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How Therapists and Counselors Effectively Handle Resistant Clients

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therapists-client-resistanceIn the mental health and addiction treatment field it is not uncommon to meet resistant clients during therapy. How we handle this resistance can assist or deter the client. With a resistant client, they have met an internal impasse. The client's basic personality is threatened by the mere thought that they are going to be dominated and changed against their will. With the client identifying so strongly with that dominant force within them, what is a therapist or counselor to do to address and get beyond this resistance?

Therapists Need to Monitor Intent

When clients are resistant, it is imperative for therapists to monitor their own intent. As a therapist, do you want to force the client to “get it,” to change, to do whatever you want them to do? As the therapist imposes his or her will, the relationship dynamic suddenly shifts to the therapist being a bully and trying to get their needs met. As a vehicle for change, therapists need to realize that treating clients like objects to dominate will only breed resentment, resistance, and no movement forward in the treatment process.

As always the first objective of any therapist / client relationship is to create a loving, comfortable, and safe space for bonding to occur. Sometimes this happens instantaneously and sometimes it takes months and months. The key is to notice when a client’s wall comes up and realize that the wall is there for a reason. It's ok for them to be however they are in that moment of time, but until the bond is established, the walls may need to remain.

Demeanor is Key

In resistant counseling relationships, therapists tread on troubled ground. Our demeanor is the key. To avoid our natural tendency to “fix,” a therapist’s internal environment needs to come into play. A person-centered approach works best. Unconditional Positive Regard provides a loving internal space to operate from and helps view clients as amazing human beings having all the internal resources to change through their own efforts. Their efforts may be limiting their potential in our opinion, but that is our opinion on how “our life should be.” And we are not them. Even as we empathize, we are not going through what the client is going through. Allowing a resistant client the dignity of their own process can yield huge benefits.

When resistance comes into the mix, wait a beat, center yourself in your loving heart, and avoid treating your client like their family of origin has treated them for years and years and years. More times than not, resistant clients are accustomed to living life at this adversarial level. When therapists go toe-to-toe with resistant clients, it only reinforces the pattern. By creating an internal pause there are options to consider. Letting the resistant client win often breaks this logjam.

Client Resistance as Healing Device

As the wall begins to fade, options can be explored, but again we are on tentative ground. Resistance can be used as a healing device if a client is able to look at the underlying hurt. Utilizing a Spiritual Psychology approach “When love is applied to hurt we heal” can address the underlying issue beyond the resistance.

Teaching a client self-counseling skills can help overcome their resistance. Pause, talk with it, and look at the underlying hurt. This can propel them into incredible healing. This is possible if the client is motivated to change. The change may not take on the flair of what “we want” or what “we are looking for” but again these sentiments reflect our needs. The client is the customer. They may want to achieve baby steps to believe they are experiencing successful treatment.

About The Clearing

The Clearing is a residential treatment center located on beautiful San Juan Island, Washington. We created The Clearing in response to the pervasiveness of treatment centers that focus more on luxury than modern, evidence-based therapy.

Our approach is based on healing the underlying core issues that cause addiction. If you'd like to learn more, contact us, or download our free eBook:

Download eBook:  Healing Underlying Core Issues

  Download eBook:  Healing Underlying Core Issues
Scott Alpert

This post was written by Scott Alpert

Dr. Scott Alpert has worked in the mental health field since 1994. During his career he has seen over 8000 patients, many during his ten years at a Mental Health Urgent Care center in the Los Angeles area helping people in extreme crisis. Dr. Scott has perfected the unique combination of spiritual and clinical psychology in an extraordinarily effective and endearing way.

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