Therapist as Jester
Provocative Therapy as Psychological Homeopathy
Frank Farrelly as a Chiffoneti
Oxford, England Workshop Review
Provocative Therapy in Australia
Hypnosis and Provocative Therapy: an outline of similarities
Frank Farrelly & Provocative Therapy: a personal tribute
A Provocative Approach
A Bermuda Triangle of the mind
Review of Frank Farrelly's Provocative Therapy
The Wizard of Wisconsin
Frank communication at Bix Manor
The Wizard of Wisconsin
Provocative Therapy. What is it? Even the term itself raises questions
when the words 'therapy' and 'provocative' are used in a shared context.
How does 'it' work? What makes it different from traditional psychotherapy?
Where and from whom did it originate? Lot's of questions, so let's get some
The name 'Frank Farrelly' can often be heard spoken (by highly trained
psychotherapists) in a state of mixed wonderment and awe, in sentences that
are themselves liberally interspersed with the kind of language you'd
usually expect to find on some of the wilder football terraces,
male-dominated building sites - or even hen nights! How come? Well, it's
all because Frank Farrelly A.C.S.W. (past Clinical Professor at the
University of Wisconsin and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department
of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin) has developed a most powerful
psychotherapeutic approach which actually involves, precision directed
'locker room' language (his definition for the therapeutic expletives that
sometimes take place) in order to elicit positive changes in his clients.
As Frank Farrelly himself explains, the root meaning of the word 'provoke'
means 'to draw out' and that's exactly what Provocative Therapy does. It
draws the client out of their self-defeating / dysfunctional patterns by
provoking them in such a way that they actually begin to assert their own
self-worth. But why would clients in a Provocative Therapy session feel the
need to assert their self worth? After all - isn't it likely that many of
them will arrive for therapy feeling that they don't have much in the way of
'self worth' to account for, let alone enough assertiveness to 'assert'
themselves with? Well - let me tell you - you'd be surprised. Very
Jest a Minute
Farrelly's trademark logo is that of the jester. It's a logo that's aptly
chosen. Often you'll see this logo displayed doing a headstand, while
simultaneously balancing, on the upturned sole of one foot the 'comedy /
tragedy' (or happiness and sadness) theatrical masks that developed in
ancient Greece and which have since become the universal symbols for theatre
(and role playing). Could they be implying that we (people) collectively
spend a lot of time living, perhaps even hiding behind, various masks that
we hope the world (others) will perceive to be our 'true' selves? Possibly,
maybe, even to the extent that often times a person could even forget what
is a mask and what's real? While on the other upturned foot rests that
universal symbol of both change and balance - the Yin / Yang. Change - and
balance (Hmmnn, maybe there's a deeper meaning to that symbol than is first
apparent too?). The jester however, is himself exquisitely poised, while he
balances these archetypal symbols and watches the world from his inverted
position. But perhaps, just maybe, it's the world that is looking at the
jester from the wrong perspective? Perhaps, just maybe, it's the world
(meaning most of humanity) which is looking at life from the wrong point of
view? You could even suppose that the jester is in actual fact juggling the
evocative masks and the Ying / Yang symbol and that too would be quite apt -
because one of the meanings of the word 'juggler' is magician. And it is
definitely psychotherapeutic magic that takes place when the 'Wizard of
Wisconsin' is at work. Curiouser and curiouser! Also of interest to us;
while the jester balances the masks, with honed adroitness born of years of
experience he isn't himself wearing one. This indicates very much that with
Frank 'what you see is what you get', a no hiding, no double talking kind of
guy. And in many ways that is exactly what you get when you have an
interview with Frank. But, remember, looks can be deceiving - or at least
not as revealing as they might be.
The Method to the.Sanity
Every psychotherapist / counsellor should have a copy of Provocative
Therapy, by Frank Farrelly and Jeff Brandsma. It's like a breath of fresh
air in amongst a, sometimes, sterile, overly clinical,
dissociated-from-the-client-as-a-human being field. However, in contrast,
Frank Farrelly is above all 'real'. He 'rolls his sleeves up' and, to use a
popular phrase of the times 'gets up close and personal'. And, every
moment of every moment, every nuance, and every strategy is delivered in a
finely tuned manner, in order to develop the right kind of therapeutic
response(s) from his client. He doesn't miss a trick, although, one of his
strategies is to give the impression that he does!
To watch Frank work (on the surface) is like watching an 'average guy' that
you might find in any bar around the world 'shooting the breeze' with
someone. Frank can be both your buddy and your adversary at the same time.
