Tag Archives: Resistance

Using an Invitation for Collaboration in Counseling and Psychotherapy

As I’m sure you know, I believe (rather strongly) that counselors and psychotherapists should work hard to collaborate with clients. Being an authoritarian therapist is passe.

Sometimes collaboration sounds easy in theory, but it can be difficult in practice. It’s especially difficult if clients come into your office not “believing in therapy” and not trusting you. In the following excerpt from the forthcoming 6th edition of Clinical Interviewing, you can see how a skilled therapist deals with some initial client hostility.

Case Example 3.1: An Early Invitation for Collaboration

Sophia, a 26-year-old mother of two was referred for counseling by her children’s pediatrician. When she sat down with her counselor, she stated:

I don’t believe in this counseling thing. I’m stressed, that’s true, but I’m a private person and I believe very strongly that I should take care of myself and not have anyone take care of my problems for me. Besides, you look like you might be 18 years old and I doubt that you’re married or have children. So I don’t see how this is supposed to help.

It’s easy to be shaken when clients like Sophia pour out their doubts about therapy and about you at the beginning of the first session. Our best advice: (a) be ready for it; (b) don’t take it personally, Sophia is speaking of her doubts, don’t let them become yours; (c) be ready to respond directly to the client’s core message; and (d) end your response with an invitation for collaboration. An invitation for collaboration is a clinician statement that explicitly offers your client an opportunity to work together. In some cases, an invitation for collaboration is a time-limited “let’s try this out” offer.

Here’s a sample counselor response to Sophia:

Counselor: I hear you loud and clear. You don’t believe in counseling, you’re a private person, and you’re concerned that I don’t have the experiences needed to understand or help you.

Sophia: That’s right. [Sometimes when the counselor explicitly reflects the client’s core message (i.e., “. . . you’re concerned I don’t have the experience needed to understand or help you”) the client will retreat from this concern and say something like, “Well, it’s not that big of a deal.” But that’s not what Sophia does.]

Counselor: Well then, I can see why you wouldn’t want to be here. And you’re right, I don’t have a lot of the life experiences you’ve had. . But I do have knowledge and experience working with people who are stressed and concerned about parenting and I’d very much like to have a chance to be of help to you. How about since you’re here, we try out working together today and then toward the end of our time together I’ll check back in with you and you can be the judge of whether this might be helpful or not?

Sophia: Okay. That sounds reasonable.

In this case the counselor responded directly and with empathy to Sophia and then offered an invitation for collaboration. As the session ends, Sophia may or may not accept the counselor’s invitation. But either way, the counselor’s skillful response provides an opportunity for a collaborative relationship to develop.

Round Bales

 

Resistance Busters: How to Work Effectively with Teens who Resist Counseling

Young clients or students and their parents will sometimes be immediately resistant to your efforts to help them change. I don’t mean this in the old-fashioned psychoanalytic form of resistance that blames clients. I mean this as a natural resistance to change. I think we’ve all felt it. Someone has some helpful advice and we feel immediately disinclined to listen and even less inclined to follow the advice. I remember this happening with my father—even when he wanted to tell me something about sports. Of course, he knew a TON more about sports than I did, but logic was not the issue. When it comes to relationships and influencing people, logic is rarely relevant.

If we can buy into using the word resistance—despite the fact that Steve de Shazer buried it in his backyard and had a funeral for it, we would be likely to conclude that resistance behaviors are especially prominent among youth who view their presence in therapy as involuntary. Think of school, court, or parent referred children. Below, in an effort to capture what happens in these situations, Rita and I came up with what we call common resistance styles. Again, the point is not to blame clients or students; after all, they usually come into counseling or therapy with a history that makes their resistance totally natural. Besides, why should we expect them to pop into a therapist’s office and suddenly experience trust and share their deepest feelings.

In combination with these so-called resistance styles, we’ve also developed a range of possible therapeutic responses. To be with de Shazer’s (1985) solution-focused model and because they constitute a first best guess regarding how to respond to these particular resistance styles, we refer to these responses as “formula responses.” Keep in mind that if one formula response is ineffective, an alternative one may be used to reduce and manage this pesky resistance-like behavior.

Resistance Style: Externalizer/Blamer
This young person quickly blames everyone and everything for his or her problems. S/he may feel persecuted; there also may be evidence supporting his/her persecutory thoughts and feelings. Alternatively, the youth may simply have trouble accepting personal responsibility.

SAMPLE STATEMENT: “I would never have flunked science if it weren’t for my teacher. He sucks big-time.”

