Independent Co-Counselling Communities

J. Heron and Talbut, J., Independent Co-Counselling Communities, 1996.

John Heron: Independent Co-counselling Communities.
John Talbut: Independent Co-counselling Communities.

Independent Co-Counselling Communities.

John Heron (25 Dec 96)

Here are some final reflections on independent co-counselling communities. They have pioneered their way through some of the very challenging issues which face 'self-governing peer organisations, exploring ways of being effective social structures while avoiding all forms of authoritarian control', to quote the definition above. Here are a few of the problems (together with their RC counterpart problems), which have been and are being worked through with a variety of strategies:

  1. Impotent and messy democracy in which many people hang back for fear of being, or being seen to be, too controlling and directive. (RC has had the opposite problem: oppressive autocracy in which a few people stay at the top being too controlling and directive.)
  2. Open sexuality in which people confuse distress-driven sexuality with liberated sexuality. (RC has had the problem of sexual hypocrisy: a stringent rule which prohibits sex between people who meet in a co-counselling context, a rule which people break, particularly at the top of the hierarchy, and then systematically cover up the infringement and abuse, a cover up with which many collude.)
  3. Eclecticism without adequate integration: exploring all kinds of different growth methods, without attending to their effective interaction with existing co-counselling techniques. (RC has had the problem of dismissing too many worthwhile growth methods as 'junk' and as a contamination of limited RC techniques.)
  4. Theoretical stasis and underdevelopment: the difficulty of sustaining an adequate peer forum for the development and refining of basic theory. (RC has had the problem of an oppressive central control of basic theory and its development, e.g. the integration - after RC had spread to several countries - of early RC theory with Marxist doctrines underlying the Communist Manifesto of 1848.)
  5. A general reticence in sustaining outreach, in going out to lead more people into the freedom of their own autonomous and co-operative communities. (RC has had the problem of going out and leading people into pseudo-freedom within an authoritarian community.)

In dealing with these and other issues, and in their sustained commitment to human unfoldment, the independent co-counselling communities within CCI have shown, for over 21 years, that growth-enriching human love can flow powerfully within non-authoritarian structures and be conjoined with a spirit of open inquiry. Those emerging from the RC experience can surely add a very great deal to this process. CCI communities have always, to my knowledge, welcomed RC co-counsellors to their workshops for trained co-counsellors, as well as, of course, to fundamentals courses. There is a lot of exciting and liberating and rigorous work we can all do together. There is much more to be said, but this contribution [...] is already very long.

Independent Co-Counselling Communities

John Talbut (1 Feb 1997)

I have just been looking at JH's notes about Independent Co-Counselling Communities and I would like to respond as follows:

I think John's notes convey an unduly pessimistic view of CCI. Of course co-counsellors are human beings and we are not all perfect. If there were not things about ourselves that we wanted to change then we would not be co-counselling. So problems do exist, but they do not outweigh the very positive state of CCI. In fact the existence of problems and the ways in which we approach them adds much to the vibrancy of CCI.

These are my impressions from over 12 years of very active involvement in CCI of the situation with regard to the points that John raised.

  1. Impotent and messy democracy: My description of the situation is potent and creative panocracy (rule by everyone). Certainly the level of activity in the UK and, I think, other parts of the world does not indicate impotence. I have been impressed by the way in which gatherings of co-counsellors, sometimes of 20 or more people, make decisions. The process may look messy but it is efficient. It works because participants take responsibility for their part in the process, are heard if they want to be and don't then go about blaming other people or the leadership if they don't get what they want. Frequently in smaller groups decisions are made with peer facilitation, in other words there are no nominated facilitators and each participant takes responsibility for assisting the process. I have seen this work with groups of 80 or more co-counsellors.
  2. Open sexuality: I have been involved in running numerous workshops on sexuality and in exploring sexuality with co-counsellors. On the evidence I have, and I have a fair amount of evidence, the idea that distress driven sexual activity is rampant within CCI is a myth. Of course there are exceptions, but my impression is that generally there is a high level of awareness and responsibility around sexual activity. John Heron's guidelines for exploring sexual attractions and RC theories around sexuality and intimacy are widely shared in CCI. In fact I would say that one of the things that CCI is very good at is helping people to learn to enjoy their sexuality in aware and responsible ways.
  3. Eclecticism without adequate integration: The whole point about "A Definition of CCI" is that it clearly sets out the boundaries of what is acceptable in CCI co-counselling. Any technique from any growth method that can be used within the Definition is acceptable, and nothing else is. This gives co-counsellors when they are in the client role great flexibility to use techniques that work for them. In practice this means that co-counsellors use analytical, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and transpersonal method in seamless, flexible and effective ways.
  4. Theoretical stasis and underdevelopment: I think that stasis comes when you agree on what the theory is. Since CCI neither attempts nor has any mechanism to control theory it provides a wonderful forum for theoretical debate. That debate is far more useful than any resolution since it encourages people to think and develop their own understandings.
  5. A general reticence in sustaining outreach: There certainly is a problem here, although I don't think reticence is the right word. Rather there is no pressure to do this, there is not a sense in CCI that people should be going out and helping other local networks to get going. If people in a new locality want to get involved in CCI there does not seem to be any reticence in CCI to give help and support and no shortage of teachers willing to go to new places to teach co-counselling. What CCI relies on, though, is for people locally to put in the sustained effort needed to keep organizing and recruiting for the basic training courses and organizing ongoing activities and networking.

