Frank Farrelly was a close colleague of, Carl Rogers, the father of person centred counselling, before he ‘broke-out’ in a counterintuitive direction and wrote a highly engaging book about it; Provocative Therapy. In the flesh he manages to be a living tribute to the poverty of words! Imagine Jason Robards with a short grey beard, remember Jason Robard’s voice, now add an occasional burst of Foghorn Leghorn, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Lenny Bruce, Father Brown and Shirley Temple, plus that voice that you hear when you open your own mouth, accompanied by the body language of an entire encounter group. When Frank visited he UK in 1993 and Harry Norman tried to interview him!


Harry N How did Provocative Therapy start?

Frank F That's covered in the first chapter of my book ...did you read it?

Harry N Yes

Frank F Well ...do you remember?

Harry N Uh?

Frank F Hey, we can do this a lot more times.

Harry N How would you define Provocative Therapy?

Frank F Well ...easily, does that answer that question? ...it's like affectionate banter between close friends, that's it in twenty five words or less ...playing the devil's advocate with a client, although one woman in a workshop in Germany said, "Frank you're not the devil's advocate, you are the devil!" ...I laughed

Harry N So what principles is Provocative Therapy based on?

Frank F Many.

Harry N Would you care to elucidate some of them?

Frank F Well, basically it's helpful if the client is somewhat alive and still breathing, that's nice. Number two, if the body is still warm, we can still do therapy with it. Number three, it does not have to do with the diagnosis, or the chronicity or the severity of the problem. The assumptions and hypotheses I talk about, if you read that far in the book or ...whether you lost interest, that's in Chapter 4 5 or 6 of the book, and they're listed in detail.

Harry N Chapter 4 5 or 6? I could just sort of put...

Frank F Yes that's right, Question one, Chapter One, Question two, Chapter Four, ...we can do the whole interview this way, I can just answer, "See book" to every question! ...I'm helping to write this boy! ...if you want to say theories, you could say could say social psychological theory, ...other theoreticians ...like learning theory, coz I keep repeating so much.

Harry N What's your favourite theory about how it works?

Frank F I don't know that I've got any one favourite theory. You could take Graham Dawes' write up about the 1989 workshop I did for the London Erickson Society, he called Provocative Therapy, "Sophisticated Simplicity". Carl Rogers said "Its sounds like an Irish stew," ...a little bit of this, a little bit of that, it 's more of a mosaic ...social psychological theory ...the NLPers like a lot of things about it because it illustrates a lot of what they are talking about. Ericksonian Hypnotherapists like it because there are a lot of convergent points between Provocative Therapy and Clinical Hypnosis. I'll say this, that when the NLPers talk about it I find it very helpful, when they describe some of the things I do, but I don't understand all the things they talk about. When Richard Bandler talked anchors and collapsing anchors, I said I don't know anything about sailing so when I collapse anchors ...it's not my fault!

Harry N You're a sot of eminence grise in the NLP world, how come?

Frank F Well maybe the "grise" comes from my gray hair, ...Richard Bandler and John Grinder were given a copy of my book by Rusty Palmer in Houston Texas ...and they read it and finally they called me and said, "...no one can get a hold of your book and we'd like to publish it." and I said, "Cool".

Harry N You said something about a conference on the East Coast...?

Frank F In March 1978 Temple University Psychiatry Dept put on a conference called Analysing the Analyst. They had the grand old man of psychiatry in the East, Dr Spurgeon English, and myself ...Bandler and Grinder came and modelled us and I gave them a bunch of stuff to analyse, I got people up from the audience and I thought I gave a couple of pretty good interviews. There was one guy who was on his third divorce ...and I said, Obviously you don't know about the care and feeding of women? You probably don't know what every woman wants ...neither did Freud ....you're in good company. A lot of men are stupid about this ...Freud said all his life he didn't understand what women want. He should have consulted with me, I have made an in depth study of this and Iv'e finally come up with the answer. As a matter of fact I 've boiled it down to one word so a guy like you could remember it ...easily. ...and this guy just sort of went on point.

Client Tell me

Frank F I don't know if you're ready

Client I'm ready I'm ready

Frank F Yeah, but it may sound so simple it may just go straight past your head

Client No I'll take it seriously, its costing me so much trouble and money

Frank F OK if you're ready ...what every woman wants is mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMMMORE.

Client More! More what?


He looked like he was carved out of stone and his were eyes crossed and his jaw dropped, and the whole place just erupted and I couldn't even hear myself speak. Anyway they had plenty of stuff to model, they talked about pattern interruption, breathing, rapport and anchoring.

Harry N Didn't you meet them again on the West Coast later?

