A Summary Checklist of Strategies and Techniques for Managing Client Resistance

One friend of mine who is a therapist has a very deep voice. Years ago, we were both seeing lots of boys who were often angry. These boys were also, no big surprise, resisting the advice and direction of authority figures, like parents and teachers. Several times I got a chance to work with young male clients who had “blown out” of therapy with my friend.

They described him as frightening. They said he would joke about having a “rack” in the back room in his office building and threaten to take them there if they wouldn’t talk. For young clients who got his sense of humor and who could see past his deep voice, his style worked very well. But for other youth, a kinder and gentler approach with less room for misinterpretation was needed.

In the following excerpt from Clinical Interviewing (5th edition), Rita and I are just finishing our discussion of why clients lie and resist counseling. Most of our thinking in this are is based on a combination of motivational interviewing and our own counseling and psychotherapy experiences-like the one described above. Following the end of our brief comments about lying and resistance, we include a summary table listing strategies and techniques for dealing with resistant clients that might be helpful to you. If you want more information about this, feel free to email me at john.sf@mso.umt.edu and I can send you an article or a chapter on working with resistant youth. Here’s the excerpt:

. . . . There are many reasons why clients lie, most involving some form of self-protection or the belief that they profit from lying. As a general rule (with exceptions), people tend to lie more if they feel the need to lie and tend to lie less when they experience trust. As a consequence, your goal is to build an alliance that includes enough trust to facilitate honesty. Confrontation of obvious or subtle lying behavior may be less productive than waiting for rapport and trust to build and for honest disclosure to flow more naturally. This perspective or stance can be a relief; when in the role of therapist (and not judge) facts are usually less important than feelings. To summarize, resistance, or whatever we choose to call it, is a natural part of the change process. In fact, research suggests that client resistance is an opportunity for deeper work. When resistance is worked through, the likelihood for positive outcomes is increased (Mahalik, 2002).

In the end, it’s helpful to remember that resistance emanates from the very center of a person and is part of the force that gives people stability and predictability in their interactions with others. Resistance exists because change and pain are often frightening and more difficult to face than retaining the old ways of being, even when the old ways are maladaptive. Finally, with culturally or developmentally different clients, resistance may actually be caused when the therapist refuses or fails to make culturally or developmentally sensitive modifications in his or her approach (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2007b). Table 12.1 includes a summary of strategies and techniques for managing resistance.


Table 12.1 Summary Checklist of Strategies and Techniques for Managing Resistance
____  1. Adopt an attitude of acceptance and understanding because developing a therapeutic alliance is almost always a higher priority than confrontation.
____  2. Recognize that clients will feel some ambivalence about working toward and achieving positive change.
____  3. Resist your impulses to teach, preach, and persuade clients to make “healthy” decisions.
____  4. In the beginning and throughout the session, ask open-ended questions that are linked to potential positive goals.
____  5. Look for positive goals that are underlying your clients emotional pain and discouragement—and then help your client be the one who articulates those goals.
____  6. Use simple reflection to reduce clients’ needs to exhibit resistance.
____   7. Use concession “You’re right. I can’t make you talk with me” to affirm to clients that they’re in control of what they say to you.
____  8. Use amplified reflection to encourage clients to discuss the healthier side of their ambivalence.
____  9. Use emotional validation when clients are angry or hostile.
____ 10. Use radical acceptance to compliment clients for their openness—even though the openness may be aggressive or disturbing.
____ 11. Reframe client hostility and negativity into more positive impulses whenever possible.
____ 12. Provide genuine feedback related to your concerns to your clients.
____ 13. Use paradox carefully to respectfully come up alongside clients’ resistance.
____ 14. If you’re concerned about truthfulness, get signed consent and then interview a significant other to help you get an accurate story.
____ 15. When clients ask “Do you believe me?” use a response that will encourage more disclosure, like, “I’m not here to judge the truth, but just to listen and try to be of help.”
____ 16. Remember (and be glad) that you’re a mental health professional and not a judge.

From Clinical Interviewing (5th edition). See: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-302475.html?query=John+Sommers-Flanagan


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