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Overview Of Provocative Energy Techniques (PET)

The integration of Energy techniques with the style of Provocative Therapy

"We do not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious"
--- (C.G.Jung)

The clinical application and merit of this synergistic approach is based on the great effectiveness of each modality. From Provocative Therapy we have abstracted the elements of that communicative style. We have been blending this with the best of tapping using EFT and SET over some 18 years in many  thousands of cases, in individual work and in group settings.

In the clinical work we have been doing, to "stimulate" negative beliefs with humour and paradox (while assiduously using SET tapping), we have noticed disproportionate benefits and results, particularly the relief from a subtle pressure to think in only one way (i.e. positive) about the world, and a delightful irony in attitude-the very opposite of cynicism-which manifests as a healthy respect for personal faults and limitations. This leads toward self-reconciliation and wholeness.

This kind of negative focusing consistently brings up hidden issues directly and gives "leverage" in SET. The fruitful effect of stimulating the negative is intense and constructive here because of the meridian stimulation-the paradoxical miracle of the Energy therapies.

The essence of Provocative style is:

  1. The use of humour
  2. Intense rapport, compassion and empathy in the session
  3. Paradoxical intention and instruction, regarding the "problem"
  4. A willingness to work with the "dark side", and polarities, of being human-concentrating on the "unthinkable, the unspeakable and the undoable", for the client

The Energy techniques we use are mainly the simple tapping approach of SET, a derivative of EFT. Our refinements include:

  1. Introducing Provocative style into the therapeutic conversation-the art of PET
  2. Using as much tapping as possible in the time
  3. A deep breath at the end of a period of tapping

The result of this integrative combination for the client is typically:

  1. Immediate engagement with the unwanted and unrecognized parts of the self
  2. Reality-testing and greater self-awareness
  3. Change
  4. More self-acceptance
  5. A more lighthearted attitude

The result for the therapist is:

  1. Working freely with the real problem
  2. Never being 'stuck'
  3. Gratifying and profound shifts in our beliefs what kind and degree of change we think is possible
  4. Enjoying the session

Provocative Therapy

This is an approach based on a humourous and paradoxical communicative style, originated by Frank Farrelly and refined over 4 decades. Essentially, Provocative Therapy involves "humorously playing the devil's advocate with the client, siding with the negative half of their ambivalence towards themselves (and towards change), seeking to show how they bind themselves in the situation, and doing all this in a way which promotes the client's self-knowledge and capacity for change." (F.F).

In PT the therapist seeks to "get into" the client's phenomenological and experiential world, mirroring this back to the client, and (humorously and perceptively) exaggerating and extending the negative aspects. In emphasising and exaggerating the "doom and gloom", the reasons why "not to change", and why change would be a bad thing, the Provocative Therapist is able to tap straight into the affectively-laden material-on which the energy therapist needs to focus his/her intervention.

PT uses the client's own resistance to change in order to promote change - and to encourage the client to consider the positive aspects of changing. By over-focusing on the gloom and doom, the provocative therapist provokes the client into considering the positive polarity of a problem, mustering assertiveness and self-acceptance.

"Well, on the day I was born, God was sick"
--- (poet Cesar Vallejo)

We find that as we engage clients in identifying beliefs and "blockers", that we can profitably exaggerate these "to the n'th degree", often resulting in a smile of acknowledgement on the part of the client - they know that in their darker moments they are quite capable of thinking in these extreme ways.

Provocative Style

The style is a communicative style, with meta-messages that imply the positive worth of, and respect for, the client simultaneously with bizarre encouragement for the negative belief system that holds them back.

Provocative Energy Techniques

PET requires of the therapist a sense of humour, and the willingness to "play" - particularly with client's expectational sets and negative beliefs that are exaggerated and lampooned by the therapist. The therapist works at multiple levels to promote change in an atmosphere of warmth, respect, humour and playfulness - the light-hearted elements in particular often conspicuously absent from traditional therapies, and even from some of the energy therapies, where seriousness is often equated with universal truth.

In PET, encouraging the client to continue their negative symptomatology and/or behaviours often leads very quickly and directly to emotionally-laden material for tapping on. Fears, shame, guilt, negative beliefs about self may all be elicited and tapped on as a consequence of this process, leading to many productive shifts, and gains in self-acceptance.

PET provides a way of assisting clients rapidly to deal with the emotional "push-pull", and thus promotes clarity and personal force for change. PET provides powerful techniques to minimise the anxiety that accompanies such change. Counselling and therapy conducted in this manner can be enjoyable for both client and therapist even when addressing deep emotional issues - the humour and the tapping enables rapid information processing and provides distance and perspective.


In PET the therapist achieves rapport not only with the client at a bodily level, but also with the client's conceptualisation of the problem. When the therapist "gets into" the client's world and starts exploring this out loud in the session, clients feel deeply understood-"someone knows how bad I am". The therapist's willingness to "speak the unspeakable" goes a long way toward promoting this level of rapport.

Playing Polarities

In PET, the emotionally compelling aspects of either side - or both sides - are brought into the open for the client to "tap on". The provocative energy therapist "tunes into" the emotionally powerful "pull" on each side and humorously cajoles the client to "come hither" in one or the other ways (or both!). Doing this while the client is tapping helps them to sort out what really is a valid choice - as they are able to make the decision without being blinded by the intensity of their usual emotional hooks.

A Summary of Paradoxical Strategies

The Law of Paradoxical Change: To change something, increase it rather than trying to undo it. If attention is already shrunken, shrink it more; amplify problematic emotional responses rather than trying to make them decrease. (Wolinsky, 1991, Trances People Live)


Many therapies use reframing to encourage the client to consider alternative meanings to the problem. In PET, along with more straightforward forms of reframing - which can be used with tapping by inserting the potential reframes into the Setup statement and reminder phrases - a more paradoxical / provocative form of reframing may be used, where for example the problem is presented as an asset and an upside down look is taken on events. This has the effect of creating new perspectives and evoking emotional material that may have been denied or suppressed - and which is therefore useful for tapping on. Reframes are associational and not always positive - but are often humorous.

