What Is Provocative Therapy?

Provocative Therapy is a system of psychotherapy in which the therapist plays the devil’s advocate, siding with the negative half of the client’s ambivalence toward his life’s goals, his relationships, work and the structures within which he lives. Although Frank passed in 2013, there are some of us that continue to teach his extraordinary therapeutic approach – http://www.provocativetherapy.com/online-pt-training/

The provocative therapist also plays the Satanic role by facetiously agreeing with the doom and gloom feelings and expectations of the client, and “tempting” him to continue his “sinning,” his self-defeating attitudes and behavioral patterns.

Provocative TherapyThe purpose in provocative therapy is to change the client’s behaviour. One of the therapist’s main tools to implement this change is warm-hearted humor in its varied forms — exaggeration, irony, self-deprecation, Daliesque absurdities, etc.

With a twinkle in his eye, a smile playing about his lips, and genially employing the style of affectionate banter between friends, the therapist uses humor both to sensitize and desensitize the client to problematic cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns. This is the key to Provocative Therapy — humor. Jocular, whimsical, caring, supportive humor. Although humour is an aspect of Provocative Therapy, this approach is not about telling jokes or being funny! Often Frank’s work is misinterpreted as being like stand up comedy which is a gross misrepresentation. “Provocative” does also not mean “aggressive” and again this is another common misinterpretation of this work.

The root meaning of provocative is pro + vocare, to “call out”, and there are five different types of behaviors that are “called out” in the client in this approach. Every single interview with every single client does not elicit all five of these, but each interview with each client demonstrates at least some of these five.
The client, then, is provoked by the therapist to:

  1. Affirm his self-worth, both verbally and behaviorally.
  2. Assert himself appropriately both in task performances and relationships.
  3. Defend himself realistically.
  4. Engage in psycho-social reality testing and learn the necessary discriminations to respond adaptively. Global perceptions lead to global, stereotyped responses; differentiated perceptions lead to adaptive responses.
  5. Engage in risk-taking behaviors in personal relationships, especially communicating affection and vulnerability to significant others with immediacy as they are authentically experienced by the client. The most difficult words in relationships are often “I want you, I miss you, I care about you” — to commit oneself to others. (Provocative Therapy,p. 56)

This thumbnail sketch does not pretend to answer all questions about Provocative Therapy. For a full explanation of this system, the reader is referred to the book Provocative Therapy, with its seventy-three case examples.

Videos featuring Frank Farrelly and Provocative Therapy

Frank Farrelly creator of Provocative Therapy talks to Nick Kemp about Carl Rogers

Frank Farrelly teaching Provocative Therapy with Nick Kemp

Frank Farrelly teaches the “What’s wrong with that?” Provocative Therapy exercise in a Leeds UK Provocative Therapy training.