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Overcome Resistance: Insights on Secondary Gains for Coaches and Therapists

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As a psychologist or a coach, it is important to understand the concept of resistance and how this resistance is generally a result of secondary gains or positive intentions. Understanding this will also help you recognize why clients have relapses. So, let us quickly look at what resistance means in the context of coaching and therapy.

What Is Resistance?

Resistance can be defined as anything on part of the client that comes in the way of achieving the therapeutic or coaching outcome. The resistance can be conscious or unconscious. If the resistance on part of the client is conscious i.e. the client is consciously trying to sabotage the coaching or the therapy process, then the coach or the therapist has made an error while identifying the coaching or therapeutic outcome.

It is important that the outcome comes from the client and not the coach or the therapist. That is the easiest way to work with conscious resistance.

Do remember that if the client willingly comes for the session and the session outcome has been chosen by the client, conscious resistance is very very unlikely. Any resistance in such a case is an unconscious resistance.

Unconscious resistance is generally a result of secondary gains or positive intention which basically refers to the unconscious benefit that the client is receiving from the current behaviour that he/she is trying to change. This means if the behaviour changes, the client will no longer receive this benefit.

positive intention

For example, a client wants to quit smoking but every time she smokes, she immediately feels calm. This also helps her get relief from her stress. When she quits smoke, she no longer has a really quick way to experience calmness or to get relief from stress.

Many people have psychosomatic pains, that give them attention. If the pain goes away, so does the attention. There are clients who wish to cut down on their sweets, but when they eat sweets they feel loved because that was one of the ways their parents showered love on them.

The simplest example of secondary gains is a sense of unconscious comfort with how things are currently because it is known. This is popularly known as a comfort zone. When a client tries to create a change, with the change they also have to give up these unconscious benefits.

Since these benefits are important, the mind is not supportive of creating or sustaining these changes. This is also the reason why people experience relapses.

Understanding the Mistake that most coaches and therapists make:

The mistake that most coaches and therapists make, in fact even the most popularly followed therapeutic approaches make is trying to negate the importance of the secondary gains by rationalizing that the benefits of new behaviours are greater than the benefits of current behaviours that are being changed.

The reason why this is a mistake even if rationalization works, at least for the time being, is that it still doesn’t address the benefit no matter how small the benefit is. Plus the effort required to constantly rationalize in most cases takes a toll on the client in the long run.

Also, in future when the client needs this benefit, they will go back to their old behaviour i.e. they will have a relapse.

Man wondering about secondary gains

How many times have you had clients telling you that I feel I am constantly fighting with myself to sustain the change we are trying to create or that I succeed for a few days and then have a relapse? If you work with clients’ beliefs, there are times when no matter what you do, it just doesn’t work, the client is either not able to change the limiting belief or experienced relapses.

Even when the client consciously understands how the current belief is not rational, and how it is limiting them but still the change doesn’t happen as effectively and as naturally as you or the client would have preferred.

I am sure you have wondered from time to time, why is this happening with the client?

Well, now you know the answer. Which brings us to the next question, so what do you as a coach or a therapist do to help the clients? If rationalizing the positive intention is not the answer then what is?

But before that, I would like you to take a couple of moments and allow yourself to internalize the concept of positive intention.

Also, it is important to remember that in many cases the positive intention is unconscious, which means the client themselves are not consciously aware of them.

A step-by-step guide to help clients work with Secondary Gains

Have you had clients who are consciously or unconsciously holding on to a dysfunctional behaviour or a state that causes discomfort and stops them from achieving their outcomes? They are holding on to this dysfunctional behaviour or state many times because of the positive intention or secondary gain that they are deriving from the same.

We have already discussed what is positive intention with multiple examples. Now, we will focus on How to help clients identify and work with these positive intentions and secondary gains.

Remember, helping clients rationalize that the benefit of letting go of the current behaviour is greater than holding on to it, may work in the short run but doesn’t really work as much in the long run.

So if psychosomatic pains that a client experience also helps them get attention from their family members then it is important to recognize that the attention they are getting is important for at least some part of them.

Rationalizing that the benefits of overcoming the pain are greater than the attention they are receiving is not enough. In short, It is important to preserve and fulfil positive intentions and secondary gains. Which brings us to the question, how do you as a coach or a therapist do that?

You do that by realising that the current behaviour is only one way of fulfilling the positive intention. There can be many other more effective behaviours that can achieve the same objective without creating the current concern or any other challenge.

In our example, psychosomatic pains are only one way of getting attention. There are many other ways that can also help the client get attention without creating pain. Once you realise this the process becomes a lot simpler. Find out the steps below-

1. Identify The Behaviour:

The first step is to help the client identify the behaviour that needs to be changed. Most clients are already aware of this and they share the same with you. In some cases, even basic questioning can help you identify the behaviour.

2. Find out The Conscious And Unconscious Positive Intentions:

The second step is to find out both the conscious and unconscious positive intention i.e. the purpose that this behaviour is serving or the benefit that it is achieving. This can be done with the help of explorative questioning focussing on the probable benefits of the behaviour or on what the client will not get if the behaviour were to change.

Since some positive intentions can be at the level of unconscious using hypnotic processes and metaphors will make this a lot faster and easier.

3. Brainstorm List of New Behaviours:

The third step is to brainstorm a list of new behaviours that can be used to fulfil the purpose or achieve the benefits. This can be done by literally asking the client to explore alternate behaviours.

4. Select Top 3-4 Behaviours:

The fourth step will be to select the top 3 or 4 behaviours that can be used to fulfil the purpose or achieve the benefits in a way that these behaviours can be contextualised as per the given situation.

5. Find out Whether All Behaviours Are Ecological Or Not:

The fifth step is to check whether all selected behaviours are ecological which means none of the selected behaviours will create any additional issues or challenges.

6. Apply The Selected Behaviours:

The sixth step is to help clients apply these selected behaviours more naturally and relatively easily without the need to fight with themselves. You can use the when-then statement and anchoring for the same.

Alternatively, you can use the NLP N-Step reframing process to do all this a bit more. The reframing process mostly follows the same flow but is generally done with a client in an altered state.

In the process I have currently described, the client needs to consciously put an effort to find the positive intention and the alternate behaviours. The N-Step reframing process has the added advantage of allowing the unconscious to help and guide the client. Also, the identification of positive intention that the unconscious is deriving is a lot easier with the N Step reframing process.

If you would like to learn advanced versions of the N Step Reframing process under supervision and guidance do check out the Cognitive Hypnotic Coaching Diploma.

If you need any help or have any questions do feel free to connect with our team @ +91-8080208473 or schedule an appointment with our lead trainer.