I am about to start a series of Provocative Change Works events across the globe, starting in Japan next week. During trainings I always explain the meaning of the term “provocative” in the context of therapy and how it is also used to best effect in all kinds of other communication situations. Unfortunately the term “provocative” can be seen by some folks as either “an aggressive approach” or “a comedic approach”. Yes there can be humour in provocative exchanges, but the purpose of a provocative session is not to “try and be funny!” and certainly not to be aggressive with the client.
Provocative Change Works is inspired by Frank Farrelly’s Provocative Therapy and learning these PCW skills takes a great deal of skill and application. The challenge for me when running workshops is to find the right balance between demonstrations, explanation and group exercises and to ensure workshop attendees maintain the right manner when using these skills. Since I first met Frank Farrelly I have promoted both his work and my own PCW approach at every opportunity and departed from teaching classic NLP courses. This has led to setting up some great provocative online resources, but regardless of how much information I put out it seems that some folks just don’t get that provocative does not mean “aggressive” or “sarcastic!” Interestingly it’s usually those who have a CBT or NLP background who struggle most with this approach. I do have some sympathy for such folks though; I too was totally confused when I first attended a Frank workshop. Fortunately I had the good sense to appreciate that it would take more than a few days to grasp his work and many years later the investment in time and energy has truly paid off. I have found that the PCW approach is far more dynamic and creative than what I was taught on my certificated NLP trainings from years ago! However these trainings really helped me figure out what Frank does and formulate my own PCW approach.
The Provocative Icon System I use in PCW and PT trainings is excellent in teaching the many different stances a practitioner can adopt to create client change. These icons represent 36 different potential stances and combinations of these stances are highly effective in provoking useful change. However it’s not enough to merely teach how to adopt these stances. The PCW practitioner needs to also have the manner of working with a client that Frank Farrelly describes “as if talking to an old friend” Despite all the talk of flexibility in workshops, this seems for many to be one of the biggest challenges. I have only seen a few people able to work effectively as provocative therapists and most of these have studied with Frank for many years. In 2006 I set up The Association for Provocative Therapy (AFPT) with Frank’s blessing and I am pleased that Dr Noni Höefner a Provocative therapist of 26 years standing is also a key promoter of AFPT standards in trainings. Noni is one of the smartest trainers I have met with superb flexibility and creative skills.
One of the main challenges for therapists and practitioners watching a provocative session for the first time is accepting that it is very different to NLP, Hypnosis or other types of therapy. The client in the session has an experience that is very different to those who are observing the session. Sometimes well-meaning observers want to “rescue the client” rather than allowing the process to unfold so the client can process the interaction in their own time. This can produce some quite interesting scenarios in trainings where groups find that they have also had their preexisting ideas about communication seriously challenged. A PCW practitioner seeks to provoke new insights for the client and this is always done in a conversational manner. In order to achieve this, the practitioner needs to pay close attention to the client’s responses and while maintaining his or her own excellent state control. Many new to this kind of approach find this very difficult and if the client shows any kind of emotion the therapist often immediately backs off or tries to placate the client, not realizing that this is often not the most useful strategy. In my experience many clients have had decades of tea and sympathy, psychoanalysis and counseling none of which has been especially useful. This is not to say that these approaches have no merit but rather, not provoking any real change in the client leaves the client in the problem state. Some talk therapy approaches even insist that a practitioner should refrain from influencing the client at all! Many such enthusiasts treat therapeutic situations like an academic discussion, which is fine, but often not especially useful for the client. Provocative Change Works is a conversational jargon free way of working. This absence of jargon in my opinion makes for a more honest and natural communication and my experience is that clients find they need far less session time to resolve their issues.
I have noticed that the obsession with “quick fixes” “fast phobia cures” in the personal change market has increasingly created a level of expectation for both therapists and clients that is in my view both unhelpful and unrealistic. I have blogged about this previously and of course I am accused of “attacking X approach” which of course is not the case at all. I am simply pointing out that it you over hype expectations then ultimately no claims are seen as credible. Developing the skills needed to provoke useful change for a client requires the practitioner to be able to improvise on the fly and to have an extensive range of verbal and non-verbal responses. I rarely see practitioners, trainers and therapists who can demonstrate this ability and this is a far cry from the academic, logical, digital and analytical approaches that are often found in some approaches. I have also noticed that some people have started to add the term “provocative” to their therapeutic descriptions with little awareness or regard to Farrelly’s work. I receive all kinds of communications about how to become a provocative therapist and many enquirers are disappointed that they can’t get a weekend certificate to add to their existing certifications! This week I had an enquiry by e-mail asking if you could become a provocative therapist by reading Frank’s original book!
The new revised PCW site – www.provocativechangeworks.com has a wealth of information on PCW in articles and videos. In many ways PCW and PT are the polar opposite in approach to many traditional talk therapy approaches. In many instances talk therapy approaches are conducted in such a disassociated manner that the sessions become little more than role playing scenarios in which either therapist or client believe that anything useful will occur. That is not to say that these approaches have no value. However I suspect that the success with these approaches is more due to the therapist’s manner than the actual techniques used.
I have personally used the Provocative Change Works approach with over 3000 clients and have found this approach to be the most effective method to help with client change. Most who study with me can learn the provocative stances, but those who really become proficient in this approach have a great sense of humour, don’t take themselves too seriously and have a genuine care for helping others. I always make it clear that PCW is not the only way to produce excellent client results but my interest in any model of communication is in what you can do with it, rather than any academic style study. There seems to be many who agree with this sentiment and I have never been busier either with trainings or with seeing private clients in my UK clinics.
The full schedule for 2012 international PCW training events can be found at http://www.nickkemptraining.com/calendar.php and this May I will be running a skills development day for previous workshop attendees who want to explore PCW in greater depth.