Interview at the Dutch National TV

Loving resistance in a provocative coach session

Loving resistance in a provocative coach session
Posted on August 20, 2010 by Maarten Slagboom
VPRO Theme: Everyone is Depressed

One of our clients who we are following in the theme broadcast ‘Everybody is Depressed’ turns to a provocative coach when he feels depressed. But what is provocative coaching exactly?

A interview with psychologist Adélka Vendl.

Adelka Vendl

Adélka Vendl: "I see depressive feelings as a form of wholly natural defence. Your body and mind go on strike. You have had too much on your plate. We have such ingenious bodies that cry, Stop it! Go away! I always encourage that. I think that people are good at giving in to depressive feelings. I am increasing the problems, instead of reducing them as sometimes happens in regular care.

My role is often that of devil's advocate. I always ensure that I come close to somebody. Literally and figuratively. Literally, by sitting physically very close, so close that they noticeably flinch a little. That shows that I like you, as a person. And figuratively, by reacting very intuitively, from an initial impulsive response. Oh, how ridiculous! No really? That is still ridiculous! Etc. This ordinary, direct language brings me close. I can use forces like resentment and sadness, which mobilize a process. So my attitude is never that of, ‘It's all good, it's all fine, a lot of people are struggling with it, well you'll get over it’.

In my worldview, you do not take people seriously by concealing everything, and joining them in their need to complain, but by resisting them. Loving resistance, without too much insult is the core of provocative therapy. It is not for everyone, I think, though, yes, ultimately it can work for everyone. I sometimes get coach and therapy ‘hoppers’ in my sessions; people who have tried other forms of therapy, and still have not made any progress. Provocative coaching can then give a surprising angle.

When I graduated from university and wanted to work as a psychologist, I soon got the idea. I thought, ‘Do I really have to pull people from the depths?’ I wanted to find a way in which I could be more street-wise, and find a much less methodical therapy, and in which a ‘healthy feeling for people’ may also play a role, where you can call someone sombre and futile. I challenge many people so that they regain their strength to address their problem. I think this appeals more to how we can be helped, cognitive methods are so distant from people. The slow methods in regular care often lead to letting the genuine responses being snowed under. Irritability, anguish and sadness touch you to the core. Right up and away, no detours.

I get a lot of people in practice who feel listless and depressed while they are actually in full sail with a good job, nice relationship, you name it. I truly believe that it is something that these times are bringing about. One hundred or two hundred years ago, we found very different things which important, such as hard work, earning our daily bread. Striving for happiness was not something that was a constant issue.

My husband works a lot in Africa, where people are looking for a roof over their heads. Psychological help is not so widespread of course. We have a safe, luxurious society in the Netherlands, so safe and luxurious that these are our diseases. But they are none the less urgent. It is not a mockery, just the reality we live in. In my opinion we have to deal with the abundance of everything around us. That's sometimes a problem. With the fact that nowadays, just to give an example, there are one hundred thousand different types of custard. An average person - and I count myself as well – knows this luxury and wealth, but absolutely no longer knows which to choose. What's good, what's bad, how should I behave, which group do I belong to? Nowadays it is almost obvious that you are brimming with energy, that you have a relationship and a good job, while all of this is far from self-evident, of course. 

Today we are making such high demands on each other in this area, and on ourselves. It is all institutionalized. We thought we would be happier due to prosperity and increased choices to lead our lives as we wish, but we have sometimes lost the grip on how life should be, because we want to do it too well. For example, as regards the upbringing. We want to be perfect parents and there is always a handbook with training for any problem, such as dealing with a concentration disorder, tips and lifestyle for parents. It is also reinforced to us that we are still right in a victim culture. We do not want to bump into anyone. If you increasingly empathize with another person, you forget your own basic instinct. Your first impulse is often not so bad at all. It is sometimes better that you do not think too much, because thinking brings up own censorship. " Am I entitled to say that?" "Will I not harm him when I speak my mind?" So thinking it thru does not always lead to better results. That's how I work as a therapist too.”