Also, I don't think John is right about RCers being welcome to CCI workshops. Maybe the way for me to respond to that is to add another FAQ: Can RC co-counsellors attend CCI activities. In general the answer to this is 'No'. In order to be entitled to attend activities for CCI co-counsellors someone would need to comply with John Heron's "A Definition of Co-Counselling". However, the nature of CCI is such that it is up to the organizers of activities, the people taking part in them or both to decide who can attend so some CCI activities are open to RC co-counsellors. There are also occasional activities which are for co-counsellors of any variety.


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    The Definition of Co-Counselling and The Co-Counselling International

    J. Talbut, The Definition of Co-Counselling and The Co-Counselling International, 1993.

    March 1993 version.

    The Co-Counselling International is a network of individuals and groups.


    Any person or group who:

    1. understands and complies with the principles of International Co-Counselling, and
    2. has had at least 40 hours of training from a member of The Co-Counselling International, and
    3. understands the concepts and workings of patterns, catharsis or discharge and re-evaluation

    is a member of The Co-Counselling International.

    The Principles of International Co-Counselling

    1) Co-counsellors work in pairs or in groups with one person working (the client) and one or more people helping them (the counsellor(s)).

    2) In every session (normally, but not necessarily, one occasion) each person spends the same time being the client.

    3) The client is in charge.

    4) The only requirements of counsellors are that they give their full attention to the client and they inform the client about time at the end of their part of the session and at such other times as the client requests.

    5) Any message that is given by the counsellor to the client either verbally or by changing expression or body position is an intervention. The counsellor making themselves comfortable in a way that does not appear to relate to the client's material is not an intervention.

    6) Contracts must be made before starting work. The contract consists of an agreement on time and a statement by the client of the type of interventions that the client requires.

    The types of contract are:

    • Free attention: the counsellor makes no interventions.
    • Normal: the counsellor may make interventions if they think it is appropriate to help the client in the way they are working.
    • Intensive: the counsellor may make as many interventions as they think necessary to hold a direction or to discharge. The interventions may be intended to suggest redirections to the client to deal with material or work in ways that they may have missed or seem to be avoiding.

    The client may change the type of interventions that they require at any time.

    7) All material that is worked on in a session is confidential to the client and may not be mentioned by anyone else, even in private discussion with the client or in other sessions, without the client's specific permission.

    8) Counsellors must not offer anything:

    • That could imply an opinion about the client or the client's material
    • That could undermine the client's self direction
    • That could imply any anxiety in the counsellor about the client discharging
    • That might harm a client.

    9) Clients can work in any way that does not contravene these principles and they can ask for any form of assistance from their counsellors. Counsellors may only do anything that is a co-counselling intervention but they are only obliged to give attention.

    10) Clients may not do anything that might cause damage or harm to people or things.

    11) Counsellors are not obliged to give attention to clients who are not complying with these principles.

    12) Counsellors are not obliged to give attention if they are unable to do so because they are being too heavily restimulated by the client's material
    and: they have told the client that this is so
    and: the client continues to work on the material in a way which is restimulating.


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      Co-Counselling as Therapy

      R. Evison and Horobin, R., Co-Counselling as Therapy, in Innovative Therapy in Britain., 1988th ed., Open University Press, 1988.

      The title of this booklet "Co-Counselling as Therapy", emphasizes that whilst the methods of co-counselling can be used for therapy nevertheless "Co-counselling" is a wider phenomenon than "therapy".

      Thus co-counselling is best seen as a set of processes, ideas, and a special relationship which together comprises a toolkit for personal and social change in any setting—therapeutic, educational, in the home—you name it! Whilst acknowledging this, the present booklet is specifically concerned with the application of co-counselling to therapy.


      Co-Counselling versus Counselling

      G. Pyves, Co-Counselling versus Counselling, 2000.

      I include a section on this topic because I have experienced some fundamental misunderstandings around what Co-Counselling is, due more to ignorance and assumptions by those who have not experienced Co-Counselling and who equate it with the more understood word counselling. The following points will I hope clarify the differences and enable Co-Counsellors to present these differences and in so doing put a clear and legitimate seal on Co-Counselling.

