A resistant client is more the rule than the exception in counseling and psychotherapy. It usually is a result of the client feeling threatened in some way. Managing client resistance therefore calls for the counselor to use certain skills. The counselor has to show empathy and adopt active listening techniques to overcome client resistance. The SOLER technique is a time honored stance adopted by counselors which usually helps to break barriers of resistance.
The counselor or therapist will usually make progress if he and the client establish their common goal, acknowledge where and when the client feels threatened and accept the fact that progress may be slow. Managing Client Resistance in Counseling and Psychotherapy Client resistance is a normal feature in counseling and psychotherapy and one of the regular challenges a therapist or counselor faces. This applies not just to counseling but to all settings of medical practice (Chapelhow, 2005). A client usually has difficulty in sharing his problem even with close friends and family so opening up to a stranger may be inhibiting.
The clinical definition of resistance relates to avoiding self-disclosure in areas requested by the interviewer (Reilly, Charles, and Malley, 2001). Resistance is usually a defense mechanism against a perceived threat and the counselor has to overcome this with his supportive attitude. Over the decades, behaviorists, psychologists and therapists have attributed resistance to an unconscious attempt to repress memories, a self protective effort to preserve core attitudes towards life and a reluctance to be a part of a process that may change their life script in a negative manner (Corey, 2005).
Very often a client’s resistance is an attempt to protect their loved ones. They believe that a change in their belief or behavior may affect the lives of their family and perceive a disclosure as something that may trigger that change. Some studies have suggested that a moderate level of resistance is necessary for successful therapy and often is a measure of the progress made by the client during sessions (Corey, 2005). The counselor has to use this resistance productively to move therapy forward.
The first visit to a counselor or therapist is often colored with a fear of the unknown, particularly if it was not the client’s idea to undergo therapy. An open, empathetic and non-threatening attitude of the counselor helps overcome this natural initial resistance. SOLER is a recommended technique (Chapelhow, 2005) to deal with resistance: it is an acronym for: S: Face the client squarely, both literally and metaphorically. O: Adopt an open, non-defensive posture L: Lean forward to show interest E: Make Eye contact R: Remain Relaxed This helps to build a foundation of understanding with the client.
Any disclosure by or dialogue with the client should be interspersed by empathetic comments. Empathy is the key that unlocks many closed doors in the mind and creates a strong emotional bond. People rarely change for logical reasons. Intellectual discussions about the problem will only be met with resistance or statements beginning with “Yes, but…” Therapy or counseling will lead to change only if the client feels an emotional need to change (Corey, 2005). Empathy can help the client acknowledge and vocalize his emotional need for change and thus progress towards it.
Very often no perceptible progress is made during the counseling or therapy sessions because the counselor and client have failed to establish their common or a mutually agreed upon goal. It is necessary to decide right at the start what both of them hope to achieve. Unless the client and counselor are in agreement about this goal there are bound to be problems. It may begin by setting simple targets but it is very necessary to do so in order to motivate the client and bring down the barriers of resistance. A counselor also has to learn clearly about when, where and with whom the client faces the problem.
This is often shrouded in ambiguity and hinders the client’s progress. Once this has been clearly established each factor can be tackled individually and coping strategies developed. A client is very often aware of the solution to his problem. It is the threat that the solution seems to pose that worries him. Some clients find the solutions terrifying. The focus of the counseling may have to shift from the solution to overcoming the fears about the solution. The counselor needs to show a lot of empathy and then use gentle persuasion to overcome these fears.
The client needs support and appreciation when he shows courage in handling these fears and moving forward. Sometimes instead of giving logical reasons for change, resistance is best overcome by empathizing with the client’s reason for being resistant to change. This actually fosters collaboration between the two and gives the client an active role in directing the sessions. It can also bring to the surface the solutions that are within the client. This can be the breakthrough to make progress. It is important to set small targets that can be achieved realistically.
Showing empathy and encouragement is often the only way to break resistance. A counselor should expect and look for small changes and slow progress. This is the only way that the change can be a long lasting one. References Chapelhow, C, 2005, Uncovering Skills for Practice, Nelson Thornes Corey, G, 2005, Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Thomson Wadsworth Reilly, E, Charles, J, and Malley, P, 2001, Practicum and Internship: Textbook and Resource Guide for Counseling and Psychotherapy, Psychology Press