Written by Bob Smith: I do not actively co-counsel at the present time but I have taken an enormous amount from Co-Counselling and would like to contribute to its development into the millennium. I run Birmingham Counselling Centre and am currently training as a Gestalt Psychotherapist.
In 1986 Liz Sewell and Bob Smith who had experienced CCI elsewhere in the country wanted to set up a community in Birmingham. Liz invited Tony Wilson & Heather from Bath to run an Intro evening and this was followed by a Fundamentals in Bob’s house.
It was hard work getting regular meetings going but Liz and Bob assisted Mike Bray from Shropshire and Christine Rivers from East Midlands on Fundamentals courses at the local college and then after going on a teacher training course themselves eventually also started running courses. There were soon Fundamentals running alongside each other with many in the community coming through during the 80’s to take on teaching roles including Jonathan Cole, Jane Harrison, Edit Bodis, Jennie Harris and Pam Michel.
As the years passed the Co-Co telephone list shot over the 100 mark and a community was established with regular community meetings, focussed peer groups and many others going on teacher training courses.
Last year 10 of us (who had facilitated Co-Co Fundamentals or workshops in the past) went away for a social weekend together. Only I is still actively Co-Counselling!
The answers to the questions below address how the current Birmingham Co-Co community developed in the 80’s and how it supported new Co-Counsellors to settle in. The community has been created at different stages of its development and is now different to then.
I also very briefly note some aspects that I think contributed to people leaving who were committed to Co-Counselling.
Q1. What was your vision when you first set up your Co-Counselling project in Birmingham?
A supportive Co-Counselling group or community in Birmingham which could provide support for a set of values that were more permissive than the broader community provides and be challenging of chronic patterns. A more emotionally aware community, but not just a new friendship circle for those who have difficulty making friends in life.
Q2. What factors did you consider to be important in turning your vision into reality?
- For there to be others with similar vision, energy and enthusiasm.
- To offer regular Fundamentals courses.
- To include opportunities for further development and support after Fundamentals.
- To offer opportunities for those in the community to train up in group facilitation and group process.
Q3. Which aspects of the Fundamentals course in Birmingham supported new Co-Counsellors to settle into Co-Counselling?
Our Fundamentals was over a longer period than usual, usually co-facilitated with additional support of assistants and with never more than 12. We ran it over an academic year giving plenty of time for the digestion of the Fundamentals, the build up of trust & interpersonal contacts and the integration into the community. Where possible we tried to incorporate full days as we missed out on that particular depth and quality.
Q4. What was available to new Co-Counsellors in Birmingham that might support them to settle in to Co-Counselling? How well does this work?
We provided a structured but very choiceful second year with more intensive weekend workshops, just for Co-Counsellors. This included a workshop on the use of intensive contracts, with facilitators like Rose Evison & Richard Horobin. Others facilitators included Pat Young, Dick Saxton, Tony Wilson, Gretchen Pyves, Mike Bray, Chris Nicolov, Meg Bond, Jilly Cooke etc.
We were aware that across the country there were different styles of teaching Fundamentals with emphasis on different aspects. We were keen to experience the differences so we could decide our own direction.
Someone from the Re-Evaluation community came in to explore issues around oppression which they had some very sharp thinking on, which also helped build bridges.
Thus we provided more structural support AFTER the Fundamentals than had hitherto been felt politically appropriate for CCI.
This acknowledged that certain chronic patterns can dictate a role in relation to others for the fledgling Co-Counsellor. For those who have, for example low confidence in themselves, their Co-Counselling ability and in phoning up others for sessions, Bob felt they could drift away from the community if there was nowhere for them to receive support to challenge that pattern, (it happened to be a pattern he struggled with too!) The idea was to provide support to challenge familiar roles, patterns and blind spots while acknowledging that these will not disappear overnight or indeed over 40 hours. One of the features of these workshops was that they were bringing up issues for participants as well as regularly bringing Co-Counsellors together which encouraged the easy setting up of sessions.
Q5. What other things have been tried to help new Co-Counsellors settle in? How well did they work
Co-Co Philosophy: Staying Clear in Community Relationships
Acknowledging that the ‘here and now’ relationship is different to the ‘client in charge’ Co-Co session. The community is made up of here and now relationships. People’s lives operate on here and now relationships.
Blind spots, in here and now relationships, may not be addressed in a Co-Co session on a free attention contract. Blind spots are in effect chronic patterns. If these are not being worked with effectively they can feed into the community unawarely and create unsafe boundaries. Some say the use of intensive contracts is important.
I feel that Co-Counselling is enormously effective at developing individual insights and awareness. As a client I work on my perception of the issues involved in my life and discharge the distress coming up. For me this safe (and in the past for me cathartically addictive) place can also became a way of avoiding some aspects of relationships. To address this I always felt that here and now encounter type groups were important and we incorporated these into our second year and separately into the community. The skills to run such groups are different but I know some teachers will usefully incorporate group process into the Fundamentals. This is difficult when the Fundamentals is heavily structured.
When we ran a group process workshop it became uncomfortable for several of us so at break we all went away and discharged our distress in sessions and fell better. What we did not do was address it in the actual here and now process of the group, so our use of the Co-Co session was to keep some processes hidden from the live group relationship.
Q6. Is there anything else that you think is relevant?
Co-Co has utilised ideas from many other models and put them together into a package that is very effective. However further developments in other models have taken place since the 60’s and may offer the opportunities for further developments for Co-Counselling. I know several of the teachers in our community in the past chose to develop their therapeutic understanding further by training in other therapeutic models. I wonder whether the work with chronic material is an area with particular scope for particular development. If there is any lack of safety, fuzzy boundaries, avoidance of deeper work or collusion on patterns, people may not stay.
I conducted a limited research project many years ago, as part of a masters thesis on Co-Counselling, that confirmed at that time that very few people in our community were using intensive contracts. This could have been because they lacked the confidence to use it, did not see the benefit of it, felt it was inappropriate or that it was just something to be used on very rare occasions.
I think there is a danger of chronic patterns continuing undisturbed when intensive contracts are never used and I also think the community risks being less clear and having blurred boundaries that can make it less safe for others.