from his own experience intermingled with suggestions about menopausal women - she wasn't quite sure how to take that. He asked her if she screamed during orgasm - 'Sometimes' she replied rather uncomfortably....Perhaps she might like to emit an orgasmic scream from time to time. She laughed and we noticed her changes of expressions as the possibilities of alternative behaviour tricked into her brain. He suggested that she could revel in revenge when her daughter went through the trials of losing her first love.... "Ha Ha" he croaked. "She's given you a lot of pain, now enjoy it when she goes through it". 'What do your family love about you' he demanded....she paused... 'Take your time' he conjectured and with a wink to the audience 'I know its hard'. These snippets will only give you an inkling of the very clever and intuitive process that Frank follows with his clients - but it is amazingly effective. I watched her state changing during the 30 minutes from shock, through embarrassment to curiosity until finally she was laughing as loud as the rest of us. I wonder how many 'aha' moments she experienced in the weeks that followed.
At the end of each session Frank asked the client if they had any reactions to him. In most cases there was occasional indignance and plenty of confusion mixed with a very apparent dawning of awareness.
Was this a lot of trivial nonsense? I don't believe so. Frank uses humour to couch his provocation. He gets straight to the heart of the matter, opens up the neural pathways and invites clients to reframe the reality and thus deal with it. This is the style that Richard Bandler uses. And like Bandler, I suspect Frank may have his critics amongst the more mamby pamby folk. I have always admired people who can reframe their problems with humour . Somehow they seem to be able to cope so much better than those who intellectualise or scour the murky depths of their lives seeking the whys rather than the what to do's. Through all the outrageous language and confrontational style, Frank came across as a very sincere and caring person who is motivated by love for his family, the world not to mention his BMW motorbike!
What was the key learning for me? Shock 'em, shake 'em up, make 'em laugh, open up the possibilities, confuse 'em and trust that their unconscious will develop a solution out of their own experience and the seeds of possibility that he has planted. Provocative therapy will not work with out humour. My only regret was that there was not time for me to take my place in the hot seat and I shall remedy that by making sure I am there next time Frank visits our shores this October. If your curiosity is at all aroused you might want to make sure you are there too!
Peta Heskell 2004