The three key ingredients of Provocative Change Works ™

provocative change worksProvocative Change Works consists of three approaches to shift clients from “a stuck state” to a more fluid state, allowing for greater freedom and choice. This conversational way of working requires the practitioner to pay close attention to client responses, whilst maintaining their own excellent state control
These are
• Provoking or stimulating client responses by verbal and non verbal interactions
• Using non-specific or indirect Hypnosis and metaphor explorations – to create “fluid states” for the client. Eliciting and challenging metaphors
• Time Framing – Promoting new ways of moving through time and space
The practitioner deliberately provokes (calls forth responses from) the client by adopting different discrete stances, which stimulate the client into new ways of thinking and feeling. The practitioner seeks out resistances in the client and then approaches most what the client seeks to avoid in the discussion, and identifies the client’s “blind spots”, using a great deal of humour and by working in an improvised manner. This means “running suggestions up the flagpole” and seeing if the client responds. The practitioner creates the movement in the session and can be talking for large sections of the interaction which is very different to many other talk therapy approaches.
Great use is made of “sensory rich language”, and the full expression of this, to engage the client, and thus take them on a journey outside their existing beliefs and experience, to a new sense of freedom. The practitioner works in a multi layered way without the limitations of some conventions found in many talk therapy approaches, such as removing the impression of “formal therapy as much as possible from the interaction. The key attitude of interacting as if chatting to an old friend means that the practitioner quickly creates real rapport with the client and the client often discusses the issue as it is rather than how they believe “they should respond” in this clinical situation.
Many witnessing this style of working can be initially quite surprised at the amount of energy, fun and honesty that results from this approach. This makes the client session very much like any interaction between old friends where each person may interrupt the other, tease the other, wander off the point and behave in other ways which typify such encounters. This apparent freedom is of course underpinned by all the ethical and professional principles of good clinical practice. The benefit of this is that one can have warm caring and human interactions, which enables the client to find their own solutions from a new and useful state.
Here and NowIn Provocative Change Works™ the practitioner either starts with the question
“As you think about this problem now (note reference to time), what’s the whole thing like?” or
“What’s the problem?”
(This is the classic opening question used in Provocative Therapy that forces the client to defend reasons for having the problem)
One of the best ways to help a client is to gather information by taking what the client is saying literally. When I ask a client “As you think about the problem now, what’s the whole thing like?” the answer reveals how the client thinks about this issue at “this point in time”. The client is forced to provide metaphorical information about “the stuck state”. Most clients respond by saying “It’s like X or Y”. Exploring these metaphors is invaluable in helping to change the client’s stuck state to a state of greater freedom. The reason for using the term “the whole thing” is to request an overview of the problem, rather than specific details.
Here is one simple example of a typical exchange during a client session –
Nick – As you think about this problem now, what’s the whole thing like?”
Client – It’s like being stuck in a rut
Nick – What kind of rut?
Client – It’s like being in the desert when your car gets stuck and you can’t move
Nick – What’s in front of you?
Client – I can see that there is a stretch of road up ahead where there is no traffic
By asking these questions without the practitioner is able to elegantly obtain useful information about the way in which the client thinks. Crucially it’s important not to interpret or attempt to make suggestions to the client, but rather to elicit sufficient information that is useful to assist with allowing the client to move from the stuck state. I am grateful for Andrew T Austin, George Lakoff, Mark Johnson and Charles Faulkner for their work in opening up my mind to thinking in this way.

Provocative Stances for “Frame Busting”

One state at a timeSometimes you can puzzle over a problem for a very long time and then discover “a light bulb” moment where all becomes clear. I had one such moments a few years ago when I was preparing for one of the workshops where I was going to be co training with Frank Farrelly. I had already spent a great deal of time with Frank, read his original book and watched hundreds of hours of Frank working with clients.


I was pondering on how best to explain the different stances a therapist would take during client sessions when my iPhone rang. I looked at my phone to see who was calling, noticed the icons and then it came to me. Why not represent each stance the practitioner can adopt by creating a specific icon? I contacted my graphic designed Matt Horwood and asked him to create eight icons to represent different stances used in provoking client response.

