Irreverent communication is a change-based technique used to push the client ‘off-balance’, get the client’s attention, present an alternative viewpoint, or shift the affective response.
It is particularly useful when client and practitioner are ‘stuck’. It works particularly well with adolescents (p68).
Irreverent communication has an ‘off-beat’ flavour and ‘uses logic to weave a web’ of surprise (p67). Although it is highly responsive to the client, it is almost never the kind of response the client expects.
It often involves highlighting some unintended aspect of the client’s communication, or ‘re-framing’ it in an unorthodox manner. For example if the client says ‘I’m going to kill myself’, the practitioner might say ‘I thought you agreed not to drop out of rehab’.
Irreverent communication has a matter-of-fact, almost deadpan style that is in sharp contrast to the warm responsiveness of reciprocal communication.
Humour, a certain naivete, and guilelessness are characteristic of the style.
A confrontational tone that communicates “bullshit” to the client who is avoiding an issue or bluffing is also irreverent. The practitioner calls the client’s bluff. For example if the client says ‘I’m quitting this place’, the practitioner might say ‘Would you like a referral?’ or ‘I’ll give you a lift if you like’. It is important to provide a safety net or an opportunity for the client to find a way out of the impasse that preserves their self-respect. It must never be used in a mean-spirited way (p68).
There are risks associated with irreverent communication style if it is used outside of a secure trusting working relationship. The foundation of acceptance in the relationship must be well established before it is used.
These notes are based on Miller, Rathus and Linehan (2007).