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Christian Counseling - Resistance In Therapy And Life

It has been said by some prominent writers in the field of psychology that the most time consuming and costly part of therapy is client resistance. I would add, it's the most painful part of living. What we resist takes incalculable personal resources. What we fight extends our time in having to deal with those problems and, thereby, increases our pain because we don't accept them. We need to choose our battles by discerning which things to resist and not.

Generally, resistance is a conscious or unconscious defense against change. In treatment, clients resist a therapist's interpretations about what or why things are happening to them and recommendations for recovery and healing. Resistances can be observed in a client's words and/or behaviors. For sure, decisions not to follow a therapist's suggestions is a client right and responsibility. However, when there is a pattern or a frequency of deciding against therapeutic direction it's either an issue of the therapist not being in touch with the client or it's client resistance. Resistance is a red flag. It signals there is something important beyond the defense that needs to be understood. Think about it in this way--a person doesn't build a fort unless there is something valuable to protect. The question is what is being protected?

Resistance is something we all have in varying degrees about different issues. At the root of resistance is fear. People resist an idea or person that is a perceived threat. If it's a real threat it's a good form of resistance (we resist the devil and temptation), but if it's an imaginary threat it's a negative form of resistance (refusing to admit to being angry with God because He'd be angry and chastise us). At the top of the list of things people fear and see as a threat are: change, loss of control, failure, imperfection, overwhelming feelings (anxiety, grief, anger, guilt, etc.), conflict, rejection and not being liked. Some fear good things, like: success, praise, intimacy and being the center of attention.

Psychological resistance is synonymous with spiritual resistance or, as the Bible says it, being stiff-necked or hard of heart. The prophet Jeremiah was sent to the Israelites to point this out in the hope they would turn back to God. But they refused. They consciously resisted Jeremiah, God and change.

People can learn to manage the fear that leads to resistance. Being willing to own one's fear and resistance is the first step. The motivation that assists one in owning them is the deep desire to become more Christlike; to be a better man or woman, husband or wife, parent, coworker, etc. Another step is expecting and allowing brokenness, humbling and trials to be a part of one's life. We don't resist them, but face them, learn what we can and allow ourselves to be transformed by them. We take up the same attitude of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, who admitted His resistance in not wanting to suffer and die, but willingly placed His life in the Father's hands.

We all would love a life without conflict, but that's reserved for the next world, after God establishes a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21). In this world, people can either fight change or do something that strongly goes against the grain of feeling and logic--turn toward and embrace our resistances and welcome the process of change. Such is required for healing.

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