January 21, 2011

Treating clients as cooperative, no matter how resistant they may appear, is the quickest and most promising way to encourage further cooperation

An assumption in solution-focused change is that clients are not resistant to change or to being helped but may resist against the approach taken by helpers because they feel the approach does not fit their situation. When such a sign of 'resistance' is observed, treating clients as cooperative, no matter how resistant they may appear, is assumed to be the quickest and most promising way to encourage further cooperation.

Death of resistance
Solution-focused pioneer Steve de Shazer’s sent his article The Death of Resistance (de Shazer, 1984) to a journal for the first time in 1979. It got rejected no less than 17 times before it finally got published in 1984 (Malinen, 2001). In the article, de Shazer claims that it is a bad idea to think the client has resistance against treatment in therapy. According to de Shazer, what works better is to view therapy as a process of co-operation between therapist and client. He proposed that everything the client says or does can best be seen as an attempt to help the therapy process move forward. According to de Shazer, when the client said or did something the therapist did not understand right away, the therapist should not confront the client. Instead, the therapist should assume that the client had a good reason for saying or doing this. The assumption is that approaching the client very constructively helps to build a good co-operation very quickly and will help best to move the therapy process forward.

View Resistance as Cooperation
Many consultants, trainers and coaches every now and then feel that their clients are showing resistance. The consultant enthusiastically provides good advice but the client says: ”Nice try, but that doesn’t work here.” A management coach gives a homework assignment but the manager does not do it. A trainer tries his best before a training group but one of the trainees remarks: “All of this is completely useless.” This type of reactions can sometimes nearly drive competent, hardworking and well-intending professionals, to desperation. Solution-focused practice is based on the assumption that clients nearly always want helpers to succeed. This is why that is so: if the helpers succeed, the client is helped and money is well spent. No matter how blunt or unfriendly clients express themselves, viewing their behavior as an attempt to cooperate can be very helpful.

The task for solution-focused professionals
Solution-focused professionals view it as their task to try to figure out how the clients want to help them, for instance by saying something like: “I want to check with you if we are following the right approach.” Or:” I understand that this approach is not working for you. What approach would be more useful for you?" This has several advantages:
  1. Doing this is taking clients very seriously and this is almost always very much appreciated. Nearly every person has a strong tendency to reciprocate, which means that if someone takes them seriously, they will tend to do the same back.
  2. It makes it easy for clients to express what is bothering them. Maybe the process is going too fast and they can't follow it. Maybe they have tried this approach before and it did not work. 
  3. It makes it easier for clients to help professionals to adjust their approach and thereby make them effective. ´Resistance´ can help professionals discover what is important for them. By understanding what cliĆ«nts try to tell professionals can adjust their approach better to the specific situation of these clients.


  1. Coert - this is wonderful. There would be so much less bad therapy done if all therapists adopted this approach


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