Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation
'Co-counselling, conceived of as a movement,has two major aspects. One is it's therapeutic method, developed so asto be used within a reciprocal peer relationship; the other is the creationof an organisation or network or community within which such relationshipsmay best flourish.' (Nichol 1993,p.8)
Theory and Method; Co-counselling Vocabulary
A basic account of the therapeutic method, takenfrom promotional material (Nichol & Wilks,1991 - see Appendix 1.1)is outlined below:
"People work in pairs taking half of each timedsession to be client and half to be counsellor with each partner. As clientson a course you are first invited to value yourselves and discover yourgood qualities. Then you are taught specific techniques to work on problems:things that upset you, times when you do less well than expected or relationshipsthat you find difficult. By releasing your stored up feelings you gaininsight into your needs and attitudes and this frees you to become moreintelligent, creative and loving.......As counselors, you learn how togive full attention and not to feel overcome by your partners' difficulties.You are shown how to help clients express themselves more fully withoutinterrupting, intruding or taking over. As counselors, you do not giveadvice: you are there to share, care and provide a safe situation in whichyour client can work"
Simply stated, here are the essentials: reciprocalturn-taking, the celebration of strengths - or self-affirmation - and thecontacting and releasing of stored up feelings - known as dischargein co-counselling vocabulary.
The pivotal figure in the development of the co-counsellingconcept is Harvey Jackins who began the work in the early 1950's. The firstthorough presentation of a theoretical framework for the process appearedin "The Human side of Human Beings." (Jackins,1965) From a perspectiveof human potential which is not very different from Rogers’,(1942) Jackinsoutlines the process whereby the innate, zestful creativity and intelligenceof the child is gradually 'occluded' by the development of compulsive,maladaptive behaviour patterns. Catharsis (Discharge) is seen as a natural'resetting device' for mind and body after negative emotional arousal.This may work effectively for the infant but, with the onset of the normative,emotionally repressive socialising process, it is no longer always acceptableto laugh, cry, rage, shake, yawn etc. It's epitomised in the statements"Big boys don't cry" and "Nice girls don't......" The theory argues thatwhen this natural 'resetting process' is prevented - by the threat of disapprovalfrom significant others - then the upset does not just go away but remainslocked up within one.
"The residue of emotional tension stays afterthe hurting event and so does the fragmentation of thinking due to blockedexpression. This affects our present experience in various ways: one isthat patterns of defence get built up, which may get too efficient at keepingexperience out; and another is that the residue, seeking discharge, maybe evoked by new situations bearing some similarity to the original distressingevents. This is what is called restimulation by Harvey Jackins"(Rowan.1976 p57)
Hence, a client in a typical co-counselling session,would start work on some contemporary area of distress, cast around forsimilar situations - thus establishing the likelihood that she has a patternof behaviour which is being restimulated - she will then go backto the earliest memory of 'this kind of distress' in an attempt to re-experiencethe original circumstances in which the defence pattern was formulated.Then, with the permissive and supportive attention of her counsellor shehas the opportunity to express and release those long since locked in feelings.She will need to keep a 'balance of attention' in which she canbe sufficiently with the stuck feelings so as to experience them, yet atthe same time stay aware that her feelings of distress do not arise fromthe present time situation. When her balance swings too far to the past,then she will not feel safe enough to discharge the stuck feelings andwill shut down or retreat into her pattern of defence. A balance swungtoo far into the present time reality, however, runs the risk of failingto re-experience.
"Mere expression of negative feelings is thusnot cathartic"
write Evison & Horobin in their commentaryon Jackins (Evison & Horobin in Rowan & Dryden,eds., 1988, p86)
After discharge comes a period of re-evaluationout of which may emerge positive directions - statements of intentabout how to be with future circumstances now that the grip of the patternhas been loosened.
In 'Ordinary Ecstasy' (Rowan 1976) Rowan refersto Rogers' seven stage process by which he describes the process of person-centredcounselling (Rogers,1961). he suggests,(p58) that Jackins is aiming directlyat the sixth of Roger's seven stages:
"A breakthrough stage, where feelings comethrough, are experienced now, and accepted. Physiological loosening takesplace, and also mental loosening of precious ways of seeing the world andself." (quoted in Rowan 1976,p56)
This breakthrough, when it happens, is achievedin a non-directive manner - both counsellor and client share the same trainingin co-counselling skills. (Successful completion of a Fundamentalscourse of 40 hrs experiential training is the basic requirement for membershipof a co-counselling Community). Thus both client and counsellor share anunderstanding of the desirability and effectiveness of such a catharticrelease; the client is not only willingly, but also actively working towardsthis outcome. The concept of the 'active' client is best expressed in theoft quoted co-counselling maxim - 'Client in charge' Elsewhere Iuse the verb 'clienting' (Preliminary Thoughts - App1.4)and discuss the unfamiliarity of this concept in the professional counsellingworld. More familiar to people in the Human potential movement, it is certainlyat the heart of the methodology which the present inquiry group has begunto develop. (See Pamphlet: App1.6)
Development of Co-counselling Communities
Re-evaluation Counselling (RC) is the nametaken by the original co-counselling community. This organisation, stillled by Harvey Jackins, is based in Seattle,USA.
