CoCo Café with Kick-Off

R. Giesselmann, CoCo Café with Kick-Off, 2011. [Online]. Available:

CoCoInfo Tags: 

  • CoCo Cafe
  • Evidence
  • Science

In my view the large-group facilitation method World Café is an Open Source method ( Its sources, though not licensed, are publicly available and people discuss their experiences with it in public. Unlike most Open Source software, World Café is not (yet?) structured in a modular design.

In this article I'm going to share my experience with the 'Kick-off' Add-on module and World Café that took place early May 2011 at an international conference of the Co-Counselling International (CCI) at Wiston Lodge, a conference centre near Edinburgh, Scotland.

Co-Counselling International is a peer-led network providing support to its members through reciprocal sessions using techniques from therapy and coaching. It has a consensus culture for getting and keeping the network organized and for developing the methods behind their approach further. In this context it is obvious that World Café is a distinctively appropriate method to be used. Since a year plus it has been experimented with under the name of CoCo-Café in the UK, Ireland and the USA. Several applications has been tried out at several conferences: using CoCo-Café as networking tool of bringing people together around issues that matter to them, as a conference reflection-café, as a 'What is really the issue here?' café and recently for further developing co-counselling theory.

Back to the CoCo Café with the 'Kick-off', early May this year in Scotland.

The topic of this CoCo Café was 'The Evidence behind the Science of Emotions'. Or more specifically worded:  'What are the research findings about the encouragement of catharsis in therapeutic and coaching processes?' This issue really matters to Co-Counselling International because the expression of emotions belongs to the core of CCI.

Organisers challenges

Organising a CoCo Café about this topic posed several challenges to its organisers.

Complexity of the Evidence topic
Theoretical issues: Working with emotions is seen from different theoretical frameworks: Humanistic Psychology, Cognitive Behaviour Psychology, NLP etc. Within some of these frameworks catharsis is a really controversial discussion topic.
Evidence issues: People have different opinions about what 'evidence' is, varying from anecdotal, own experience, philosophical reflection to what the value is of scientific, research-based evidence.
Self-help issues: Apart from the above issues, what self-help tools can be developed for people to work with their emotions and catharsis while avoiding such risks as retraumatisation.

The diversity among the Café participants
Participants have very diverse experiences of working with emotions:

  • Participating in the coco one-to-one sessions while taking turns in the role of the client as well as in the role of the counsellor.
  • Teaching the coco self-help tools in the core training workshops.
  • As professional one-way therapists and counsellors who work with emotions and catharsis from different theoretical frameworks

Some people seem to identify themselves strongly with the theoretical concepts and tools of catharsis when discussing working with feelings and emotions.

The Harvesting challenge
CCI is a worldwide network. How can we feed back the conversations held locally in Scotland? Or even better, how can we feed this back so that the next CoCo Cafés can built on the outcome of this one? In a way here turns one of the great advantages of the World Café concept into a disadvantage: World Café provides a big cooking pot for ideas and insights that keep boiling after the world café furnace has been switched off. So, how can we harvest the results of this specific CoCo Café?

In short, the challenge is…
In our small coco café preparation all the above boiled down to the following questions:

  • How to create a common frame of reference that could contain the various points of views for the exploration at the tables to benefit from our diversity.
  • How to create a harvesting process that might provide a good information base for a next CoCo Café in a different place with likely different participants?

The CoCo Café Kick Off

Creating a common frame of reference for the dialogues at the tables was what we called afterwards the 'kick-off'. In the run-up to CoCo Café we invited three people to prepare and give a 10 minutes intro into the issue 'The evidence behind the Science of Emotions' at the start of the CoCo Café. We've chosen persons with special interests in philosophy, in research-evidence based therapy and in research-methodology.

After each intro there was a 5 minutes space for the audience to ask questions for clarification only.

A fourth person was asked to introduce and moderate this Kick-Off in terms of time-keeping, guarding the balance between the intros and the audience, and filtering the questions for clarification.

After this Kick-Off we had a kind of three lighthouses we could refer to with our ships riding the waves during the dialogues between the people at the tables. At the Co-Co Café tables the four starting persons became equal among equals.

The CoCo Café setup

The tables
Tables are equipped with table cloths, flipchart paper on top with crayons and felt tips. The hospitality was emphasized with sparkling grape juice (a leftover from an opening from a photography exhibition two days before) and a drinking glass with fresh Scottish spring flowers and herbs from the meadows around the house.

We added a short version of the table etiquette on top of a little twig. We thought about that it might be useful to put a note that it is 'allowed' to interrupt each other or that it is not necessary to listen properly all the time. Nearly all participants are so well trained in supportive listening and we notices that this might sometimes stop 'darting flames' in dialogues to happen. We put it in an implicit intervention afterwards in the way we explained the setting a bit fresh and cheeky.

