What Really Motivates Resistant Clients

Finding Emotionally Compelling Reasons to Change

Push up against a resistant client, you get more resistance. Try a comforting, helpful approach, and you can undermine a client’s motivation to act. So what’s a therapist to do?

According to Clifton Mitchell, author of Effective Techniques for Dealing with Highly Resistant Clients, a highly effective option is the “Columbo” approach. Ask about every aspect of the client’s life. Listen carefully and you’re likely to hear a flash of anger, a hint of self-disgust, or some equally charged spark of emotion. Follow that clue and you’re on the way to identifying the emotionally compelling reason for your resistant client to change.

Clifton Mitchell is a professor at East Tennessee State University, where he received the Teacher of the Year award in 2002. He’s the author of Effective Techniques for Dealing with Highly Resistant Clients.


Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.