Time and again Co-Counsellors express the wish to get more people involved in Co-Counselling.

During my thirty years of involvement I have seen co-counselling numbers go down and the co-counselling population ageing. Even in the alternative health world co-counselling is not taken seriously anymore: recently an alternative health festival in the Netherlands refused Co-Counselling the opportunity to present itself.

During these 30 years in Co-Counselling I have not seen any new approach to get more people involved with the exception of Richard Mills putting a Co-Counselling video on Facebook. Co-Counsellors acted the way they knew best: extolling the virtues of Co-Counselling in leaflets and posters, and offering fundamentals and workshops. There is not even a knowledge base of good practices.

It is time to look for a new approach

How can we look differently at promoting co-counselling? Instead of focussing our attention on co-counselling activities[1], I think we need to look at what happens prior to these activities: people connecting to each other. For instance, before people have a session, they need to connect to each other by phone or in person and agree to have that session. No connection, no co-counselling activity!

If we support people connecting for co-counselling purposes, we actually promote co-counselling activities! It is this switch in focus I would like to promote.

So, what might play a role in people connecting to other people? From understanding this, we could develop ways of supporting and encouraging people to connect for co-counselling activities.

For some time now I have been searching for answers. Two concepts slowly crystallised in my mind. One is ‘Perceived relevance’ and the other is ‘social networking’, networking in short. I will describe them next.

1.  Perceived relevance

When people see connecting to someone else as potentially beneficial and relatively safe, this connection will be perceived as relevant and people are much more likely to connect.

When questions such as “What is in it for me?”, “How will it help me to get on with life?” (Whether this is about personal development, friendships, sex, entertainment etc.)”, “Is it safe enough for me?” do not have promising answers, people will avoid that connection. Recently this happened when several people who attended the first Mediation workshop in October didn’t see the relevance of the mediation skills on offer in the second workshop at the end of November. So they did not engage.

The perceived relevance of Co-Counselling is strongly reduced over decades

In the seventies the perceived relevance of co-counselling was high: it was almost the only egalitarian tool for personal development. There was almost no competition: if personal development was important to you, co-counselling was the way.  In those days Co-Counselling did not need to bother about its perceived relevance.

Times have changed. Nowadays personal development is offered in many forms, by NLP, dancing forms like
5 rhythms & biodanza, semi-professional counselling in all forms and sizes, Buddhism, EFT, healing, shamanism, authentic movement, therapy, life-coaching, Alcoholics Anonymous with their variations, Landmark, Transformation Games, Peer Mentoring and PDP (Personal Development Plans) at universities and colleges, Voice Dialogue, to name some… J

So perceived relevance has become a much more important issue for Co-Counselling: it has to face up to some uncomfortable truths re its perceived relevance:

  1. Why do so many people vote with their feet almost straight after the fundamentals or walk away from co-counselling after a short period?
  2. During the last 30 years many people got engaged in co-counselling. Several of them are in jobs as GPs, policy developers, counsellors or therapists in health, schools, universities, mental health services, or alternative health approaches. If co-counselling is so relevant, why didn’t this reverberate after more than 30 years in a continuous stream of referrals from these professionals? My guess is that Co-Counselling is simply not on their radar simply because it’s irrelevant to them.

In short, we have a huge challenge with the perceived relevance of Co-Counselling. How can we increase its real relevance and its perception?

During one of the European CCIs in the late eighties I joined the Big Boys Body Workshop. It was a sharing group exclusively for men taller than 1.90 or heavier than 100 kg. There we shared our experiences of smaller people responding to our bodies and ways of how we could deal with that. This sharing was a huge eye opener, breaking out of my assumptions that I was the only one…, great fun and a huge leap forward in accepting my body. Needless to say we had many co-counselling sessions processing the emotions and insights triggered by this sharing.

During another CCI there was a sharing group of men with daughters and women who would like to work on their fathers. Fantastic sharing, fantastic insights resulting in very relevant sessions.

Apparently the people who proposed these workshops did it in such a way that I could see enough relevance for me to join them.

2.  Networking

In hindsight I can see the networking aspect of the Big Boys Body Workshop and the Fathers-Daughters Sharing group.  Before these workshops I didn’t know many of their participants. There were also some people I didn’t particularly like either.  It would have been unlikely that I would have spontaneously connected to several of them.  Still we came together and connected together, exactly because the perceived relevance of those workshops.  

The question for Co-Counselling is “How can we support people to connect to each other who otherwise wouldn’t know how relevant it is to do so?”  In other words: “How could Co-Counselling support the networking among people for co-counselling’s sake and relevance?”

I started to experiment with this: I supported a group of young women between 30 and 40 to come together around sex, babies, careers and committed relationships. It seemed to me that this group created excitement and contributed to change in their personal lives.

At Community Days I started to play with the idea of Topical networking:  bringing people together who are interested in sharing experiences around common topics and having sessions about what comes up.

Perhaps a more formal definition of network and networking is here appropriate: A (social) network is an interconnected web of connections between people. Networking happens when people build and maintain meaningful connections with other people.

By the way, the guidelines discovered in supporting the networking among co-counsellors can also be applied to the networking between people interested in co-counselling and teachers. J

How can ‘Supporting co-counsellors’ networking’ benefit you?

You will more easily find co-counselling partners that better suit your specific real life needs. When this happens for more CO-Counsellors, this will increase the perceived relevance of co-counselling around you.

As a consequence member retention increases and perhaps retired co-counsellors return due to Word of Mouth advertisement.

Due its increased internal vibrancy and perceived relevance people recommend co-counselling much more effectively to friends. This in turn will increase the amount of new people attracted to Co-Counselling.

What can we do to develop networking support in Co-Counselling?

Several activities can be undertaken by Co-Counsellors world-wide:

  • Setting up an enquiry about how we can increase the perceived relevance of co-counselling internally within our communities and networks and externally in the eyes of the general public. We need also to look into what in the current presentation of co-counselling fundamentals diminishes its perceived relevance.
  • Develop new ways of supporting connections among people and co-counsellors
  • Deciding to make Diversity in CCI Co-Counselling work, because the different approaches like the classic cathartic, the Dror, the Münster, the Co-Creation and CornuCopia approaches have different perceived relevancies for different people.
  • Regularly evaluating and improving Co-Counselling activities like CCIs, residentials, workshops, communities, newsletters, web sites etc, in how they support the networking and perceived relevance among co-counsellors.

Next Step: Give feedback on the relevance of this article in the discussion section. Wink

[1] With co-counselling activities I mean: fundamentals, sessions, support groups, co-counselling workshops, community days and residentials.