What Really Motivates the Resistant Client?

Clifton Mitchell on Finding Emotionally Compelling Reasons to Change

Rich Simon


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. Clifton joins Wendy Behary, Dick Schwartz, Janina Fisher, William Doherty, and John Norcross for the re-release of our popular streaming-video webcast series:

Tough Customers: Effective Approaches to Challenging Clients
Watch All 6 Sessions Now Or Whenever It’s Convenient For A Full Year
Get course details here


It’s a 6-session practical, nuts-and-bolts exploration of what really works with the kinds of cases and clinical situations that regularly take us to the edge of what we know, and who we are as people and would-be healers. Here’s a preview of what each session covers:

  • Clifton Mitchell on Treating the Highly Resistant Client
    Get concrete practical guidance on a range of clinical methods to help you overcome stagnation and create therapeutic movement with these hard-to-treat cases.

  • Wendy Behary on Treating the Narcissistic Client
    Learn how to form genuine relationships with self-absorbed, un-empathic clients with therapeutic leverage and empathic confrontation.

  • Richard Schwartz on Treating the Borderline Client
    Discover new ways to avoid unnecessary therapeutic struggles through openhearted acceptance and gain a deeper understanding of the role of exiled “parts” in the client’s reactivity.

  • Janina Fisher on Treating Clients with Severe Attachment Disorders
    Learn to recognize internal attachment disorder and master effective ways–including somatic approaches–to helping clients overcome feelings of shame and worthlessness.

  • William Doherty on Treating the Stuck and Self-Destructive Client

    Learn effective new ways to move therapy forward when it stalls without subtly blaming the client, giving speeches, or becoming defensive.

  • John Norcross on Customizing Therapy with the Resistant Client
    Explore how to match treatment approaches with client characteristics to avoid treatment stalemates by assessing for six key client characteristics.


Don’t Miss Out On This Invaluable Material
Watch All 6 Sessions Now Or Whenever It’s Convenient For A Full Year

Click here for full course details

Topic: Professional Development

Tags: attachment disorder | attachment disorders | challenging clients | Clifton Mitchell | emotion | Janina Fisher | John Norcross | relationships | resistance | therapist | therapy | tough customers | William Doherty

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1 Comment

Thursday, March 27, 2014 2:56:24 PM | posted by BILLIE FORISHA
I agree with Clifton. My primarily goal in my practice is to help a client get more of what it is they are wanting and less of what it is that they are not wanting. My goal remains the same in each session. It gives me the leverage I want to help the client to change his/her life. (It also helps me to distinguish between what I am wanting and what the client is wanting and, hence, to privilege the latter rather than the former when interventions are actualized.) Since I do a lot of marital therapy, it is particularly useful in helping members of a couple fully articulate their differences--the first step towards finding resolution.