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Extending the Theory and Practice of Co-counselling (Revised January 2009)

This is a discussion document circulated prior to the workshop on this topic scheduled for 20-21 January 2009 at the South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry, Auckland, New Zealand. It was first sent round in December 2008 to a few CCI teachers in the USA, UK, Europe and New Zealand. I have incorporated their feedback plus some further reflections of my own in this revision. I am now (6 Jan) sending it to everyone enrolled in the 20-21 Jan 09 event.

In 1996 I published two documents within CCI that were relatively independent of each other, based on working with different co-counselling constituencies. The first, "A Definition of CCI", was, and still is, published on several CCI web sites. It was a conservative update of the original guidelines for CCI published in the first CCI newsletter in 1975.

The second was "A Little Book of Co-creating", which was a much more radical reconstruction of co-counselling. It replaced the terms ‘client’ and ‘counsellor’ with ‘creator ‘ and ‘co-creator’ and presented co-creating within a worldview embracing human spirituality and a vision of planetary transformation in terms of a self-generating culture. It emerged from an inquiry including fifteen CCI teachers from UK, USA and Holland in Tuscany in 1996. The full text is online at www.human-inquiry.com/cocreate.htm .

The most recent 2008 update of co-creating is found online in three maps: MAP 1, MAP2, MAP3 . This update was field-tested by eleven co-inquirers at this Centre between June and December 2008. The whole group met every fortnight to review and discuss together the one-to-one two-way sessions we had had in the two weeks between meetings. In this way, we were able to refine and clarify our use of the co-creating model and experientially test its efficacy.

I sense that the time has now come to blend the 1996 CCI definition with the updated co-creating model into a pragmatic hybrid of conservative and radical elements. What is offered below, as a basis for discussion, is a draft redefinition of CCI in a form appropriate both to prevailing CCI structures and usage, and to currently emerging shifts in human consciousness. It is preceded by a note summarizing the main changes, and for purposes of comparison followed by the 1996 version.

John Heron, January 2009

How the 2009 reconstruction extends the 1996 definition

(a) Principles 3 and 5 below make explicit and integrate three basic components of currently emerging spirituality:

  • Embodied spirituality: the spiritual life-potential embedded within each person, which prompts the emergent holistic development of all aspects of our incarnate being – physical, psychosocial, subtle and spiritual.
  • Relational spirituality: the reality of relationship, the spirit that connects, the field of presence which is between persons fully open to each other, and which is central to the interaction of free attention between client and counsellor.

  • Universal spirituality: a field of awareness and presence inherent in the cosmos, the free attention of the universe as a backdrop to the field of presence between embodied persons.

(b) Principles 3 and 4 below affirm the practice of co-counselling as a collaborative experiential inquiry, which is open to review and revise the principles on which it is based.

(c) Principle 6 below extends the client’s ways of working to six, affirms both the grounding role of the way of regression and the balanced interdependent use of all six ways, and affirms the complementary roles of both discharge and transmutation within the way of regression.

(d) Principle 11 below introduces three practices in which the counsellor can become a co-creative participant interacting with the client. Principles 7 and 12 below add the second of these practices as a fourth contract to the traditional three.

A Reconstructed Definition of CCI 2009

CCI is a planet-wide association of individuals and local networks committed to affirm a core discipline of co-counselling while encouraging, on an international and co-operative basis, the advancement of sound theory, effective practice, network development and planetary transformation.

Local networks of co-counsellors within CCI are independent, self-governing peer organizations, exploring ways of being effective social structures while avoiding all forms of authoritarian control.

Any person and network is a member of CCI if :

  • they understand and apply the principles of co-counselling given below
  • they have had at least 40 hours training from a member of CCI

  • they grasp, in theory and practice, the interdependence of the six ways of working (see below), grounded in a competence within the way of regression.

The Principles of Co-counselling

1. Co-counselling is usually practised in pairs: one person takes a turn as the client, the other as the counsellor, then they reverse these roles. In every session each person spends the same time in each role. A session also includes one or more forms of co-creative interactive time: see principle 11 below. A session is usually on the same occasion, although sometimes people may take turns as client and counsellor on different occasions.

2. When co-counsellors work in groups of three or more, members take an equal time as client, each client either choosing one other person as counsellor, or working in a self-directing way with the silent, supportive attention of the group. For certain purposes, the client may request co-operative interventions by two or more counsellors. Sometimes the whole group may contract to engage as co-creative co-clients within one of the ways of working outlined in principle 6 below.

