Why do I particularly welcome very resistant clients to my practice?
My own life-long inherent draw to the study of psychology was thwarted during my undergrad years, due to my own resistance to the field. I was a kid who always thought too much. I didn’t want to spend my college years gathering more tools for self/other analysis. It was only years later, when I was facilitating nutrition education programs with inmates in the San Francisco County women’s jail and high school students in SF and South Central Los Angeles that I began to see – when you get resistant people to let their guards down for even a moment, unbelievable new things are possible. I got curious about resistance. It led first to my own study on developmental trauma, reading works by trauma experts such as Peter Levine. Eventually, I enrolled in a Clinical Psychology masters program at Antioch University, where I focused on trauma and community psychology.
Why do we resist? For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to comprehend Harry Guntrip’s Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations and the Self. Finally this week, everything I sort of know about object relations, including what I’m reading in this book, began to organize itself the way I like complex information to do so…simply, and digestibly in my brain. When you strip away the complex terms that creep up in object relation theories, you get this – if we don’t get good enough caregivers when we are tiny, we begin to build defenses to protect ourselves. We tend to develop enemies in the external world and in our own minds. We struggle, simultaneously craving the nurturing parent while fighting fiercely to maintain our independence. In a perceived hostile or unpredictable world, we do what we can to maintain something that feels like a stable self.
It can be scary, getting right in the face of someone who’s highly resistant. Particularly, adolescents. As therapists, we need to be careful as we go about dismantling the defenses that keep kids safe. We need to build up new scaffolding to hold these kids up, when their brick and mortar baby-walls fall down. The more I work with resistant kids however, the more I become clear that those who are most resistant are often the most ready to experience change. They are pushing boundaries, looking for a new experience, craving something that will reshape or clarify their worlds. Working with resistance can be exhausting. But, when you can hang in with it and with that client who, before a first session is fuming in the waiting room, declaring loudly he/she will NOT f***ing talk to a stupid therapist… the positive outcomes can be wildly surprising.