Frank F Yeah, several years later I was doing a workshop in Seattle and David Calof, who I hear is coming here to present for the London Erickson society in January, did a demonstration interview with me and I thought I did a pretty good Provocative Therapy interview, and at the end he said,

David C God! What a trance!

...and I really didn't understand what he was talking about,

Frank F What do you mean by that?

David C It would take me three maybe four days to describe all the things you are doing in Provocative Therapy in terms of Ericksonian Hypnosis, but don't ever become a hypnotist, you'd ruin it you just do it naturally! Anyway, John Grinder is in town do you want to come across town and talk?

...and that's when people started saying Farrelly is a hypnotist. They say I do pattern interruptions ...and use images ...well OK ...I don't quite know how ...but I know a lot of times ...almost invariably ...clients do their glazed eyed, slack jawed routine with me. In my book I show my ignorance, there's a verbatim transcript.


Client UUUUuurrgh?

...and I was really getting annoyed about them being so damn blank looking all the time. Any rate Grinder said that Milton had heard about my work and was very interested and quite anxious to meet me. Later when I was going to do some work in California I called and spoke to his wife who said that she had heard him mention my name several times but he was now very sick and they had just cancelled everything. So I said "Give him my fondest regards." Several months later he died ...so I say, "I never talked to Milton yet, but I will."

Harry N Sometimes you talk about extra sensory NLP.

Frank F I never talk about extra sensory NLP, I talk about extra sensory perception, I talk about clairvoyance, clairaudiance and clairsensiance. The psychics and mediums have differentiated these different kinds of abilities along and telepathy and precognition and retrocognition ...and demonstrating them since the turn of the century and I have had a number of psychics mediums and healers who say that I am a sensitive. I get impressions and pictures, and in Provocative Therapy I'll utilise the pictures. A lot of times when I 've said stuff that just frightens me ...it just makes patients just jerk ...and they say, "You've read my notes ...you've talked to my family ...you talked to the ward staff." BUT NO At those times ...number one it's imageless ...number two it feels like it comes from the left ...I don't know why, but I've had this for many many years. I think it's interesting that the NLPers don't talk about clairvoyance, but they talk about the visual modality ...they don't talk about clairaudience but, they talk about the auditory modality ...they don't talk about clairsensiance but, they talk about the kinaesthetic modality. I think good therapists ...and it turns out business people, academicians, researchers and politicians ...people from all walks of life have these abilities and use them ...as one medium in England said "Everyone can sing but not everybody sings at La Scala."

Harry N Tell me more about what's happening on inside when you meet a client.

Frank F Well there are seventeen three dimensional colour television sets ringing the room, so its three dimensional in living colour with living sound ..and at the feelies ...a lot of the time I'm simply describing the pictures I see-hear-sense/feel and responding to the responses of the client. There was one guy, I saw in my private practice who was getting his doctorate in mathematical topography or topographical mathematics and he had parallelograms and stuff sticking out of his head. It was fun working with him he was a body builder, he had asthma, he was a mathematician and he had trouble with his girl friend ...with those kinda spikes coming out of his head, no wonder! I started off with "Mathematicians-are-not-known-for-having-marvellous-close-intimate-warm-relationships." I use a lot of cultural stereotypes, I use the pictures I get, I use my responses and I use the responses of the client, and I use the content of what they're talking about. The problem for me, a lot of the time, is not a dearth of material to work with, but what to respond to first. Subjectively it feels like the one that is most clearly focus, or the one that I can hear the loudest, or the one that throws off the most heat.

Harry N What the hottest television?

Frank F Well they're more like tableaux because they're in three dimensions, but if I start to respond to one, the others tend to fade back. Sometimes they are all in focus and that can be confusing! Then there is the question of whether I'm responding to the right thing ...well I don't know. but I get these pictures with this person and not with someone else. I think I resonate different levels or frequencies with different clients ...but this sounds so platitudinous, hell all of us do this. You meet one of your buddies "Hey you motherfucker, you old cocksucker" and you hit him in the ribs ...meet someone else and bleurchhhhh ...no response. Some people are deadheads and some people are very responsive.

Harry N What the place of empathy and rapport in Provocative Therapy?