3. Co-counsellors work with the dynamic ground of liberating creativity deep within each person, facilitated by the living presence between client and counsellor mediated by their interacting free attention, and by their openness, if they are so inclined, to the free attention of the universe, the awareness inherent in the cosmos. Engaging with each of these three (or any other) spiritual modes is an experiential inquiry grounded in, validated by, and subject to revision or rejection by, the discriminating authority within each inquirer in relation with a co-operative group of peer inquirers. It is not validated by the authority of text, tradition or teacher.

4. Similarly, all the other principles included in these notes are subject to revision by co-counselling practice itself, where every session is a collaborative experiential inquiry into the belief-system on which it is based. Special time needs to be taken for this review and revision of the premises and protocols of co-ounselling practice.

5. The client manifests self-responsibility and self-expression through being in charge of their session in these respects:

  • trusting and following the dynamic process of liberation emerging within
  • keeping a balance of attention to engage with the living presence between them and their counsellor

  • opening to the free attention of the universe, the backdrop of cosmic awareness

  • choosing at the start of the session from the four contracts given below

  • choosing within a free attention or normal contract what to work on and how

  • being free to change the contract during their session

  • having a right to accept or disregard interventions made by the counsellor

  • being responsible for working in a way that does not harm themselves, the counsellor, other people, or the environment.

6. The client's process may include, but is not restricted to, working creatively both within and between these six ways:

  • discharge, transmutation and re-evaluation for healing the memories of personal distress and cultural oppression (the way of regression)
  • creative thinking at the frontiers of personal belief (the way of new belief)

  • goal-setting, action-planning and decision-making (the way of action)

  • opening to the spiritual and subtle dimensions of experience (the way of opening)

  • celebration of self, others, nature and culture (the way of celebration)

  • self-discovery by creative expression in line, colour, sound, movement (the way of art)

It is proposed that the first of these is a secure foundation for the other five; that all six call for their balanced, interdependent and mutually supportive use; and above all, that it is the discriminating authority within the client that determines whether these ways shall be adopted, how they shall be construed and understood, and in what manner they will be explored and expressed.

7. The role of the counsellor is to:

  • give full, supportive attention to the client at all times

  • intervene as a facilitator in accordance with the contract chosen by the client

  • interact as a co-creative participant with the client in one or more of the three ways given in 11 below

  • inform the client about time at the end of the session and whenever the client requests

  • end the session immediately if the client becomes irresponsibly harmful to themselves, the counsellor, other people, or the environment

8. The counsellor's facilitation is a behaviour that enhances the client's work. It may be verbal, and/or nonverbal through eye contact, facial expression, gesture, posture or touch.

9. Verbal facilitation is a practical suggestion about what the client may say or do to develop their working process, both within one of the six ways, and in moving in timely fashion from one way to another. It is not an interpretation or analysis and does not give advice. It is not driven by counsellor distress and is not harmful or invasive. It liberates client autonomy and self-esteem.

10. The main use of nonverbal facilitation is to give sustained, distress-free attention, to support the client to maintain a balance of attention, in a way that opens up a presence between counsellor and client, a presence that empowers the client’s full emergence. This is the foundation of all four contracts given below.

11. The counsellor will be a co-creative participant with the client

  • when co-designing and co-enacting a way to open the space for the whole shared session
  • when joining in some part of the client’s turn, as specified in a contract chosen by the client before her or his turn begins (see the fourth contract below)

  • when they have agreed to allocate – as well as time for each to have a turn as client - a third period of time for interactive co-creative work within one or more of the six ways

12. The contract which the client chooses at the start of the session is an agreement about time, and primarily about the range and type of intervention the counsellor will make. The four kinds of contract are:

  • Free attention. The counsellor makes no verbal interventions and only uses nonverbal interventions to give sustained, supportive attention. The client is entirely self-directing in maintaining a balance of attention and in managing their own working process.
  • Normal. The counsellor is alert to what the client misses and makes some interventions of either kind to facilitate and enhance what the client is working on, both within one of the six ways and by moving among them. There is a co-operative balance between client self-direction and counsellor suggestions.

  • Intensive. The counsellor makes as many interventions as seem necessary to enable the client to deepen and sustain their process, both within one of the six ways and by moving around between the six ways as they call each other into action. On the way of regression the counsellor takes a sensitive, finely-tuned and sustained directive role, leading the client into working areas being omitted or avoided, and facilitating the client in healing distress-charged memories by both cathartic and transmutative methods.

  • Participative. When invited to do so by the client, the counsellor becomes, if so moved, a co-client, that is, works co-creatively and interactively with the client within the modality of any of the ways. This contract may be added as a component within the free attention and normal contracts given above.