      N.B. I shall use the word therapy to cover both the notion of conventionally understood counselling and therapy. This will enable me to use the words counsellor / counselling when I am referring to Co-Counselling practices.

      This section does not set out to differentiate Therapy and Counselling and I fully appreciate that the use of the word Therapy to cover these two practices may not be appropriate for some.


      Ground Rules
      Support Groups


      Ground Rules


      There are a clear set or ground rules laid down that underpin all Co-Counselling sessions which create a real psychological safety for both the client and counsellor role to operate within. Co-Counsellors can choose any number of other Co-Counsellors to work with. There is also no monetary payment for the sessions, EQUAL TIME being the currency used.


      No similar set of Ground rules are discussed in therapy settings as a general rule. This is not to be confused with the contracts agreed by client and therapist prior to commencement of therapy regarding what the client wants out of the therapy, the practical business arrangements; initial number of sessions etc.. Individual therapists will also vary in the rules they set out for their clients and clearly some may coincide with those we have in Co-Counselling.

      Therapists will not on professional grounds agree to seeing a client who is already being seen by another therapist. Permission from a Psychiatrist has also to be given if the client wishes to have therapy whilst under the psychiatrists care.

      There is in addition always a fee paid by the client to the therapist.



      There are two roles taught in Co-Counselling: the client role which is the main purpose of the training and the very specific set out role of the counsellor.

      Client role. The purpose of the Fundamentals training is to teach the client how to work with the counsellors interactions at every point. The techniques are quite simple and as a result are not mystifying but theoretically well understood. Because the client has learnt and experienced these as a client then they can use all the same techniques to the client when they are in the counsellor role. This according to John Rowan (1980) is the crucial point. He also makes the point that what is mystified in most other forms of therapy and may take years to discover is “that it is the client who has to do all the work” . Co-Counselling makes this clear from the beginning of the training. Another real difference that is pointed out by John Heron is that Co-Counselling is to do with an in-depth contract to do cathartic work. This requires appropriate preparation and training as client. John Heron also stresses that there needs to be a contract agreed by the client that they wish to work in this way with conscious awareness and understanding. They need to be making a choice to do it and not just have it done to them.

      The Legitimacy of client Training According to John Heron (1990) we do not have any training in our culture which teaches skills leading to emotional competence. (I would go further and say that it is not even recognised in our culture that this type of education is necessary). Co-Counselling does set out to emotionally educate people who are then trained to work on their distress and suffering and take full charge of it. This also liberates them from distorting their efforts to help others from a position of distress or to use a common phrase “to stop laying ones trip on others”.


      Client role. In a therapeutic relationship the person or client is very much in the hands of the therapist and not so much in control of their own level and depth. There is also an in-built assumption by the client that they are going to an expert or professional person. The consequences of this can give rise to an unequal power relationship, with the client submitting at some level or to some degree to this higher authority. There is as a result of these factors much more scope for malpractice in such a relationship. In addition the therapist is making sense of the clients work and interpreting this according to their own particular model i.e. Gestalt, TA, Psychosynthesis etc. Therapists do not train their clients either in theory or in practical ways to work in this manner.


      Counsellor role The training for the counsellor role on the Fundamentals course is quite specific with a range of clearly set out styles of interventions and these being learnt first and foremost through being the client and experiencing the effect of these interventions for oneself. You are only as good a counsellor as you are a client is the operative maxim. The role relationship is quite formal according to Rowan (1980): “The counsellor is not to pass comments or give advice, or sympathise or share experience, but to listen and offer the learned interventions which assist the client to go beyond their resistant blocks and into the discharge of deep pain”. The notion that one human being is prepared to give another time in a non-judgmental and accepting way is the underlying theme of the counsellor role. Forty hours in my opinion is more than sufficient to learn this in the practice of Co-Counselling. It is the role of the client which needs longer! Efficiency in either of these roles really only comes after the course and then only after a great deal of practice.


      Therapy Training starts from the position of learning the therapists role and may or may not require any competence in being a client. Therapists undergo up to three or more years training learning a great deal of theory about human beings and their neuroses and as a result differ quite widely depending on their training model. I have experienced quite a partisan attitude adopted by therapists to their own style/model of training. The client on the other hand, is very much in the dark on this and consequently is in a relationship where the therapist is determining the Modus operandum.

      There is a questioning by therapists about the legitimacy of a course which allows the practice of counselling after only 40 hrs or so. This is to miss the real point of Co-Counselling training in that it is to do with learning how to be a client, not a therapist.

      Support groups


      Two kinds of on-going support are afterwards available to Co-Counsellors:
      (i) in individual two way contracts.
      (ii) in workshops that are available locally, nationally and internationally.

