This is the second part of the 1982 interview with Frank Farrelly on Provocative Therapy (and Provocative Coaching)
Number one: you’re worthwhile and of value, which is certainly an attitudinal set, a value held by many therapists. Number two, the second message was that: you can change. Number three: your whole life can be different.
He in turn had been persistently communicating back to me three basic responses. Number one: I’m worthless. Number two: I’m hopeless and can never change. Number three: my life will always be one long psychotic episode in hospitalisation.
At this point, I gave up. I’ve got this interview on tape. I gave up and I said, “Okay, I agree. You’re hopeless.” Now, let’s try this for 91 interviews. Let’s try agreeing with you about yourself, from here on out. Almost immediately, and by that I mean within a matter of seconds and minutes. Not weeks and months. He began to protest that he was not that bad, nor that hopeless. Easily observable and measurable characteristics of his in-therapy behaviour began changing.
For example, his voice quality changed. His rate of speech markedly increased, from a dull slow-motion soporific monotone, to a more normal tone of voice with inflexions. An easily noticeable affect. His affect before had been like Kansas, just Runway 99. Just flat as a pancake. He became less over-controlled, showed humour, embarrassment, irritation, and far more spontaneity.
Now, somebody said, “This is a chapel.” I don’t mean to desecrate the devil, but I don’t want to talk about what I said to this client, and what he said to me, in this interview, okay? Everybody’s clinicians and we’ve worked with … I see some people nodded and smiled. That’s right, we have worked with patients. Anyway.
He said, you know, he was well phrased, “You really helped me. I’m progressing.” I said, “Progressing? Hell! I first started work with you, a year and a half ago, you were in a locked ward. Then you got to an open ward. Then you got out. Now you’re back in a locked ward. Now, if that’s progress, you’re moving with all of the speed of a turtle in case and concretes, hey buddy?”
He said, “Well, I’m kind of regressing you know?” I said, “Yeah, I can see that. I’ve been arguing “no”, but I agree with you. You are.” He said, “Well, I may keep regressing too.” I agreed with him on that, and said that perhaps the next 91 interviews would end up me with my spoon feeding, patting him, “Come on Billy, take your oatmeal,” and that kind of stuff.
He laughed and got embarrassed. I said, “Then of course, the next thing, if you continue these regressions, you’ll lose bladder and bowel control. Then we’ll need, with your big rear-end, we’re gonna need sheets that’s for double beds, to make diapers for you. Finally, when we approach the next 91 interviews, you’ll make medical history by becoming the first 47 year old neonate on record, with pubic hair.”
Well, that was his response, “Pooh.” He said, “This isn’t very funny.” I said, “Well, I think it’s uproarious now that I changed my attitude about the whole thing.” I also applied wearily, see, at this point, that he’d probably spend the rest of his life in these bug bins, loony bins. Six interviews later, he got himself discharged.
When he came back a year later, I immediately started in, and two weeks later … Oh, I said, “At this point, just call me Frank Isiah Farrelly. I’m the Mendota Prophet. Didn’t I tell you? Aha, I’m right!”
He just fled and hasn’t returned since. Now shortly after the 91st interview with this guy, I talked with some of my colleagues about this. I felt an “if then” kind of proposition operative here. Someone said, “Well yeah, but maybe its spontaneous remission. You’ve already hit a relationship. Maybe it’s there late. Just because of whatever the hell, it just kind of came to light.” Blah, blah, blah. I said, “Alright, maybe.”
I said, “Well, why not try …” I started experimenting around. Why not try this with a brand new client. Brand new relationship and see whether I could get this kind of “if, then” proposition going.
I’ll talk about that later when I get to the section of the two basic central hypothesis of provocative therapy. I was called in on a consultation with a young married housewife who had 2.47 kids in the eastern part of the state, Waukesha County. After carefully removing ashtrays and stuff like that from the table, I started agreeing with her, see, about herself.
She felt that she was lousy, and should be locked up in a mental hospital, and the keys thrown away. It don’t matter what her husband, and her kids, and her parents, and her brother and sisters, and staff at the mental hygiene clinic, et cetera, told her. She was a tri-active, intelligent, coping, and acting her social role appropriately. Her husband thought she was swinging sex partner. The kids liked her meals, and et cetera. She was a good housewife, companion, wife, et cetera. She was convinced of her utter worthlessness.
Largely, my whole style, stance set throughout this interview was to agree with her markedly negative self concept, see. I felt that I’d been highly insulting and confronting to her. At the end of this interview, I asked her. I had difficulty keeping a straight face, because I didn’t believe any of this stuff. But she obviously did. At the end of the interview I said, ‘Well, I want five minutes for myself. I’d like to ask you, how did I come across to you in this interview?”
The reason I did that was because the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I may think, for example, I’m gonna give a wingding talk here today. But if some of you start to snore loudly, halfway through. Or, if there’s a mass exodus, I’ve been warned that if several of you get up and go, that’s when you may be answering pages. But if you all start to think, “Farrelly bombed!” Then I didn’t score, right?
I may think I did, but if I didn’t as far as you’re concerned, I bombed. Carl Rogers has said that he’s learned about therapy, from teaching it, from admitting therapy himself, from doing therapy, et cetera. But he’s learned most from the feedback he’s gotten from clients over the years. How did they perceive him.
Anyhow, this is why I asked her. I’ll never forget what she said. She said, “You’re the most understanding person I’ve ever met. You really understand just how bad I am.” I became further intrigued and excited with the possibilities of this approach, and started experimenting with groups, families, therapeutic community ward meetings. For those of you, I understand there’s people outside the agency. You’re outside the hospital. These are large ward meetings where all the staff and all the patients get together for a group thing.
Some of you hospital staff members may not like my definition there. But in any rate, I used it in therapeutic community ward meetings. Finally, one terrifying week in my private practise … Because I thought well they can just say, “What the hell with you buddy, I can go home and get insulted by my wife, better and she doesn’t charge me 25 to 35 an hour.”
With every different diagnostic category: schizophrenic reactions, psych-neurotic reactions, character disorder, sociopath. With in-patients and out-patients, and finally, with widely different age ranges of clients, from pre-school to geriatrics.
As I gained further experience in using this approach, it became clear to me that it’s not simply my personality that’s crucial in this system, but that there’re also techniques and assumptions inherent in it. Picture me as the originating therapist.
In the literature in psychotherapy, there are a number of crucial interviews in which various therapists develop their techniques, or theoretical systems. For example, Freud stumbled onto his technique of chimney sweeping, which he later came to call “Free association,” while working with hysterics. Albert Ellis talks about it in his book, “Reason And Emotion In Psychotherapy.” The particular interview in which he discovered rational-emotive psychotherapy. He initially called it rational psychotherapy.
Carl Rogers in his paper “This is me,” talks about the specific interview, in which he had with a mother of a failure case. In which he dismissed the gal from therapy, she went out of the room, knocked on the door, came back in and sat down and talked about herself, then her kid, burst into tears. He saw it in a completely different frame of reference. That’s where he got this idea of adopting the client’s internal frame of reference, you see. Becoming another self and speaking for them. Becoming another self.