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Barbara Jordan
Mar 05, 2012

Reduce "Resistance", Inspire Change & Motivate!

One way, as counsleors, we can inspire, motivate, and reduce so-called "resistance" to change is to employ the principles of Motivational Interviewing (MI). My last blog post introduced MI. This post continues my discussion of that approach by detailing some of it's principles.

First of all, MI requires that you relate to your clients in a non-judgmental, collaborative manner. It's important that you use their experience and personal views to facilitate change. Rather than coerce, you must encourage. Do this by reflecting the client's statements with your own neutral language. For example, if an client is overwhelmed with everything that's on her agenda, say, "So you're having some trouble prioritizing everything. Would you like some help?"

Instead of preaching, demanding, lecturing, judging, or manipulating, elicit the client's opinions and viewpoints. Ask for his ideas, feelings, and desires. Finding each client's intrinsic motivation for change and discussing it sets the stage for an excellent working relationship where you collaborate, set mutual goals, and cooperate.

In addition, you must remember that the majority of the responsibility for their change rests with your clients. So respect their self-determination and autonomy. Support your clients' successes, accept their individual differences, and avoid confrontation or persuasion. So how do you avoid confrontation or persuasion when your clients are procrastinating, making excuses, or down-right refusing to work on their treatment plan? Well, one way to do this is to reframe the client's "resistance" slightly to create momentum toward change. Using "reverse psychology or the power of paradox, you may say something like, "So you don't want to look at your tendency to overextend yourself, your perfectionism, and your stress because it's not creating any problems for you yet?" Since fighting resistance usuallyreinforces it, you should roll with that resistance instead.

Acknowledge that fear, doubt, or reluctance (when facing change) is natural and understandable. Rather than impose your views or argue, invite the clinet to consider new information. Offer new perspectives. For example, ask, "Is it possible that _____ (another way of looking at the situation which may lead the person to be more receptive/cooperative/more accepting of change)?" In the case of a client overwhelmed by workload and stress, you may fill in the blank with "you are working yourself too hard?", " are micro-managing your staff?" or "'re taking on more than your share and need to delegate?" You can also ask, "Could _____ (doing something the client may be willing/able/ready to do, a potential solution) help you _______ (meet the client's personal/professional goal)?"

Lastly, don't feel obliged to answer or fix a client's objections or resistance. Instead, turn it around by questioning her. Rely on her personal resources to find solutions to the her own issues. Involve her actively in the process of problem-solving. You may be wondering why I keep placing the word "resistance" in quotation marks. It's because resistance may simply be a sign that you need to shift your approach. How you respond will influence whether resistance increases or decreases, or even appears at all! Reduce any resistance by asking your client about his past successes. For example, ask, "How have you managed to juggle muliple projects in the past? What did you do that was successful that might work today?"

Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to

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