      Unlike many other short training/experiential workshops which deal with an aspect of human development and then comes to an end, Co-Counselling training is the beginning of a continuing supportive relationship with others who are doing the same.

      There is no doubt in my mind that the knowledge about human psychology and the very specific ground rules and the emotional experience learned on a Co-Counselling training gives those attending an increasingly distress-free way of being with others in every day interactions and of becoming accepting of others. The skills of: Attention Switching, Validation and Goal Setting have applications beyond the Co-Counselling contract, and can be a valuable aid to living in the real world, in an assertive and clear way


      On-going support is usually obtained only by regular Therapy with One person.

      Professionalism versus De-professionalism
      Another misunderstood area is to do with the notion of Professionalism. Co-Counselling is seen, more by virtue of its training, or rather lack of training, to be non-professional. John Heron puts forward the view that an excess of professionalism can have two results:

      (i) The professional role is used both defensively and oppressively.

      (ii) The professionals claim an excessive degree of expertise and will delegate none of it to the laity whom they officially claim to protect.

      De-professionalism also means demystification of the Therapist role and thus an acknowledgement that many of its basic human skills can be acquired by many people in relatively short training programs.

      These points made by John Heron are also supported by the notion in humanistic Psychology that deep down, people are OK; they are possessed of a creative and flexible human intelligence. When they are hurt (physically or emotionally) this intelligence stops functioning and feelings of distress takes place. Since the answer to all our problems lies within us, then learning how to access and identify our problems and find our own solutions seems a logical way. This is the whole essence of Co-Counselling training and as a result it is a very safe practice. Within Co-Counselling the counsellor (role) can never take a Co-Counselling client into areas they are not yet ready to look at nor to a depth they are not able to handle because the clients training teaches them how to retain full responsibility for the session. Our Psyche is after all ours, and our responsibility alone.

      Finally a word about the techniques taught on a Fundamentals course. They are all drawn from a variety of Analytical and Humanistic Philosophy. Co-Counselling is therefore a mixed bag from a variety of sources. This amalgamation of techniques is its only claim to uniqueness. Co-Counselling therefore fits with most other Therapies with its culture. It is a very useful stepping off ground for those wishing to enter this field of Professionalism!


      In drawing attention to the above points the reader may be forgiven for assuming that I hold a preference for Co-Counselling over therapy. This is not so. Therapy certainly does have its place and it is different to Co-Counselling. My purpose has not been to say which is better but to show these differences. Co-Counselling is for those who are able to manage their lives already but who wish to enhance their way of being in the world with themselves and others. It is for us normal neurotics! Those who are not able to manage their lives by the conventionally accepted yardsticks, paradoxically have to put themselves in the hands of others in order to get help for themselves! Therapy is still seen very much as a sick persons resort, and there is some truth in this, however by virtue of the influence from America where Therapists have done a good job in selling themselves, it is becoming more acceptable and even fashionable for normal people to have a therapist. I certainly believe that this is a healthy trend. More healthy would be an overall recognition of Co-Counselling or other self help methods and that emotional literacy is a necessity!

      A final word here about some prejudice I have experienced in that some therapists have asked their clients not to either go on Co-Counselling workshops or practice Co-Counselling while in therapy with them. This encapsulates the misunderstanding, Co-Counselling is a different way of working. They are both forms of therapy but one does not in my view negate the other. It is like a tennis coach saying to a client you mustnt ski. Both are forms of sport but they are not the same and the one need not interfere with the other, nor does one take preference over another.

      Each one of us has the right to choose for ourselves whatever method(s) are the most beneficial for us. Co-Counselling or one way therapy are both legitimate and each has its own values, and each has its own limitations.


      Heron J. “Helping the Client” Sage Publications (1990), pp 12-14 & pp 57-58

      Rowan J. “Ordinary Ecstasy” Routledge Keegan & Paul (1980) pp 46-49 & pp 57-59

      © Gretchen Pyves, 2000


      Depression and Co-Counselling

      T. Tinklin, Depression and Co-Counselling, 2000. .

      I was at a very good seminar recently, run by Mindfields College, called 'Breaking the cycle of depression without drugs'. I found what they were saying really useful and interesting and other people that I've talked to about it also seemed to find it useful, so I decided to write this article, summarising what they said and using their ideas to think about how to use co-counselling during periods of depression. It seems to me it is useful for people who occasionally get down as well as those who experience more severe depression. I'd be very interested to hear other people's views on Depression and Co-Counselling and hope that this article might inspire other people to write about their ideas and experiences.

