Professional counsellors are tasked with breaking down walls and opening lines of communication with all kinds of clients. Many counsellors may experience resistance when working in sessions with guarded individuals. Their job is to find ways to effectively overcome this disposition in clients.
Resistance is traditionally understood as something that comes from within the client (Shallcross, 2010). However, modern thought has developed a new understanding of guarded clients, removing the burden from the client themselves and placing it on the relationship between the client and the counsellor (Shallcross, 2010). There is always a reason the client is guarded and it is the job of the counsellor to understand their behavior as more than just resistance (Shallcross, 2010). For professional counsellors, it’s important to find ways to connect with those clients in order to offer productive counselling.
Understanding the Client’s Resistance
Counsellors are tasked with discovering the reasons behind their client’s emotional state or reactions. When it comes to guarded clients, this process requires greater unearthing. If a client is resistant in sessions, you should start by exploring the origins of the client’s behavior (Shapiro, 2009). Try to understand how this behavior may be related to their upbringing, previous relationships, or prior therapy (Shapiro, 2009). Students in counselling therapist schools will learn the skills to counsel clients in past traumas including abuse, addictions, family and relationships problems, and more.
Instead of labelling withdrawn clients as guarded, consider the idea that emotional openness may induce anxiety or discomfort (Shapiro, 2009). In those cases, counsellors should find ways to meet a client on their level of comfort.
Develop a Rapport With the Client
Often counsellors assume that a client’s resistance is grounded in something within the individual, when it may be down to the lack of a strong therapeutic relationship between client and counsellor (Stines, 2018). While most counsellors know the proper techniques to use in sessions, their effectiveness may not materialize if the counsellor fails to build a good therapeutic alliance with the client (Meyers, 2014).
When working with guarded clients, building a positive rapport is essential to encouraging communication. The easiest way to do so is by helping the client relate to you (Stines, 2018). This can be achieved by managing eye contact, matching the client’s disposition and rhythm, using the client’s name, and acting interested in sessions (Stines, 2018). By helping the client to feel seen, heard, and important, counsellors can connect with the client for more productive sessions (Stines, 2018).
Empower the Client When You Become a Counsellor
Students training for their professional counsellor diploma will learn to carefully listen to clients and help them find successful solutions. A good way to encourage this is by allowing a space for the client to take the session in the direction they want and at their own pace (Meyers, 2014). Counsellors need to resist the tendency to direct the sessions and instead empower the client to open the doors to certain topics (Meyers, 2014). Rather than the counsellor imposing their agenda onto the client, sessions should aim to develop client goals based on the collaboration between the client and the counsellor (Stines, 2018). Guarded clients may feel resistance to external control from counsellors (Stines, 2018). By empowering the client to direct the session, counsellors can encourage more open communication and effective coaching.
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Meyers, L. (2014). Connecting With Clients. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2014/08/connecting-with-clients/
Shallcross, L. (2010). Managing Resistant Clients. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2010/02/managing-resistant-clients/#
Shapiro, S. (2009). So Your Client Doesn’t Want to Connect? The Paradoxical Effect of Trying Too Hard. Retrieved from https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/1209/so-your-client-doesnt-want-to-connect
Stines, S. (2018). How to Address Client Resistance in Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-address-client-resistance-in-therapy-1119185