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Understanding And Coping With Client Resistances Social Work Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 2376 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Professional social workers frequently encounter a thorny situation called client resistance. As resistance is inevitable in the intervention process and will very likely affect the intervention outcomes, study of client resistance is important to social workers and learning how to manage it will be pivotal to achieve expected goals and objectives. This paper will firstly narrate the writer¿½¿½s personal experience so as to put the issue of client resistance on the agenda and give a brief description of involuntary clients or client resistance, then present the writer¿½¿½s understanding of them in terms of their several distinctive features, and finally propose tentative strategies of coping with client resistance.

Keywords: resistance; involuntary clients; intervention skills


As potential social workers, we probably will be brought into contact with more and more ¿½¿½involuntary clients¿½¿½ in the future, like mentally illness patients, deviant behavior adolescents, violent parents, battered children, etc.. Some of them are ¿½¿½legally mandated to engage with service providers¿½¿½ (Rooney,1992), while others are experiencing ¿½¿½social or non-legal pressures, for example, being coerced by family members to seek assistance for a particular behavior¿½¿½ (Rooney,1992).

These kinds of clients constitute a high proportion of whole clients and display more resistant behaviors than those voluntary ones. Often, they do not seek help willingly and may demonstrate resistant behaviors such as negative evasions, pretended obedience or undisguised hostilities, threats and attacks from the very beginning of the worker¿½¿½s intervention.

Therefore, how to interact with and intervene in this type of clients has become a tremendous challenge in the field of social work practice and it is important for social workers to get a deeper understanding of involuntary clients.

Case Example

X once was a primary school teacher with a fine income, and her husband Y has been running a factory which creates a great deal of wealth to the whole family. Everything seemed perfect that the couple were devoted to each other and have a daughter C who was in her second year in a satisfactory university.

Unfortunately, X was extensively burnt in an explosion accident three years ago. Since then, she lost self-confidence because of her disfigured face and refused to go out for the fears of being laughed at. The daughter Z tried to took her out for an airing and ease her anxieties and inferiority about the disfigurement but failed. Since a lot of people pointed at her on the street, X felt painful and tended to isolate herself.

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To make things worse, not too long after her accident, her husband Y began to make relationship with another woman and was spending a large sum of time and money on that woman. He went to his factory early and back home late every day and seldom had meals at home which was entirely different from what it was before. In addition to Y¿½¿½s indifference, Z was studying at a university so far from home that she was unable to accompany her mother all the time. Consequently, X always staied alone at home with the feeling of helpless and hopeless. Although sometimes Y would come back home and cook meals for A, he had nothing to talk with X.

Actually, the daughter Z here is me. I was extremely anguished, seeing my originally harmonious family rapidly disappeared. I tried to cope with such a depressing family atmosphere, but found it difficult. However, when I look back and combine the past experiences with what I have learnt in MSW, I have been realized that there were such a lot of unwise actions had been taken to resolve my family problems. Examples are showed as follows:

In that period of time, I tended to communicate with my mother more than with my father and owe this difference to gender similarity and the tragic suffering of my mother. I spent much time on comforting her just because she was the only victim as in my own perception. I constantly teaching my mother how to calm herself down and change her mindsets, so as to survive in a miserable feeling. Unexpectedly, when I suggested her talking more with my father, she just sneered, saying ¿½¿½he is so obstinate that nothing will change his mind¿½¿½. It could be inferred that she was still pessimistic and lacked motivation to make changes in spite of my consistent encouragement.

On the other hand, the stereotypes that men are always mentally stronger than women made me totally forgot that my father was suffering pains and he needed care as well. Hardly had I decided to concern for and communicate with my father when I learnt that I should take him into consideration early. The most challenging thing was that he had been greatly reluctant to talk about either his former or current relationship with my mother especially the information about his extramarital love. He even did not admit any fault he had made. I have to acknowledge that I was livid when I found out that my father had been two-timing his wife and was highly emotional and illiberally prejudiced against as a result. Only now did I understand the reasons why I failed to assist my parents in settling their contradiction. My deficient consideration of my father¿½¿½s personality and the dignity as a man almost turned an equal dialogue into a thoughtless bickering. In fact, my father was defiant in the whole session because he was afraid that his authoritative status in the family would be ruined, however, I did not realize that kind of unwillingness at that time.

No doubt, neither my mother nor my father is my client in the sense of professional, but if they are viewed as clients, it will be a classic case of client resistance.

Definition of Client Resistance

When doing the literature review, I found that the term involuntary is sometimes used interchangeably with resistant, however, the former refers to ¿½¿½the status of the client¿½¿½, while the latter refers to ¿½¿½ behaviors or characteristics that hinder the therapeutic process¿½¿½ (Chui & Ho, 2006). Usually, involuntary clients show some resistant thoughts and behaviors.

Freud (1914/1957) originally conceptualized resistance as ¿½¿½the client¿½¿½s effort to repress anxiety-provoking memories and insights in the unconscious during psychoanalytic free association¿½¿½ (Freud, 1914/1957).

According to the perspective of social interaction theory, resistance is ¿½¿½psychological forces aroused in the client that restrain acceptance of influence (acceptance of the counselor’s suggestion) and are generated by the way the suggestion is stated and by the characteristics of the counselor stating it¿½¿½ (Strong & Matross, 1973). Simply stated, resistance has been defined as ¿½¿½a process of avoiding or diminishing the self-disclosing communication requested by the interviewer because of its capacity to make the interviewee uncomfortable or anxious¿½¿½ (Pope, 1979).

