• Sarah Rossmiller LPC


This word "resistance" in general has a negative connotation. In therapy, even more so. In the past, I believe clinicians may have been throwing that word around a lot as a description of clients who didn't comply with their treatment - a very imbalanced relationship. This term was probably being used by the clinician to deflect personal responsibility for meeting the client where they are - putting our heart and mind where the client's heart and mind are.

Let me pause to say my knowledge is limited here and mostly just based on experience. I'm not going to pretend I did any research on this topic... this is just my rambling thoughts so keep that in mind and correct me if I am wrong, I don't mind.

Personally, I like to use the word resistance, at least in my own head, when clients are struggling with something.... like when it appears to me that I have some insight that they are not open to or when there are changes they could make that would seemingly benefit them greatly but they avoid the work. I think in those situations, "Oh this is resistance - where might that be coming from? How can we use this?" Of course I also like consider that my ideas of what the client needs are not necessarily right, but even then I ask, "why are my ideas not fitting?" and this is helpful. If I find myself resisting this self-reflection, this is then my resistance that needs to be explored.

To me, resistance typically means one or more of the following:

1. They are resisting my approach/style because it is not meeting their needs. It doesn't jive with them, and I need to adjust something.

2. They are resisting b/c some obstacle is in the way of movement. The client is not ready to "go there" (wherever that is) and rather than focusing on "going there" it is best to explore what the obstacle is that is preventing movement and seek to remove it.

3. They are resisting because they have damn good reason to resist - they may not be ready to "go there" b/c going there would cause further trauma. Maybe they have defense mechanisms in place for precisely that - defense. They need protection. It's not about pathologizing people! So in this case it is often useful to simply acknowledge the resistance and honor it. Maybe this is done with the client or maybe I just keep my mouth shut until the client brings it up themselves or seems more ready to discuss it.

Of course, being the rebel that I am, I want to use the word that so many other therapists are avoiding. Hahaha. It also makes sense that I like the word since it's similar to "rebellion" which is my jam!

I don't think we can really learn anything if we don't have at least a little bit of resistance to the new ideas initially. It means we are critically thinking - the idea has to pass our system of checks and balances to ensure it meets our values and guiding principles. If we do accept the new ideas then, we will be truly connected to them and find personal meaning in them. Some resistance means we are seeking connection to a strong sense of self and independence. If there were no resistance at all, we would just go along with whatever was presented to us and this can be very, very dangerous depending on what it is we are presented with. Of course too much resistance can be a problem - a willful, argumentative, unfailing contrarianism is just going to push others away and lead to isolation and further distrust. But there is a balance there, as there is with all things, and I always seek to strive for balance!

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