What do you do when clients procrastinate on making changes?

By William J. Knaus, EdD

If your client dodges making meaningful changes, this could be connected to a habit of procrastinating. Indeed, you can anticipate that practically every client you see will sometimes procrastinate on following through on dealing with the problem(s) they came to you to help them resolve.

By putting the procrastination process into a cognitive, emotive, and behavioral framework, you can help your client discover whether procrastination interferes with positive change-making activities. Cognitively, what is your client’s timing for working on changing?  If it is “I’ll get to it later” or “I’m too busy,” these are classic examples of procrastination thinking. Emotively, how does your client feel about meeting a problem-related challenge? This can surface a tendency to dodge discomfort and anxiety over stirring up unpleasant memories. Behaviorally, what does your client do in lieu of working to make the changes? That question will surface safer activities, such as watching TV. This mapping process opens opportunities for you and your client to explore common mechanisms for delaying change, and for breaking through a big barrier to change.

Clients who procrastinate may already suspect that this is going on and are prepared to give excuses for delays. Thus, in an awareness-building phase, it is important to interact in a non-judgmental, matter-of-fact manner. Noting that procrastination is normally an automatic process can help assuage possible guilt over procrastinating. Many clients will also resonate with the idea that they can get a twofer benefit. They can simultaneously address what they put off facing and the procrastination problem itself. This approach can help strengthen a therapeutic alliance.

The Procrastination Workbook Book CoverWilliam J. Knaus, EdD, is a licensed psychologist with more than forty years of clinical experience in working with people suffering from anxiety and depression. He has appeared on numerous regional and national television shows including Today, and more than one hundred radio shows. His ideas have appeared in national magazines such as U.S. News and World Reportand Good Housekeeping, and major newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. He is one of the original directors of training in rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Knaus is author of twenty books, including The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for AnxietyThe Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression, and The Procrastination Workbook.

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