The advantages and disadvantages of confrontation in counseling

The present blogspot will be based on the question: what are the advantages and disadvantages of confrontation in counseling? We will learn the various benefits of confrontation in counseling and the disadvantages of confrontation in the various situations that we come across.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of confrontation in counseling?

Confrontation is an assertive counselor directed technique that is used by the counselor during the process of counseling to compel the client to look towards the problem area that is being denied and avoided by them for years. 

Confrontation is a direct technique in which the counselor challenges the client to face themselves in a realistic manner. It enables the counselor and the client to identify, recognize and recover the client from inconsistencies and disparities between the client’s actual self and the real self. 

Initially the confrontation technique was only limited to the gestalt practitioners. However, in recent years the confrontation techniques have gained popularity throughout the various counseling and therapy approaches. The humanistic existential approach and the microskills approach have also promoted the use of confrontation techniques for therapy.

Fritz Perlz, one of the legends in the field of Gestalt psychology advocated the use of confrontation for the successful recognition of  avoidance and denial patterns in the clients. Corey (2015) reported that often the client reports the confrontation technique as being insensitive and straight forward.

However, modern psychologists explain the confrontation process as a kind, empathetic and compassionate way to deal with the underlying conflict areas and denial patterns of the client in context to the client’s problem and relation with the therapist (Yonfer, 1999).

The modern era psychologists explain confrontation technique in counseling and therapy as a technique to challenge the client. It helps them analyze and identify the discrepancies in their words and actions along their beliefs and behaviors. 

The aim behind using confrontation is to take the client’s status from “stuck” to “unstuck”. The contradictions in the client’s words, actions, beliefs and behaviors create a state of dissonance. The clients feel motivated to resolve the underlying conflicts once they identify the disparities. Through the successful application of confrontation, the client’s are able to overcome their resistance and change their behavior to meet the desired therapy goal (Corey, 2015; Ivey et al., 2014; MacCluskie, 2010; Shechtman & Yanov, 2001; Young, 2013)

Researchers have also focused a lot on the use of confrontation in counseling. They have emphasized the confrontation technique in counseling as a direct and deliberate initiative of the counselor to enable the client identify and recognize the underlying unidentified discrepancies in their words and actions. The confrontation has been analysed by researchers as an advanced counseling skill that needs to be implemented with a conscious knowledge of the client’s state and the time of confrontation during the counseling (Leaman, 1978, Sinnick, 1977, Harrow 1995).

Similarly Young (2009) stated that confrontation is an intervention that highlights discrepancies in the client’s behaviour,  feelings, thoughts, words and nonverbal body gestures that portray incongurency between their mood and affect or their ideal and real self. 

Moreover MacCluskie (2010) defined the confrontation process as the therapist’s observation of the discrepancies between the client’s verbatim and his actions. Through the process of confrontation in counseling, the therapist draws attention of the client towards the disparities that are depicted in the contradictions among the client’s feelings, thoughts, perception and behavior. 

Further the view of confrontation as an advanced counseling skill to observe incongruencies in the client’s behavior and identify the differences between the actual and the real self has been promoted by many researchers. Confrontation has been regarded as a technique that is used by the counselor to reflect on the contradictions that are keenly observed by the counselor during the first two stages of the counseling process for case formulation for letting the client resolve the unaddressed issues of life (Ivey, Ivey, Zalaquett, & Quirk, 2012).

Young (2009) has pointed out that the confrontation technique in counseling can be used to identify the 6 various types of discrepancies in the counseling process. The following discrepancies can be identified through confrontation by the therapist through confrontation :

  • Discrepancy between the client’s verbal and non verbal message
  • Incongruence between the client’s personal belief and their own experiences
  • Contradiction between the client’s value system and their observable behaviors
  • Differences between what the client says and the client’s visible actions.
  • Differences in the client’s earlier life experiences and their future actions
  • Inconsistent statements of the client that contradict with what the client has previously stated or agreed upon.

The first identifiable discrepancy between the client’s verbal and nonverbal message during the counselling process or the course of therapy is observed when the client’s verbatim is inconsistent with their body gestures and non verbal behaviors. For example, a client may say that he is ok but he folds his arms and rests his head down on the table quietly.

