10 reasons for resistance

Ever feel you are working against change?

In the last blog I discussed resistance to change being a product of the position taken by the counsellor. In this blog I want to explore the myriad of issues that can be perceived as resistance, but in reality are often located within the context of the work that takes place or as a reaction of the client to having their autonomy challenged. Think for a moment about the range of issues that could generate resistance if you had to discuss personal issues that may be difficult and shameful. I think we often underestimate what we are asking of clients. We ask them often to ‘be on their best behaviour talking about the worst behaviour’. I think you would agree that it takes great courage to trust sharing our personal world with a stranger. So what might be some of the factors that could be perceived as resistance, may be in fact normal reactions to the context. Below is my list which I am sure you can add to:

  1. Fear of taking risks can inhibit the challenges of change. I may not want to face the truth about myself.
  2. A lack of confidence that change is even possible can mean that we don’t even attempt change because of the risk of failure.
  3. Asserting individual autonomy within the counselling relationship by taking a position of resistance.
  4. The client does not have the energy to put into the change process at this point in time as there are too many other issues occurring in the person’s life.
  5. Embarrassment and shame in discussing the presenting problem.
  6. Feeling misunderstood and disrespected by the counsellor/therapist often means that we engage in protective factors such as withdrawal, non-engagement and belligerence.
  7. Life experience impacts upon how open or closed we are to new ideas and help seeking behavior.
  8. Resistance to change may also indicate fear of losing the relationship with the counsellor when the person is in a dependent state. If I get better, then the relationship will end.
  9. Past relationships with counsellors may have not been helpful and healthy. We bring into new relationships our experience from the past. If these experiences have been unhelpful, expectations of the current relationship is likely to be contaminated.
  10. Resistance to change may be an indicator of personality style. Inviting a shift from an antisocial position to one of pro social responsibility by its very nature can create ambivalence to change.

I’m sure there are many other examples that I have not thought about that you will consider from your practice. You can add to my list. So how do we acknowledge that resistance is not an inherent trait of the person but a state that can shift under the right conditions? And how do we assist clients to move on from these positions? The short answer is with compassion, evoking the client’s reasons for change, through acceptance of the person, and in partnership with the client. This can assist in positoning and externalising the worker and the client against the problem behaviour, rather than against each other.

Next week I will unpack how we might approach client work in a manner that will help to form a working alliance and see resistance as a state rather than trait within the person. Love to hear your thoughts.

Published on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012, under Motivational Interviewing, Practice tips and techniques

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