Introduction by Connirae Andreas

The video we posted several weeks ago on Provocative Change Works (PCW) definitely stirred up some controversy. Some found the bits we shared offensive (thank you for emailing us to let us know), some were intrigued, and some have become inspired. Sometimes these were all the same person.

PCW is not intended to be a replacement for other therapeutic skills, but an additional choice. Many therapists who have used it have found that it freed themselves up to work in a much more spontaneous way. And like all such skills, it’s essential to be sensitive to the client’s response to using it; if it’s not working, try something else.

Today we’re sharing how someone was inspired by the videos to use this approach in parenting. Duff McDuffee, who runs our office at Real People Press, talks about how he used PCW….

After recently watching some videos of Nick Kemp’s unusual and entertaining Provocative Change Works, I decided to try out this style of communicating with the teenager in our household, my partner’s son.

Recently I was driving myself, my lady, and her son somewhere when he mentioned something about peer pressure. In an exaggerated and playful tone of voice, I said how important it is to always do whatever anybody wants you to, especially if it is harmful and destructive and you don’t really want to do it!

From the tone of my voice and the smile on my face it was clear I was joking, and he obviously understood this. He started to argue playfully with me, saying “That’s not what you should do.” I continued to push the joke further and said things like, “If your friends give you some poison to drink, you have to drink it, otherwise they’ll make fun of you! ‘Come on, don’t be a loser, drink this poison already. You only live once!’ ” He said things like, “No way, I’m not drinking poison! I’m doing what I want to do.” Only afterwards did I realize how elegant this method is for teaching a teenager about peer pressure.

Most teenagers are naturally a bit rebellious, even if they are good kids like my lady’s son. They resent being lectured to about things like peer pressure and drug use, and saying “Don’t do drugs” is more likely to elicit eye rolls, if not outright use of drugs as a form of rebellion, rather than abstention and standing up to peer pressure. By arguing that the teenager should take poison or something else harmful that they don’t want, it utilizes that teenage rebelliousness for a life-enhancing outcome. By using “poison” as the example, it implicitly emphasizes the harm of drug use, but without actually saying it. Most kids are aware of the potential danger, but don’t see it when peers emphasize how “cool” it is.

By using a provocative approach, the kid argues against a hypothetical peer while also getting to feel rebellious towards the parent. I think this may have been particularly effective because I am in a step-parenting role and thus don’t have any real authority to set limits or lecture about things anyhow, so a more direct way of speaking would have been more likely to elicit resistance.

And by arguing against me playfully pressuring him to drink poison, he was in that moment practicing behavioral skills for resisting peer pressure. We were also having fun together, which is very different than most people’s childhood experiences of being lectured about drugs by their parents!

Ultimately kids will make their own choices of course, but it helps to be able to give them some skills, and sometimes these little tricks can make a big difference in communicating those skills to kids.

If you’re interested in learning this approach, consider our upcoming training with Nick Kemp. Duff’s example is just one way of using the PCW approach—there are many more which Nick will be artfully demonstrating and we will all explore in exercises. The PCW methods are especially useful when the other person—and/or we ourselves—are trapped in one way of thinking about things. The more “stuckness” there is, the more PCW can have a useful effect.

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have.”
–Emile Chartier.