Frank F It's core. If the clients don't feel understood at some level, they will take up their chequebooks and walk. Empathy is kinda crucial and rapport is established by that ...goes hand in hand. Phil Boas, in Australia, who has run a lot of NLP workshops and talks about my work too, says, "You have taken empathy and gone way beyond empathy, it's not in the sense of client centred empathy where you reflect the feeling of the client just in terms of what they say. You don't go back and point out incongruities, you don't go forward, you don't go sideways, below or above, you just stay with the client moment to moment trying to convey an empathic understanding of the client's feeling, basically feeling, you've gone way beyond that, you go in multiple different directions beyond empathy to telepathy." and-I-thought-that-was-i-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-i-n-g. Another way of putting it is that empathy does not necessarily have to be taken in a very constricted sense, it can be taken in a broad, humane, deep sense without ever saying,"I--u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d--t-h-e--w-a-y--y-o-u--f-e-e-l." Clients, well into the ninetieth percentile, report that I understand how they feel. I told the Carl Rogers research project years ago, "Love is not enough, neither is empathy!" They need to be understood, sure it's part of the core process but they need to develop u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d-i-n-g. Why? because after they leave my office, or your office, they have got to be able to go out and deal with people, and they can't just demand understanding. L-i-f-e--i-s--n-o-t--a--p-s-y-c-h-o-t-h-e-r-a-p-y--i-n-t-e-r-v-i-e-w-! In every day relationships we need to b-e--u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d-i-n-g--a-n-d--b-e--u-n-d-e-r-s-t-o-o-d-! In Provocative Therapy there is probably as much stress, emphasis, time, energy invested in helping the client to be understanding of co workers, spouses, family, neighbours ...significant people ...as there is time and effort put into conveying and achieving empathy with the client. I believe that what you put in is what you get out ...and if clients are just demanding empathy from everyone else but handing out little ...well, human relations are like a bank account and sooner or later the bank can stamp, bang! ACCOUNT CLOSED BABY!

Harry N Do you credit any particular people in your development?

Frank F Yes me fatha ...without the gleam in his eye, who knows what would have happened? Secondly me motha ...and then all me brothers and me sisters, eleven of them ...I was raised in a never ending encounter group in the country, you were faced with instantaneous feed back whether you were ready for it or not. I'm number nine of twelve and you get a different worms eye view if you are not an only child. My brothers and sisters were role models for me in a lot of ways, and because of my family I learned to be open and ask for help from my peers and colleagues. I had a lot of role models, Carl Rogers was one. John Palacios was one, after thirty years of teaching he was still seeing clients ...he had a living word, he could give an example from two days ago, or that morning, and I thought "If I ever teach, I'm going to be like him, keep-this-stuff-fresh-and-live!" Before that, in the monastery ...I was in a monastery for four years till I flunked obedience. Father Jerome Hayden was my first kinda guru, he was psycho-analyst, a physician, a theologian, and a Phd in philosophy, he collected degrees like some people collect bric-a-brac! The client centred group were very helpful ...every Monday night, rain, shine, heatwave or blizzard we would meet and play tapes of our own work to each other. It was really very helpful, very supportive, very understanding, you got confronted, but it was really very helpful, in a climate of "were all learning together" type of group supervision.

Harry N You say, "patients are my professors"

Frank F That's right, first chapter, first page, first paragraph. I don't mean to romanticise them, but if you work with enough nutsies you are going to learn some things! I did seventeen years working in a mental hospital and I never met a schizophrenic I didn't like! I met a lot of them that I would have joyfully gotten two boards and three nails and played Good Friday with! ...but the line forms to the rear, their family, their fellow patients, the staff ...but even those patients I found really challenging! How in the name of God is this guy, or this gal, so intensely unlikable? Even Carl Rogers would choke giving unconditional positive regard to this dim-bulb-two-watt-brain-idiot! Well ...I would go after the kind of patients that turn-off staff. If they turn-off staff that much, and no one wants to work with them, then their prognosis becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. It doesn't matter how much potential, or how close they are to a developing the right mind, if they just irritate and annoy the hell out of everyone. So what's all this about prognosis and psychopathology? If we can learn how to work with patients that turn off and annoy staff, that may hold the key to something.

