Provocative Therapy started in the late 1960s when Frank Farrelly, a psychiatric social worker at Mendota State Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, surprised himself, as well as his patient, with a paradoxical intervention that had a long-lasting, profound effect on the patient. This gentleman (an in-patient at the institute) had attended 91 sessions with Farrelly and was drowning in his sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Farrelly, a Rogerian-trained, client-centred therapist, suddenly, spontaneously and assertively agreed with the patient’s awful prognosis for himself stating “You’re right, there is no solution to your problem!” Farrelly describes the patient as rearing up with renewed vitality saying “What do you mean there is no solution?” This was the start of many years of expanding a therapeutic approach where, with the client’s express and specific permission, humour and reverse psychology can be used to catalyse change. This is a 5-min clip of Dr. Brian Kaplan telling the story of how Provocative Therapy began.

Dr. Brian Kaplan tells the story of Provocative Therapy [5’11”]

“Paradoxical and humorous interventions in psychotherapy are based on the assumption that people always have choices available to them; that change can precede, or even occur without insight or rational comprehension.

Provocative Therapy is not about trying to be a comedian or minimising the seriousness of a client’s problem. Its effectiveness stems from the therapist allowing his or her empathy with the client to stimulate imaginative and spontaneous imagery, ideas and responses.”

Steve Brigham, Australian psychotherapist using Provocative Therapy