Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My First Co-Counseling Session After the Level One Training

by Susan S.

During the co-counseling workshop with Lundy Bancroft, I had the opportunity to schedule a telephone session with one of the participants. When I left the workshop, it was a great feeling to know that we'd be connecting a few days later, and could follow up and help each other. But it was also nerve-wracking to know that now I'd be on my own applying the counseling techniques that we had learned. Would I be able to do it? Would I say the wrong thing? Would I be able to tell her what was bothering me?

I needn't have worried. She patiently listened to my grief over the death of my father, but it was different than any conversation I've ever had with a friend. I wasn't interrupted. I wasn't given advice. I wasn't told to "get over it" or to "let him go." Instead, I was given validation and complete attention. My opinions and feelings mattered, and I was allowed and even encouraged to cry. It was more than I had even hoped for.

We hung up the phone to take a break between sessions, and I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. The sadness wasn't gone, but it was now manageable -- and, more importantly, it was now shared. I wasn't alone. And she wasn't alone.

When I called her back, I let her know how much better I felt and how much I appreciated her for listening without judgment. "I feel better, too," she said. "And I really liked knowing that I'd get a call from you later." And we switched roles and I played counselor while she played the role of client. I listened carefully and also tried to show her that I heard her and understood. By the end of the call, we had each other laughing.

I couldn't be happier about the exchange, and I look forward to our next scheduled call. The experience was far more than a therapy session, and far more supportive than a talk with a friend. Co-counseling is therapy and companionship in one. And, as co-counseling teaches, how can true healing occur without both?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Potential of Co-Counseling

by Susan S.

While attending a weekend workshop recently with Lundy Bancroft to introduce co-counseling techniques, it hit me: These techniques hold power far above the emotional healing and closeness we all need. They have the potential to change every aspect of your life.

How would your relationships with friends change if you looked them in the eye and told them that you appreciated them on a regular basis? If you were not only free to laugh with them, but also to share your troubles? And when they did something that offended or hurt you, knowing how to discuss your point of view with them in a caring way that left everyone free to express their opinion, be heard, and be validated?

How much closer and more fulfilling would your relationship be with your partner or your children if you were able to not only give them the loving acceptance we desperately crave as humans, but also to encourage them to feel their emotions and to laugh and cry as long as they need to without embarrassment or shame?

How much more successful would you be in your career if you were able to learn better listening skills, demonstrate you understand a co-worker's concern, and then present your point of view without being defensive? Would it lead to a promotion, a raise, or a new opportunity?

These were my thoughts as I left the workshop and I began trying to apply the techniques we learned with everyone I encountered. I started out small. At the grocery store, I slowed down and made friendly conversation with a harried clerk and watched as the stress on her face began to melt.

During an important meeting at work, I was faced with a department manager who was adamantly opposed to an upcoming initiative, with a long list of concerns that would stop the proposal in its tracks. I told him, "These are very important concerns you have raised, and they deserve to be discussed and thought about. I'm so glad you brought them up. Let's take a look at each one, and please let me know if you think of any new concerns so we can discuss them, too."

By the end of the meeting, he had changed his mind. For the first time, I successfully convinced a co-worker of my point of view. Without the workshop and learning these skills, this would not have happened.

And an interesting thing began to happen. As I showed others that I understood their concerns, they began to show me more that they understood my concerns and were much more open to what I had to say. Co-counseling helps teach you what people need, what works and what doesn't. At the end of the day, by meeting other people's needs, your needs are met as well.

I am new at this and still have a long way to go to learn and practice these co-counseling skills. But the potential for change is so powerful that I know it will be well worth the initial work to learn the techniques and to find someone to split time with in my area.