ERIC Identifier: ED435949
Publication Date: 1999-00-00
Author: Gysbers, Norman C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Working with Resistant Clients in Career Counseling. ERIC
Little has been written about client resistance in career counseling. Much
more has been written about client resistance in counseling and psychotherapy
literature (Walborn, 1996). Why is this so? One reason may be that some
counselors have conceptualized and practiced career counseling as being devoid
of process and relationship; career counseling for them focuses mainly on
outcomes and methods within a relatively short period of time from one to three
sessions. The conceptualizations they use to guide their work in career
counseling do not provide for the concept of client resistance.
Blustein and Spengler (1995) point out that client resistance, seen or
unseen, can occur whenever counseling takes place, however, the counseling is
labeled. It doesn't matter whether counseling is labeled psychotherapy or career
counseling. Why do clients resist? In helping individuals make changes in their
lives through counseling, whether we label it career counseling or personal
counseling, we will evoke resistance in clients.
It is important to remember that for
some clients, career counseling is straightforward. Client change is minimal so
little or no client resistance is present. But for many clients, whether by
conscious choice or unconscious action, resistance in some form at some level is
part of career counseling because change is involved.
In working with clients who may be resistant, it is important to acknowledge
that resistance can and does occur in career counseling. If you do not
acknowledge this, then you will not look for resistance in your work with
clients. And, if you do not look for resistance, you will not see it. As a
result you may misread and misunderstand some client behavior as career
What does client resistance look like? For the purpose of this digest I have
selected examples of different types of resistance that may be exhibited by
clients in career counseling. These examples include fear of counseling, fear of
taking responsibility, making excuses, and overt physical behavior.
resistance due to fear of counseling is a type of resistance described by Meara
and Patton (1994). It can take three forms. One form is fear of the counselor. A
second form is fear of the counseling process, while a third form is fear of
of Taking Responsibility
type of client resistance can be labeled the fear of taking responsibility.
Acceptance of responsibility for decisions is one of the most difficult things
clients face in their lives. Counselors' awareness and appreciation of the
potential burden and threat that taking responsibility represents to clients are
prerequisite to dealing with resistance in a positive manner.
way of understanding, interpreting, and working with resistance is to consider
the concept of excuses. Snyder, Higgins, and Stucky (1983) defined excuses as
"explanations or actions that lessen the negative implications of an actor's
[client's] performance, thereby maintaining a positive image for oneself and
others " (p. 4). Making excuses for their actions or inactions may be a way for
clients to resist taking responsibility for their behavior, for not responding
to the demands of the career counseling process and the tasks which may be
resistance can be manifested not only in what clients say during career
counseling but also in their overt physical behavior as career counseling
unfolds (Meara & Patton, 1994). Some clients are silent and passive. Some
clients show up late for career counseling sessions. Some clients do not show up
at all for career counseling. Other clients terminate career counseling
prematurely because they can't (won't) deal with important issues, with change.
DEALING WITH RESISTANCE
Resistive clients have their own
unique, idiosyncratic patterns for survival. Understanding that resistance can
and does take place in career counseling, recognizing the patterns resistive
clients use, and knowing how to work with resistance, if present, within the
career counseling process are crucial. Although there are no strategies that are
guaranteed to completely clear away resistance, the following examples of
counseling strategies have been found to be helpful.
you come to understand and work with client resistance in career counseling, it
is important to remember that a strong client-counselor working alliance is the
foundation. As Walborn (1996) suggested, "Resistance melts with time and
understanding, as the therapeutic relationship matures" (p. 244). A strong
client-counselor working alliance may also open the door to provide new insights
about ways to interpret client behavior.
is more than empathy, the reflection of feeling, or other relationship concepts
associated with client-centered counseling. To join with clients requires that
you appreciate their life struggles, not just the feelings of the moment. When
you join with clients, you let them know that you are aware of their life
struggles and that you are willing to work with them.
are ways of talking about experiences. They provide clients with a story to
which they can relate their experiences. Use stories that stimulate reframing,
as communication devices to overcome client resistance.
and reframing clients' expressions provide a way to help them see themselves and
their world differently (Bandler & Grinder, 1979). By providing new words
and ways of organizing those words, you help your clients by providing them with
new patterns for organizing and viewing their worlds. Motivation and attitudinal
changes often are associated with the labeling and reframing processes.
SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS
This paper has identified and
described examples of ways clients' resistance may be exhibited during career
counseling. The purpose was to highlight the point that whenever clients are
involved in change, client resistance is probably not far behind. In fact,
client resistance is to be expected. The topic of change does not actually have
to be discussed. Just the thought of possible change stimulated by the presence
of a counselor may initiate client resistance. Another purpose was to provide
you with a language system to identify and describe client resistance so that
when it is being exhibited you will recognize it.
But, being able to only recognize client resistance is not enough, so in this
paper sample counseling techniques were presented that can be used to respond to
client resistance. The purpose in doing so was to underscore the active role you
need to take in dealing directly with client resistance. If you know what the
behavior (client resistance) is and you have hypotheses about why it is being
exhibited at a particular time, then you can respond to it directly and
naturally within the context of the working alliance. Remember, "Whatever the
cause, client resistance impedes progress and cannot be ignored" (Yost &
Corbishley, 1987, p. 53).
Bandler, R., & Grinder, J. (1979). Frogs
into princes. Moab, VT: Real People Press.
Blustein, D.L. & Spengler, P.M. (1995). Personal adjustment: Career
counseling and psychotherapy. In W.B. Walsh & S. H. Osipow (Eds.), Handbook
of vocational psychology: Theory, research, and practices (pp. 295-329). Mahwah,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Meara, N.M. & Patton, M.J. 91994). Contributions of the working alliance
in the practice of career counseling. The Career Development Quarterly. 43,
Snyder, C.R., Higgins, R.L. & Stucky, R.J. (1983). Excuses: Masquerades
in search of grace. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Walborn, F.S. (1996). Process variables: Four common elements of counseling
and psychotherapy. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Yost, E.B. & Corbishley, M.A. (1987). Career counseling: A psychological
approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.