Rounds after Kick-off.
The basics of the CoCo Cafe setting: 15 participants, 3 tables and 4 rounds, each taking about 20 minutes. The aim was that everybody would talk to everybody on an equal footing. In the first round the 3 forum speakers sat at different tables so they could shake off their exponent roles. In the third round we emphasized tables of people who haven't met each other. This implied that the table hosts were changing, so that everyone could have been together with everyone else. The fourth round was for preparing the harvesting afterwards.

Harvesting the discussion
After the last round we did a harvesting to the question: 'What idea was energizing the process at the tables?' From every table some of those ideas went on the central flipchart paper. They will be communicated to the Co-Counselling network. These ideas seem to accept 'it is a real issue now' and they look more thoughtful and 'peaceful' now than they have looked before the café. So we as the organizers were satisfied having developed the discourse around one important issue in our network.


Referring to Open Source we as the organisers of this CoCo-Café think of 'kick-off' as an 'Add-on'. A module that fits to the core process of World Café accepting its requirement as a kind of interface. We love to share the idea of an 'kick-off' 'Add-on' as well as our idea to think World Café in the field of Open Source. We are pretty sure that we of course are not the only ones. So please let us know about other Add-ons.

In particular a Kick-off Add-on can perhaps open a new field for World Café appliance. Changing panel discussion with following domesticated dialogues called 'questions' there might be panel kick-offs with digestion cafés afterwards. Hope someone will try also and share experiences. We will do so.


to Dymphna H. from Dublin, JanPieter H. from Edinburgh and Marjan T. from Rotterdam for the inspiring and practical cooperation.
Rudolf G. from Hamburg.

First published on World Café Community.

Cognitive self-therapy: a contribution to long-term treatment of depression and anxiety

P. C. A. M. den Boer, Cognitive self-therapy: a contribution to long-term treatment of depression and anxiety, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Groningen, 2006.

CoCoInfo Tags: 

  • Empowerment
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Money matters
  • Cognitive Selfhelp Therapy
  • Science
  • Self-help

In the eighties Peter den Boer did his CCI teacher training with John Heron and Roy Brussé. He completed his studies in medicine and psychiatry at that time as well.

As a resident-psychiatrist, he observed problems among psychiatric patients which were very similar to the problems he saw in people who were in co-counselling and other self-help groups. He was wondering whether psychiatric patients would profit from these self-help strategies as well.

Together with his partner Carla Raes he developed the “Cognitive Self-TherapyCST, also called “Experiential Self-Therapy”.

There are many similarities between CST and CCI co-counselling. In both approaches people arrange sessions in pairs. They take the roles of client and counsellor in turns with equal time in each roles. In both approaches the client is in charge. Unlike the free flow sessions often used in CCI co-counselling, his approach sports structured, step-by-step, sessions. In CCI we know something similar in the ID-Check, the 'Aware Negotiation of Sexual Attraction' (ANSA) contract or the 'Pain-to-Power' procedure. This structured session approach seemed to have made his CST suitable for patients with anxiety and depression disorders.

Peter wanted to establish the effectiveness of his self-help approach in a scientific way in order to avoid self-fulfilling prophecy of its own ideas. The attached thesis contains the various research projects for which he received his PhD.

This type of research established an evidence base for the credibility of his Cognitive Self-Therapy approach.

Why this study might be of interest to CCI Co-Counselling

Research of the Self-help Method effectiveness
Peter den Boer’s research shows that his form of co-counselling self-help can be as effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders as treatment by professionals (Chapter 5).

Although CCI Co-Counselling generally does not present itself as therapy[1], it still offers ways how people can process their emotional experiences. Hence it may be worthwhile to investigate what can be learned from Peter den Boer’s approach in order to make CCI Co-Counselling more effective.

At the same time his thesis might serve as an example of how the effectiveness of CCI Co-Counselling might be researched. If successful, CCI would gain credibility, increasing referrals from professionals, professional organisations and the many people who have learnt co-counselling in the past.

Self-help Cost-effectiveness research
In the second part of his thesis Peter den Boer presents an evidence-based case of the economic advantages of self-help therapy compared with the equally effective therapy provided by highly trained professionals.(Chapter 6). In cash-strapped times, this is a very powerful argument to get referrals from mental health and other professional organisations.

Future development of Co-Counselling Theory and Practice
Peter den Boer was originally trained as a CCI Co-Counselling teacher by John Heron and Roy Brussé. However, he took the development and research of his approach of Co-Counselling outside CCI. John Heron originally (1996) proposed his Co-Creation approach outside CCI. Could these cases imply that Co-Counselling theory and practice cannot really be developed from within CCI?

If so, how can we create a better space within CCI for evidence-based development and improvement of co-counselling theory and practice?

Perhaps we can learn here something from the Open-Source software community. In the first place their software is transparent, free and can be used by everyone the way they want, including improving and changing it. The hope and practice is that if someone makes improvements they offer these back to the original developer and community at large. By doing so the quality of the software increases. This results in a win-win situation for everybody.