Formula Responses: One key to responding to this youth is to blatantly side with his or her affect. In the early stages, confrontation with this type of youth is generally ill-advised. For example, Bernstein (1996) states: “Despite a lack of evidence to back up their arguments, we listen carefully without passing judgment” (p. 45). The blamer is sometimes so hypersensitive to criticism that he sees it coming a mile away. Therefore, especially at the outset of therapy, therapists should be cautious about providing criticism or negative feedback. As the client blames others be sure to grunt and moan and say things like, “Oh yeah, I hate it when teachers aren’t fair.” or just use standard person-centered reflections, “You’re saying that being around your teacher really sucks . . .it feels real bad.”

Resistance Style: The Silent Youth
This youth may refuse to speak or may boldly claim that she doesn’t have to talk to you. This youth may have strong needs for power and control and/or may be afraid of what she might say during counseling.

SAMPLE STATEMENT: “I don’t have to talk to you. And you can’t make me.”

Formula Responses: For the completely silent youth who appears to be stonewalling, it may be useful to use a combination of youth-centered reflection of feeling/content and self-disclosure or forced teaming. For example, you might say: “Seems like you really don’t want to be here and you also really don’t want me to know anything about you.” And/or: “If I were you, I wouldn’t trust me either. After all, you were sent here by people you don’t trust and so you probably think I’m on their side. I’d like to prove I’m not on their side, but the only way we can really shock your parents (or probation officer) is by you talking with me and then you and I teaming up to help you have more control over your life.” In the case where the client boldly claims that she does not have to talk with you, it can be helpful to strongly agree with the youth’s assertion (and then simply inquire as to what has been happening in the youth’s life.: “You are absolutely right. You ARE totally in control over whether you talk with me and how much you talk with me.” Then, after a short pause say, “Now, what do you want to talk about?” Sometimes acknowledging the youth’s power and control can decrease his/her need for it.

Resistance Style: The Denier
This is the youth who Repeatedly says: “I’m fine” or “I don’t know” when neither statement is likely to be the truth. These youths can be especially frustrating to therapists because whatever life circumstances that led the youth to therapy are clearly difficult and progress might be made if the youth would admit to having problems. Unfortunately, these youths may have such fragile self-esteem that admitting that any problems are occurring in their lives is very threatening.

SAMPLE STATEMENT: “I’m fine, I don’t have any problems.”

Formula Responses: With youth who say, “I’m fine” we suggest one of two possible formula responses. First, you might say: “If you’re fine, then somebody in your life must not be fine, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. So, tell me about who forced you to come and what his or her problems are?” The purpose of this statement is to get youths to at least become “blamers” so that you can side with the affect and start building rapport. Second, Bernstein (1996) suggests a statement similar to the following: “You may be right and you may be fine, but if you don’t talk with me about your life, I’ll never know whether you’re fine or not.” Suggested formula responses to “I don’t know” include: “Okay, then tell me something you do know about this problem” or “Tell me what you might say if you did know” or “Boy, it sounds like there are lots of things about your life that you don’t know anything about. We’d better get to work on figuring this stuff out” or John’s favorite, which is: “Take a guess.”

Resistance Style: The Nonverbal Provocateur
Some young clients are so good at irritating other people with their nonverbal behavior that they deserve an award. These youth are often keeping adults at a distance because they don’t trust that the adults will understand or appreciate their adolescent dilemmas. These youths also are notorious for being able to “piss off” their parents, teachers, probation officers, and therapists. They may do so through eye-rolls, sneers, lack of eye contact, or other irritating nonverbal behaviors. Analytic theorists believe this is because they have such profound self- hatred that they unconsciously believe they deserve to be treated poorly by others, especially adults (Willock, 1986, 1987).

SAMPLE STATEMENT: “Yeah, right. Duh” (while youth’s eyes roll back and she heaves a significant sigh).

Formula Responses: When faced with the nonverbal provocateur, we recommend using the strategy we have referred to elsewhere as “interpersonal interpretation” (See Tough Kids, Cool Counseling). This strategy includes several steps. First, the therapist allows the youth to make whatever disrespectful nonverbal behaviors she wants to, without acknowledgment. Second, after a substantial number of eye-rolls, etc., have occurred, the therapist makes a statement such as: “Are people treating you okay.” This statement is designed to provoke complaints from the youth about whomever has been treating her so poorly. Third, the therapist discloses his or her reactions to the nonverbal behaviors: “The reason I bring this up is because, for a moment, significant sigh).I felt like being mean to you.” Fourth, the therapist suggests that the youth may already realize why the therapist “felt like being mean” to the youth or discloses that these feeling arose in response to the youth’s nonverbal behaviors. Fifth, the therapist suggests that the reason other people are treating the youth poorly is related to eye-rolls, etc., outside of therapy. Sixth, the therapist inquires as to whether the youth has control over his/her irritating nonverbal behaviors. Seventh, the therapist encourages the youth to conduct an experiment to see how people treat him/her one day when using lots of eye-rolls and another day while not using eye-rolls.

