First name:
20th century
21st century
Field of expertise:
Social work
Place of birth:
Madison (USA)
* 26.08.1931
† 10.02.2013
Biography print

American social worker, psychotherapist and founder of Provocative Therapy.


Frank Farrelly (1931-2013) was born in Madison, Wisconsin. After taking a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he started his career as a therapist at Mendota Mental Health Hospital in Madison where he worked with psychiatric patients and soon developed his own therapeutic approach: Provocative Therapy. From 1960 to 1963, Farrelly ran a private practice as a psychotherapist in Madison, Wisconsin. He treated patients diagnosed with schizophrenia but also drug addicts and heavily depressive or criminal patients, and devoted his particular attention to allegedly “hopeless cases”.


Farrelly’s Provocative Therapy (1974: 175 ff.) above all aims at encouraging patients to develop their own individual solution approaches through using deliberately provocative and also humorous therapeutic moves. While there is no standardized therapeutic sequence, Farrelly points out similarities in terms of starting points: at an early stage of the intervention, the provocative therapist confronts [or: challenges] the patients in core areas of their mental experiences by providing stimuli that trigger fear but also offer a profound feeling of support.


Aside from his work as a therapist, Farrelly also was a university professor, e.g., at the University of Wisconsin where he taught clinical social work.



Ludwig, A. M., Farrelly, F. (1967): The weapons of insanity. American Journal of Psychotherapy 21, (4), pp. 737-749.

Farrelly, F., Brandsma, J. (1974): Provocative Therapy. Cupertino: Meta.

Farrelly, F., Lynch, M. (1987): Humor in provocative therapy. In: W. F. Fry, W. A. Salameh (eds.): Handbook of humor and psychotherapy. Sarasota: Professional Resource Exchange, pp. 81-106.

Farrelly, F., S. Matthews (1983): Provokative Therapie. In: R. J. Corsini (ed.): Handbuch der Psychotherapie. Vol. 2. Weinheim: Beltz, pp. 956-977.


 Robin Pape


Referencing format
Robin Pape (2015): Farrelly, Frank.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:22.02.2024)