13. Counsellors have a right to interrupt a client's session if they are too heavily restimulated by what the client is working on and so cannot sustain effective attention. If, when they explain this to the client, the client continues to work in the same way, then they have a right to withdraw completely from the session.

14. Whatever a client works on in a session is confidential. The counsellor, or others giving attention in a group, do not refer to it in any way outside a session, unless the client has given them explicit, specific permission to do so.

John Heron, January 2009


A Definition of CCI

John Heron, 1996. This is the version still (2008) published on various CCI web sites.

CCI is a planet-wide association of individuals and local networks committed to affirm a core discipline of co-counselling while encouraging, on an international and co-operative basis, the advancement of sound theory, effective practice, network development and planetary transformation.

Local networks of co-counsellors within CCI are independent, self-governing peer organizations, exploring ways of being effective social structures while avoiding all forms of authoritarian control.

Any person and network is a member of CCI if :

• they understand and apply the principles of co-counselling given below

• they have had at least 40 hours training from a member of CCI

• they grasp, in theory and practice, the ideas of pattern, discharge and re-evaluation

The Principles of Co-counselling

1. Co-counselling is usually practised in pairs with one person working, the client, one person facilitating, the counsellor, then they reverse these roles. In every session each person spends the same time in the role of both client and counsellor. A session is usually on the same occasion, although sometimes people may take turns as client and counsellor on different occasions.

2. When co-counsellors work in groups of three or more, members take an equal time as client, each client either choosing one other person as counsellor, or working in a self-directing way with the silent, supportive attention of the group. For certain purposes, the client may request co-operative interventions by two or more counsellors.

3. The client is in charge of their session in at least seven ways:

• trusting and following the living process of liberation emerging within

• choosing at the start of the session one of three contracts given below

• choosing within a free attention or normal contract what to work on and how

• being free to change the contract during their session

• having a right to accept or disregard interventions made by the counsellor

• being responsible for keeping a balance of attention

• being responsible for working in a way that does not harm themselves, the counsellor, other people, or the environment.

4. The client's work is their own deep process. It may include, but is not restricted to:

• discharge and re-evaluation on personal distress and cultural oppression

• creative thinking at the frontiers of personal belief

• visualizing future personal and cultural states for goal-setting and action-planning

• extending consciousness into transpersonal states

CCI takes the view that the first of these is a secure foundation for the other three.

5. The role of the counsellor is to:

• give full, supportive attention to the client at all times

• intervene in accordance with the contract chosen by the client

• inform the client about time at the end of the session and whenever the client requests

• end the session immediately if the client becomes irresponsibly harmful to themselves, the counsellor, other people, or the environment

6. The counsellor's intervention is a behaviour that facilitates the client's work. It may be verbal, and/or nonverbal through eye contact, facial expression, gesture, posture or touch.

7. A verbal intervention is a practical suggestion about what the client may say or do as a way of enhancing their working process within the session. It is not a stated interpretation or analysis and does not give advice. It is not driven by counsellor distress and is not harmful or invasive. It liberates client autonomy and self-esteem.

8. The main use of nonverbal interventions is to give sustained, supportive and distress-free attention: being present for the client in a way that affirms and enables full emergence. This use is the foundation of all three contracts given below. Nonverbal interventions can also be used to elaborate verbal interventions; or to work on their own in conveying a practical suggestion; or, in the case of touch, to release discharge through appropriate kinds of pressure, applied movement or massage.

9. The contract which the client chooses at the start of the session is an agreement about time, and primarily about the range and type of intervention the counsellor will make. The three kinds of contract are:

• Free attention. The counsellor makes no verbal interventions and only uses nonverbal interventions to give sustained, supportive attention. The client is entirely self-directing in managing their own working process.

• Normal. The counsellor is alert to what the client misses and makes some interventions of either kind to facilitate and enhance what the client is working on. There is a co-operative balance between client self-direction and counsellor suggestions.

• Intensive. The counsellor makes as many interventions as seem necessary to enable the client to deepen and sustain their process, hold a direction, interrupt a pattern and liberate discharge. This may include leading a client in working areas being omitted or avoided. The counsellor may take a sensitive, finely-tuned and sustained directive role.

10. Counsellors have a right to interrupt a client's session if they are too heavily restimulated by what the client is working on and so cannot sustain effective attention. If, when they explain this to the client, the client continues to work in the same way, then they have a right to withdraw completely from the session.

11. Whatever a client works on in a session is confidential. The counsellor, or others giving attention in a group, do not refer to it in any way in any context, unless the client has given them explicit, specific permission to do so. It is, however, to be taken into account, where relevant, by the counsellor in future sessions with the same client.