The second discrepancy that is identified through confrontation is when the client’s actual life experience is not inline with what they believe in. This is evident when a client’s behavior is not inline with their beliefs or thoughts whether negative or positive beliefs or thoughts. Such discrepancy surfaces when the client’s real life experiences contradict their beliefs. For example, a client may have a strong belief regarding bribing someone to have personal means fulfilled. Yet he will get involved in bribing people to get his personal meaning fulfilled.

The third discrepancy is the contradiction between a client’s value system and observable actions. This is evident when a person goes against the moral and social norms of the community. For example an individual has a religiosity level that is close to above average but he is involved in drinking, partying and doing drugs leading to impulsive a-social activities.

The fourth discrepancy is between the words and the client’s actions. The client may commit with the counselor to be regular in therapy sessions but skip the sessions without informing the counselor about any valid reasons and not being regular in therapy.

The fifth discrepancy that can be identified through confrontation is the contradiction between the previous life experiences and future plans. For example a client chooses to  take a maths major in high school despite knowing that he has been on borderline grades for the maths subjects throughout middle school.

The sixth discrepancy that can be recognized using the confrontation in counseling and therapy is inconsistency between the client’s statements. The client might have stated that he feels his parents don’t love him at all and mostly feel abandoned by them. The same client might state in the later sessions that he has felt  loved and cared for by the parents throughout life.

The above discrepancies in the counseling sessions are identified by the counselor for favouring the client in moving towards the desired outcome. Strong and Zeeman (2010) stated that confrontation can be used by the counselor or the therapist inorder to: 

  • Establish a deeper connection with the client
  • Direct the client’s focus towards a certain direction
  • Emphasizing on a collaboration with the client towards a problem area that is a reason of underlying conflict

Before confronting a client, following key points need to be take care of by the therapist or the counselor needs to follow the following prerequisites (Corey, 2015; Gold & Hartnett, 2004; MacCluskie, 2010):

  • Establish a strong therapeutic alliance with the client
  • Client and counselor are able to mutually trust each other
  • Client and the counselor have a relationship of mutual respect
  • The therapist has established a good professional rapport with the client
  • The counselor has an unconditional positive regard towards the client
  • Use of person centered approaches and strategies to gain deeper insight into the client’s perceptions and enable the counselor to have a more hands on knowledge of the case.

Similarly Mclasukie (2010) pointed out that the timing of confrontation is yet another important factor that plays a role in its impact and benefits. The therapist needs to wisely choose the timing of confrontation for its implementation so that the client is mentaly prepared for it and is in an emotional state that makes the client aware of what is being talked about.  Inappropriate timing of the confrontation in the therapy can lead to many other risks and damages in the client’s therapeutic alliance with the therapist.

Shechtman & Yanov, 2001 have also highlighted the various risks that are involved in the counseling process if the therapist or the counselor mistakenly implies confrontation at the wrong time. They stated early confrontation during the therapy process might sound antagonistic or harsh. The client might perceive the therapist as being rude and as “the rapist” instead of being “therapist”. 

Confrontation needs to sound and appear as a supportive and caring gesture of the counselor or the therapist inorder to help the client to focus on the positives and identify their underlying discrepancies in behavior.

Researchers have also suggested that a strong therapeutic alliance along confrontations that appear to be empathetic motivate the clients to identify and examine the discrepancies with the facilitation of their therapist/counselor. The focus on the client’s positive characteristics and the surfacing various underlying incongruencies between their ideal and real self aid the clients to prosper and move towards the desired therapy goals and enhance wellbeing (Corey, 2015; Gold & Hartnett, 2004; MacCluskie, 2010; Shechtman & Yanov, 2001)

Characteristics of confrontation

The following are the major characteristics of confrontation:

  • Confrontation is a learning experience
  • Confrontation leads to minimize ambiguity and incongruity
  • Confrontation is an authentic experience during the course of therapy
  • The confrontation is an advanced therapeutic technique that involves risks and growth at the same time for both the client and the therapist.
  • The nature of confrontation is action oriented
  • The confrontation technique leads to taking decisions and responsibility in life. 
  • The confrontation technique focuses on the strengths and potential for growth in the client rather than the weakness. 

The advantages of confrontation

The advantages of confrontation are as follows:

The empirical evidence suggests that confrontation enables the clients to better adapt to their life and get unstuck from their conflicts in life while focusing on the potential of the client. 

