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Provocative Therapy

Interview with Nick Kemp

Interview with Nick Kemp about Provocative Therapy and Provocative Change Work by Ulf Sandström for the International Hypnotists Guild.

Nick Kemp is a greatly experienced British practitioner who is passionate about the concept of provocative therapy (PT), and provocative change work (PCW). He has trained with Richard Bandler for five years, and assisted him on countless events which makes him very familiar with NLP and hypnosis. In addition to this he has a long experience working together with Frank Farelly who initated the concept of Provocative Therapy 1963, years before the concept of NLP emerged. As happens, both Bandler and Grinder were strongly impressed by Franks early work and referenced him in “Frogs into Princes”.


U: Nick, having heard of your work I am curious about the core of the provocative aspect – which seems to be adopting the stance of being the devils advocate. Is this correct?

N: Yes a practitioner working with PT or PCWwill always adopt the stance of being devil’s advocate in a client session. This can be done in a lot of different ways. When I first met Frank and read his original book “Provocative Therapy” I was really taken by the many facets to his work and how the practitioner always presents the benefits for the client in maintaining the problem rather than changing it. Having worked with thousands of clients I keep finding that provocation greatly accelerates client change.

Humor is vital!

U: The element of humor seems to be vital in provocative therapy, what are your reflections around this?

N: My experience is that with a few exceptions NLP trainers don’t often use humour with great effect and instead tend to reply far too much on techniques.

U: Thats a pity, humor is a powerful tool, would it be correct to say that PCW and PT seem to focus on the actual “how” of applying the tools of hypnosis and NLP in an efficient way, using gentle, friendly, dark humor siding with the negative view of the clients current process?

N: Yes. Many practitioners who use NLP and Hypnosis and want additional tools, find that provocative therapy provides these tools. Here are some specific examples of ingredients in Provocative Change Works…

The three key ingredients of Provocative Change Works

Provocative 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

1. Provoking or stimulating client responses by verbal and non verbal interactions

2. Using non-specific or indirect Hypnosis and metaphor explorations – to create “fluid states” for the client

3. 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 humor 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.

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 key attitude is 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”.

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 a client session very much seem like 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 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.

In 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?”
“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)

My experience is that one of the best ways to help a client is to take what the client is saying literally. When you ask a client “As you think about the problem now, what’s the whole thing like?” the answers from this question reveal how the client thinks about this issue at “this point in time”. Most clients respond by saying ‘It’s like X or Y” and the metaphors the client uses are crucial for being able 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 are some examples of Stances thar are useful in provoking responses…

Blame versus 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”


Here is an exchange from an interview I did with Harry who had anger issues. In this exchange I adopt the stance of insisting that the problem is a good thing in order to provoke a series of responses from him

NICK: So what’s the problem?

HARRY: Anger.

NICK: Alright. There’s nothing with anger. Anger’s a good, motivating, powerful force that if more people had it, the world would get things done. It’s full of … you know … you got people all over the planet who just can’t be bothered. Really they don’t care enough to generate enough emotion to be able to express what it is that’s actually going on. So you are like a beacon for others. So that the apathetic, time-wasting, slothful, no-energy, slacker types can start to take some note and realise that those who have more energy and have more passion have something to contribute.

HARRY: The only problem with that is that it does work to a certain extent but it spills into anger.

NICK: There’s nothing wrong with anger. Anger’s a good thing. If more people were angry, more stuff would get done.

HARRY: Sometimes in the world more people would get hurt.

NICK: Well it’s a by-product. It’s like collateral damage. It’s like Buddha said “All change is pain”. Yeah. And are we saying he’s an idiot? Are you saying like Buddha’s not the smartest kid in the class?

(Harry laughs)


Here’s a transcript of me working with a client with anxiety issues. This shows me adopting some of the provocative stances I use in this approach. The client is a highly successful manager who feels extremely anxious when talking to what he describes as “people in authority”

NICK: So Mighty Greg, what’s the problem.

GREG: When I am talking to, or dealing with, Senior Execs in the company, I lose …(Nick interrupts – example of adopting the interrupt the client stance)

NICK: Smart people?

GREG: Not necessarily.

NICK: Ok. Stupid people?

Here I am also adopting the “digital choice” stance to provoke the client

GREG: Not necessarily. We have all of the above. (Greg responds in a defensive and animated manner)

NICK: Ok. So they’re intermittently smart. On a good day they might make some good decisions and on a bad day they’re like the village idiots.

GREG: True.

NICK: Alright. Yeah.

I deliberately now pause and look at him for a response (This is an example of adopting the pause stance)

NICK: In Egyptian times you had the Pharaoh, who might say “I want that pyramid moving a little bit to the right, go to it boys“

GREG: Yep.

NICK: Then you had the guy who’s in charge of doing the work. Then you have the workers and then you have people who assist.

NICK: They’re not going to be the Pharaoh anytime soon.

In this exchange I am presenting the image of a hierarchy and then proceed to place Greg in the lower parts of the hierarchy to provoke a response.


Thanks for taking your time to explain Provocative Therapy and Provocative Change Works Nick, if we arrange a workshop in the future in Sweden with you to learn the core of provocative therapy, what advice would you give those who consider taking it?

N: Bring a sense of humour, a desire to learn, an open mind and a willingness to work in new ways!


For information on Provocative Therapy see

For information on Provocative Change Works see

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