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With this understanding, it becomes apparent why therapists are strongly cautioned against labeling any behavior as resistant. Such labeling moves therapists into a position where they stop looking for alternative conceptualizations of client reactions and for alternative approaches. Thus, labeling creates stuckness. Further, as will be discussed later, we create what we talk about. If we talk about clients' reactions as being resistant, we are creating the very thing we want to avoid. The more you study what is commonly labeled as resistance, the more you will recognize that such labeling is of little therapeutic benefit. Indeed, it is most likely harmful. Before any behavior is deemed resistant, the counselor should rule out a host of alternative conceptualizations.

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As noted previously, the notion that clients come to counseling to feel better does not necessarily mean that we should attempt to alleviate all of their distress. Too much sympathy and distress abatement may lead to a lack of motivation to change on the part of clients. In such instances, you are only "band-aiding" the problem. With resistant clients, counselors should strive to keep prominent the emotional distress that results from repeating unproductive behaviors. This provides an emotional reason to act. Hence, the therapeutic tension should stay with the client, not with the therapist.


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Ellis is a California and Colorado licensed clinical social worker and holds certification as a Distance Credentialed Counselor.

As noted earlier, you should become like an anthropologist who is completely uninformed about a new culture – your client's life. With this approach, you are constantly learning and observing in an attempt to put the pieces of your client's life together to make sense. Another way to conceptualize this is to imagine you were from another planet and you are completely uninformed of the ways of the planet on which you have just landed. Your client is your guide to life on this new planet. Further, because you do not want to make any social blunders, you want to learn about life in this new world, the rules that people follow, and why people act as they do. You listen intently as your client explains her world as if it is the first time you are learning of these new ways and behaviors.


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The unexpected does not have to be complex or foreign to counselors. The better techniques taught in training programs are unexpected by most clients. The empathic statement, the avoidance of questions with preordained answers, the lack of criticism, the nonjudgmental posture, or the statement that has the appearance of puzzlement or agreement with the client are all unexpected. Most of what is recommended in this course is unexpected by clients, but known in some manner by counselors.

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Clients vary considerably in their degree of embarrassment and willingness to discuss problems. Some clients are fearful of discussing their problems. Such clients may feel inadequate or shameful for having problems. Clients reluctant to talk often anticipate responses that include criticism. Other clients, however, talk openly about their diagnoses and problems as if they are proud of them and are challenging the counselor to do something about them. Open clients, who are also resistant, are often prepared for confrontation, and have a packaged set of responses regarding their situations. Regardless of the degree of openness, resistant clients tend to anticipate certain common responses and have well prepared answers that are intended to defend the status quo. These responses usually present arguments for the futility of their situation or contend that the problem lies with someone else.

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By taking the time to allow the client to understand the process, and by respecting and addressing the client's discomfort with certain topics, resistance is dissolved. This is a beautiful example of creating an atmosphere that continuously allows the client the freedom to address his concerns. The client is given complete control. When this is done, there is nothing to resist! There are only topics to discuss. Every session is designed to deal with each moment of resistance as it arises, and prior to it becoming a major barrier to therapeutic progress.