Provocative Humour

Provocative Therapy (PT) is a form of very brief client-centred counselling that uses humour as a therapeutic tool, developed by Dr Kaplan and Frank Farelly who have been interested in the health benefits of laughter and comedy and considers Provocative Therapy to be the cutting edge of the use of humour.

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.

The purpose of this therapy is to change the client. One of the therapist's main tools to implement this change is warm-hearted humour 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 humour both to sensitise and desensitise the client to problematic cognitive, affective, and behavioural patterns. This is the key to Provocative Therapy - jocular, whimsical, caring, supportive humour.

The root meaning of provocative is pro + vocare, to "call out", and there are five different types of behaviours 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:

  • Affirm his self-worth, both verbally and behaviourally.
  • Assert himself appropriately both in task performances and relationships.
  • Defend himself realistically.
  • 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.
  • Engage in risk-taking behaviours 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.

Sessions of Provocative Therapy are warm, caring, light-hearted and often great fun. Clients are not expected to 'book in' for more than one session at a time, although a course of 4 sessions can be particularly useful, and involves the additional benefit of the use of recording the sessions on audio and videotape. The tapes are then given to the client to watch at home. Listening to an audiotape or watching yourself on television can be very useful.

Source: Institute of Provocative Therapy