Progress in treatment can be slow for a number of reasons. For example, you might be experiencing severe symptoms that are difficult to manage, you and your therapist have not identified an effective treatment plan and clear goals, your therapist’s skills and knowledge may not be a fit for you or you might be experiencing fear and anxiety about making changes in therapy.
Sometimes, particularly when people are fearful and anxious, lack of progress in treatment is a result of resistance to the therapy process.
Signs that you are resisting treatment include:
Arguing with your therapist. This involves frequently challenging and discounting your therapist’s authority and expertise. It can include direct hostility towards your therapist.
Interrupting your therapist. Talking over your therapist and cutting your therapist off.
Denying problems and expressing unwillingness to cooperate, accept responsibility or take advice. Denying problems can take many forms, including blaming others for your problems, frequently disagreeing with suggestions, but offering no alternatives, making excuses, minimizing risk, being severely pessimistic and negative, expressing reluctance about information and advice, and expressing a lack of interest or unwillingness to change.
Ignoring your therapist. This might involve not paying attention or attending to what the therapist is saying, not answering the question the therapist has asked, giving no response to questions or frequently changing the topic.
If you are resisting therapy, you might be doing so for a variety of reasons. It’s possible that it’s simply a part of where you are in the therapeutic process. Resistance is much more common at the beginning of therapy, for example, when you are still establishing a level of trust with your therapist. Resistance may also occur when you are dealing with multiple issues and conflicting feelings or it may be a result of the interaction between you and your therapist. Resistance is a result of the emotions triggered by the process of change, for example fears of failure, fears of taking risks and shame that you haven’t taken care of your problem before all might lead to resistance.
Although resistance interferes with the progress of treatment, it does serve a purpose. A certain amount of resistance to any change in life is adaptive. Without some resistance, we’d buy every product we see advertised on TV and accept everything we hear from others as true.
If you recognize signs of resistance in yourself, you may want to discuss the topic with your therapist. Figuring out the reasons for your resistance can help you get back on track.
Miller, W.R. and S. Rollnick, 1991. Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People to Change Addictive Behavior. The Guildford Press: New York and London.
Photo by Dave Heuts, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.