      1. Is depression biological?

      Joe Griffin, the speaker at the seminar, began by questioning the idea that depression is a biological illness. He said that in 95% of cases, psychology rather than biology causes depression. His evidence for this was the huge rise in rates of depression in recent years. He put this down to cultural changes, such as the loss of supportive networks of relationships, increased stress levels and a reduction in feelings of security, due to insecure working conditions and lack of confidence in our public institutions, such as the health service and politicians.

      1.1 'Today's worry is tomorrow's depression': Depression and sleep

      Depression is a REM sleep disorder. REM sleep is the name given to the type of sleep when we dream. Dreaming is normally a healthy process during which the brain is cleared of any leftover emotion from the day before, freeing it up to be ready for the challenges of the day ahead. People who are depressed, however, spend a lot of time ruminating during the day and are so emotionally aroused that this process goes wrong. REM sleep burns up a lot of energy. Normally the brain recharges itself with energy before REM sleep. However, the depressed brain does an excessive amount of REM sleep, going straight into it without first replenishing its energy levels. This leads to early morning waking, because the brain realises it's exhausting itself and interrupts the REM sleep, and a feeling of exhaustion, which increases the likelihood of more negative rumination and so the cycle continues. To counteract depression it is essential to break this rumination-poor sleep-exhaustion-depression cycle.

      1.2 The Human Givens

      Underlying their approach to working with depression is a theory of human beings which they call the 'Human Givens'. All human beings have both needs and resources. They need security and space to grow, a sense of autonomy and control, to be part of a wider community, to feel they are making a contribution, to give and receive attention, to have intimacy (being accepted as they are), self esteem (via competence and achievement) and to find meaning in life (through a philosophy of life and a sense of contributing and being stretched). They also have resources: long-term memory, imagination, an ability to understand the world by matching what they experience with internally stored patterns, an observing self (which allows them to separate out from their problems), empathy and connection with others and a rational mind. When these tools are used wrongly they cause misery and mental illness. For example, in depression the imagination is misused, with people fantasising about disaster without sticking to the reality of the situation.

      2. Treatment for depression

      A huge study (Robinson, Lesley A.) was carried out in the USA in 1990, which drew together thousands of research studies on depression. The study found that:

      • The right kind of psychotherapy is the best form of treatment for mild to moderate depression.
      • Medication and psychotherapy should be used in severe cases.
      • Psychotherapy should be short-term and focused initially on symptom alleviation. Other work, such as getting to the root of the problem, can be done later. There should be an improvement within six weeks and recovery within twelve weeks. If not, medication should be considered or an alternative diagnosis.
      • Therapies that encourage introspective rumination worsen depression (e.g. psychodynamic therapy). Indeed, you can be sued for practicing this on depressed people in the States.
      • Cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy have been shown to work.

      2.1 What to do about depression

      • Get Active. It is essential to break the rumination-poor sleep-exhaustion-depression cycle. Doing something physically active is really good as it can stop you ruminating and raise serotonin levels in the brain which makes you feel better. Alternatively do something fairly simple that used to give you pleasure. Choose a short-term task that can provide satisfaction fairly quickly. Something like baking a cake is ideal. It is likely that you will still feel bad afterwards. For this reason, rate your satisfaction levels out of ten before and after - going from 1/10 to 3/10 is an improvement!
      • Make contact. The temptation with depression is to socially isolate yourself until you feel better. Make contact with other people anyway. Baking a cake then inviting someone round to share it with you is ideal, as you make contact and feel like you've contributed something. Going for a walk with a neighbour is also good as it provides social contact and physical activity.
      • Change the way you think. A major cause of depression is the way we understand and interpret the events that happen in our lives (see below for more on this).
      • Change the situation. Is there something in your life you need to change? If the cause of your depression is something you can change like a bad relationship or terrible job, look for ways to change the situation.
      • Relax. Use relaxation tapes or join a relaxing class, like meditation or yoga. This will help to get your emotional arousal levels down, improve sleep and break the cycle of depression. Don't be tempted to use the space provided for more rumination. Focus on your body and breathing.
      • Build hope. Most depression lifts in less than four months without intervention. It will pass. You will feel better again. There are things you can do about it (all of the above). Tell yourself these things morning and night, whether or not you believe them.
      • Look for a good therapist. Someone who works cognitively or from the Human Givens approach is suitable (telephone 01323 811440 for a register of HG practitioners). Alternatively JanPieter Hoogma runs a course for co-counsellors on automatic negative thinking.

      2.2 Changing the way you think

      How we interpret and understand our life experiences is a major cause of depression. When bad things happen, people who get depressed tend to take them personally ('it was my own fault', 'I'm to blame').

      Depressed people tend to think globally. For example, 'one bad thing has happened therefore my whole life's a disaster.'

      They also think bad situations are stable ('things will always be awful', 'things will never change').

