Resistance is Not Futile! It’s Survival

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As a chaplain and psychotherapist serving in a correctional setting I am challenged to provide a consistently supportive response to individual presentations involving concurrent mental health and addiction disorders, as well as complex trauma exacerbated by the effects of incarceration and its antecedents. Problem management represents the primary focus of my work as every client, without exception, is in a heightened state of disorientation or transitional crisis and has limited access to supportive resources to help themselves.

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Presentation Transcript

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bayridgecounsellingcentres.ca 905-319-1488 Resistance is Not Futile It ’s Survival: Fear Me Not For My Armour is But My Defence

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bayridgecounsellingcentres.ca 905-319-1488 As a chaplain and psychotherapist serving in a correctional setting I am challenged to provide a consistently supportive response to individual presentations involving concurrent mental health and addiction disorders as well as complex trauma exacerbated by the effects of incarceration and its antecedents. Problem management represents the primary focus of my work as every client without exception is in a heightened state of disorientation or transitional crisis and has limited access to supportive resources to help themselves. Responding to Reluctance As a responder to those who are experiencing personal problems I find that most are motivated to be collaborative and engage in the solution-seeking process. However some clients

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bayridgecounsellingcentres.ca 905-319-1488 do exhibit a lack of incentive or assume an antagonistic posture in the initial stages of the helping dialogue which affects not only the helping process but also the development of a therapeutic relationship. I must admit that I tend to feel more engaged with and subconsciously committed toclients who exhibit positive interpersonal cooperation than those who don ’t. In a correctional context it is common to encounter disgruntled individuals who attract negative rather than supportive attention. Though I am careful not to withhold support from those who display reluctance or resistance behavior it can be a challenge to invest therapeutic time and resources in them when so many eager and contemplative candidates are impatiently waiting in the queue. A client who exhibits reluctance in the helping process may be wary or cautious for many reasons. Egan and Schroeder 2009 suggest several possibilities for consideration including: fear of intensity lack of trust fear of disorganization shame stigma the cost of change loss of hope and values conflict pp. 225- 227. Anyone of these can represent a valid explanation for a client who may not yet have the capacity to engage in a formal change process without some reservations. Until a client ’s reluctance to engage fully in the helping process is understood responders may be prone to incorrectly interpret such behaviour as disinterest resistance or some other form of uncooperativeness. I often encounter individuals who are reticent to disclose how personal struggles are affecting them. In the masculine culture of a male correctional environment emotional expressions are generally withheld except for anger and aggression. I often wonder what manner of dysregulated emotional despondency lies beneath the defensive non-

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bayridgecounsellingcentres.ca 905-319-1488 disclosure Perhaps a therapist proverb is called for: Beware your preliminary impressions of a reluctant client for it rarely reflects an accurate assessment based on presentation. It is prudent therefore when engaging with clients that exhibit reluctance behaviour that the behaviour not be viewed as a barrier to treatment but rather an indicator that further assessment and exploration is needed to formulate a client- validated case conceptualization. Rolling with Resistance Resistance as compared to reluctance represents a more defensive posture that Egan and Schroeder 2009 describe as “the push-back from clients when they feel they are being coerced ” p. 224. A client may have misgivings i.e. a passive reluctance about engaging in a helping process based on internal cues or may respond uncooperatively i.e. active resistance to what is perceived as a threat originating from the helper or the intervention process. If expressed resistance is not responded to in a way that clarifies the motivation for the client ’s presentation and affirms an understanding of the client ’s position the potential for intensified resistance behaviour or premature termination of the helping process increases. Mandated clients within a supervised support system like a correctional setting often exhibit behaviours indicative of resistance such as avoidance withdrawal non-compliance defiance non-disclosure or even hostility. Keeping in mind that resistance behaviour may actually represent defence mechanisms that “serve to maintain our self-esteem and keep our sense of self intact ” Egan Schroeder 2009 p. 231 the responder ’s role must begin with an examination of his or her own expectations of therapy to determine whether they are

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bayridgecounsellingcentres.ca 905-319-1488 reasonable and client-compatible or not. Helper responses to reluctance and resistance behaviour would be more productive by first recognizing these behaviours as existing within the helperviewing them as normal accepting and working with them understanding low motivation factors enhancing awareness of helper competence and interpersonal communication styleshaving realistic expectations regarding client participation and outcomes developing a client- empowering therapeutic relationship exploring for incentives that reduce resistance expanding helping resources e.g. family and when possible “employ the client as a helper ” Egan Schroeder 2009 pp. 234-5. Applying these and other creative strategies may help address the challenges inherent in working with clients who seem to repel the very support they need to address prevailing life- limiting challenges.In the correctional setting I am inundated with clients who are motivated to seek treatment and supportive resources however many others fervently resist what to them is an unwelcomed intrusion for reasons that may actually be contextually and philosophically sound –a learned distrust of those who are responsible for maintaining their involuntary incarceration. Personally I operate on the theory that unmotivated or actively resistant clients are intimately and intrapsychically engaged in managing their problematic issues successfully or not and are generally aware of supportive options if and when they are ready to access them. With this in mind resistance is not futile to the defensive client. It ’s survival.

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bayridgecounsellingcentres.ca 905-319-1488 References Egan G. Schroeder W. 2009.The skilled helper: A problem- management and opportunity-development approach to helping. Toronto Canada: Nelson Education Ltd.

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