‘Thought Provoking Dialogue’

– Phil Jeremiah IV

“If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” – Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe

We do not know the exact starting point to the formulation of problem mindsets, any more than we know the end in terms of how the meat machine works. Some try to force linear solutions into dynamic non-linear systems of the brain. My ongoing evolving work is about exploring the quantum meat machine.

Having studied extensively with the originator of Provocative Therapy, Frank Farrelly, and the works of many others like Victor Frankl, Milton H Erickson and David Bohm – the objective is to update the use of humour for the 21st century.

The late Milton H Erickson was a psychiatrist and strategic psychotherapist who frequently moved people with positive shock to shake up their conditioned beliefs about their problems. He often introduced shock and confusion tactics during his work. Erickson’s colleague at the time, Jay Haley, commented that “theoretical descriptions of change relate to how people are participants in a homeostatic system and the governors of that system must be reset to bring about change.”

This is the serious use of humour and I believe we need to follow the likes of writers like Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear and James Joyce. They explored the paradoxes of the absurd to the limits of our senses and maybe found sense in the nonsense.


This is the challenge to create an atmosphere of challenge and care. Sadly many people are invited to enter the world of secure moorings. They are told about so-called facts and grand theoretical systems of mind that have been discovered by experts; this dominant, endless discourse soothes and keeps people in line.

‘Thought Provoking Dialogue’ is a playful intervention that, in my opinion, goes deeper than words for an accurate description of what may possibly be occurring. A basic overview would include:

  • Caring warm interaction
  • Sensitivity to the needs of participants
  • Creating an atmosphere to wrench the participants out of thoughtless banalities
  • Enabling the “stuck” to dare to discover new solutions
  • Being irreverent, playful and good-humoured
  • Giving permission to laugh at issues and problem sets
  • An opportunity for creative flow in developing new skill sets

Above all, you must be trained to do this work, and become a type of clown-magician willing to make a stand, take risks with your serious reputation and become revolutionary!

“Maturity is the rediscovery of the seriousness we had as a child at play” – Nietzche

It is important to be mindful that individuals and organisations have a unique sense of humour. The challenge is to design sessions to meet the requirements of the different modes of humour, which will appeal to diverse tastes. Indeed, our humour response is learned and linked by our gender, age, religion, culture and upbringing. The key to unlocking diverse tastes is to state that you are there to help, and not laugh at people, but together you assist people to laugh at their issues and problems. In my experience, people can move beyond their learned helplessness and conditioning to new choices. I truly believe that ‘Thought Provoking Dialogue’ is at the cutting edge in the area of change and creative interventions with individuals and organisations.

I strongly recommend that you work on your introductions – this is vital in my opinion and much more productive than just trying to creep up, surprise and be clever at the client’s expense.

We do this by establishing a Bubble of Possibility to delineate a safe and secure space:

  • It allows the coach, counsellor/therapist to talk differently, whereupon different tools can be utilised to assist the creative flow. Different altogether to gathering information or taking a personal history, etc.
  • It is intriguing to set up a defined space; this in my experience creates a kind of energetic tension.
  • The defined boundaries of the Bubble allow the coach to state categorically that s/he will say anything to help break patterns so new thinking can emerge.
  • It is a space where the therapeutic gloves come off; I suggest it is an insult to wrap people in cotton wool. I tell them this: Thought Provoking Dialogue leads to near-life experiences.

Within this ‘Bubble of Possibility’ the Percussion-Concussion-Discussion model has been observed and formulated:

Percussion: This is the phase where the coach introduces positive shock, off-the-wall ideas, and different tonality of voice. Sometimes the coach describes extreme movies linked to the problem. Science, philosophy and research also feature.

Concussion: Many sessions clearly show this to be the phase whereupon the client appears confused, maybe going into an altered state. It is my hypothesis that important inner work is occurring. I call this the bifurcation phase, which drives the mind hopefully towards new behaviour.

Discussion: This important phase takes the form of debriefing, and is a useful opportunity for the person to formulate their experience. Any new insights or breakthroughs are explored. I also suggest to the client that ‘change work’ may continue during the following hours, days or weeks. This can also give continuity for subsequent sessions. Repetition builds new pathways in the brain, so a recording of the session can enhance this.

At first, the idea of creating new order by disrupting the system may appear outrageous. Not unlike shaking up a box of words and then pouring out perfectly formed sentences. However, it is well documented that stress often forces sudden change. The crisis can alert us to a new opportunity. There are many accounts whereupon individuals have been strengthened by suffering and conflict. Indeed, part of being creative requires chaos to give birth to something new.

The phases of the Percussion-Concussion-Discussion model described may not always follow a linear pattern. Like a sudden bolt of lightning, a shot of humour can pierce the veil of automatic mundane consciousness and change any situation with new insights and energy to follow.

“Like a sudden bolt of lightning, a shot of humour can pierce the veil of automatic mundane consciousness and change any situation with new insights and energy to follow.”

Phil Jeremiah IV

Some people expect to be soothed and this in my opinion has to be addressed. People need to know a little about the flight/fight system in the brain. They need to know about how problems are stored in the older parts of the brain. Joseph Le Doux, a neuroscientist, explains that retrieving a memory means it can be reconsolidated, slightly altering the chemical makeup when something new is introduced. Not unlike when we metaphorically tickle and contaminate a memory with a humour virus. Furthermore, Le Doux suggests that new protein synthesis occurs and the memory is updated.

This to me is mind-blowing because we can positively infect negative thoughts with ‘Thought Provoking Dialogue’. The idea that the brain adjusts its chemistry and modifies memories is wonderful. Maybe a ‘Bubble session’ is a window of opportunity for this to happen. The future might see people in MRI scanners watching their patterns change before their very eyes, or, in this case, behind the eyes. The original fear-conditioned response is being re-programmed through the serious use of humour aboard the vehicle of ‘Thought Provoking Dialogue’. Yes, serious humour and loving care can cause instant changes in emotion, logic takes a lot longer.

“My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Phil Jeremiah IV

About Phil Jeremiah

Phil has been providing training, one-to-one interventions in the UK and Europe for over three decades. He was a Senior Mental health Practitioner Approved under the Mental Health Act 1983. Phil also has extensive training and a wealth of experience in the fields of Adult Psychiatry/Clinical Risk Assessment, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy CBT, Ericksonian Clinical Hypnosis, Brief Strategic Therapy, Neuro Linguistic Programming NLP, Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing EMDR, Emotional Freedom Technique EFT and Life Coaching in business settings, Qualified Funeral Celebrant. Phil has been working as an external Mental Health Consultant for the business for over 30 years, working out of the Occupational Health Department in Bournville/Cadburys. (Phil is also a trained clown and stand-up comedian!) [2024]