Resistance Style: The Absent Youth
There are at least two types of absent youths. First, there are young people who arrive with their parent or parents, but who refuse to leave the waiting room. Second, there are young clients who, after an initial appointment, keep missing their subsequent appointments.
In either case, resistance is high. These youth may be even more afraid of therapy and losing power the control than other youth, who at least make it into the counseling office.

SAMPLE STATEMENT: “I’m not going back and you can’t make me.”

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Formula Responses: It’s essential that young clients or students not be “dragged” into the therapy office. Therefore, the youth is simply informed that the session(s) will proceed without the youth present but that the session will still be “about” the youth. Subsequently, the session focuses on parent education and family dynamics. During this session, therapist should offer and serve food and drink to the participating family members. Also, partway through the session (if the young client is in the waiting room) one family member may ask once more if the youth would like to join them in the meeting. However, this request should only occur once and it should not involve any pleading. For young clients who miss their appointments, an invitation letter as suggested by White and Epston may be useful or, if you’re more behaviorally inclined, a contingency program may be designed to provide the youth with appropriate reinforcers and consequences.

Resistance Style: The Attacker
Similar to Matt Damon in the film Good Will Hunting, some youth will try to provoke the therapist by attacking whatever therapist personal traits that he or she can identify. It may be office decor, personal items (e.g., family pictures), clothing, the office itself, the voice tone, body posture, attractiveness, etc. The attacker’s ploy is often clear from the outset: The best defense (aka: resistance) is a good offense.

SAMPLE STATEMENT: “I noticed that everyone else here has a bigger office than you. You have a shitty little office; you must be a shitty little therapist.”

Formula Responses: We believe that two rules are crucial with young clients who consistently verbally attack the therapist. First, unlike Robin William’s character in the popular movie, you should not attempt to “choke” the youth (even therapist’s though you may feel like choking the client). In other words, therapists should not respond defensively or offensively to attacks by the youth. Second, the therapist may interpret the youth’s behavior by clearly demonstrating that the comments, whether true or not, say much more about the youth than they say about the therapist. After a few interpretations of the youth’s underlying psychodynamics, the youth usually will cease and desist with the attacks because he or she sees that every attack comes back to him or her in the form of an interpretation.

Resistance Style: The Apathetic Youth
The apathetic youth is similar to the denier, except that the formidable strategy of simply not caring about anyone or anything is the primary defense. This defense often arises out of depressive or substance related emotional and behavioral problems

SAMPLE STATEMENT: “Trust me, I really don’t give a shit about anything you’re saying!”

Formula Responses: Hanna and Hunt (1999) recommended using a sub-personality or ego state approach to dealing with adolescent apathy. This approach involves three steps: (a) take great care to empathize with the youth’s apathy; this might involve saying things like, “Okay, okay, I get it, you really don’t give a shit.”; (b) after empathizing, use a question like, “I know you don’t care, but isn’t there a little part of you, maybe a voice in the back of your head or something, that worries, maybe only a tiny bit about what might happen to you?”; (c) focus on the part of the youth that acknowledges caring about what happens and eventually begin labeling the “caring” part of the adolescent as the “real” self, while reducing the apathetic part of the self to the “fake” self.

More information about how to work through resistance is in our Tough Kids, Cool Counseling book, which happens to have five 5-star ratings on Amazon. Check it out:
http://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

 

Strategies for Working Effectively with Challenging Clients

Working with clients who are reluctant or resistant to counseling can be very challenging . . . unless you use skills to help minimize resistance and maximize cooperation. The following is adapted from Chapter 12: Challenging Clients and Demanding Situations of the forthcoming 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing. Remember, these skills have to come from a foundation of therapist genuineness.

Using Emotional Validation, Radical Acceptance, Reframing, and Genuine Feedback

Clients sometimes begin interviews with expressions of hostility, anger, or resentment. If this is handled well, these clients may eventually open up and cooperate. The key is to refrain from lecturing, scolding, or retaliating when clients express hostility. Speaking from the consultation-liaison psychiatry perspective, Knesper (2007) noted: “Chastising and blaming the difficult patient for misbehavior seems only to make matters worse” (p. 246).

