Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Is Co-Counseling?

Whether we are fundamentally happy people or chronically troubled – or somewhere in between -- many of us find ourselves feeling that some important pieces are missing from our lives, and that there is another level to human experience that we are craving. We define this longing in different ways depending on who we are; we may experience a wish for a deeper spiritual life, or a desire to feel part of a more cohesive community of friends, or an urgency have a greater impact on the world, or a dream of living a life of challenge and adventure that currently seems lacking.

Pursuing fulfillment for these cravings involves dealing with a complex set of challenges, both internal and external. In particular:

1) We struggle to overcome internal obstacles, such as fear and discouragement, that keep us from making needed changes or taking important risks. We face questions such as, “Why can’t I get myself going?” or “Why am I afraid to put myself out there?”

2) We face the challenge of finding practical, applicable solutions to some very thorny problems, both in our personal lives and on a wider scale. We ask ourselves, “What on earth are we going to do about this mess? Where do we go from here?”

3) We seek ways to have more internal serenity, to be able to feel happier and more at peace even as we strive to grow and make things better. We wonder, “How could I start to feel better right now, even if I can’t solve all of the problems in my life and in the world?”

We also may face binds; for example, we may feel too busy to find time to figure out how to make ourselves less busy, or we may feel paralyzed by loneliness in a way that makes it hard reach out to people and break our isolation.

Three critical factors tend to govern whether we feel discouraged and stuck in the face of these challenges, or whether we feel a sense of hopefulness and forward motion despite the difficulties:

1) Whether we feel deeply and solidly loved, supported, and thought about by the people in our lives.

2) Whether we feel part of a common effort.

3) Whether we succeed in finding ways to heal from the painful and constricting effects of the serious emotional injuries that we have accumulated over the course of our lives.

Co-Counseling is a system for building structured loving support into our lives, and for steadily expanding our skills at helping each other toward deep emotional healing. Many people find co-counseling to be the most powerful healing approach they have ever been involved with.

The core of co-counseling is the process of “splitting time,” where one person acts as the listener or “counselor” for the first half of the session, while the other person is the speaker or “client,” and then the two participants switch roles for the second half of the session. A typical co-counseling session is two hours in length, so that each participant gets a turn of 50 or 55 minutes, with a few minutes break in between. However, co-counselors also learn powerful ways to use shorter blocks of time, including periods as short as ten minutes (five minutes for each person).

Playing the role of counselor in a co-counseling session involves much more than listening, and therefore the beginning training is extensive, typically involving at three to four months of weekly classes, or three full weekends. The training includes such elements as:

• how to structure and pace a session to increase effectiveness

• how to use an array of techniques to assist each other to experience and express feelings

• how to assist each other to achieve deep laughter, crying, raging, and other innate emotional releases that heal internal distress and promote clarity and confidence

• how to help each other achieve clarity about life goals and take decisive steps toward bringing those desires to fruition

• techniques for rising out of painful issues at the end of a session, so that we are not left overwhelmed and can return to our lives with optimism and energy

• how to take effective leadership in a session when you are the counselor while still ensuring that the client remains the ultimate authority on what should occur

• how to show proper respect for personal boundaries, both physically and emotionally

Co-counselors thus develop a high level of skill and sensitivity and learn how to play both the counseling role and the client role successfully, in order to be able to work deeply and move toward both emotional freedom and powerful action.

A key to the power of the co-counseling approach is its success at developing ways for participants to increase their access to cathartic, inborn healing releases. Deep, prolonged, visceral releases are among the most transformative experiences available to human beings, and are innate in their functioning. Babies are born with these healing processes already functional; no training is needed for a child to automatically remove the negative effects of painful emotions through laughter, crying, angry storming, trembling, and yawning. Unfortunately, these natural processes remain largely untapped, and in fact are typically interfered with or outright prohibited. Through the specific training offered in co-counseling classes and workshops, participants learn to re-open these innate cathartic channels for themselves and for others.

After the cost of taking beginning training, participating in co-counseling sessions is free for the rest of your life; counseling is exchanged, rather than money.

Besides its high effectiveness and low cost, co-counseling has the additional advantage that all participants are seen as equals, avoiding the sense of hierarchy or power imbalance that some people find bothersome in professional therapeutic relationships.

After completing the beginning training, participants have access to a network of co-counselors with whom they can share co-counseling sessions in person and by telephone. After trying one or two sessions with a number of different people, co-counselors often settle on one person who is a good fit for them and develop a regular ongoing co-counseling partnership. Trained co-counselors also have the option of participating in ongoing support groups, advanced skill trainings, and teacher-certification courses. We find that our individual healing is greatly accelerated by feeling part of this larger, supportive healing network.

If you would like to receive announcements about upcoming opportunities to be trained in co-counseling, please send an email, including your name, city, and state, to the Co-Counseling Alliance at the email address below.

We would also love to hear from you if you are already an experienced co-counselor and are looking to find co-counselors to have sessions with in your area.

The Co-Counseling Alliance