In 2006 I organized a practice day where I would demonstrate the provocative stances, but then crucially would get the attendees to do exercises where they would deliberately adopt a particular stance according to whatever icon was then shown to them. In these exercises one individual would play the client, one the practitioner and one the timer. The timer would be responsible for “directing” the manner in which the session took place by holding up these different icons, making the practitioner respond in this spontaneous and improvised manner. The icons acted like traffic signs and if for example the practitioner was shown the icon of the globe, then they would begin to talk only in universal terms about the issue. If they were shown the icon that represented pausing, the practitioner would then follow this direction to pause during the interaction.
The results from this initial practice day were quite extraordinary. All those present were able to switch between different stances and interact with a greater degree of fluidity and ease.
These communications take place “as if talking to an old friend with a twinkle in the eye and warmth in the heart”. Often these interactions can seem somewhat surreal, but to use a musical analogy the practitioner is aware of the central musical theme and even though he or she may play outside the main tune, they are fully aware of where they are heading to create a dynamic and memorable experience for the listener.

Examples of Stances

Here are some of the stances that can be adopted to provoke client responses. This is not an exhaustive list, but includes many of the stances I adopt during client sessions.

Interrupting the client

Interrupting the client can be done in lots of different ways. By interrupting client responses the practitioner has the ability to move the client from their previously established way of thinking to new possibilities. These interruptions can also be useful as tools to deliberately confuse to provoke a new way of thinking.

Blame v don’t blame…

It’s not your fault (blame everything and everyone else for the problem)
This stance allows the practitioner to blame everything else for the client’s predicament. This is often done in the most extreme manner.
Here are some examples of blame and not
blaming that can be used
“It’s not your fault; it’s just that you were born in the wrong place”
“It’s not your fault, it’s because you wear brown shoes”
“Not only is this your fault, but here’s a whole bunch of other things that are your fault as well!”
“Well of course it’s you, nobody else was there!”

Speak louder or speak quieter

Changing the volume of how you speak, can be hugely impactful in client sessions. In Speaking hushed tones and speaking louder produce all manner of responses that provoke new ways of thinking and feeling.
Go into more detail or going to greater universal descriptions
Adopting stances of asking for more detail or a more universal view provokes a wide range of useful responses. Here are some examples of adopting these stances
“What was the colour of that car?”
“How many times did you think that?
“What astrological sign are you?”
“That’s just how things line up from a cosmological perspective”

Suggest the client does more of the same

Here the practitioner suggests the client continue to do more of the same problem behaviour. In NLP this could accurately be described as “reframing”
Here is an example of the more of the same stance –
Client – “I have a phobia of public speaking”
Practitioner – “That’s great; it allows more opportunities for the rest of us to speak in public”

Tell a story

Milton Erickson used storytelling to great effect. By adopting this stance it’s possible to provoke a wide range of client reactions. Here are some examples of how this can be done –
“That reminds me of a story…”
“I heard that…”
“I read that”

Confuse the client

Deliberately confusing the client can be extremely useful in producing behavioural changes. One way of doing this is to deliberately misunderstand the client. Here is an example of this
Practitioner “So which needle is the scarier for you right now?”
Client “The little needle”
Practitioner “So the big needle is the scarier one…”


Explore family and other relationships

Examples of this include
“So what does your mum think of this?”
“Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
“Are you married?”
“Are you chasing any boys….or girls?”


Suggest a digital choice – “Is it A or B?”

Here the practitioner offers 3 choices insisting the client adopt one of these. When doing this the practitioner offers two extremes and one “average” option.
For example
“Would you consider yourself to be –
Lift doesn’t go to the top floor?”
By adopting these different stances the practitioner is able to shift the client’s “stuck state” and provoke or stimulate new ways of thinking and feeling. Often a practitioner will use many of these provocative stances in quick succession and it’s not unusual to use many of these stances in a single client session. In one of my many discussions with Steve Andreas he described this process as “frame busting”
The role of the practitioner is to explore the client’s internal map of how they are creating the stuck state and pay particular attention to the generalizations they make in respect to the problem. By changing or “busting”
the frames that maintained the problem state, the practitioner is able to create new possibilities of thinking and feeling for the client. By adopting the different provocative stances the practitioner is exploring resistances in the client’s thinking and I often talk about this process as “testing for resistances”. When I talk about “resistances” I am referring to instances when the client is provoked into affirming their need to resolve the stuck state. Frank Farrelly describes this process as “running a suggestion up the flagpole to see if they salute it.”