When we find our clients are in denial, it is important to first make sure you understand their situation to the point that you are certain it is denial. Clients can sometimes be very creative in the justifications used to stay in denial. Explore those benefits mentioned above and tease out others created by the client. Shifting their perspective to one of acceptance will take time as you allow your client to pace themselves through the situation at hand. Ask your client “What scares you about your future?” This question allows the fear to be defined and can be reasoned out. Once the fear is described and confronted, it can change the face of the challenge to something more acceptable.
Explore with your client ways in which they can create a perspective of acceptance by asking questions such as:
- “In what ways can this situation make you stronger and wiser?”
- “What judgments are you making that keep you from confronting the situation at hand? What are your assumptions?”
How do we recognize patterns of denial in our clients
First and foremost because they came to you for help through their loss – half the battle is won. However, there may be patterns of denial in spite of it all. Furthermore, a loss could surface while discussing something else – such as starting a business (because they lost their job); trying to decide if you should sell your house (because you came home one afternoon only to find your son had taken his life by hanging from the stairwell); your wife wants you to talk to someone because you are in constant conflict with her (and she feels you drink too much). Many times by asking powerful questions – situations can surface that the client doesn’t view as issues.
This denial checklist outlines only a few possible patterns while there could be many other patterns that you recognize in your client:
I’ll talk about anything but my loss!
Somewhere deep inside of me I am afraid that I might lose it if I address it and talk about it. And when I don’t think or talk about it I feel OK. So I think about other things and try to keep people from prying into my life where they don’t belong. My loss is private and no one has a right to know anything about it. If someone asks about it, I change the subject and start talking about other things that have nothing to do with my loss.
If I can prove that someone else is responsible, I won’t have to feel guilty or responsible for the loss!
When the problems gets so bad that I can’t deny it, I find a scapegoat.
Being on the defense:
Excuse me but his smoking marijuana did not cause him to have cancer!
When people make suggestions as to why I lost my husband, I get angry.
Flight into Healing:
Feeling better means that I’m ok!
I manage to continue with my day to day life and things start to get a little bit better. Instead of getting motivated to do more, I convince myself that I’m healed and don’t need to do anything. I tell myself that yes, I loss the love of my life but I can put it behind me.
Moving from denial to acceptance can take time. Coaches need to recognize when a client understands what you are asking and is not ready to deal with the situation in the manner you would like. Remember the benefits and secondary gains and allow your client to pace themselves in a manner that is healthy for them. Acknowledge their pain and validate it. Ask the powerful questions down the line allowing them a few sessions to talk about it while you stay silent. Many times this is the first time they have been able to express their true feelings of the situation and they need to release. Again, silence is important in the beginning sessions and cannot emphasize that enough. Remember to W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Talking). You will have to use your intuition to know when to move forward and pull out your tool kit.
Gregg Thompson, Blue Point Leadership Development
International Advanced Coaching Enhancement
Bandler, R. and Grinder, J., frogs into PRINCES: Neuro linguistic programing
The Addiction Web Site of Terence T. Gorski