It’s been absolutely forever since we’ve had one of these and I’ve been feeling quite bad about those who submitted guest posts last year that have been languishing in my inbox.
Apologies for the shocking delay in publishing, and endless thanks for contributing.
Resistance and Trauma Therapy
Ever since I saw this cartoon I have been wanting to blog about resistance and trauma therapy. What better topic then for my guest post at Therapy Tales?
My psychodynamic grad school training taught me this about resistance, that it is a defense the client uses to maintain the status quo and avoid distress, preventing unconscious material from becoming conscious. It was something the client did, automatically and unconsciously, and the therapist interpreted. Some examples of resistance could include cancelling appointments, forgetting therapy homework, not talking about certain topics, and/or some types of talking.
One problem (among many, some would say) with that school of thought is that it can come across as blaming of the client. Sometimes the concept of resistance seems to be used in a way that sounds like a judgment, or a statement of something the client is doing wrong. It may be used to describe impasses in therapy, with the onus of responsibility placed on the client. Basically, it gets translated into “the client is not doing something I think they should”. It may even take on the quality of a power struggle, therapist vs. client. How is that helpful?
As a trauma-informed therapist, I rarely think about “resistance” per se. When the therapy seems at a stuck point, I believe that it is important to look at the entire therapeutic relationship, which includes the therapist. In Countertransference and the Treatment of Trauma, Constance Dalenberg says “”Trauma is hard to speak and hard to hear” (p. 57) and details the ways we as therapist may resist and avoid hearing trauma material. Therapists resist too.
Trauma therapy is hard work. How do you speak the unspeakable? How do you trust anew when trust has been profoundly betrayed? What if we instead thought of resistance as adaptive? We might then conceptualize it as a form of self-care. Trauma therapists talk about pacing therapy; maybe resistance is a form of doing just that. A going slower to avoid overwhelm.
When I am percolating on a topic like I have been with this, it seems like I encounter related material everywhere. Or material that I relate. Last month I had an opportunity to attend a two day work shop on intergroup dialogue. As part of the training we talked about (and got to experience) resistance, in this case to awareness of white privilege and racism. A facilitator talked about resistance and resistors as something to be honored rather than battled with. What a concept! Respect resistance and resistors.
I wondered about the applications to therapy. How many clients have had this experience? Has a therapist interpreted any of your behavior as resistance? Was it understood as serving a function? As necessary for a time?
As if to really drive the point home, I then encountered this fantastic essay by Anna Guest-Jelley at curvyyoga.com: What Swimming Taught Me About a Broken Heart. ( As an aside, if you have any interest in yoga or being gentle with and present in your body I highly recommend this blog). Though the subject is different, the theme of honoring rather than being harsh with ourselves (or our clients) about resistance was one I wanted to share with you. Read the entire essay to appreciate it fully. I was struck by this expert and how it speaks to the process of recognizing “resistance” and then reframing it as something else, something necessary and perhaps even healing.
“My heart had already withstood so much the past 9 months, it couldn’t take anything else. So it was self-care in the deepest form to instinctively keep things slow and deliberate.
And then I had another realization: things had shifted. And I decided to swim to the end of the pool.
Instantly, I was clutched with fear. I really did not want to feel any intensity in my heart.
So I promised myself that I could get out at the other end and walk back to my chair if needed.”
Here’s to honoring resistance, and from that place of respect sorting out together whether it is currently needed or not. Here is to knowing when you are ready to swim a little bit further and being patient and forgiving when that time is not now.
If you have an amusing or irreverent something to share on mental health, psychology, philosophy or therapeutic subjects and would like to be featured on the Wednesday Guest Blogger spot then drop me a line at caroll.lewis.wg[at]gmail[dot]com.
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