VIDEO: David Burns on Overcoming Resistance

Exploring Why Clients Might Not Want to Change

David Burns

If you could press a magic button and relieve yourself of your biggest problem, would you choose to do so? More often than not, says psychiatrist David Burns, author of Feeling Good, there are many reasons why we might choose to hold onto our problems.

"On the one hand, our clients want to change," Burns says. But rarely, he adds, do therapists examine how and why clients might stay attached to their depression, anxiety, or grudges. "We need to look at all of this before we jump in with all our wonderful therapy tools," he says.

In the video below, Burns explains why we need to reevaluate our current approaches to treating resistance, and shares the "magic button" exercise you can try with your clients today. Start talking about resistance sooner, Burns says, and you can put your clients on the road to healing faster.


David Burns, MD, is the author of the bestselling book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, which has sold more than five million copies. He’s the host of the free weekly Feeling Good podcast, and has authored many additional resources for therapists and clients, including the TEAM-CBT psychotherapy training book, Tools, Not Schools, of Therapy.

"We assume that, just as any rational person with a broken arm would be a willing and eager customer for medical care, surely a person suffering from severe anxiety or depression would be equally motivated to receive the healing that we offer," Burns says. "But what if this isn’t the case? We need to improve our models, techniques, and methods to do something, anything, to make things better as soon as possible."

Focusing on resistance to change at the very start of therapy can energize your clients and turn them into champions of their own change process.

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Did you enjoy this video? You might also want to check out Burns's Networker article on this topic, "When Helping Doesn't Help," or his piece "Living with the Devil We Know," where he explores the hidden the causes of our clients' behavior and shares his "Hidden Emotion Technique."

Topic: Challenging Clients & Treatment Populations

Tags: cbt | cognitive behavioral therapy | cognitive behavioral therapy cbt | David Burns | Feeling Good | resistance | resistance to anxiety treatment | resistance to therapy | resistant to treatment | treatment resistant

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2 Comments

Sunday, June 12, 2016 7:51:56 PM | posted by Scollins
Thanks, nice to be reminded of how impactful client resistance is on the process.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 5:50:14 PM | posted by natalie gold, Registered Psychotherapist
With all due respect, after reading this item and watching the video, the concept of client resistance to change is not a new one. It is a fundamental principle of Gestalt therapy, and those of us trained in Gestalt and who practice it know how to work with resistance, and have been doing it for decades. So kudos to Dr. Burns for being cognizant of this. Resistance is usually not something clients are aware of, and Dr. Burns does seek to make them so. But that's only part of the struggle. Resistance to change is often rooted deep in our emotional makeup, which is why Gestalt therapy is so effective. But thanks for including this topic. Important.