Towards an Integration of Counselling, Clienting and Mindfulness Meditation, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1999

A Report from a Co-operative Inquiry Group – 97/98.

Preamble:

Two of the most tangible and profoundly therapeutic ‘moments of movement’ that I have experienced were facilitated for me, not by the benign and facilitative attention of a therapist, but under my own gaze – as it were – towards the end of my first intensive meditation retreat. In the first ‘movement’ I witnessed the dissolution of a phobia:- the constantly shifting tapestry of thoughts, emotions sensations and visions of sustained introspection all concentrated into a terrifying experience of rats – rats coming straight at my ‘inner eyes’ from every crack and crevice of the canyons of my mind. The second ‘movement’, again not in any way sought after, began with a pain in the shoulder which grew in intensity over a three-hour period. This pain became the sole focus of my attention until it transformed somehow, into a kind of lucid psychodrama during which I became aware – through the role I watched myself playing – of previously repressed anger towards an ex-partner. The (vipassana) meditation practice is to simply stay with and accept whatever arises in the flow of consciousness; to an extent I managed to do just that. As this drama progressed the pain dissolved. Subsequent life experience, (which I shall not explore now), proved to me that neither the phobia nor the repressed feelings had any further grip upon me.

A few years later I began to thoroughly explore the path of catharsis as a mode of personal development. I am grateful to the co-counselling movement; (C.C.I.) not only for the theoretical framework and techniques, but also for the opportunities afforded me by the mutuality of a community of peers. Again, I experienced significant ‘moments of movement’ under the benign attention of various co-counselling partners. Both meditation and co-counselling have continued, to this day, to be important components of my developmental path. I became intrigued by the apparent dissonance between my two primary models of personal growth: one which prescribed an active searching for and expressing of ‘stuck feelings’, the other which recommended an almost dispassionate examination of feelings/thoughts/sensations as and when they arise – leading to a mysterious ‘doingless’ dissolution.

Later, with the principles of a person centred training still fresh in my mind, I found my self often suggesting a period of meditation to certain clients and wondering whether I was being too directive – particularly if that client was unfamiliar with meditation and required some guiding suggestions. Yet something was telling me that my client might benefit from working in this way and, indeed, benefit was what I usually observed. Subsequently I discovered something called the ‘transpersonal approach’. The several models and concepts with which I familiarised myself: Psychosynthesis, Assagioli,1965; Core Process Psychotherapy, Donnington, 1988; Pre/Trans perspective, Wilber,(1982); Zen therapy, Brazier,1995; Transmutation,Heron,(1982) seemed to put what I was doing into some kind of rational/intuitive perspective. The bottom line for me, however, was that I wanted to introduce meditation into counselling sessions because I had found both approaches useful in my own personal development and I believed the same would be true for my client!

Counselling Psychologists, when defining a distinction between themselves and their counsellor and psychotherapist colleagues, will often explain that their practice is based upon research. Ray Woolfe (1996) writes,

“The model of the scientist practitioner…is widely perceived as central to the emerging discipline” and ” …it’s development as a discipline derives in part from the failure by counsellors to evaluate their practice, which remains as much an art as a science.”

The brief account above illustrates my essentially subjective reasons for working in the way I do with some of my clients. Hardly scientific; but the research requirement and the structure of a recent MSc. in counselling psychology provided an opportunity to examine, more objectively, the usefulness of meditation within a counselling session. The co-operative inquiry method enabled this research to be done in a way that fully honours the place and contribution of subjective experience.

Introduction to the Inquiry:

Meditation, as a disciplined practice, has a developmental history stretching back at least three millennia; counselling practice is a phenomenon of this twentieth century – it’s development has, however, been rapid and intense. Both practices can be said to share a similar broad aim: the reduction of psychological suffering.

Until recently, the development of western psychology was fundamentally Euro/USAcentric. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, growing interest in eastern psychological approaches was one of the triggers for the development of humanistic psychology and the human potential movement – with it’s emphasis on enhancing well-being rather than the psychological readjustment of ‘the sick’. A strong ‘self-help’ ethos lay at the heart of this movement; those who were psychopractitioners were at the same time engaged with their own process of growth. Those who worked as counsellors were also actively ‘being clients’ in other situations. The development of the co-counselling method, (Jackins,1965) formalised this movement away from ‘reliance upon the expert’ with reciprocal counselling sessions taking place within a community of peers. Hence in co-counselling an integration (or at least, an exchange) of the roles of counselling and clienting takes place.

This inquiry, however, was concerned with a three-way integration:- counselling, clienting and meditation – to further that end the inquiry group, in addition to being co-counsellors , were also all practising meditators. The inquiry group was recruited by invitation; brief articles on the subject of such an integration were published in the local (London) and national quarterly co-counselling magazines. The co-researchers who responded were already integrating these three different practices into their lives. The inquiry group came together specifically to explore the possibilities of the simultaneous, in-session integration of these two apparently disparate personal growth modalities: meditation and counselling.

A closer look at the subject of the inquiry:

An Integration of counselling, clienting and meditation? The title, alone, begs a few questions. What kind of counselling? What kind of meditation? – and what is ‘clienting’? In traditional therapy circles the verb formclienting of the noun ‘client’ is so less familiar than counselling,a verb form of ‘counsellor’. This, to me, suggests that there is an assumption of passivity on the part of the client in the client-counsellor relationship. This is not an assumption supported in the co-counselling community. Indeed, the principle of ‘client in charge’ is at the heart of the model of practice adopted by the Co-counselling International Community (C.C.I.). The client chooses, in a contract set at the beginning of the session, the level of intensity of counsellor intervention appropriate for the clientwork s/he intends to tackle. Three levels of intervention are in common usage: free attention refers to the base level of silent attention, devoted to client; the normal contract is free attention augmented by counsellor interventions which are prompted by client cues; the intensive contract refers to the level of counsellor intervention where every client cue reflected back to the client by the counsellor. Meditation may also appear to be a passive activity – but not to those who have experienced the emotional roller-coaster of a lengthy, silent meditation retreat.

Some definitions:

I’ll offer three very broad definitions of those three activity words in the title of the inquiry. Commencing with the least familiar, the other two definitions follow on:

Clienting: Using the attention of another to alleviate one’s suffering.

Counselling: Offering one’s attention to another in order to alleviate suffering.

Meditation: Paying attention to oneself in order to alleviate suffering.

The word suffering has a particular significance in the Buddhist tradition. The first teachings offered by Buddha were presented as ‘The four Noble Truths’ and they had to do with the origin and the cessation of human suffering. (Rahula,1959) The ‘First Noble Truth’ is the truth of ‘dukkha’ – from the ancient Pali language – and ‘suffering’ or ‘unsatisfactoriness’ are the closest English translations to the word ‘dukkha’. ‘Suffering’ could be replaced, perhaps, by ‘an unsatisfactory mental state’ in the above definitions.

This research, furthermore, is considering an integration of what is essentially a dyadic practice (counselling/clienting) with a monadic approach (meditation). Looking at the above definitions it first appears that yet another distinction is this: that in meditation, attention has no directional quality – whereas in counselling and clienting, attention is given or received respectively. Unpacking the word ‘paying’, however, in the definition of meditation, we can arrive at two phrases:

a) I give attention to myself.

b) Me receiving my attention.

The second may sound laboured but in these two ways of describing the process another duality is revealed -that embedded within our language (and therefore in our thinking) there are two ways of considering “self” – as an object called me or as a subject called I.

There are moments in meditation when this distinction is transcended; when the witnessed and that which is witnessed are not distinguishable. Here, too, the word integration would appear to be most appropriate.

The method:

McLeod(1994), describes Co-operative Inquiry as representing:

“a synthesis of all other qualitative methods, in the context of a distinctive philosophical stance concerning the aims and purposes of research”

Arising originally out of a critique of the orthodox positivistic methods, early researchers saw themselves as contributing to a ‘new paradigm’ (Reason&Rowan, 1981) for human inquiry. At the core of this new approach were:

a) An acknowledgement that people are self-determining and should be regarded as active co-participants in research rather than as passive subjects.

b) a resolve to carry out research in a way which respects the whole potential for being human: feelings and spiritual dimensions as well as cognition, behaviour and physiology.

c) a recommendation that the propositions or theoretical knowledge expressed in research reports needs to be ‘rooted in and derived from the experiential and practical knowledge of the subjects in the inquiry’ (Reason&Heron 1986)

Essentially, there are two components to co-operative inquiry: an inquiry cycle and, running in parallel, a set of validity checks. The inquiry cycle comprises propositions; an experiential phase of activity designed to test out the proposition; and a period of reflection, review and evaluation, which may well lead on to a further proposition, and a subsequent cycle of inquiry.

The central proposition of the inquiry was: “Meditation and co-counselling can be usefully combined in a single reciprocal (turn taking) session.” Over a period of 6 months the group spent four full days together and continued to explore the proposition individually between meetings. Through a series of cycles of action and reflection we found considerable evidence to support the above statement – with some modifications added for greater clarity we reached the following proposition: – “Insight Meditation and co-counselling can be usefully combined in a single reciprocal paired session”

It was important to add the ‘Insight’ clarification to the initial proposition to describe the kind of meditation the co-researchers were all practising. And removing ‘turn taking’ allowed room for a further exploration of the most dynamic integrative form in which there is a spontaneous and intuitive movement between the roles of counsellor, client and periods of shared meditative silence.

Such a statement begs a further question: ‘Useful in what way?’ Given that the inquiry group chose to present the results as an explication of method, (that is, as a D.I.Y. pamphlet) the statement stands as an invitation to others to generate new experiential meaning rather than as a new chunk of propositional knowledge. We were exploring the realm of “Know thyself” knowledge rather than knowledge of this or that; or knowledge – even – of ‘my’ physiology or ‘your’ defence pattern. We were describing a method to facilitate a holistic expansive knowingness rather than a reductive knowingness.

Recommendations:

To the co-counselling communities, we are recommending the adoption of a new contract: the Co-med contract. The co-med contract, as an additional resource for the client to consider at the beginning of a session (alongside the usual contracts: ‘free attention’ ‘normal’ and ‘intensive’) offers a new choice for the self-directing co-counsellor. As well as working with the contents of awareness, she could also choose to work with awareness itself (or that which is awareness itself, or, for that matter, that which directs ) and she can negotiate with her co-counselling partner a suitable way to do this work.

The pamphlet is offered as a collation of carefully researched suggestions for Co-Med design.

To the counselling psychologist who, when working transpersonally, might suggest a period of meditation to a client, we offer our research conclusions: from the combined viewpoints of counsellor, client, meditator and of the inquiry group as whole, we concur that this can, indeed, be a useful practice!

A copy of the dissertation associated with this research is available here.

Readers interested in the process of the inquiry meetings should refer to Apps.1, 2&3. Copies of the pamphlet are available from me by post (include with request four 1st class stamps to cover costs). A copy of the full research report (14,000 words ) will be kept with the London C.C.I. library. A series of workshops are planned, co-facilitated by members of the inquiry group, which offer meditating co-counsellors a chance to familiarise themselves with the Co-Med contract.

Martin Wilks
36F Bonnington Sq.
London SW81TQ

References:

Assagioli,R (1965) Psychosynthesis – a manual of Principles and Techniques
Psychosynthesis research foundation.

Donnington, L (1988) ‘Core Process Psychotherapy’. in: Innovative Therapy in Britain Rowan & Dryden (eds.) (1988) Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Heron,J. (1982) Education of the Affect Guildford: University of Surrey – Human Potential Research Project.

Jackins, H. (1965) The Human Side of Human Beings Seattle: Rational Island Press.

McLeod,J. (1994) Doing Counselling Research London: Sage

Rahula,W.(1959) What the Buddha taught Bedford 2nd edition with selected texts,1967

Reason,P. & Rowan ,J. (eds.) (1981) Human Inquiry : a source book of new paradigm research Chichester: Wiley

Wilber,K (1977) The spectrum of consciousness. Wheaton,IL:Quest

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