The Verbal Communication of Emotions: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

By Susan R. Fussell | Go to book overview

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Blocking Emotions:
The Face of Resistance

Kathleen W. Ferrara

Texas A & M University


INTRODUCTION

This chapter examines the linguistic manifestations of the interactional phenomenon of resistance. Although the task of every client in counseling or psychotherapy is to use everyday language to discuss his or her experiences in as free and open a manner as possible, clients in psychotherapy frequently block emotions and withhold personally revealing material. The motivation for this opposition, according to Freud (1901/1960), Greenson (1967), and Mahalik (1994), is always the avoidance of some painful feeling. Some of the negative emotions include sadness, grief, sense of loss, remorse, shame, anger, hostility, resentment, and guilt. Although one of the greatest problems facing healthcare providers such as doctors or therapists is non-compliance with therapeutic suggestions, the oppositional behavior called resistance is little understood. Not all of it is intrapsychic; some is interactional.

Advances in discourse analysis and recent work on therapeutic discourse (Ferrara, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1998; Labov & Fanshel, 1977; Wodak, 1981) point the way for an investigation of the dynamic interaction underlying discourse, the co-construction of discourse (Duranti & Brenneis, 1986). Researchers (e.g., Langs, 1981) are beginning to view resistance as a cooperative failure between client and therapist goals with contributions from both therapist and client. Most previous empirical work has not examined the contribution that therapists make to client resistance. In this chapter those dynamics are probed through discourse analysis of 26 hours of tape-recorded individual psychotherapy sessions between five clients and four therapists (both male and female) along with ethnographic observations including feedback sessions, attendance at training sessions, viewing through one-way mirrors, and interviews with both clients and therapists. Each client was recorded in six consecutive sessions occurring once a week over the course of 6 to 8 weeks. The focus of this chapter is on repeated verbal expressions of resistance by clients to therapeutic suggestions by therapists such as to let yourself cry. The chapter traces how

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