New from Dr. Kaplan

R.D. Laing: Early Provocative Therapist?

Dr R.D. (Ronnie) Laing (1927 – 1989) was a famous/infamous doctor, existential philosopher, poet, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist and anti-psychiatrist. The Divided Self (1960) is an examplar of his medical philosophy while the poetry of Knots (1970) was adored by the generation of the ‘New Age’.

What most impressed me about Laing was his view on the sort of ‘energy’ or ‘atmosphere’ in the consulting room conducive to effective psychotherapy. I was moved by this very short description of his approach to a depressed patient.  Although before the time of Frank Farrelly, what Laing says here is typical of the approach of Provocative Therapy.

Provocative Therapy aims to change the behaviour of the client for the better. Laing concurs when he says that someone trapped in a room may be better off trying to walk out the door than spend years working out how he got in there. Similarly if one is trapped in a hole in the ground it may be less productive to dig deeper than to start climbing out.

Provocative Therapy believes the solution to a patient’s problems is in the patient. When Laing invites patients to ‘scan’ the previous 48 hours for moments of happiness, he is confirming that the patient – rather than any doctor or philosopher’s theories – is likely to come up with the answers to his/her issues.

Provocative Therapy uses Reverse Psychology and Humour to provoke the patient into improved behavioural patterns. Laing demonstrated this by getting the patient to whistle and share jokes thereby elevating his mood immediately.

Provocative Therapy aims to get patients to locate, articulate and enact the solution to the problems. This happened so blatantly in this case that the patient was reluctant to give Laing any credit – another scenario not unfamiliar to Provocative Therapists!


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