      For good things they think in the opposite way. Good things are nothing to do with them ('it was just a fluke'), are only specific to that situation ('that doesn't mean everything else is OK'), and are unstable ('it was a one-off, it won't happen again').

      Thinking that there is nothing you can do to change a situation ('I have to put up with it', 'this is my lot', 'there's nothing I can do') and getting into victim role is also common.

      Depressed people also have a tendency to think in black and white terms, using absolutes like 'never' and 'always' ('I'm totally useless', 'I'm a complete failure', 'I always get it wrong').

      Thinking in this way causes depression.

      It is important to challenge this way of thinking and try to think more rationally and realistically

      If you tend to take things too personally, write down five possible alternative explanations for what has happened. For example, the bus driver is rude to you, you think 'he can see I'm an awful person and I deserve it'. Five other possible explanations are : he's having a bad day, his wife shouted at him this morning, he's running late, he's generally a rude person or he's got bad indigestion. All of which leave you feeling better.

      For global thinking, it is important to try to remember that if one bad thing happens there are still other parts of your life that are OK. Remind yourself of what these are. Get a piece of paper and write down what is good in your life.

      Remember that things change, they are rarely completely stable. It is unlikely that everything in your life is going to be bad. There will be good things and bad things.

      If you are getting into victim role, remember there is usually something you can do to change an upsetting situation, whether this is to change the way you view it or to change what is actually happening. If there is really nothing you can change and it's hurting you, you can remove yourself.

      Avoid black and white statements like 'never', 'always', 'completely'. They are rarely true, substitute with 'often', 'sometimes', 'usually'. This is more realistic. For example, rather than thinking 'I always get it wrong', try 'I sometimes get it wrong'. Instead of 'I'm totally useless', try 'I have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else'. JanPieter Hoogma's course on automatic negative thinking provides much more guidance and information on how to challenge negative thinking.

      3. Co-counselling and depression

      It is clear that using co-counselling to do more negative rumination is only going to make things worse. But used in the right way, co-counselling could actually help as it provides social contact and the acceptance of another person. It can also provide the structure to make you do the things you need to do to counteract depression. So how can you use co-counselling in a positive way? Here are some suggestions.

      • Only do celebrations. Use session time to remind yourself what is good in your life.
      • Use a session to do something physical. For example, negotiate with your partner to walk round the block during your time.
      • Use it to relax. Go through a relaxation tape with your partner giving free attention.
      • Use it to look for more rational and realistic ways of understanding your situation. Doing cognitive exercises that you have learned in therapy or on JanPieter's course, for example.
      • Use it to help you get active. For example, agree with your partner that he or she will phone at a certain time to check that you have done a specific task that you intend to do. For example, been out for walk or phoned a friend.
      • Do the role play technique i.e. splitting your time into four segments using a timer (e.g. 5, 5, 5, 5 plus 2 minutes coming out) and going through the following four actions: literal description of the situation and finding the trigger, what do you want to say to that person, what do you most want to say to that person, what can you say to that person in reality? The counsellor can feed you a trigger sentence throughout if this helps. This allows discharge but provides the discipline to get realistic at the end and gets you out of victim role.


      All in all I found it a very stimulating and worthwhile day. I went originally to support my development as a counsellor, but of course found myself applying the information to myself. While I don't often get really down, I do tend to ruminate about things and get stuck in negative cycles of thinking that only make me feel bad. Now I know I'm better off going for a walk, phoning a friend, doing some celebrations or challenging my thinking. I'd be delighted if anyone felt like writing their thoughts about all this to the newsletter. It could be useful for all of us.

      With thanks to Anne Denniss for discussing the article with me as I was writing it.


      Griffin, Joe and Tyrrell, Ivan (1998) Breaking the Cycle of Depression, Organising Ideas Monograph No. 3, European Therapy Studies Institute.

      Griffin, Joe and Tyrrell, Ivan (2000) The APET model: Patterns in the Brain, Organising Ideas Monograph No. 4, European Therapy Studies Institute.

      Robinson, Leslie A.,Berman, Jeffrey S.,Neimeyer, Robert A. Psychotherapy for the treatment of depression: A comprehensive review of controlled outcome research. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 108(1), Jul 1990, 30-49

      United States Public Health Service Agency (1996) Depression and Primary Care - Vol. 1 Detection and Diagnosis, Vol. 2 Treatment Aspect.

      Willms, Siglind and Denniss, Anne (2000) Co-Counselling and the depressive mood. See CornuCopia website Literature page.


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        Co-Counselling and the Depressive Mood

        A. Denniss and Willms, S., Co-Counselling and the Depressive Mood, CornuCopia Publications, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2000.

        conceived by
        Siglind Willms & Anne Denniss
        written by Anne Denniss

        Siglind Willms and I gave a workshop on “Co-Counselling and Depression” in May at McCoCo 2000. We would like to share the content of that workshop with you here.