Instead, empathy, emotional validation, and concession are more effective responses. We often coach graduate students on how to use concession when power struggles emerge, especially when they’re working with adolescent clients (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2007b). For example, if a young client opens a session with, “I’m not talking and you can’t make me,” we recommend responding with complete concession of power and control: “You’re absolutely right. I can’t make you talk, and I definitely can’t make you talk about anything you don’t want to talk about.” This statement validates the client’s need for power and control and concedes an initial victory in what the client might be viewing as a struggle for power.

Empathy and Emotional Validation

Empathic, emotionally validating statements are also important. If clients express anger at meeting with you, a reflection of feeling and/or feeling validation response can let them know you hear their emotional message loud and clear. In some cases, as in the following example, therapists might go beyond empathy and emotional validation and actually join clients with a parallel emotional response:

  • “Of course you feel angry about being here.”
  • “I don’t blame you for feeling pissed about having to see me.”
  • “I hear you saying you don’t trust me, which is totally normal. After all, I’m a stranger, and you shouldn’t trust me until you get to know me.”
  • “It pretty much sucks to have a judge require you to meet with me.”
  • “I know we’re being forced to meet, but we’re not being forced to have a bad time together.”

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is a dialectical behavior therapy principle and technique based on person-centered theory (Linehan, 1993). It involves consciously accepting and actively welcoming any and all client comments—even odd, disturbing, or blatantly provocative comments (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2007a). For example, we’ve had experiences where clients begin their sessions with angry statements about the evils of psychology or counseling:

Opening Client Volley: I don’t need no stupid-ass counseling. I’m only here because my wife is forcing me. This counseling shit is worthless. It’s for pansy-ass wimps like you who need to sit around and talk rather than doing any real work.

Radical Acceptance Return: Wow. Thanks for being so honest about what you’re thinking. Lots of people really hate psychologists but they just sit here and pretend to cooperate. So I really appreciate you telling me exactly what you’re thinking.

Radical acceptance can be combined with reframing to communicate a deeper understanding about why clients have come for therapy. Our favorite version of this is the “Love reframe” (J. Sommers-Flanagan & Barr, 2005).

Client: This is total bullshit. I don’t need counseling. The judge required this. Otherwise, I can’t see my daughter for unsupervised visitation. So let’s just get this over with.

Therapist: I hear you saying this is bullshit. You must really love your daughter . . . to come here even when you think it’s a worthless waste of your time.

Client: (Softening) Yeah. I do love my daughter.

The magic of the love reframe is that clients nearly always agree with the positive observation about loving someone, which turns the interview toward a more pleasant focus.

Genuine Feedback

Often, when working with angry or hostile clients, there’s no better approach than reflecting and validating feelings . . . pausing . . . and then following with honest feedback and a solution-focused question.

“I hear you saying you hate the idea of talking with me, and I don’t blame you for that. I’d hate to be forced to talk to a stranger about my personal life too. But can I be honest with you for a minute? [Client nods in assent]. You know, you’re in legal trouble. I’d like to try to be helpful—even just a little. We’re stuck meeting together. We can either sit and stare at each other and have a miserable hour or we can talk about how you might dig yourself out of this legal hole you’re in. I can go either way. What do you think . . . if we had a good meeting today, what would we accomplish?”

Think about how you can incorporate, empathy, emotional validation, concession, radical acceptance, and genuine feedback into your clinical practice. For more on this, check out the 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing.

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

 

Tough Kids, Cool Counseling: Dealing with “Resistance” – Part 1

Working with challenging, tough, or naturally resistant youth is one of the most difficult situations a counselor or psychotherapist can face. In this excerpt from chapter 3 of “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” (published by ACA, 2007), we begin discussing strategies for dealing with this difficult situation. Here’s a link to the Amazon page for this book: http://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly/dp/1556202741/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1370790501&sr=1-2

Chapter 3

Resistance Busters: Quick Solutions and Longer-Term Strategies

As noted in preceding chapters, adolescents are well-known for their general distrust of adults and their striving for autonomy (Erikson, 1963; Saginak, 2003). Despite this distrust and independence-striving, in most cases, by using the strategies and techniques discussed in Chapter 2, counselors can manage resistance and initiate therapy with clients and their parents. However, upon entering a counseling situation, some young people will display extreme, provocative, or puzzling resistance behaviors that require more specialized approaches (Amatea, 1988; Richardson, 2001).

