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Resistance in Therapy-Why You May Not Be Getting Better

Resistance in therapy and therapeutic relationships is not a new concept.  It has been present in one form or the other since people started talking to others about changing their behavior and feeling differently. It has been widely studied in professional and academic literature and almost every licensed clinician has been trained to identify and work with it.

Whether you are working on overcoming anxiety, depression, chronic anger or a combination of things, resistance can occur. It is not more likely with one problem than another, it more often occurs when major change may be necessary for you to feel better.

You may have been taught or acquired dysfunctional thinking patterns that make it hard to see change as positive or even possible. You may see things in a much different way than your therapist, being in the middle of something can make it difficult to assess properly and objectively.

Resistance in therapy may take many forms, from directly refusing advice to avoiding therapy sessions, not doing homework given to you or finally just quitting altogether.  You may prefer that someone around you make changes while your therapist is insisting the change needs to come from within you. You end up frustrated and blaming your therapist for not helping you and your therapist ends up frustrated also.

This can actually be a pivotal point in therapy for both you and your therapist. When it starts to feel like there are roadblocks it may be because these things are occurring:

  1. Your therapist doesn’t have enough information about your problem. You may have unintentionally presented a different picture from what is really your deeper trouble. Not on purpose, but because it may be difficult to go there. The solution to your problem may be more terrifying than the problem itself. Working on those fears should become the primary focus.
  2. You may feel things are moving too quickly and become overwhelmed. Change can take time and with insurances requiring “quick fixes” to reduce costs their bottom line is in direct conflict with your need to process. The therapist may feel they are helping by moving quickly due to finances but you may feel pushed and not fully understood.
  3. You and your therapist may not agree on how the problem can be fixed. You may see it as something having to do with those around you while your therapist sees it as something under your control. You will have different agendas.
  4. You and your therapist may have different goals in mind. A mutually agreed upon goal is the key to a good relationship and positive outcomes.
  5. Your fear of whatever change is necessary may be so strong that you are not ready to make a change yet but would like to explore how that change would affect your life. It is OK to state that out loud to your therapist. Then you will not feel pushed to come to a resolution and your therapist understands the parameters in which you want to work. As you feel more comfortable with the idea of change you can voice that and start the process at any time.

If you are in therapy or have been previously and feel like it is not working and you are not feeling better, think about the above and decide if one of those scenarios is taking place. Have a discussion with your professional about it. It is OK to ask them if they view you as resistant. This can open the door to discussions that can move you forward and result in you feeling better about your therapy as well as feeling better overall.

The key to any of the above and actually to any successful therapy is to engage in open communication with your therapist. If you feel they are pushing you too fast or going down the wrong road, let them know. A skilled professional will take time to process these feelings with you. There may be information they need from you in order to go in the right direction. If they are unwilling to explore these feelings with you or appear to feel insulted or angry then it is time for a new therapist.

Resistance in Therapy-Why You May Not Be Getting Better

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2018). Resistance in Therapy-Why You May Not Be Getting Better. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Jul 2018
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