He, as an adversary (devil's advocate), will 'draw from' his client /
interviewee a range of relevant issues that he then, often in seemingly
preposterous and / or exaggerated ways, will begin to work upon. For
example: if the client's presenting problem is offered as a 'molehill' size
case of 'ABC', Frank might get hold of it and suggest (artfully, and in ways
that raise helpful questions in the mind of the receiver) that it is in
actual fact a proverbial 'mountain' of a problem, maybe even a 'catastrophic'
case of the same (.or perhaps not? After all, many clients indulge in
'catastrophising' when dwelling on their problems. So, Frank just does it
for them and as a result of this provocation the client is challenged to
realistically assess the nature of the situation. This, in turn can result
in the seriousness of the original presenting problem diminishing in its
destructive seriousness in the client's mind, and therefore becoming much
more readily manageable.) This often challenges the client's stereotypical
ideas of what psychotherapy is all about. While they may have expected a
mollycoddling approach, instead the problem is assessed, even seemingly
maximised and then, in effect, given back to the client for them to look at
again - albeit from a changed perspective).
And so the dance begins. Frank (so it seems) also sometimes attributes
deprecating qualities to the client. Often, at first, the client will
agree. But within a short while they will usually begin to protest or
disagree, sometimes quite loudly (in fact I was once reminded of the phrase,
in one situation: 'methinks thou dost protest too loudly', meaning that
Frank was acutely precise with his aim in relation to his understanding of
the underlying problem and it triggered a powerful response as a result).
As things unfold the client continues to assert herself / himself and makes
rapid therapeutic value changes, due to the provocative approach and in the
process of the dance, magic occurs.
Now, this is a very simplified explanation of what takes place. It's likely
that no one article could come close to doing justice to the artistry
involved; but it does provide something of a 'taster'. Let's then add a bit
of seasoning to this taster, by drawing on some explanations written by Dr.
Jaap Hollander, someone who is himself a highly trained psychotherapist who's
spent many years watching Frank work. The following descriptions, produced
by Jaap, to explain something of the deep structure of what Frank does, have
since become known as the 'Farrelly Factors'. Below each bullet-pointed
Farrelly Factor I have myself taken this opportunity to provide a few
additional words that relay my own impressions of them (having seen Frank
employing them in our live training seminar). Please bear in mind as you
read, that the examples I've added relate to just one possible outcome that
each Farrelly Factor could generate. In all likelihood, there are, in each
instance, a myriad number of possible related themes that could unfold.
The Farrelly Factors
1) Don't help the client.
The therapist makes no effort to be helpful; he brings up irrelevant
remarks, and wanders off onto side topics, meanders into surrealistic
Kerin: Often the client will expect the therapist to 'sort it all out' for
them. By 'not helping' it can actually help the client to become more
determined to find a solution. As a result they become more positively
focussed and self-actualising. This also helps to ensure that they don't
develop a 'therapist dependent' way of thinking, since, after all, it was
the client who had to keep things on track (wasn't it?).
2) Blame the client.
Make the client ludicrously 'responsible' for everything that happened in
the past, the present and the future. Give him in a ridiculously humorous
way 'responsibility' for all types of things (cf. 'carnival hall of mirrors').
3) Life is to blame for the client's difficulties.
Everybody and everything else is responsible for what happens to the client.
(cf. P.T. 'blame list'.)
Kerin: (Farrelly Factors 2 and 3) the client can start to take a reality
check. If he / or she has been blaming others, by attributing blame for
'everything' to everyone and everything other than self it can encourage the
client to become more realistic. Or, vice versa, by attributing 'blame' for
'everything' to the client it can achieve the same result.
4) Idiotic solutions will solve your problem.
Offer totally impossible solutions to the client about how to handle his
problem. The more idiotic the solution, the better. The client then makes
the effort to find the answer to his problems by himself.
Kerin: As Jaap says, the client begins to 'push' back in the other direction
which is the direction that leads to real, workable, solutions.
5) Imitate the client, mimic the client.
Imitate the client (e.g. his affect), imitate his verbal and non-verbal
behavioural patterns. E.G. with the over-intellectual client the therapist
becomes more and more abstract and increasingly difficult to understand; or,
e.g., with the anxious client, therapist begins to (ineptly) attempt to
control his obviously increasing 'panic'.
Kerin: this is another wonderfully helpful approach. By mimicking the
client they get the opportunity to see what their behaviours communicate to
others. Often, out of misplaced kindness, those closest to a person won't
tell them about any 'quirky' behaviour patterns. If a person doesn't know
about them - they can't change them. By 'playing them back' for the client
to observe it starts to put them in a position of awareness, and this brings
choice, and choice can bring change.