As a result of confrontation, the client’s are in a better position to focus on the future goals and achieve more in life than settling for less and accepting life as it is. 

The confrontation technique has been successfully implemented with clients of substance use and  suicidal ideations  (Popadiuk et al. 2008).

The confrontation technique has also been successfully used by therapists to challenge the negative schemas of the clients.

Personality disorder and associated features clients also benefit from the confrontation technique in therapy.

The confrontation technique is also used for substance use related disorders and psychotic symptoms.

In order to gain the maximum benefits of the confrontation technique the therapist has to take into consideration the various steps of confrontation. The confrontation technique is based around the following steps:

  • Listen for discrepancies
  • Summarize and clarify
  • Confront empathetically 
  • Observe and evaluate

The confrontation needs to be implemented once the therapist has actively listened to the client and attended well with the client during the context of therapy. The therapist has to be a keen listener to observe the ambivalence and discrepancies in the ideal and real self of the client. The therapist needs to actively listen for any mixed messages and contraindicatory statements from the client.

Second, the therapist needs to summarize the client’s content of the verbatim and the associated feelings and clarify his perception of the client’s verbatim through questions. The therapist thus identifies the underlying conflicts, the various needs that are being met by leaving the conflicts unaddressed and the various needs that are being left unaddressed due to avoidance of the conflicts on part of the therapist.

The third step of confrontation is the main step in which the client is confronted empathetically by the therapist in order to make them understand their underlying conflicts associated with the personality and enable them of their intentional avoidance and resistance with regards to dealing with the conflict situation. During this step the therapist needs to be consciously aware to provide unconditional regard and support to the client’s emotional insecurities that might surface while addressing the discrepancies and incongruencies on part of the client.

The last step involves the therapist to observe and evaluate the effectiveness of confrontation on the client’s symptoms and analyze the impact of confrontation. The client would have one of the following impacts of confrontation:

  • The client will entirely deny the discrepancy
  • The client only examined a portion of the discrepancy
  • There was no observable change in the client as a result of the discrepancy discussed
  • Client is ready to accept and change behavior as a result of the discrepancy discussed
  • Client accepted the discrepancy and is generating modifications 

There are times when confrontation is not accepted by the client. In these times, the therapist needs to listen to additional questioning and clarification without creating an attacking and threatening environment for the client. The therapist needs to take care to use less direct language and frame the next challenge being aware of the client’s frame of reality (Ivey et al., 2014; MacCluskie, 2010; M. E. Young, 2013).

The disadvantages of confrontation

The disadvantages of confrontation technique in counseling are as follows:

The confrontation technique if used dearly in a therapy process leads to negative impact on the client and therapist rapport.

Many clients resist coming to therapy as they deny the confrontation and resist any behavior modification.

Many clients take confrontation as a target by the therapist on their personal and secret areas of life.

Confrontation technique mostly doesn’t gain its advantage with the self centered clients.

Most clients with a narcissistic personality attitude are unable to identify the discrepancies or simply refuse to accept the incongruencies and contradictions pointed out by the therapist.

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The present blogspot focused on the confrontation technique and its advantages and disadvantages in counseling and psychotherapy. We learned that confrontation is an advanced counseling technique that is used to identify and address the discrepancies and ambiguities in the client and work towards the growth. The confrontation helps in resolving contradictions in the client’s belief, thoughts, actions and words. If the confrontation is not properly framed and timed by the therapist it might end up in risking the therapeutic alliance of the client and the therapist.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): The advantages and disadvantages of confrontation in counseling

What are the three major steps in confrontation?

The three major steps in confrontation are :

Listen for discrepancy
Confront the client with discrepancy
Evaluate the behavioral change 

What is empathic confrontation?

The empathic confrontation is  the therapist’s approach to addressing the maladaptive coping strategies and associated behaviors. It is aimed at identifying and addressing the unresolved conflicts and denied life areas that lead to contradictions in the client’s words, actions and thoughts. The empathic confrontation is based on :

Listen for discrepancies
Identify the discrepancy
Confront empathetically
Observe the change as a result of confrontation and evaluate the behavior

What is confrontation in gestalt therapy?

In gestalt therapy confrontation is related to challenging the client to break their defensiveness and surface their discrepancies. Gestalt views confrontation as a directional approach where the client is challenged by the therapist with sensitivity and empathy.