        Siglind Willms is a Therapist and Co-Counsellor and has run a Therapy Centre in Münster (Germany) for 25 years. She has been treating people with depression and encouraging them to take up Co-Counselling. I have been working with this topic for 20 years and after meeting Siglind started to run workshops and groups based on our joint theories. Our workshop at McCoCo was our first chance to work together.

        In recent years I came to the conclusion that Co-Counselling as it was had supported me with many things, but it had not helped me to overcome depression. Siglind and I present here an approach that we believe can help many Co-Counsellors to overcome their depressive mood.

        Depression may come from the following sources
        1. Over-exhaustion
        2. Suppressed and unowned sadness
        3. Suppressed aggressive energy

        We believe that people with a depressive tendency can do Fundamentals at a time when they are healthy, after they have been brought into balance by therapy or medication. They can learn Co-Counselling in the normal group with the guidance that if you have this tendency you slant your Co-Counselling in a certain way, as explained here. A maintenance dose of medication is sometimes necessary and that is fine as long as the person can listen and give attention to others.

        The elements of a ‘Stay Well’ programme we suggest are:

        1. Physical Exercise
        2. Celebration
        3. Short sessions, varying from 5 - 20 minutes
        4. Light catharsis
        5. Role-play sessions
        6. Rational-cognitive work e.g. Life action, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
        7. Support and Fun outside Fundamentals

        1. Physical Exercise

        Take more exercise every day
        Walk, cycle, dance, run, climb, exercise, trampette, swim or…
        (especially if you are bedridden or wheelchair bound, it is important to find any small exercises you can do.).

        Use small Co-Counselling sessions to find out how you wish to do that

        2. Use Celebration a lot

        By celebration we mean that you focus your attention on and express positive and joyful qualities of yourself, others and life.

        • at the beginning of sessions to raise attention and mood,
        • at the end use celebrations of self and session
        • celebrate throughout the day on your own, with friends work mates and family

        (Spoken, written or sung – Celebrations, New and Goods, What I enjoyed……).

        If your mood lowers, use celebration more
        and catharsis less. This is important

        3&4 Short sessions 15 –20/25 minutes and light catharsis

        • When you Co-Counsel take bite sized chunks of your topic in mini sessions, as you would with a huge sandwich. You will get there in the end, possibly without the risk of emotional indigestion!
        • If you feel BAD or low get your counsellor to ask what unexpressed or undigested thing you are sitting on

        Why work in this way?
        Long deep sessions can trigger psychotic outbursts.
        On top of the low energy of depression and negative thinking, long discharge in sessions on a negative theme can send the person lower.

        My experience when tired or very low or upset (and role play is not available ) is that celebration and rational thinking, or moving about and switching attention can often be more beneficial than catharsis to raise and stabilise my mood. Sometimes going to see a good film ‘may’ nurture a person with low mood more than digging into the past.

        5 Role Play

        The only time that we recommend strong discharge is in role-play where there is a time-limit on it.

        It can be noted that discharging on literal description alone to set the scene may not bring relief. Taking those details into role-play and using our aggression constructively within the situation, to the persons involved, can shift us from ‘victim’ to a more healthy, assertive place.

        It is important however ill and depressed you are or low in energy, to do this. Energy will rise rapidly even when the client feels they have no strength to do this exercise

        In this Siglind recommends the expression and use of your “Aggressive” energy.


        Work in a group of between 3 and 5 people each having about 20 minutes.

        1. “Literal Description”
        Group gives client free attention; client goes through chosen situation, working with “Literal Description”, re-experiencing the situation.
        Client tells the details and triggering sentences in session of about 5 minutes
        (This helps the group grasp the situation and atmosphere)
        Client discharges.
        One to stay out as counsellor. Client to be warned of time, attention out.

        2. Client chooses counsellors as role players
        and gives them triggering sentence(s).Role players already have all the relevant information from the literal description session

        3a. Use of triggering sentence: “You shouldn’t have………..”
        Role Player: “I am Uncle Bingo, what would you like to say to me?”
        Use of full eye contact with role player, NOT a cushion
        Client works, may be counselled but only if stuck

        When ready move on to

        3b. Use of triggering sentence if necessary: “You shouldn’t have………..”
        Role Player: “I am Uncle Bingo, what would you **MOST** like to say to me?”
        Client works

        When ready move on to

        3c. Use of triggering sentence if necessary: “You shouldn’t have………..”
        Role Player: “I am Uncle Bingo, in REAL LIFE what COULD you really say to me?”
        Client works

        4. Finish the session in the normal way:

        • Dis-identify the role players
        • What was good about the session, what was good about you, attention out

        Working with the literal description session first and then moving onto role play with the set prompts, makes this exercise extremely powerful.

