Resistance to change in therapy

Most therapists know that even though clients choose to undertake counselling, they can be resistant to change. Perhaps they see this as a chance to offload and vent, and that's all.


Maybe it's been so long with them - the anxiety, stress, depression or abuse from the past - that they accept and live with it. That's fine, as even just talking it through, facing it and looking at options in the future is an informed choice they are making.

But, what if it is more than that? What if there are other reasons for not wishing to change? Secondary benefits but also protective reasons for staying alert and aware, even hypervigilant at times?

Most counsellors experience these clients and perhaps, at times, feel frustrated they can't help them (even though simply listening and being there is a huge support for anyone).

But, resistance can be a protection response and this is very common in counselling. We have learned this defence, developed practices and habits, reactions, that can help protect ourselves from future pain and hurt by heeding the warning signs we unconsciously recognise and check out. Animals do this too - "Once bitten, twice shy" scenarios.

Some might refer to this as 'harmful' behaviour because you "live in the past" or "judge everyone the same" when, in fact, that may not be true - or at least, not in that simplified manner of harm to yourself.

It's self-protection; we use survival, defensive behaviours so we are not 'caught out' again and left vulnerable. Your unconscious mind is constantly looking for potential danger and, hence, instigates the fight/flight reaction to safeguard you (physically, practically, emotionally, including beliefs, needs, hopes and dreams too).

As counsellors, perhaps we think action is always necessary but we are always taking it, clients too. And sometimes, not doing is doing what's right and necessary, even just for now.

What is important is that it is a conscious choice, a decision based on something concrete, even to your unconscious mind! Plateauing out is rest and recuperation, regrouping for the next step, the climb onward and upward. It might be too difficult to face, too hard to change 'suddenly' and too overwhelming to think you might be vulnerable to hurt again.

Counselling can help you face up to what is happening, and even be 'challenged' about it.

Yet, our clients can stay the same if that's right for them. We sign up to agreeing to that as therapists but can forget it when we try to help others to actively 'change' to feel better and develop 'better' habits and beliefs for themselves.

Defences have their place in this too, and even those carried for years or a lifetime can have their place in developing 'a good life'. They can mean a happy and successful life where the person is effective but has their own barriers to avoid deep and heavy lessons from their life experiences.

We are born to learn from 'mistakes' and problems we face, so this can also be why we need to hold on to some of those lessons and reminders perhaps.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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