Harry N Tell me more about the guy who used to send you to sleep

Frank F I was still doing client centred therapy ...with Billy Boy and I would meet him at 8.05 on Monday mornings, bristling with energy, I would close the door, and turn on the tape recorder and start talking to him in my best client centred way ...and starting around the 50th or 60th interview between 8.07 and 8.10 I would start to go to sleep ...every time! I could not keep my eyes open ...it was like I was being put-under by an expert anaesthesiologist ...I did not know what was happening, I guess now I would say that he was hypnotising the living BeJesus out of me! I tell you I was doing isometric contractions just to try and stay awake! I would think "Maybe I didn't get enough sleep last night", but it never happened except with this guy. So after about 4 or 5 interviews like this, I took my glasses off and I put my feet up and said, "I'm going to sleep. Wake me up if you can think of anything interesting or true", and I went to I went to sleep ...and I mean full REM dream sleep ...and I was snoring. When he woke me up, I was disorientated and had lost my bearings, he said "Frank you are not supposed to sleep on civil service time". Anyway the more I went to sleep the more the more he became awake. In the seventieth interview he woke me up and told me "Frank I think my cock is dropping off", and I in my best client centred manner said, "So it's a feeling of loss and mourning for a central core and important part of you", leaning forward very warmly and empathically and supportively with unconditional positive regard oozing out of every pore. This was 21 interviews before I discovered Provocative Therapy ...which I discovered all of a sudden during the 93rd interview. If this was after I discovered Provocative Therapy I know how I would respond, "Don't worry about it's nothing but a wart, its so damn tiny anyhow, it's not disappearing, you are just discovering how damn teenytiney it really is, and anyhow if it does fall off don't worry, with the wonders of modern surgery we can create a pisshole in your left armpit, so every time you scratch your head you can take a leak! ...et cetera. Hey, I shouldn't take pot shots at client centred therapy, it's helped thousands if not millions of people ...what I'm saying is, it did not allow me the breadth of responsivity that I was allowed when I talked to my friends, family, colleagues, students et cetera.

Harry N Tell me about when how you started to use Provocative Therapy in your private practice.

Frank F Boy, I remember that, I had a gal who was stunning, kinda beyond beautiful, she would walk in to a room and all the guys would just go, "Wargh!" on point and all the gals would go "Nugh! " with clenched jaws, because she just turned them all into crows. It was two week after I started the 93rd interview with Billy, I thought, "You're really brave Farrelly having incredible effects with locked up hospitalised schizophrenics, using this snotty sarcastic new approach! Why don't you try it in your private practice?." ...what was her problem? Well she was a gawky adolescent gal and over a period of two years, from this ugly duckling emerged a regal swan. She would walk into a room she didn't feel like a person because everyone would go into trance all around her. I had started with the client centred approach and I said "So its kinda feeling like you are just a gorgeous art object and they treat you're the Mona Lisa and you feel like an object in a museum." ...and she said "EXACTLY!", so she felt I was very understanding, and after the 5th or 6th interview I switched to Provocative Therapy and said "I don't know whether I should say this..." ...I was sorta sweatin' and I didn't know if she would get jut-jawed, snap her purse shut and stormed out of the office and say,"Adios Compadre ...Good Bye Buddy, I'm not going to sit around and listen to this shit." ...so with some fear and trepidation I started talking in this new way with Miss Utterly Gorgeous. I was saying things like, "You are so utterly gorgeous, you don't have to bother with these rules they make up for ugly women?" and I started singing the Nat King Cole song "Mona Lisa" to her ...and she said, "What do you mean ?" and I said, "If there is any truth in this stuff you say, why fight it? Why not be a living Mona Lisa?" and I kept talking about how she was so pretty and so beautiful ......incidently before this, she was sitting with her knees together and her skirt over her knees, kinda prim like Princess Di, and when I started, she leaned forward and gesticulated and got frowns in her face ...and became much more spontaneous, much less sounding and looking like a statue or art object, you could see this person emerge with a wide variety of responses, and she'd be blushing and then she'd burst out laughing and then she'd get annoyed and then she would protest that she was a person and I said,"Wait a minute, what do you mean you are a person? That's what were here to prove!" ...she was responding before she could compose her responses, she was blurting out responses. This is one of the things I found out with Provocative Therapy, if I increase my responsivity rate and talk as if this were a real live person, rather than a client or a patient, then they started talking like real people do! It has much more of the spontaneity, the broken sentence structure, the interruptions, the rate of speech, the choice of words, the-cussing-crying-and-laughing the way normal people talk ...it just covered the waterfront! Let me tell you, that note of authenticity, it is really addictive for me and I would rather have those kind of responses than have beautifully composed responses with all the spontaneity of a classical minuet ...the clients were more authentic, they came into focus, they were live, they were present, they were genuine ...and changing and I mean rapidly! ...despite all my initial fears and qualms and the disclaimers, well anyway I pretty soon I dropped the disclaimers because the clients reinforced me so damned much for being this new way. "Hell", I thought, "Am I being trapped in this way?" but I didn't feel trapped I felt much more free.

Harry N You side with the negative side of the clients ambivalence about themselves

Frank F That was Carl Rogers's formulation, when I discovered Provocative Therapy I would agree with the clients negative statements about themselves, and I would disclaim what I was agreeing with by saying, "Not that I feel this, but just to agree with you.", but pretty soon I dropped the disclaimers.

Harry N You parody a lot of stereotypes, do you get any flack about that?

