How to persist when a client resists

Sarah Briggs – Director Share

It was the renowned Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875–1961), who taught us that whatever you resist persistsWhat he meant by that is the more you resist anything in life, the more it will remain a problem – unless you accept it and feel the impact in order to move forward more freely.

A skilled therapist can be curious to explore the energy behind the client’s apparent resistance – any secondary gains and the underlying reasons for staying stuck.

Client resistance happens. A lot. Despite the fact that we know – objectively speaking – that this is something a therapist can remedy, whether that’s by identifying personal biases that may have triggered resistance, empathising better or taking steps to correct any therapeutic breach, sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally. It can feel like “your fault” and may also trigger some negative judgment of the client. If you come up against client resistance what can you do to ensure that you don’t give up?

Is it all just ego?

There is some suggestion that issues with client resistance stem purely from a therapist’s ego. It’s the ego that drives us to try to protect our progress and pride as a professional and to get defensive if things aren’t going entirely to plan. Unfortunately, once defensiveness is there it can make communication difficult, especially when it comes to hearing what a client is actually trying to say. So, crucial to ensuring you’re able to persist in this kind of situation is dealing with the ego so that you can release defensiveness and not take the resistance personally.

We’re all still human

Even the best therapists have human moments and ego is a very human trait. If you feel put down or diminished then you may feel a burning desire to establish superiority or show that person that you’re smarter than them. However, being able to put the ego aside and listen objectively to criticism can be transformative when it comes to ongoing practice. So, how can you approach this?

  • Be the responsible one. As the therapist, the responsibility for resolving the situation falls to you. It’s tempting to blame the client, the circumstances or any other factor but the reality is that the power to remedy most likely lies in your hands. This can feel heavy but it’s also empowering – you are the one able to do something to shift the current situation.
  • Transform the criticism you’re hearing. Even criticism is simply a client is trying to communicate and this can be a valuable asset. When you’re hearing that criticism try to reframe it in a way that is useful to you and which can improve the ongoing relationship.
  • Is this a teaching moment? Very often, a situation like this arises because it’s venturing into territory where the therapist needs to do some work and expand their own practice. If you’re finding that the current situation is exposing a weakness or area of ignorance in your practice, although this can initially feel difficult to accept, it’s actually a great opportunity to improve how you work.
  • Stay compassionate. Even if your client is causing you stress, remember that they are still a human being and a person who has made themselves vulnerable without any training or professional insight. Resistance might be the only way they can communicate with you and the more compassionate you are the more you’ll be able to appreciate that.

Moments of client resistance can feel incredibly challenging but often have a lot to offer when it comes to expansion and development, both professionally and personally. At the Grove, we’ve been running CPD training courses for over 10 years and can help you persist.

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