Tackling Resistance in Psycho Therapy
Dr. Gaurav Deka
It was in a conference that a trainer from France told us a story about a client who wouldn't heal. And the reason was simple: she would be late in every session. The therapist kept waiting, and the client would only come either thirty minutes late or forty minutes late. The therapist couldn't work with her. The allotted time was lost and nothing substantial could be done in the remaining time. In those few left over minutes, the client would talk about her 'being late' and apologize for her behaviour. The therapist couldn't even come close to the real issue, as it was never discussed. The only thing that was discussed was about her late entrance. The therapist observed that they had spent four such meaningless sessions and nothing came out of it. However she never canceled a session, or did a no-show or gave up therapy. She kept coming.
In the next session, the therapist gave her a slot one hour later than the time she told her on phone, so that even if she came late it wouldn't matter. The therapy could finally begin. And even this time, the client came in and apologized for her being late. In traditional psychotherapy or say Freudian psychoanalysis, this could be seen as some kind of unconscious resistance. Perhaps the client wanted to heal, but a resistant part within her didn't let her heal. Probably 'being late' was only a mechanism of resistance. But this particular therapist gathered that 'being late' could be the portal to the real issue, rather 'that itself' could be the real issue.
In that session, the therapist regressed the client to the time when she first felt that she was late. In other words, the therapist put the client into a state of trance (or say hypnosis) and allowed her to travel back in time to the origin of 'being always late' in life. The client regressed back to 'being in her mother's womb'.
She recounted the story of her birth, while lying on the couch: It's somewhere in the Netherlands, where her family lives and that's where she was born. It so happened that while she was about to be born, a new contest had been announced in the village. According to the competition, the mother of the first child born in January would be given a sewing machine as a prize. Apart from the absurdity of the competition, what was more troubling was the constant visitations by relatives and asking her mother to take good care of her health so that the baby is on time. They would come every day and tell the mother how excited they all are that she is going to win the sewing machine. The mother grew frustrated during these constant visitations.
Even in her dreams these relatives would appear. The mother felt desperate and tired and prayed that the baby came late – somewhere during the end of the month. Day and night she would pray that the baby came late for she was exhausted. Now, during pregnancy, such self-talk is not just 'self' talk. In any case, the baby would pick it up like signals from a wifi. And so it happened, the baby arrived late. The people were very disappointed, but the mother felt saved.
In psychotherapy, resistance is common. There could be conscious resistance or unconscious resistance. In the case of the above mentioned client, resistance was not only unconscious, but something that was assumed as resistance was actually the real issue. In my practice, what I have mostly learnt that: never assume things. Because assumption will only make our own vision limited. But yes, I do try to look beyond any resistance. It is always a good idea therefore that the moment one observes resistance in therapy, it's the resistance that should be worked upon. Nine out of ten times, the resistance is the portal to the real issue.
Some people may come to therapy, and also may begin to heal. But the moment the healing slowly begins, they end up quitting therapy. These may happen in two ways: either they are aware of the fact that they no longer want to go for therapy, which means there is conscious involvement of the client in making that choice. Or something may come up, like a trip or a marriage ceremony, or say some kind of physical illness. Many a times, physical illness like a stomach infection or a bad migraine may come up as unconscious resistance just the day before the day of appointment. I even have had reports where the client may tell me that just that morning, on the day of therapy, the maid failed to show up, or the bus broke down midway, or some relatives showed up. While these could be dismissed, even disqualified, as mere coincidences, in therapeutic practice we cannot discredit their happenstance.
Cliched as it may sound, 'nothing is ever an accident.' And our job as therapists is to look beyond the obviousness of these incidences. Somehow or the other, these occurrences are not allowing the client to heal. They are creating hurdles and hindrances. It doesn't matter whether they are conscious, unconscious or automatic, but the truth is, somehow or the other there is an extremely strong part within the client which is not letting them heal.
Why does such a part exist - for it doesn't make any sense? If I go back to my previous piece on 'postulates,' we may be able to realize that in therapy we challenge these postulates. We may break them, change them, even destroy them. But then, many people, at a deep unconscious level are scared: How would I live if the foundation of my beliefs are destroyed? How will I survive if my survival mechanisms are questioned? We have lived with these postulates for so long, and in such close proximity that to give it up now would only mean giving up life. Therefore the subconscious mind of the client creates and manifests all kinds of realities, from cancelation of appointment to the Uber breaking down midway to the clinic, in order to prevent them from being healed. And that's why it becomes imperative to make the client aware that such a part exists within them, and work with that part first, before touching any other area of their lives in therapy
(Dr, Gaurav Deka is a psycho-therapist based in New Delhi. In this column, he dwells on the importance of therapy for a happy and successful life. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)