The 7 best therapy activities for resistant clients

This article will show what are the best therapy activities one can do when dealing with resistant clients. The article will explain how to do them, and what is the main focus on doing them.

The best therapy activities for resistant clients 

It can be that sometimes, when a client is in a therapy process, they will become resistant to it. There are usually many reasons as to why this happens, but if you are a therapist, you should always have at your disposal some activities you can do to keep the good work with the client. So here are some things you can do.

Talk to them about control 

Talking to your client about control is extremely important when you notice they are beginning to be resistant to therapy. You dinMt necessarily need to wait for them to talk about the fear of losing control, but if you notice that this seems to be the issue, you can begin to address it. 

What you can talk to them about in this matter is that becoming aware of what is happening to them, and understanding how they work emotionally will be a way for them to get more control over their lives, not lose it. 

You can also try to show them that you are not there to try and control their thoughts, but that you are a part of their team, and in therapy you are both trying to deal with their emotional condition. And surrendering to this need of control, will only prevent them from reaching their goal. 

Remind them that it seems that they were in pain, and that is why they started therapy, so not going through with it may only be a way of not changing things that need to change.

Discuss autonomy

As a therapist you should always know that patients have autonomy. Even though you may have millions of insights, and ideas of how they should behave, know that it is up to them to make the changes in their lives.

So if you realize one of your patients is resistant, try to keep their need for autonomy in mind. Through that, you will be able to realize that sometimes even though clients will want to get better, their need for autonomy can be bigger than their wish to improve.

In those cases, try to use a language that will focus on preserving the patient’s autonomy through the sessions. For example, you may be talking to them about ways they can cope with anxiety. 

And instead of just telling them: “You should work out”, you may think of telling them: “To help you cope with anxiety it may be important for you to do something that will help you relax”.

This way you allow them to feel like they have a choice in what is being said, and that you respect their autonomy.

Keep to permissive language 

Keeping a language in which you allow the client to realize you are not imposing your thoughts and knowledge on them can be a great way to deal with resistance. When telling them what you have been realizing about them, or the situation you are in, you may use the words “perhaps”, “maybe”, or “I wonder if…” before you start the sentence.

By saying that you are saying what needs to be said, but also giving them the chance to think about what you are saying, but also letting them say if they agree with that or not. This might be one of the most effective ways to lead a resistant client to think about their condition. 

Value their changes 

Whenever your client becomes resistant it can happen as a reaction to break through, which puts them out of their comfort zone. If you realize that is what is happening, praise them for the step forward they did.

Keep in mind that even though you may be a great professional, it is your client that will make the process. And telling them that is a good way to, once again, show they have autonomy and freedom in this process. 

Aside from that, as you value the changes they made you make it clear to them that there is no need for resistance, since the one doing the work is them, and it is not you forcing them.

Use resistant as part of work 

Some clients may respond quite well to something called the rubber band effect. This means that once you feel your client is resisting the process, you can use this as part of the process. 

For example, you may begin to feel like they are resisting to change their smoking habits. Although they came to therapy to stop it, at some point they can resist it, a good way to deal with this is resistant is to acknowledge it, and you may say to them: “Look how powerful your resistance is, maybe you could use it to resist smoking.”

Go with the flow 

When you encounter a resistant force within your client, the best thing you can do is go eith the flow. Never argue with them, and understand that it can also be used as part of the process. It is your job as a professional to make sense of this resistance, and try to bring light to it.

Find their motivation

If you know what the client’s motivation is, it may be easier to deal with their resistance. When you start to notice they are becoming resistant, you can bring this topic in session, and discuss with them how this resistance may interfere with them reaching their goal.

Maybe they have unreachable goals, like living completely alone, but trying to manage this to a more possible goal will help them become less resistant.

Why can clients get resistant? 

Resistance is often a part of the therapy process. It can happen to any patient as they reach a point in which they feel either uncomfortable, or not ready to deal with. 

It can be that they become resistant because the challenges therapy is bringing them, in the purpose of changing their lives, can feel umberable, and sometimes, keeping to the comfort zone, even if it is one that brings pain, can seem easier.

But it is important to keep in mind that a resistant client is no one you should just discharge. As said before, there are many ways to deal with their resistance, and it can be that going through it the bond with the client will improve, and even the therapy work may become better.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): What are the best therapy activities for resistant clients? 

How can I calm myself after a difficult client? 

Every therapist will come across, at times, with a difficult client. It can be one that yells at you, or even questions your skills. But it is important for you to try and manage these clients in the best way. The first thing you should do is to keep calm.

If you answer in an anxious manner for all they have been saying, chances are things will only get worse. You should be empathetic, but also try to discuss with them about their behavior, and why they are so resistant to the process.

Understanding that a difficult client is just someone in extreme pain, and that you need to be patient will allow you to do a better job. The same way as discussing this case with some of your colleagues so you can have a better understanding of it all. 

But if even after all this you still find it hard to deal with the client, it may be time to refer them to another professional.

How can I motivate clients to change?

If you feel your clients are lacking motivation to change, there are some ways you can try to motivate them. The first one is by listening to them carefully and always demonstrating empathy towards them. 

You can also try to show them the difference there is between their goals, and how they have been behaving, which can maybe help them engage better towards their goals.

Aside from that, you should try to keep optimistic in the process and show them that, even though changes are hard, they have been making some progress. And by valuing that, they might also be more open to change how they have been acting in therapy and towards their goals.

How can I manage silent clients? 

Sometimes it can be difficult to deal with when the patient keeps silent during a session. But it may be important for you to learn how to tolerate this. In many cases maintaining silence will be a way to show this is an empathic space.

It may also be a way for them to reflect on what is being said, and something that will even help them open up more about their feelings.

Are there bad therapists? 

You may have therapists that are not well trained, or that are not licensed. But most of the time the search for a therapist is mostly about finding the professional you feel it is possible to share your feelings with.

And for that there is no right or wrong. You should, without any question, look for professionals that are licensed, and if possible that come referred by your physician or other people you know. 

But the most important thing is the therapeutic relationship you will set with that patient, which can lead you to gain trust in the process and the professional that is working with you.

How can I strengthen the therapeutic relationship?

If you feel you need to strengthen the therapeutic relationship with one of your clients there are some things you can do. You can try to make your client feel more welcome. But also keep in mind that the therapeutic relationship takes time, so don’t pressure it.

To have a good therapeutic relationship with your client, you should never judge your patient, since if they feel judged they can find it harder to open themselves up. It is also important that you care for your own emotions so you don’t let your anxieties take over.

Discussing with your client what they want from therapy is also a way to adjust your focus at work. If you feel that they are closing themselves, remind them that it will only be possible to achieve their goals if they open up.

If you feel you need to change your posture, you may begin to think of questions before the session, and ask more questions, or in different ways. And always keep in mind that you should focus on your patient’s needs.


This article showed the best therapy activities you can do when you have resistant clients. It also explained what those activities focus on, and why clients may become resistant.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write them in the section below.


Engaging Resistant Clients

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