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Honouring the client's resistance

Updated: Feb 1, 2022

Therapists rely on content presented by clients to facilitate crucial therapeutic conversations, but what if clients are reticent in sharing 'material' from their personal lives?

The therapeutic 'rule' is simple: Honour the client's resistance.

It might sound a bit counterintuitive because it's exactly below the surface of the client's life where important underlying thoughts, beliefs and narratives reside.

As therapists, it's part of our job to probe, but never to pry. Without the client volunteering information, we cannot do much more than hold space and gently probe with thoughtful questions. Asking questions is also an art-form. Clients could feel assaulted by a barrage of questions. But, how do we get clients to open up and feel willing to volunteer important content which could aid in their healing and integration?

It might be helpful to remember that sharing sensitive information could leave a client feeling vulnerable. Getting to gut-level sharing depends on the trust we've established in the therapeutic relationship. It's important for therapists to start with the hard work of establishing rapport. Trust is still earned, especially in therapeutic spaces.

Back to the therapeutic 'rule' about respect in the holding environment i.e. Honouring the client's resistance.

Even if we feel that the client is well-defended and has barricaded themselves in, we have to honour the client's resistance. Should we probe, prod and detect resistance we can merely take notice of it, but out of respect choose not to carry out a missile attack of direct questions. Getting to the real content where the client's chance for healing lies is a process which requires patience.

Should therapists choose to honour clients' resistance they might be surprised when a client chooses to present (volunteer) content of their own volition (in good time). When clients' boundaries feel respected they might feel, in effect, more ready to share as opposed to feeling threatened by our direct questions which strengthen the barriers which are counterproductive to the therapeutic process.

I recently attended a chapel service and saw the minister tiptoeing whenever she moved around the altar during the service. I found it rather quaint, but soon hypothesised that her tiptoeing around the altar might be an intentional practice whereby she might be reminding herself that she's treading on holy ground so to speak.

The holding environment is similar sacred ground. Perhaps we could endeavour to honour the client's resistance by not rushing in where angels fear to tread.


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