The counselling students inevitably ask me each term: “what do you do when a client is resistant?”.

“What do you mean by resistant?” I ask them.

They respond with terms like ‘won’t take your suggestions’, ‘don’t want to move on’, ‘can’t let go’, ‘endlessly go over and over it’, and ‘won’t make any changes’.

Other teachers have told them they need to confront these clients. I used to believe that too. But I’ve sat with too many people in their pain to believe that any longer.

So I tell them: “If a client appears resistant, it’s you who needs to change”.

I tell them:

People in pain find ways to manage the pain so they can keep on going, and we swoop in and try to take those things from them. The overeating, the addictions, the isolating, the busy-ness, the story.

When clients seem resistant, it’s usually because we’re not being present with them.

I used to call myself a healer, I support people to heal themselves. But I began to realise we don’t heal people. Some things can never be healed.

Instead we walk with them, shining a light for their feet as they find a way that makes sense, holding the pieces of the puzzle while they sort through it and put it together in a way that has meaning for them.

We sit with the not-knowing, and we bear witness as they open themselves to make room for a story only they have lived, to create enough space to hold it all and still go on living.

My answer to their question is that nobody can reach another by labelling them in their frozen places. Nor by judging the fire-breathing dragons they turned to in the cold and the dark, ways of coping that have now turned on them.

Instead we can use compassion and courage to be with them where they are, and meet the dragons together.

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