Deutsch: Widerstand / Español: Resistencia / Português: Resistência / Français: Résistance / Italiano: Resistenza

Resistance is the unconscious blocking of anxiety-provoking thoughts or feelings.

In psychology, resistance refers to the phenomenon where individuals unconsciously defend themselves against certain thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are perceived as threatening. This concept is particularly prominent in psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies, where it is seen as an important indicator of significant underlying issues that the individual is not yet ready to confront.


Resistance can manifest in various forms during therapeutic sessions, such as changing the subject, forgetting details, or arriving late. These behaviors serve to protect the individual from anxiety or distress that might arise from facing unresolved conflicts or painful memories. Sigmund Freud first discussed resistance as an unconscious defense mechanism that hinders the progress of therapy by blocking access to repressed thoughts and emotions.

Beyond psychoanalysis, resistance is also recognized in other therapeutic approaches as a natural part of the change process. It may indicate ambivalence in motivational interviewing or signal a need for a different therapeutic approach in cognitive-behavioral therapies.

Application Areas

Understanding and addressing resistance is crucial across various fields within psychology:

  • Psychotherapy: Therapists work to recognize and interpret resistance in their clients to facilitate deeper understanding and progress in therapy.
  • Counseling: Counselors may encounter resistance when dealing with behavioral changes or adjustment issues and need to devise strategies to effectively support their clients through these challenges.
  • Organizational psychology: Resistance can also occur in response to change within organizations. Understanding psychological resistance can help in managing change more effectively.

Well-Known Examples

Notable concepts and studies related to resistance include:

  • Freud’s analysis of dreams and slips: Freud interpreted slips of the tongue and dreams as forms of resistance that reveal the hidden contents of the unconscious mind.
  • Studies on treatment resistance: Research in clinical psychology often explores why some individuals do not respond to conventional treatments, which can be due to underlying resistance.

Treatment and Risks

In therapeutic contexts, not properly addressing resistance can lead to stagnation or regression in therapy. Effective treatment involves gently helping individuals confront and work through their resistance, thereby allowing them to address the underlying issues. Techniques might include maintaining a non-judgmental stance, empathizing with the client's fear of change, and gradually building trust and safety within the therapeutic relationship.

Similar Terms

Related psychological terms include:

  • Defense mechanisms: Unconscious psychological strategies used to cope with reality and to maintain self-image.
  • Transference: Another psychoanalytic term, which describes the redirection of a client's feelings for a significant person to the therapist.



In psychology, resistance is a complex defense mechanism that represents the individual's attempt to avoid distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories. It plays a critical role in psychotherapy, providing insights into the client’s psyche and underlying conflicts. Understanding and effectively managing resistance is key to facilitating psychological growth and change.


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