"It has a clear chain of command - essentiallya softened version of the Leninist model of democratic centralism, withan emphasis on consistency of theory and practice. Consequently, althoughtRC does change and evolve, this is done in a highly deliberate and controlledway. Not surprisingly, it has proved to have a short way with dissenters"(Nicholl,1993p.10)
In 1975 a network of ‘dissenter’ groups came togetherto create the co-counselling International (CCI) with an internationalcommittee and guidelines for CCI communities. The core theoretical modeladopted by the CCI communities was pretty much inherited from the originalmovement; though developments took place in technique: role-play and chair(cushion) work from Gestalt therapy were incorporated. The principle of'client in charge' was consolidated and the idea was established of makinga choice between 3 different kinds of contract: Free Attention,Normal and Intensive. (Client chooses, at start of session thelevel of counsellor interventions she wants. Free Attention = zero, Intensive=counsellor draws client’s attention to every cue noticed)
"....as part of reaction to the perceived authoritarianismof RC, local groups within CCI are self-determining and there is no coherentoverall organisation.....CCI has no formal leadership,no administrativestructure and no publishing house. However,at the time of the split JohnHeron, it's main theoretician, had an academic base at Surrey University.During the course of the 1970's and early 1980's he set out his own distinctivepositions in a series of pamphlets......which rapidly aquired informalcanonical status within CCI. (Because of it's repudiation of structure,CCI has no way of either regularising this position or challenging it)"
Nichol goes on to contrast and compare Heron andJackins. Heron,he describes as breaking new ground - in co-counsellingterms - when he talks about transmutation. Complementary to catharsis,both processes can deal effectively with distorted feelings. Transmutationis what happens when:
"a shift of consciousness takes place throughthe exercise of mental aspiration and choice" (Heron,1982,p4) and "Thetraditional home of transmutative skills has been in the religious andmystical traditions, both in the East and West. These subtle skills areto do with the management of consciousness itself and are acquired by whatmay be termed consciousness training" (Heron, 1982 p10)
John Rowan, discussing this transpersonal elementin CCI, remarks:
just as there can be repression of what islow and nasty about us, so also can there be repression of what is spiritualand beautiful about ourselves" (Rowan 1976,p60)
Distorted feelings relating to the former aremostly amenable to cathartic release; distortions relating to the lattermay be more easily identified and processed with the transmutative skills.
Now transmutative skills have never been systematicallytaught in CCI, nor is there a consensus about what they are or whetherthey are a part of co-counselling. Attempts to discover what constitutesa core-curriculum of a Fundamentals training were made in the NationalCCI newsletter One-to-One in 1992. The resulting checklist made no mentionof transmutation - nor even meditation.
In the seventh and final conclusion of his researchNichol suggests that CCI co-counselling is significantly impoverished asa developmental method by the community's inability to develop theory inany recognised way.
"In particular, there is no platform from whichto launch a critique of the total commitment to a discharge and re-evaluationapproach to the work.......The experience of people who grow beyond thismodel as their predominant way of working cannot be recognised or validated.This remains the case even though significant workds within CCI's smallliterature" (Heron 1977 & 1982) inviteconsideration of "transmutative" work based around meditation."`
He goes on to remark that meditation was the commonestof the alternative methods(to CCI) practised by the participants in hisinquiry. (Nichol 1993 p96).
Since that time there has been renewed theoreticalinput from John Heron in a series of articles, letters, workshops and InquiryGroups. It is best summed up in a talk he gave at a CCI teachers meetingat Harlech, Wales, 28/7/95 which was annotated and is available on CCI'swebsite. Heron's recent input has been called the paradigm shift and thetalk was a response to the question "what is your account of the originaltheory of co-counselling and how has this changed in the paradigm shift?"
The original theory held that there are threeroot causes of human distress: ignorance, natural disaster and social oppression.Heron now focusses principally upon the ignorance factor. Surely, ignoranceof various learned social skills is a factor- this kind of ignorance hecall external ignorance.
"It's about coping in the physical and socialworld. But there is another kind of ignorance, which I call internal ignorance.Thisis not so much ignorance as a form of deep amnesia, a forgetting who Ireally am. And this is where we get to the core of the paradigm shift.Who I really am is a divine being with limitless capacity for expandedawareness and charismatic abundance. Somewhere in my being I know thisand somehow in my being I have become nescient, not knowing it, or, whichis more to the point, somehow I have forgotten it" (Heron 1995)
Heron's initiative had a mixed reception in CCI.Many co-counsellors have deep seated suspicion regarding the mystical 'Unscientific',quasi-religious overtones of the new paradigm, preferring the apparentcertainties of the original more strictly humanist model. But Heron pointsout:
"The whole (original) theory is a form of humanism,and gives a very limited and superficial account of human nature. It hasno reference to imagination and the depths of the imaginal mind; to higherintuitive processes; to psychic capacities and altered stated of consciousnesss;to spiritual, religious, mystical experience. The practice of co-counsellingneither utilises, nor provides an outlet for these deep potentials of thehuman being." (Heron 1995)
Finally, perhaps in acknowledgement of the peerprinciple in CCI, Heron points out that there is nothing prescriptive inhis recent statements -they are simply a description of how he intendsto be working in future.
"In CCI we need not simply to have a toleranceof both humanist and post-humanist versions of co-counselling theory andpractice. We need to have a loving celebration of our differences in thisarea. (Heron 1995)
This overview of 3-4 decades of co-counsellinghistory has had a particular focus upon the CCI limb of development. Thepresent inquiry could be seen as a shoot off the post-humanist branch ofthe CCI limb.
Co-operative Inquiry and Co-counselling
A final word in this section of comment on thefrequent presence of co-counsellors as co-researchers in co-operative inquiry.A large proportion of Inquiries reported in "A Handbook of Co-operativeInquiry" (Heron 1996) involved co-researchers who were co-counsellors.The peer principle of CCI is clearly a valuable asset in this work, furthermore,to have a shared 'emotional vocabulary' and to share a discipline of recognisingand working with emotional distress when it arises is clearly of immensevalue in the often highly charged emotional environment of a leaderlessinquiry group. Also, some familiarity with the experience of fosteringa 'balance of attention' - necessary for effective discharge work - isalso useful for the exploration of subtle states and altered states ofconsciousness.