Encouraging or Prescribing the Symptom

Symptom prescription is a technique wherein the client is encouraged or instructed to continue their symptomatic or associated behaviours for the time being or to increase them, as a way of ultimately solving the problem more quickly. The best symptom prescriptions create "therapeutic double binds" where the client cannot fail and is able to demonstrate control over his or her symptoms by doing them deliberately. For example, a worrying client encouraged to keep worrying - because she "has many reasons to worry" (Therapist gains rapport with worrying part) - may find that she cannot worry when she tries to do this deliberately. The symptomatic behaviour is no longer spontaneous - even if she can do this deliberately this demonstrates that she can control the behavior.


Softer versions of restraining include the use of suggestions to "Go slow", encouraging the client to consider the negative consequences of changing, or the positive consequences of staying the same. Paradoxically, these approaches serve to assist the client in dealing with anticipatory anxiety, allow them to deal more realistically with change, and also provoke essential material to be treated by the tapping techniques in order for change to be navigated successfully.


Here the therapist agrees with, and even exaggerates, the client's negative position and symptoms in order to encourage the client to shift from this position by encouraging a polarity response (e.g. "I'm not that bad!). Taking the client's position and exaggerating or even humorously lampooning it (with good rapport) can often allow them to see its absurdity. In PET, statements that represent the clients negative position are immediately included in the Setup statement, and descriptive and associational statements regarding the negative position (often identity beliefs) are tapped on at each meridian point. (e.g. Client who thinks she is a hopeless case might be encouraged to tap on "Even though I am a hopeless case... and my life is a mess ... etc".) The closer these associational statements are to clients underlying negative self-beliefs, the more powerful the subsequent tapping will be in releasing the emotional attachments.


Essentially, utilization involves accepting whatever clients bring to therapy - using their existing motivations, beliefs and behaviour to lead to change. Utilisation is an attitude and a way of looking at clients' problems and behaviours, seeing them as potential pathways to change. Utilisation was pioneered by Milton Erickson, who stressed the utilization of:

  1. The client's language;
  2. the client's interests and motivations;
  3. the client's beliefs and frames of reference;
  4. the client's behaviour;
  5. the client's symptoms; and
  6. the client's resistance.

If they bring resistance, encourage this instead of opposing it. Siding with the client's ambivalence towards change can be immensely freeing for them, and greatly intensifies rapport. Tapping on the ambivalence - whilst allowing it to have credence and accepting its "trueness" - can lead to many positive emotional shifts.

Some EFT/PET Set-up Approaches (brief examples):

General EFT

"I accept myself even though I don't accept myself"

Reworking The Problem

Using the set-up in EFT for the creative reworking of the problem, followed by interweaving paradoxical suggestions-as variations on a theme-while tapping the points."It wasn't me-it was my evil identical twin who did it"

Exaggeration & Irony

"The first 40 years is the hardest..."

The Paradoxical Approach to the Paradoxical Problem

"Even though I can't accept myself, I accept that I cannot accept myself, and at least I can accept I can't accept myself."
--- {Thanks to Dr Alexander Lees (EFT Contributing Editor) for this twisted thought}

This statement shows the truth and validation of allowing the negative and the positive to co-exist. There is a difference between being balanced and being perfect

Polarity phrasing

We take advantage of the way the mind works by stating the negative ideas you perceive, and adding in the positive opposite, when using EFTparadoxically:"I don't accept myself at all...for lots of reasons...but I do!"
Or the other way round (positive to negative):

"I'm a really good person...kind to animals...but not myself!"

Alternate tapping on opposites

First point: "I'm a good person"
Second Point: "Not all the time"
Third Point: "I do my best"
Fourth Point: "Which isn't really good enough"
Fifth Point " But I keep going" ... etc

Provocative Techniques Can Be Useful At A Number Of Points:

(i) Before tapping: The therapist follows the associations provoked in his/her mind to "tune into" the client's beliefs and expectational sets - especially those of most hurt. In this stage, the therapist may use client-centred responses with a provocative Twist.

eg. Client brings in her daughter who she is concerned is behaving poorly. Therapist (sensing Mum's long-range fears): "So you've given birth to a criminal!"

When these responses fit in with the client's worst fears and unspoken assumptions, they produce a quality of empathy which is beautiful to experience. The client feels deeply understood - yet off balance. The approach gets very quickly into the material of most use for the tapping therapies. Whenever we have an emotional response, we have rich material for the tapping.

We have found it highly productive to include the client's dysfunctional beliefs in the Set Up - usually in an exaggerated form e.g. "Even though I'm the cause of all our problems and she'll probably leave me because of my stupidity..."

(ii) During tapping, having the client repeat provocative statements (i.e. those that would provoke an emotional response) instead of the traditional "reminder phrase" can be highly productive (see example of smoker).

As we go along, noting the clients response to the emotionally charged material helps us to tell if more tapping is required. The more highly attuned we are to the client's state, the better the material we tend to associate, and the better the result for them.

(iii) After tapping, we can test the results by either provoking the client ("I hope you feel guilty when you think of how your poor daughter is going to have to come home to an empty house..." (NB she is 16!)), and noting the congruency in their response ("Well she is going to have to grow up one day").

The depth and subtleties of PET are best experienced and that is why we offer demonstration sessions in all our workshops.

See  Events and Training for details of upcoming PET trainings.

This article has been adapted from New Energy Therapies: Rapid Change Techniques for Emotional Healing (Second Edition)

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