When Your Client Continues to Put Up Walls

When Your Client Continues To Put Up Walls

Table of Contents

Sometimes, a client might start to put up walls, especially if they are discussing a subject that is difficult for them to talk about. Even if you have built a rapport with your client, they still might shut you out. There are many reasons why your client has stopped opening up.

Why a Client Might Put Up Walls

There are many reasons why a client might start to put up walls, even if you have established a rapport of trust. An hour-long session is only a glimpse into what your client is experiencing daily. There is a chance that outside events might influence your client’s sense of security, ability to be emotionally vulnerable, or energy they can put into a session.

A client may also be shutting down because they are not ready to tackle a particular subject. Take note of what topics cause a client to shut down or retreat into their shell. There is a chance they might not be ready to broach the subject yet, or that it is something that will unravel slowly.

Consider Their Patterns of Behavior

If you have worked with a client for a while, you might have picked up their standard patterns of behavior. If they are generally open, then these walls might be new. If they often put up walls, carefully pulling down walls will be a common obstacle.

If your client putting up walls is not common, there is a chance that something serious could be going on. Mental healthcare professionals should be sensitive to sudden mood and behavioral changes in clients because it could be a sign of something serious that could need immediate help or intervention.

How to Tear Down Those Walls

#1. Build up Trust

It is essential for you to build a rapport with a client at first. Some clients will be far more open about subjects other clients might be tight-lipped about. Every client will be different depending on what information they feel like discussing. Some clients might be honest about some things while avoiding openness about other subjects. Since people are complex, there might be complicated reasons why a person suddenly closes off.

For example, an issue might be tough to talk about, or their background prevents them from speaking openly about it. Over time, your client will begin to trust you as someone they can talk with even about their most difficult subjects. Some subjects will just take more time than others.

#2. Start With Small Talk

A great way to help most clients feel comfortable is to start with small talk. Ask them how things have been since you have last talked, what they have been up to, how things are going at home, and so on.

This type of introduction to conversation allows your client to feel a little bit more comfortable and allows the conversation to feel more natural. Not every client will be a fan of small talk, but for many, starting with lighter topics can make your client feel like they are talking with a friend.

#3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

If a client seems resistant to talking further about a subject that might be important, asking open questions can get them talking more. This particular tactic is vital, especially when discussing family roles, feelings, or past events. Open-ended questions give your client a space in the conversation to speak freely.

#4. Wait to Broach the Subject

If you have identified what topic has caused them to shut down or put up walls, then maybe that particular subject is something they are not ready to talk about yet. This can be the case if they are experiencing stress at home or are not currently in a stable environment.

It is particularly important to realize that this might occur if you and your client address past trauma. Since sessions that address trauma can bring up difficult emotions that can carry past the session, it is best to hold off until things become more stable in their life.

#5. Focus On Current Events

A client might be more likely to talk openly about things that are currently happening in their lives than they are at talking about the past. It might be easier for them to vent about something presently bothering them than to address a recurring pattern. The past can often influence reactions to current events. By allowing them to focus on current events, you can help them recognize these patterns and learn how to problem solve future conflicts.

If a client has started to shut down, it might not be your fault. There are multitudes of reasons why a client might feel less inclined to share. If you feel stuck, do not worry about getting to the next breakthrough. Take it one step at a time and wait for them to feel comfortable opening up. Not every session needs to be productive. There might be a chance that they are not ready to delve in deep about that subject, or are having a couple of off days. The most important thing is to be patient and not take it too personally if your client has started to put up walls. At Jaywalker Lodge, we believe counseling is a two-way conversation. If they have opened up before, they will again once they feel more comfortable. If nothing else works, then consider being direct and asking if anything has changed. To learn more, call us at (866) 529-9255

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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