Imagine the following scenario:

You’re an intern scheduled to meet with a 15-year-old girl referred to a community clinic from a local group home. You’ve been in graduate school for about 18 months and so you’re not completely naïve, but because you’re only 23 years old yourself (and you went through a fair bit of emotional turmoil during your teen years), you’re especially excited about the opportunity to help a teenager who is obviously in a challenging life situation.

When you meet your client, Maya, in the waiting room, your enthusiasm begins to wane. Her jet-black and pink fringed hair hangs over her eyes and she reeks of cigarette smoke. When you greet her, she sneers, causing her lip-ring to flip upward. Her eyes (or at least what you can see of them) roll back as if she is disgusted at the sight of you.

Her first spoken words to you are: “This is a fucking waste of my time.”

You’re not sure what to say and so the Carl Rogers voice inside of you says gently, “It sounds like you’re not very happy to be here.”

Maya’s response is to slip into a stony silence, a silence only occasionally broken with deep dramatic sighs. Eventually, when she finally speaks again, she says, “Oh my fucking God. And you’re supposed to help me?  That’s a joke.”

Some teenagers have a special talent for destroying their counselor’s confidence. Not surprisingly, our graduate students, when facing a client like Maya for the first time, are often stunned. They complain of having a blank-mind and not knowing what to say. Other common reactions to the Maya-prototype include overwhelming feelings of inadequacy (usually accompanied by anxiety) or strong impulses to retaliate with anger.

This chapter focuses on strategies and techniques for dealing with some of the most provocative behaviors you’re likely to see in counseling situations. Our belief is that counselors should prepare, plan, and look forward to aggressive resistance from teenage clients or students. Again, we emphasize that aggressive resistance is best viewed as a coping style brought into the counseling situation and directed towards anyone in authority—in Sullivan’s terms, a parataxic distortion (Sullivan, 1953). Therefore, when working with challenging youth, keep one key fact clearly in mind: Your client’s insults, disgust, and aggressive behavior, although aimed at you, have virtually nothing to do with you. There’s no point in taking your client’s comments personally, and in fact, if you can side-step the onslaught, it will provide you with all sorts of important diagnostic and clinical information about your client’s pain and defenses.

Getting Your Buttons Pushed

Despite our great advice about not taking your client’s degrading comments personally, in the real world, we all get our buttons pushed sometimes. A graphic example of counselor over-reaction to provocative client behavior was captured in the feature film, Good Will Hunting (Van Sant, 1997).

As a fan of counseling, you may recall the scene. The main character, Will, played by Matt Damon, is an extremely intelligent but emotionally disturbed young man with mathematical genius. His would-be mentor, in an effort to help Will fulfill his potential, sends him to several different counselors, none of whom are able to help Will. Finally, Will ends up in the office of Sean McGuire, played by Robin Williams.

During his initial session with McGuire, Will is his provocative and nasty self. He eventually, either accidentally, or via great intuition, begins insulting McGuire’s deceased wife and because he is still unresolved about his wife’s premature death, McGuire gets his emotional buttons pushed. The result: the counselor grabs Will around the neck and slams him up against the wall. Of course, McGuire also decides to take on Will as a client and successfully helps Will move forward in his life.

We would like to emphasize two key points related to this excellent example of resistance and countertransference from Good Will Hunting. First, be aware of your emotional buttons, seeking the support and counseling you need to be an effective and ethical counselor. Second, no matter how provocative your young clients may act, avoid using Robin Williams’s “Choking the client” technique.  It may play well in Hollywood, but physical contact with resistant, aggressive, and/or angry clients is highly ill-advised.

If you find you’re having your emotional buttons pushed occasionally by teenage clients or students, consider yourself normal. On the other hand, if the button pushing begins to cause you to contemplate acting on destructive impulses, it’s time to get therapy for yourself, and/or support from a collegial supervision group. Many psychoanalytically-oriented writers have warned about the powerful regressive countransference impulses that young clients can ignite in their counselors (Dass-Brailsford, 2003; Horne, 2001).

Pause for Reflection: How do you usually respond when you get your buttons pushed by someone? Do you instantly feel angry? Or, are you more likely to scrutinize yourself and decide that you really are just an inadequate and worthless piece of furniture? Of course, there’s no “right” response to these questions. The best guideline is to continually work at looking at yourself and your reactions to clients so that you are consistently cultivating your self-awareness.

[End of Pause for Reflection]

To work ethically and professionally with provocative clients requires general skill, personal insight, and a particular knowledge base that includes a range of potentially constructive automatic or formula responses.