Dealing with Defenses and Defensiveness in Interviews
Learning to conduct an effective interview is essential to carrying out almost any form of clinical assessment or intervention. However, the unpredictability of the interviewing process can make mastery of this skill a challenging and, at times, even discouraging task. Each client introduces into the interview situation, unique characteristics that limit the therapist’s ability to control the direction of the interview. The most common complication is client defensiveness, which prevents the interview from unfolding predictably and straightforwardly. Therefore, an adequate understanding of defenses is essential for competency in interviewing. If interviewers do not understand defensiveness and how to effectively respond to it, the clinical interview is likely to be, at best, frustrating and, at worst, a pointless enterprise for both participants.
Clinical activities are most productive when there is collaboration between practitioner and client. Defensive reactions can be easily misread by clinicians as a refusal or failure to take part in a cooperative effort (Teyber, 1997). Therapists may wonder, “if clients really want help, why are they so difficult, antagonistic, and evasive?” Such perceptions may elicit irritation, causing therapists to become more confrontational and forceful in pressing for a straightforward response from the client. Almost invariably, this approach has the opposite effect, and the situation rapidly grows increasingly unproductive (Lankton & Lankton, 1983; Vaillant, 1992).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Appendix B: Defensive Functioning Scale. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision) (DSM-IV-TR). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
- Benjamin, L. S. (1995). Good defenses make good neighbors. In H. R. Conte & R. Plutchik (Eds.), Ego defenses: Theory and measurement (pp. 53–78). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Lankton, S. R., & Lankton, C. H. (1983). The answer within: A clinical framework of Ericksonian hypnotherapy. New York: Brunner-Mazel.Google Scholar
- Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
- Teyber, E. (1997). Interpersonal process in psychotherapy: A relational approach (3rd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
- Vaillant, G. E. (1992). The clinical management of immature defenses in the treatment of individuals with personality disorders. In G. E. Vaillant (Ed.), Ego mechanisms of defense: A guide for clinicians and researchers (pp. 59–86). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar