Towards an Integration of Counselling, Clienting and Meditation
This article is in press: Journal ofTranspersonal Psychology
Two of the most tangible and profoundly therapeutic 'moments of movement' that I have experienced were facilitated for me, notby the benign and facilitative attention of a therapist, but under my owngaze - as it were - towards the end of my first intensive meditation retreat.In the first 'movement' I witnessed the dissolution of a phobia:- the constantlyshifting tapestry of thoughts, emotions sensations and visions of sustainedintrospection all concentrated into a terrifying experience of rats - ratscoming straight at my 'inner eyes' from every crack and crevice of the canyonsof my mind. The second 'movement', again not in any way sought after, beganwith 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 therole I watched myself playing - of previously repressed anger towards anex-partner. The (vipassana) meditation practice is to simply stay with andaccept whatever arises in the flow of consciousness; to an extent I managedto do just that. As this drama progressed the pain dissolved. Subsequentlife experience, (which I shall not explore now), proved to me that neitherthe phobia nor the repressed feelings had any further grip upon me.
A few years later I began to thoroughly explore thepath of catharsis as a mode of personal development. I am grateful to theco-counselling movement; (C.C.I.) not only for the theoretical framework andtechniques, but also for the opportunities afforded me by the mutuality ofa 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 betweenmy two primary models of personal growth: one which prescribed an activesearching for and expressing of 'stuck feelings', the other which recommendedan almost dispassionate examination of feelings/thoughts/sensations as andwhen they arise - leading to a mysterious 'doingless' dissolution.
Later, with the principles of a person centred trainingstill fresh in my mind, I found my self often suggesting a period of meditationto certain clients and wondering whether I was being too directive - particularlyif that client was unfamiliar with meditation and required some guiding suggestions.Yet something was telling me that my client might benefit from working inthis way and, indeed, benefit was what I usually observed. Subsequently Idiscovered something called the 'transpersonal approach'. The several modelsand 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 whatI was doing into some kind of rational/intuitive perspective. The bottomline for me, however, was that I wanted to introduce meditation into counsellingsessions because I had found both approaches useful in my own personal developmentand 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 widelyperceived as central to the emerging discipline" and " …it's developmentas a discipline derives in part from the failure by counsellors to evaluatetheir 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. Hardlyscientific; 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-operativeinquiry method enabled this research to be done in a way that fully honoursthe 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 isa phenomenon of this twentieth century - it's development has, however, beenrapid 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 theroles of counselling and clienting takes place.
This inquiry, however, was concerned with a three-wayintegration:- counselling, clienting and meditation - to further thatend the inquiry group, in addition to being co-counsellors , were also allpractising meditators. The inquiry group was recruited by invitation; briefarticles on the subject of such an integration were published in the local(London) and national quarterly co-counselling magazines. The co-researcherswho responded were already integrating these three different practices intotheir lives. The inquiry group came together specifically to explore thepossibilities of the simultaneous, in-session integration of thesetwo 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 kindof meditation? - and what is 'clienting'? In traditional therapy circles theverb form clienting of the noun 'client' is so less familiar thancounselling,a verb form of ‘counsellor’. This, to me, suggests thatthere is an assumption of passivity on the part of the client in the client-counsellorrelationship. This is not an assumption supported in the co-counselling community.Indeed, the principle of ‘client in charge’ is at the heart of the modelof practice adopted by the Co-counselling International Community (C.C.I.).The client chooses, in a contract set at the beginning of the session, thelevel of intensity of counsellor intervention appropriate for the clientworks/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 interventionswhich are prompted by client cues; the intensive contract refers to the levelof counsellor intervention where every client cue reflected back to the clientby 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.
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 anotherin order to alleviate suffering.
Meditation: Paying attention to oneself inorder 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' couldbe replaced, perhaps, by 'an unsatisfactory mental state' in the above definitions.
This research, furthermore, is considering an integrationof what is essentially a dyadic practice (counselling/clienting) with a monadicapproach (meditation). Looking at the above definitions it first appearsthat yet another distinction is this: that in meditation, attention has nodirectional quality - whereas in counselling and clienting, attention isgiven or received respectively. Unpacking the word ‘paying’, however, inthe 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 waysof describing the process another duality is revealed -that embedded withinour 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.
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 andpurposes of research"
Arising originally out of a critique of the orthodox positivistic methods, early researchers saw themselves as contributing toa ‘new paradigm’ (Reason&Rowan, 1981) for human inquiry. At the coreof this new approach were:
b) a resolve to carry out research in a way whichrespects the whole potential for being human: feelings and spiritual dimensionsas well as cognition, behaviour and physiology.
c) a recommendation that the propositions or theoreticalknowledge expressed in research reports needs to be ‘rooted in and derivedfrom the experiential and practical knowledge of the subjects in the inquiry’(Reason&Heron 1986)
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 togetherand continued to explore the proposition individually between meetings. Througha series of cycles of action and reflection we found considerable evidenceto support the above statement - with some modifications added for greaterclarity we reached the following proposition: - "Insight Meditation andco-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 asan explication of method, (that is, as a D.I.Y. pamphlet) the statement standsas an invitation to others to generate new experiential meaning rather thanas 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 describinga method to facilitate a holistic expansive knowingness rather than a reductiveknowingness.
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 ofa 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 chooseto work with awareness itself (or that which is awareness itself,or, for that matter, that which directs ) and she can negotiate withher 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 researchis 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 LondonC.C.I. library. A series of workshops are planned, co-facilitated by membersof the inquiry group, which offer meditating co-counsellors a chance to familiarisethemselves with the Co-Med contract.
36F Bonnington Sq.
Assagioli,R (1965) Psychosynthesis - a manual of Principles and Techniques
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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 BeingsSeattle: 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