Frank F Yes, my mind goes back to Sidney Australia, I'm doing a workshop and there are 53 feminists and 7 guys at the back holding their hands over their nuts. I introduced Provocative Therapy and did a Provocative Therapy interview and then we had a group discussion and one gal went all jut jawed and said, "You touched her thirteen times during this interview I call that sexual harassment." Now I was a guest in the country so I thought "Don't be an ugly American!" ...anyway I said "Do you know the difference between my touching Mary Anne with the back of my hand gently, or putting my hand on her hand, or elbow, or shoulder, or her hand, or touching her knee for a quarter of a second with the back of my hand, AND ME trying to stick my hand up her skirt?" ...and incidently both the client and the group member were both wearing short skirts and showing an acre and a half of thigh. At this workshop they were saying things like "Women are nurturing and men aren't", ...and I asked

Frank F How many women here are single parents?

...thirteen hands went up

Frank F Who pays the rent?

Group We do.

Frank F Who buys the food?

Group We do.

Frank F Who buys the clothes?

Group We do.

Frank F Who pays the water bill?

Group We do.

Frank F Who pays the electric bill?

Group We do.

Frank F You spend your money on the food, rent, clothes, water and kids clothes and electricity.

Group Right.

Frank F You call that nurturing?

Group nodding in unison

Frank F That's what men do, and get no credit for it. Do you think men who do that are nurturing? Well women are nurturing and so are men ...some men are not nurturing and some women are not nurturing. Some of these shibboleths are just crap and-boring-and-tiresome-and-life-is-bigger-than-that. Lets make a distinction between the women who want equal pay for equal work and an end to sexual harassment and the fema-nazis who are anti family anti marriage and ...you go to your church I'll go to mine.

Harry N How should people who are interested in Provocative Therapy get started? Who should they start doing it with?

Frank F Dr Elianora Heffener said "Don't go to a two day workshop, and come away and use it on the client you like the least ...use it with the one you like the most! ...because that will make it much easier to catch the essence of Provocative Therapy as being like the affectionate banter between close friends, the affectionate teasing and banter, with an open heart." I agree with her ...on the other hand I just got totally fed up after a year and a half with a chronic schizophrenic and he wasn't exactly my favourite person at that point ...he was a walking case of haemaroids, I mean he was a pain in the ass, but I fell in love with him because he was Lazarus resurrected ...after six interviews he got discharged! Mind you, a year and a half he came back and everybody said, "Your miracle worker came in last night!" I went in the ward and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, gently, very gently and said "The experiments must go on, the forward march of science is inexorable" and he said "Hi Frank ...oh God, do we have to?" I said "Hey, its all research." Two weeks later he fled and he didn't come back. What's not in the book ten ears later I happened to be in a restaurant, June and I had been there for dinner, and guess-who is at the cash register, being appropriate, giving accurate change, not loudly hallucinating? Glory be to God, It's Billy Boy! he said, "Hello Frank" and then he asked me to wait a minute while he attended to some people in the queue, then he shook my hand and then he said, "I want to thank you for all the good you did for me out there." and he didn't start yelling about Mendota, he was so appropriate, he even nodded in the exact direction of Mendota. Well I said "Didn't I do a fantastic job considering the poor material I had to work with?" ...and he blushed and he laughed and he smiled and he shook his head and said, "Same old Frank you haven't changed one bit." ...then he said,"I would like as a small gesture to buy you and your wife dinner." Well he could have been to courtesy school he was so appropriate, just like a normal. I said, "Well that's the least you could do after all I've done for you!" ...and he laughed again and said, "Same old Frank, you just don't quit do you?" I treasure that memory, two years before he had Provocative Therapy he had been given a diagnosis of chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia!

Harry N Are their any particular books you recommend?

Frank F Yes The New Testament according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ...and there's my book, "PROVOCATIVE THERAPY", there's a new book "THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE" by Urgen Wippich and Igrid Dera Wippich, it's taking ten or a dozen interviews and verbatim transcripts and commenting an commenting on them in terms of NLP, Ericksonian Hypnotherapy and the philosophy of Maturana, its in German and English, some people say that it's a hodge podge and some people say it's very helpful. I also recommend, especially to people considering suicide, the Neville Randolf book, "Life After Death" and the Anthony Borge trilogy "Life in the World Unseen", More About Life In The World Unseen" and ...anyway we are all going to change, either now or then, do you want to change now or later? ...there's no rush, you've got all eternity to sit in your mental poo! ha hA HA.

When Harry Met Franky And They Talked About Billy, originally published in Rapport 20, p 15 (1993)