Reciprocal, co-operative process

Co-counselling is a cooperative approach to personal development. The essential core is that two people exchange equal time in which one explores their own process (client/worker/explorer) in their session whilst the other listens (counsellor/assistant/companion). There are several main strategies which can be used within the shared culture, which guide both partners and which set clear limits to what may happen. Co-counsellors may decide to meet in a group, wherein each person in turn takes the role of client, nominates one person to act as counsellor and the remaining group members simply listen for the duration of the work session.

In all sessions, the client instructs the counsellor on their chosen strategy and the support they need to make the chosen strategy work. They are also at liberty to modify the strategy and support style at any time.

Review of formative past experiences

A basic strategy, specific to co-counselling, and highly developed within the culture, is to trace current concerns, especially experiences of distress or challenging situations, to past experience. This strategy starts with an observed pattern (repeated experience or habitual) or complex of feeling, thought and action which the client identifies as important and traces the history of the pattern and associated experience throughout as much of life as is accessible in the session and appropriate to its duration. The accompanying emotional charge is always communicated to the listener and expressed as fully, naturally and freely as possible along with the mind set surrounding it. The expression of the pain covered up in an attempt to survive traumatic incidents, particularly those in childhood, seems to reveal the causation of the mind set and patterns and enables us to free ourselves somewhat from their hold. The result is that the potential hidden by the defences surrounding the pain is also revealed and can now be reclaimed as old decisions are revised. This regression-catharsis-insight-re-evaluation-affirmation strategy lies at the heart of co-counselling. The skills to manage this intensive strategy safely and gently are taught in the Fundamentals of Co-counselling courses which are a pre-requisite to co-counselling in a local network, group or community. Skills and attitudes of celebration, affirmation and expression of realised potential are essential to the culture.

Networks and communities of co-counsellors

Communities of co-counsellors exist throughout the world to groups, on a self and peer directed basis or in a regular community meeting. They also provide the Fundamentals classes and further on skills training events. National communities, such as UK Co-Counsellors, exist as a network of local communities and support national events such as residential gatherings, teacher training and the like. Co-counselling International (CCI), enables easy communication between National communities and arranges international gatherings of co-counsellors. Contact UK Co-counsellors.

Teaching Co-counselling

James learned to co-counsel in 1975, taught individually by Joan Henriques, and joined Guildford Co-counsellors to practise. He then learned to teach co-counselling, having experienced John Heron's Teacher Training course (twice and advanced training for established teachers) and taught co-counselling at the University of Surrey in the short course programme of the Human Potential Research Project for many years. He assisted in the formation of Co-counselling Communities in Bath, Boston (Lincs), and Cornwall by teaching the first co-counselling courses to the new members. He ran an annual Teacher Training Course for many years for the HPRP. He taught co-counselling in the long training programmes of the Multiversité in Brussels and of Estel in Barcelona.

Contributions to Co-counselling

James developed his own approach to co-counselling by adding three ingredients which he considers essential. The first is to make meditation a core approach, to encounter the Inner Guide (the Guru Within or intrinsic wisdom) and make the work an act of witness as well as identification. The second is that the method of working is not so much about revealing and working on one's own process, as if telling oneself, but rather a very direct communication to another about what one is witnessing of what is happening in the moment, (memories surfacing and the corresponding emotional and physical experience), bearing witness to one's own truth (of that moment). The third, following William Emerson and his work on co-regression, is to support much deeper exploratory work, to bring out experiences connected with birth and before and the residues of distress lying at the core of deeply held patterning. Developments such as these demonstrate the essential values of CCI, which embodies a self- and peer- research and development ethos.

beyond co-counselling

It may seem heretical to committed co-counsellors but unless you can open beyond co-counselling as a PERSONAL development strategy however you combine it with other PERSONAL and Interpersonal development strategies and trainings there is more in what some call Transpersonal development. John Heron opened this dimension in his work with experienced teachers as co-creating. You can find an archive of John Heron's work and all his publications and endeavours. We will miss him.

My own path developed once I discovered meditation as a means of self-discovery and inner development - firstly through Siddha Meditation and then the influence of Ram Das and his "Be Here Now". I found the most natural approach to this new dimension in the Buddhist Nyingma tradition and Dzogchen as taught in the Aro Tradition. I am now an ordained Ngakpa and do not practice co-counselling because the methods I have been introduced to, give means to transform emotional distress and simply living ‘what is’ with presence of awareness (as best I can). I can still recommend co-counselling for anyone facing personal crises or going through challenging times or curious to inverstigate their ideosyncracies and do not wish to meditate. I also recommend experienced co-counsellors to explore meditation and can recommend any Buddhist school to start with to explore what it might entail.

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