They make also their software usable in an as wide a range of situations as possible . For this they often use the distinction between the 'core' program (used in all situations) and add-ons that make the software functional for use in specific situations. The more diverse the add-ons are, the more relevant the software as a whole becomes for a wider range of people.

How can we use these ideas from the Open Source Community for developing Co-Counselling theory and practice?The idea of Core and Add-ons might form a framework for people contributing back to the CCI community.

In Co-Counselling the ‘core’ is likely to be the Session: the client is in charge of the session exploring his or her own emotional truth and reality with the support of (but not in a conversation with) the counsellor. This takes place on a reciprocal basis.

In a Session Contract the client and the counsellor clarify and negotiate what they can expect from each other. The Core session contract is the ‘Free Attention’ contract. From the counsellor the Client can expect Free Attention’ leaving the client in charge of the session, and time-keeping. The counsellor in turn can expect the client to be self-directed and to maintain their balance of attention while not trying to engage the counsellor in a conversation or asking for advice.

All other session contracts and session procedures like the ID-check can then be seen as ‘Add-ons’ to this core Free Attention Contract. The client clarifies and negotiates what kind of extra support or suggestions on top of the core Free Attention contract might be needed from the counsellor. Whatever contract is agreed the client stays in charge of the session.

The wider the range of the ‘Add-on’ contracts is, the wider the relevance of co-counselling for the various life situations. Some session contracts and procedures are more functional for processing restimulations, some are more functional for designing a life and a future (life action), while other contracts are good in supporting people to work on depressions and anxiety. Here is where Peter den Boer’s structured sessions or John Heron’s co-creation contracts might have come in…

Contents of the thesis

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Chapter 2 - Why is self-help neglected in treatment of emotional disorders by the formal health-care system?

Chapter 3 - Paraprofessionals for anxiety and depressive disorders

JP: This chapter is a literature review of research so far into the effectiveness is of any kind of psychological treatment for anxiety and depressive disorders performed by ‘paraprofessionals’.

JP: ‘Paraprofessional’ has two meanings:

  • a trained worker who is not a member of a profession but who assists a professional, like a dental-hygienist assisting a dentist. In Peter den Boer’s thesis the term 'paraprofessional' refers also to the teacher who is trained to teach the client and counsellor skills to lay-people. The in this way trained co-counsellor is in turn the 'paraprofessional' who supports the client.
  • The ‘paraprofessional’ is not necessarily a person, it can also be a professionally supported self-help book supporting the clinet to be in charge of his or her session.

Chapter 4 - Cognitive Self Therapy CST

JP: An evidence-based study investigating the effectiveness of the self-help therapy developed by Peter den Boer and his associates.

Chapter 5 - Cognitive Self Therapy for chronic depression and anxiety

JP: An evidence-based study comparing the effectiveness of CST for the treatment of chronic depression and anxiety with therapy when a therapist is involved.

Chapter 6 - Cost-effectiveness of cognitive self-therapy for depression and anxiety disorders

JP: compared with the usual therapy when a therapist is involved. This chapter makes the economic case for his self-help based approach.

Chapter 7 - Discussion

Chapter 8 - Summary/Samenvatting


[1] In the USA CCI co-counselling actively denies to be therapy and in Germany (Münster) the 'Haus Kloppenburg' Therapy Centre has integrated co-counselling as self-help supporting the professional therapy it provides.

PDF icon Peter de Boer PhD thesis.pdf758.72 KB

Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

R. Park, Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

CoCoInfo Tags: 

  • Science

In this book Robert Park describes seven warning signs that something presented as scientific may be pseudo-scientific and fake. He uses many examples from Science history to illustrate the following seven warning signs:

  1. Pseudo-scientists work in isolation from the mainstream scientific community.and do not expose their work to their critical review.

  2. Instead, pseudo-scientists make their so-called scientific claims directly to the popular media, rather than to fellow scientists.

  3. Pseudo-scientists claim that a conspiracy or vested interests have tried to suppress the discovery or the claims

  4. If the possibility of self-fulfilling prophecy in the experiments has been excluded from the observations supporting the claims , their effects appear so weak that observers can hardly distinguish them from noise. No amount of further scientific work seems to increase the effects the way it has been predicted..

  5. Anecdotal evidence is used to back up the claim.

  6. True believers cite ancient traditions in support of the new claim.

  7. The discovery, if true, would require a change in the understanding of the fundamental laws of nature.

He has also a chapter about the 'belief gene' that tends to reinforce and extend already established beliefs about reality while filtering out contradicting experience.

The relevance of this book for Co-Counselling

The book can provide Co-Counselling with warning signs for situations in which the search for evidence-based co-counselling theory and practice might turn into voodoo or pseudo-science..