        I find that Role play can be backed up by using ‘life action’ to support the work of the session

        6. Rational /Cognitive work

        6a. Life Action
        provides the rational structure and support for us to achieve our aims. (CCI-USA technique)

        6b. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
        It is my experience that Co-Counsellors (or anyone) on the high end of the spectrum of negative thinking may benefit from learning Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT as a complement to Co-Counselling.

        The part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that I find useful is the search for thinking errors in my thinking and breaking these errors down to a rational level.

        Try putting your tongue out, imagine a lemon squeezed onto it.
        Do you feel the sensation of the tart lemon juice?
        It's entirely induced by thought!
        Now conjure up a nice thought and see how your body feels.
        Feeling follows thought.

        I learned to analyse my thoughts with Cognitive Behavioural therapy and detect the 'Thinking Errors' in them.
        These Thoughts distorted by 'Thinking Errors' made me feel 'bad' in my body.

        By restructuring these thoughts and 'thinking errors' positively I find I am far more cheerful and healthy in my outlook.

        Here is an example
        In the morning I awoke feeling bad. My thought was:
        “I feel bad therefore I’m going to be depressed again”

        The thinking errors present in this statement are:
        ‘Black and white thinking’
        ‘Fortune telling’
        ‘Emotional reasoning’

        Emotional reasoning works like this: I feel bad in my body therefore something is wrong
        To ‘break down’ this ‘thinking error’ give at least three different scenarios for why you could be feeling bad and write them down.

        • I might not have had enough sleep
        • I might have eaten something that disagreed with me
        • It could be something else like PMT


        • I might be sitting on some unprocessed stuff that I need to deal with
        • I might be going to have just have ‘one’ challenging day
        • I might feel uncomfortable for a ‘few minutes’ and then sort out what is wrong with me
        • It might just be a minor blip
        • I might indeed be going to be depressed again!

        The point of this exercise being to shift attention from negative tunnel vision to a greater variety of scenarios.
        This proportionalizes the situation or puts it into perspective.

        A PAT or "Positive Automatic Thought" may be adopted.
        E.g.. “The day gets better as it goes on” This PAT is repeated until it is deeply embedded.

        I believe that the practice of CBT on an ongoing daily basis can support and complement Co- counselling in areas which are not normally reached in ‘some’ people: the areas of heavily entrenched, negative basic beliefs

        CBT is offered in Britain on the National Health Service for depression and other mental health disorders.

        JanPieter Hoogma and I have created a structured course that is run in Edinburgh to teach people techniques to identify, breakdown and change their negative Thinking Errors. This course is called “Interrupt your Negative Thinking”

        7. Support and Fun outside Fundamentals

        for those who experience low mood as an ongoing challenge

        A peer based support group can be run.
        A positive name is essential E.g.. ‘The Stay-Well group’

        This is how the Edinburgh group ran:

        • The group uses the above Co –counselling techniques and methods
        • And keeps the meetings short and cheerful
        • Gentle, firm challenge will be made to persistent negative thinking with CBT type interventions e.g.
          “What’s the evidence?”
          “Give me 3 different scenarios/reasons for that”
        • Difficult thoughts e.g. suicide need to be welcomed in the group in an accepting way. A light code word is used to indicate that certain thoughts are on board.
        • As well as light sessions and loud noisy role-play…
        • Strong emphasis on positivity and enjoyment. People are encouraged to find out what they enjoy and do it in their everyday life

        Being part of a group and being totally accepted in this area of low mood, at whatever level it is experienced, seems to help people in a structured and supported way to be creative and playful.

        Life actions are taken on this making it possible to take the discoveries into everyday life and on the kinds of things that got us down – like mess in the house, procrastination ….

        People come into the group when they are fit enough to learn the techniques to ‘Stay Well’, if they dip too low to be afloat in the group the agreement is to get one way support until they are well enough to join again.

        A group like this runs well alongside the co-counsellor’s other Co-Counselling activities, rather like ‘12 step groups’ at CCIs.

        Enjoy staying Well

        Siglind and Anne


        CoCoInfo Tags: 

          Literature tag: 

          How did you experience co-counselling after your fundamentals? - Survey results.

          K. Lander and Green, D., How did you experience co-counselling after your fundamentals? - Survey results., 1996.

          A questionnaire and sae were sent to all addresses where there is a subscriber to the WYCC Newsletter. The intention had been to send one to every subscriber ("on the list"). In households where there are more than one Co-coer. some may not have received a copy as only one copy may have been sent.

          34 People returned completed questionnaires. The total responses to some questions may be more than 33/34 because more than one response was possible. Some people did not answer every question.