6) Go back and forth.
Play ping-pong. First explain to the client that everything else and
everybody else are the reasons for his disaster; then, when he agrees, you
begin to explain that he himself is the culprit - then switch back.
Kerin: Set up, upset, set down. A maxim in the field of psychotherapy is:
set up, upset and set down. That is to say that you set the therapy
situation up, upset the client's rigid dysfunctional system and then help
them set down in a better state of being. That's what this principle can
achieve. Because a client can arrive with very fixed and rigid beliefs if
the therapist 'pushes' in one direction, the client may or may not relax
those beliefs. If the client pushes and pulls in all directions it can
begin to unravel fixed patterns and allow the client room for new ideas.
7) Interrupt the client.
To interrupt the client is especially suitable when the client is boringly
repetitious. It doesn't' matter how, when or with what topic you interrupt
Kerin: This, to NLPers, can be known as a 'pattern interrupt'. The more
lost the client becomes in the same old story of 'woe and misery', the more
miserable and woe begotten they're likely to feel. By interrupting them it
shocks / shifts them out of the old, self-draining pattern and allows room
for new and better states-of-being to occur.
8) What's wrong with that? (More of the same).
The therapist shows the advantages of the client's dysfunctional behaviour
and encourages the client: 'do, think, feel more of the same' in an
exaggerated manner, giving crazy 'proofs' and 'instant research' to support
Kerin: this can cause the client to be even more clear about why they don't
like the dysfunctional behaviour and become even more determined to stop /
9) Unifactoral hypothesis to explain everything idiotically.
The therapist gives only one explanation for the symptoms and problems of
the client and from then on uses everything the client says to support the
hypothesis. E.G. the client says the reason for her problem is that she is
becoming old; from then on, the therapist interrupts every client statement
as evidence that she is aging rapidly.
Kerin: this can cause the whole issue to become so ludicrous that it's no
longer an issue.
10) Communicate about the client's communication patterns.
E.G.: Client reports in a low voice, how he yells at his children. The
therapist ludicrously expresses disbelief in a virtually inaudible tone of
voice that the quiet-spoken, gentlemanlike client could possibly yell or
Kerin: in this example the client is not, often 'quiet-spoken' and
'gentlemanlike'. What he is saying and how he is saying it to Frank do not
match what he does at home. And Frank mimics his incongruent response - to
the presenting problem - in such a way that says at a deeper level, 'be real'.
Find the point where the client is extremely sensitive (often body-image).
When the client signals 'STOP!' just keep going (i.e., approach what the
Kerin: The client can grow stronger by learning to deal with what they hide
12) Overemphasise the client's assets to the total exclusion of his
When the client has a strong asset (E.G. physical beauty), you can dismiss
his problems and say: 'for a handsome guy like you these problems don't even
Kerin: even though the implications of what's said are clearly unrealistic,
the way it's said can begin to help the client to 'lighten up' and review
the problem(s) in a more realistic way. It's likely (as in any interview
with Frank) that liberal helpings of humour will have been involved which
will support such a change of perspective.
13) Amuse and amaze.
The therapist acts as if the client's task is to interest and entertain him.
He shows marked boredom with the client's story, he barely suppresses yawns,
and says, E.G.: 'This problem must bore you to death', or 'you can imagine
how tired I get, listening to this crap all the time.'
Kerin: The client will likely have replayed their 'problem' over and over
to themselves. Many will have 'done the rounds' and repeated it time-over
to many other counsellors and psychotherapists too. It can even become
linked to their sense of identity ('my problem is me and I am my problem').
By expressing 'boredom' at the 'crap' the client no longer gets any
potential 'secondary gain' from telling the story (Frank 'isn't listening')
and it's likely that they'll start to shift their own perception of the
problem. Something that's so crappy it's boring can't actually be so
serious - can it?
14) Minimize the client's problem.
Therapist: 'Resign yourself to your problem, it's so common and frequent
that every second person has it.'
I seem to remember that Carl Rogers said something along the lines of: 'what
is most private and most personal is often most general'. Many clients
think that only they have ever had a problem like 'their' problem. By
minimising it (which, in this case, is actually taking a reality check) as
in the above example, it can provide an immediate source of relief. After
all - if 'every second person has it' then they're pretty normal. This
could also be an instance in which Frank would adopt the 'buddy' role. Like
he was talking with a pal in a bar over a drink or two. Perhaps along the
lines of: 'Hah! Why worry, I mean, every other person has it. All the
research says that.'
15) Maximise the client's problem.
The therapist ineptly anticipates the catastrophic fears of the client.
