The Technique of Confrontation in Counseling

This blog post will run us through the importance and need of confrontation in counseling.

The skill of confrontation can be used in counseling to enable clients to examine their narratives and identify discrepancies between their verbal and non-verbal communication.

This can be in relation to the attitudes they expressed towards others, behaviors, or conflict. 

Stages of Confrontation:

  • Listening
  • Summarizing
  • Evaluation

An outcome of effective confrontation is that it leads clients to create new patterns of thinking and increases intentionality. 

It is not a harsh direct challenge; rather it is a gentle skill that involves listening to the client fully and later encouraging them to explore the situation and self more fully.

The term confrontation does not mean going against the client; rather means going with the client and clarifying wherever necessary and the resolution of difficulties.

It is based on careful listening, observation, and noting conflict, mixed messages, as well as discrepancies in verbal and non-verbal behavior. 

It also includes summarizing these discrepancies by feeding them back to the client usually through summarization. 

Confrontation as a skill in counseling is used to bring in awareness of the client on something that they might have overlooked or avoided, unintentionally. 

The four common types of discrepancies displayed by clients are:

  • Between their thoughts and how they feel
  • Between their thoughts and how they behave
  • Between how they feel and how they behave
  • A combination of their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Once the counselor has identified discrepancies in the client’s narrative and identified them the counselor highlights them to the clients by making use of confrontation statements.

 It can also be used to increase self-awareness in the client and highlight discrepancies that they were previously unaware of.

Confrontation should be used only when proper rapport is built between the client and counselor. The skill of confrontation in counseling can be used when the counselor observes incongruities or mixed messages in the client’s thoughts, behavior, and feelings. 

This technique of confrontation counseling has evolved over time to a more kind and compassionate usage and is now conveyed with a greater sense of empathy.

The confrontation was used as an approach to help clients recognize avoidance behaviors. But this was perceived to be a harsh and insensitive method by most clients and counselors.

Effective and skillful use of confrontation can lead to effective client outcomes. But on the other hand unskillful use of this technique can lead to damage and ruptures in the therapeutic relationship. 

By empathetically and compassionately facilitating the client to understand that every action of theirs has a consequence a breakthrough in the therapeutic relationship takes place.

Through active listening, counselors can encourage clients to express their attitudes and beliefs, interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts, irrational beliefs, and defense mechanisms that keep them where they are and do not let them progress further.

The therapeutic relationship built using person-centered techniques is an important prerequisite before the counselor uses confrontation in the counseling process.

Clients will respond to confrontation by bringing in new ideas, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In case the confrontation does not lead to movement or any change in the client it’s always best to try another skill.

Empathy and Non-judgmental Confrontation

Even with empathic listening, a client who is challenged or confronted may feel like she or he is put on the spot and might even feel attacked. This is when Carl Roger’s non-judgmental empathy comes into the picture. 

A non-judgmental attitude requires suspending one’s own opinions and attitudes and assumes value neutrality in relation to the client.

Many clients have attitudes toward their issues and concerns that may be counter to the therapist’s cherished beliefs and values. 

But people who are working through serious difficulties do not need to be judged or evaluated, and the therapist’s neutrality is necessary if the relationship needs to be maintained.

The Skills of Confrontation: An Integrated Three-Step Process

The skill of confrontation in counseling can best be described as an integrative, combination skill that involves influencing and most importantly listening. Confrontation in counseling has three stages:

Listening

Identifying conflict by observing conflict, incongruities, discrepancies, ambivalence, and mixed messages within the client. 

Active listening focuses on listening to the client, being there with the client not just physically but also mentally. This skill also involves being able to repeat what the client said in one’s own words.

Listening does not necessarily mean that the therapist agrees with the client but it rather means understanding what the client is trying to convey.

Summarizing

Summarizing is a counseling skill used to condense, or crystallize, the main points of what the client is saying and feeling. 

When summarizing, the counselor is “reflecting back”, the main points of the session so that the client has an opportunity to recap by clarifying issues of internal and external conflict and work towards a resolution.

Evaluation

Evaluation gives feedback on reflecting and improving the program or activity. For instance: by using the Client Change Scale significant changes in the client can be evaluated and examined.

The client changes scale (CSS)

The Client Change Scale (CSS) provides a framework on how to evaluate clients based on their reaction to confrontation. 

It clarifies if the client has a conflict, discrepancy, or mixed messages in the session. The change process consists of 5 levels- Denial, Partial examination, Acceptance, and recognition, but no change, Creation of a new solution, and Transcendence. 

In the change process, an individual might go step by step or jump from place to place at different times depending upon the problem they are going through. 

It provides accountability and also measures the growth of the client. Depending upon the issue change can vary; it might be slow or fast. 

In some situations, acceptance represents highly successful counseling and therapy.

Confrontation need not be done all the time in a session; it has to be done only when necessary and more importantly after a good relationship is formed with the client. 

Empathic listening is required otherwise; clients frequently become defensive and may not deal fully with issues following a confrontation.

There might be variations to how clients respond back to being confronted in a therapeutic process. 

Clients who belong to cultures that value and encourage confrontation, often respond back positively to confrontation in a counseling process. This is because it resembles their real-life interactions and it is a part of their cultural way of leading life.

While on the other hand clients that belong to cultures that have a less directive, subtle, and more polite approach to being confronted in a therapeutic setup. 

Gender is another factor that determines how clients view the role of power in society. 

Then again, understanding the client’s belief system and establishing rapport and client-counselor bond are critical factors that lead to the effective implementation of the confrontation technique in counseling. 

Outcomes of confrontation in counseling 

The confrontation technique in counseling has helped clients when they felt stuck in processing their experiences and emotions. 

It has often been an effective and motivating factor to pursue a fuller and more accepting stance than settling for things the way they are. 

The confrontation has been successfully implemented on clients with addictions, self-harm, and suicidal triggers. 

This technique isn’t suitable for all clients and can be identified by counselors as they go through the therapeutic process. 

Confrontation in counseling has a unique purpose and clients can reap its benefits, when administered by a trained mental health professional in a counseling process.

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Frequently asked questions

What is confrontation in counseling?

Confrontation is a technique used by counselors in a counseling process as an open and honest mode of identifying a client’s self-defeating patterns and manipulations.

It helps resolve interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts.

Why is confrontation important in counseling?

Confrontation is important in counseling as it helps promote insight and awareness within the client and helps in increasing congruence between the client’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

What are the three major steps of confrontation?

The three major steps of confrontation are:

  • Identifying the discrepancy or conflict
  • Bringing them to the attention of the client
  • Evaluating the change

When should confrontation be avoided in counseling?

Confrontation is used when the client needs to identify the discrepancies in one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Confrontation should only be used after a proper rapport and client-counselor trust is built in the therapeutic process.

What are the four steps of empathic counseling?

The four steps of empathic counseling are:

  • Listening and identifying discrepancies and conflict
  • Summarizing and clarifying 
  • Empathically confronting the client
  • Observing and evaluating its outcomes in the process.

References

Stone, D. (2012, July 31). Psychological Musings: Confrontation in Counseling. Psychological Musings http://psychological-musings.blogspot.com/2012/07/confrontation-in-counseling.html

Counselling Microskills: Confrontation – Counselling Connection. (2009, November 10). Counselling Connection. https://www.counsellingconnection.com/index.php/2009/11/10/confrontation/

Confrontation. (2017, October 17). Counseling Practices. https://counselingpractices.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/confrontation/

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