Client resistance should not be regarded as ¿½¿½something that happens within the client, as a response to his or her inner workings, and must be overcome by the counselor¿½¿½ (Cowan & Presbury, 2000). Rather, resistance should be understood as ¿½¿½a phenomenon that emerges between client and therapist in the unfolding interaction between their differently organized subjective worlds¿½¿½ (Cowan & Presbury, 2000).

In a word, resistance is treated as results from the communication pattern of the counselor and the client. In other words, resistance emerges when the intervention strategies are not gear to clients¿½¿½ willingness to accept the style in which the intervention is conducted.

Typical Involuntary Clients

This part is a personal understanding towards client resistance. Based on an examination of the case example and the literature review, I summarized three types of involuntary clients.

1. Clients Who Have Inadequate Strength or Ability

Some clients do not have the ability to take care of themselves or seek help from others, such as the disabled, the battered children and the abandoned elderly. These clients are normally forced by others to consult an agency and a social worker.

2. Clients Who Have Insufficient Motivation

The clients who fall into the difficult position for a long time may feel mentally exhausted and have no extra will to seek help. Take some battered women as an example, they tend to have a despairing view of the marriage because of the learned helplessness and may find it meaningless to join in the intervention tasks.

Similar to those who have inadequate strength or ability, the majority of the insufficiently motivated clients are not willingly attended the intervention tasks.

3. Clients Who Lack Introspection

Although some people know that they are mired in difficulties because of their misbehaviors, they have insufficient self-contemplation, and self-examination when faced with the problems they have, which, as a result, make the problems relapse again and again. This is also the reason why most drug or alcoholic abusers find it difficult to completely overcome their additions.

Skills of Coping with Client Resistance

For involuntary clients, it is a common phenomenon that they will be reluctant towards self-exposure and conservative to their own experience because they worry about that not doing so would threaten their self-concept. It is necessary for a social worker to learn how to alleviate clients¿½¿½ excessive anxiety. Social workers are expected to adjust their intervention methods and the styles to the need of clients. Since most involuntary clients pay much attention to self-protection, the workers should not only avoid requesting or anticipating their self-betrayal, but also refrain from any actions that attempting to tear down clients¿½¿½ mask.

1. To Find Out the Third Party

In general, social workers are required to listen carefully to clients, thus provide clients more opportunities to express their feelings and perceptions and make them feel respected and admitted. However, things are different when confronting involuntary clients. Since it is an issue of power and control that the pouring-out people are usually vulnerable whereas the listening people always have the power to make evaluation and assessment, the involuntary clients tend to crave a sense of empower through the process of resistance and rebuttal.

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In involuntary cases, the third party is needed in the course of the entire conversation. If I intake a client like my mother, I should not unilaterally focus on counseling the client changing herself, but on concerning several means to bring the third party into the intervention so that establishing a ¿½¿½social work ¿½C client ¿½C the third party¿½¿½ triangular communication system. In short, the third party is ones who push clients to seek help or forced them to ask for counseling.

2. To Make the Intervention Process Clear

Apart from understanding about the force that push clients into the intervention, the workers should also enquire about whether the clients have any other confusions. It aims at discovering the problems which clients want to improve. The worker as a listener should do something to give clients a feeling that they are under a clearly planned effective assistance.

In addition, it is very important to make sure that clients know what will the worker do and will not do. For example, summarizing or reflecting clients¿½¿½ current situation or their main resentment can possibly promote their expectation to the counseling and enhance social workers¿½¿½ reliability as well.

3. To Alleviate Clients¿½¿½ Anxieties about Changes

Resistant clients may or may not recognize that they have a problem, and/or may not want to engage in a process of change (Rooney, 1992) so that they will take resistance as an means to protect themselves from the unknown (Yalom & Molyn, 2005). They might be resistant towards the therapeutic process because it involves changing their current maladaptive behavior (Chui & Ho, 2006).

An available method to ease clients¿½¿½ anxiety about change is to make them feel more sense of control. The less the clients can control the process and results of intervention, the more they will view social workers as the representatives of those who force them to participate in the intervention. Consequently, the degree of resistance may increase dramatically. Such situation requires social workers to discuss with clients about the reasons why they are recommended to have the counseling. If a client is compelled to accept counseling, the social worker may point it out to the client that he could reject the counseling and bear the consequences of such rejection, thus restore their sense of control.

Furthermore, as cultivating new behaviors is much easier than changing old ones, it might be more reasonable and effective that social works try to train the clients to foster some new patterns of communication and behavioral habits, rather than amend their previous habits, thus establish a harmonious relationship with clients. Some more complex intervention, such as teaching clients relaxation skills, or assisting them in analyzing the irrational thoughts, may have immediate utilities to the involuntary clients.


The relationship between the social worker and the client is always living no matter what happened in the process of intervention. One of the major responsibilities for social workers is paying enough attention to the quality and the health of rapport-building process. To some extent, clients¿½¿½ changes or improvements come from an appropriate and valid interaction within a harmonious relationship.

As potential social workers, in addition to understanding of various theories or therapies which provide different approaches to resolve client resistance, we should also learn to ¿½¿½determine how best to address that relational dynamic in counseling¿½¿½ (Joshua, 2008).


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