E.G.: 'What you're going through now is nothing. Just wait - the symptoms
will increase.' Or the therapist, shocked, gasps 'you did WHAT??!! Or,
your catastrophic fears are not so bad - just wait and see how good your
wife feels when you are dead!'. Etc.
Kerin: This can generate a: 'Yeah right! I don't believe you.' kind of
response. The client knows Frank is joking and, they then begin to do a
reality check and in the process (particularly with the introduction of
Frank's obvious humour) it helps the client to relate to the issue(s) as
16) Illustrate the impact of the person's behaviour on others (affective,
If client is aggressive and loud show that you are afraid of his threatening
behaviour. If client is seductive, pretend to be overwhelmed by his / her
Kerin: By bringing the affect that the client's behaviour is likely to
generate in others to the table, albeit in a directly indirect way, it can
enable the client to become aware of what they're doing and this in turn
allows for the potential of them making positive changes in the way they
behave. What's more, it could help a client who employed aggression or
seduction to manipulate situations to feel 'silly' continuing to do so
(based on Frank's exaggerated responses to their behaviours) because Frank
is plainly hamming it up, playing them at their own game. This creates the
potential for a conditioned response / anchor to be discreetly generated
which elicits a 'move away from' response in them, to their own unhealthy
behaviours, because of the powerful feedback response Frank presents to such
behaviours, each time they're presented to him. It's another way of saying
'I can see through what you're doing', which means that, if Frank can,
perhaps others do too. They've been 'caught in the act' so it's time for a
different, better, role in life.
17) Ludicrously misinterpret the client's weakness and strengths.
Example: If client is timid, humorously suggest that his not responding
indicates a serene calmness and self-assurance and compliment him on this.
Kerin: The client could respond by saying: 'No, it's not. And you know it's
not. It's because I'm timid. I always have been'. And, in this example,
it brings the real issue out into the open, in a way that allows the client
to verbalise it. Once this occurs, in effect, 'all the cards are on the
table'. What is avoided has been approached (by Frank) in an indirect way,
so that the client has made steps to approach it, and then the healing can
continue to occur.
The Hyper Factor
Frank Farrelly is an exceptional hypnotherapist. Although, you could be
forgiven for thinking that hypnotherapeutic principles have nothing to do
with the way he works. However in much the same way that the, now,
legendary Dr. Milton Erickson employed hypnosis in ways that people often
didn't understand were occurring; so too does Frank. I noticed when
watching Frank that he employed what I have called (for want of a better
expression) 'hyper themes'. This is to say that Frank works on many levels.
There will be the direct level of the 'banter' described above in the
Farrelly Factors, relating (or not as the case may be) to the client's
presenting problem(s). Then, on another level, there will often be some
metaphorical work, which can, without too much difficulty, be consciously
noticed and understood. However, often, I detected a theme (akin to a 'life
metaphor', directly tailored to the client) which operated at such a global
level, that, to the client, it was actually 'too big' to be consciously
noticed. In NLP terms we would say Frank 'chunks up'; to the nth degree.
And he does it in a way that becomes ever more difficult to detect, but
which is increasingly bringing ever more powerful therapeutic elements to
the client's unconscious awareness.
Many interviewees commented after their session with Frank that they felt a
bit 'spacey', or words to that effect. Almost as if they had been in some
kind of Altered State of Consciousness (ASC). Frank, therefore, deserves to
be counted amongst the hypnotherapy greats, as well as his special
recognition within the field of psychotherapy in general.
But What's He Really Like?
That, then, in short-form, is an introduction to the realm of Provocative
Therapy, as developed by Frank Farrelly. But what's Frank like as a person?
Well, although my time with him over the seminar was relatively short, over
the four days we spent together Gill (my wife) and I did have the
opportunity to meet both Frank and his wife June on a social level a number
of times. Basically, my opinion of Frank is that he is an approachable,
down to earth person. He has genuine empathy and a warm desire to help
people get the best out of themselves and their lives. He's highly
educated, widely read and full of life experience. He is truly a 'one off'.
And he has, almost as a hallmark, a devilish (meant in all the best ways)
sense of humour.
Step This Way
In conclusion: wherever you live, if Frank Farrelly is coming to a place
near you make sure you take the opportunity of seeing him in action. You'll
learn a lot, you'll laugh a lot and you'll have an experience that's akin to
an amazing roller coaster ride, through the field of psychotherapeutic
© Kerin Webb. July 2004. Eos Seminars Ltd: www.eosseminars.com
Farrelly Factors used with kind permission of Dr. Jaap Hollander:
Frank Farrelly A.C.S.W lives with his wife June in Madison, Wisconsin, USA: