Make Good Trouble

Make Good Trouble!!

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.  In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and non-violence is the more excellent way.  Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

John Lewis 1940 - 2020. Civil Rights Leader - a colleague of Martin Luther King.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti- racist”

Angela Davis - Civil Rights Campaigner.

These quotes come from the Amnesty International newsletter I subscribe to.

I felt inspired by them to think about and write something on the theme of “Co-Counselling International and becoming an Anti-Racist.“

I choose to make the assumption that the health and wellbeing of our societies is being compromised by systemic racism.  There is an abundance of evidence that this is true in all aspects of our shared lives - health, education, accommodation, security and employment.  The consequences affect us all and we can see it on our streets and in our homes.

My understanding has always been that we agree not to bring politics and religion into CCI but I believe that the issues of systemic racism that blight our humanity is beyond this ‘norm’.  This is something that affects my everyday emotional health and wellbeing and that of my fellow human beings, therefore I feel that it is appropriate to make “good trouble”.  

I hope that you can share and explore these ideas with me even if it’s a bit uncomfortable or I’m stating the obvious to you.

I believe we can choose to engage with these issues using Co-Counselling as a tool for reflective practice, re-evaluation and taking action.  

I am choosing to start with my own ‘unconscious bias’ and explore the feelings and beliefs that might lead to my own unconscious racist behaviour. 

“Until you dig a hole and plant a tree, you water it, and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing.”

Kenyan political and environmental activist.

Have I the courage to look inwardly and explore my own ‘hidden’ racism and white privilege? 

“Me and White Supremacy - How to recognise your own Priviledge, Combat racism and Change the World”

Layla F Saad - Writer, speaker and podcast host on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation and social change.

Someone suggested that I begin with reading this book.  I gulped and bought it!  

I’m finding it tough going.

I’ve started doing the exercises in the book that she calls “The Work”.

Already I’m realising how WHITE I am.  

I’ve been practicing CoCo for many years and I thought I’d turned over most of my stones and explored a lot of the hidden bits of myself that lead me to have patterns of behaviour that aren’t always useful - for me or others.  I’ve made changes, taken responsibility for myself and learnt to listen and support others to make their own choices.  I’ve learnt to value myself and others and use encouragement to promote healthy change.

But I’ve never explored my own white priviledge!  I’ve never looked at the assumptions I make about how the world works because I’m white!  

What must that feel like when I’m listening to someone who isn’t white and doesn’t have the priviledge of those assumptions because that’s not their experience of how the world works?

My guess is it probably feels confusing and disturbing.  I’m listening to them with my white ears!  

Am I being unconsciously racist?  I need to find out from someone who is of a different race to me.  I need to really listen to their experience - even if it feels uncomfortable.

Have I the courage to honestly admit to my racism? 

Whilst thinking about this I’m beginning to realise that I have a lot of work to do, because it doesn’t match my intention to create and support peer communities and networks with more diverse groups of people.  

How will that work if I’m not listening to them with genuinely peer ears!

My self observation is that when I’m not willing to identify how my own beliefs and behaviours fall short of real inclusive respect for all human beings, I’m deluding myself.  

If at any moment someone’s racial difference from me re-stimulates me to make an assumption or a judgment about them, it is unwise for me to move forward in partnership with them.  

I’m seeing them from my white priviledge not from my human heart.

If I expect others to achieve standards of respect, equality and justice is it fair for me to expect the system to change if I’m unwilling to change?  

I know from experience that I can change my ways of thinking, feeling and behaving using CoCo as my toolbox.  So maybe for me to earn my identity as an “anti-racist” I need to roll my sleeves up and focus my future sessions on learning where my resistant white patterns are?

I need to do the The Work.

If I want the World to change I must change.

“If you are a person who believes in love, justice, integrity, and equality for all people, then you know that this work is nonnegotiable. If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor, then you know that this work is some of the most important work that you will be called upon to do in your lifetime. 

Here’s to doing what is right and not what is easy”

Layla F Saad 


“The answer to these questions, and the shape of the world children born now will inhabit, will be determined not just by politicians and billionaires, but by millions of supposedly ordinary people like you and me who choose whether or not to engage with difficult issues, to try and grasp history, to find their place in it , and choose whether to act or do nothing, when faced with the mundane mammoth conflicts of everyday life.”

Akala “ Natives - Race and Class in the ruins of the Empire”





CoCoInfo Tags: 

    Can CCI co-counselling be learned on line?

    This is a gathering together of ideas on this issue. If anyone wants anything altered or added, please email the ideas to John Talbut, jtatdpets [dot] uk(link sends e-mail). The intention is to summarize each idea here and not to be an overall summary or a discussion.

    The word “present” is used here to mean physically present in the same location. “We” are individual CCI co-counsellors.

    This is not about whether useful work can be done by co-counselling on line, or by telephone. This is about the status of people who have learned co-counselling on line in relation to having present sessions and taking part in present CCI events.

    By its nature CCI has no and cannot therefore have any mechanism for making decisions that are binding on all CCI co-counsellors. The only ones who can make decisions are individuals and it may come about that most CCI co-counsellors accept a particular position.

    The issue

    Can CCI co-counselling be learned partly or wholly on line?


    Some trainers are used to facilitating training on line and believe that this can be done partly or wholly for a CCI core training.

    During the COVID-19 lockdown it has not been possible to bring people together to be present for training.

    The Re-evaluation Counseling community (RC) offer on line classes to learn co-counselling.

    The requirement for 40 hours training originated with RC. However there has been more or less agreement within CCI that this is a minimum length of training required.

    The gatekeeper of the learning process in CCI has been the core training trainer. That person holds some responsibility towards other co-counsellors. The trainers, at present, decide, with the participant and in the light of information from other participants, co-facilitators and helpers, whether they are ready to be a CCI co-counsellor. Other CCI co-counsellors may give information to trainers about the perceived competence of former trainees.

    When co-counselling I always make a judgement about whether the person in front of me will be useful to me and whether they will be able to use what I offer them.


    Presence may be a critically important component of co-counselling. Much of healing can be seen as a process of re-parenting. The presence of someone giving their undivided attention and not judging or trying to tell the other what to do may be a strong contradiction to having had parents who were in some way absent or critical. This may be key to bringing up feelings associated with childhood that can then be worked on, particularly through discharge.

    On line work may reproduce a distant parent and so may be less conducive to bringing up early material. It may also feel more comfortable because it avoids triggering these feelings.

    On line there are difficulties around looking at the screen or looking at the camera. Also the output can be somewhat jerky. In addition the participants are only seeing what the other person’s camera is pointing at, usually just their face. If the client moves around they may go completely off screen. All these mean that a lot of body language is not being conveyed.

    Online training and co-counselling can enable people who are isolated, e.g. geographically, to participate in co-counselling. For all participants there is less effort, less expenditure, less time involved in participating in or organizing online activities compared with present ones.

    Some on line facilities such as video or presentation programmes can facilitate the learning of cognitive information however these can also be used in present training.

    Present events have more sense of occasion, perhaps partly because of the greater resource they consume.

    It may be easier to bring people into co-counselling who have become used to on line social networking or other online activities.

    The threshold for interest may be lower among people (and there may be many) who may like the idea of co-counselling but feel afraid to try it.

    Learning CCI co-counselling may be nearly all affective learning, i.e. learning to feel different. In other words learning to feel comfortable with giving and receiving free attention, feeling able to maintain a balance of attention, feeling all right with discharge and feeling all right about taking charge of our own work. These can only be learned experientially. The cognitive information about co-counselling can all be read in manuals and on line.

    The knowledge that another human is walking alongside me is significant, for learning. Written material can be better conveyed by the presence of a trainer in addition to the written word.

    A trainer who is present can observe trainees during group activities and sessions in the same space as well as having sessions with them individually. This way they can get a good sense of whether they are “getting it”.

    The opportunities for participants to be together outside of training sessions, e.g. at meal times, gives opportunities to practice and monitor whether participants have understood and are observing confidentiality.

    Any techniques that need touch cannot be practised on line.

    The knowledge that another human being is with me in the best way they can be under the circumstances, can be very beneficial. If I am blind for instance I an still obtain benefit from another human with helpful intent.

    A hybrid model in which participants experience presence as well as online connection may provide an excellent opportunity for direct experiential comparison between the two modes and consequent understanding of the advantages of either. Facilitators who bear this specifically in mind may perhaps enable three stage learning by participants – overcoming initial misgivings, working in Present Time mode and (for some) regressive work. These stages have often been evident in present classes.

    Possible ways forward

    We stick to a 40 hour present training by a CCI co-counsellor as a requirement. Anyone who has done any other sort of training would still need to do this.

    Some form of transitional training involving less that 40 hours of present training. A similar challenge exists in proving a transition for RC co-counsellors and in considering the position of cocos who did a class a very long tie ago.

    We have a network of on line co-counsellors whose training was fully on line and who only co-counsel on line. They would still need to do the present training to do present co-counselling. Present co-counsellors could have on line sessions with on line co-counsellors.

    We accept blended core trainings with some on line and a minimum (how much?) of present training.

    Organizers take into account if they accept co-counsellors whose training was on line how to integrate them into the event.

    We clarify or add to the minimum requirements as set out in “A Definition of CCI” that a person has to satisfy in order to be a CCI co-counsellor.

    In addition to the current questions (“when and with whom was your core training?) organizers might in addition ask questions about whether the training was present, on line or mixed and how frequently the person co-counsels currently.

    From a technical point of view, co-counsellors may wish to seek software modifications that can improve the online experience so that we are not constrained by what is currently available.


    Issue #9 - 2020

    Dear co-counsellor,

    when I was moving co-counselling literature from my personal CornuCopia web site, to the CoCoInfo site I noticed how many contributions co-counsellors have already made in the past. As you can see here, CoCoInfo now is so rich in coco content! As a consequence It has become more and more difficult for people to find information relevant to them.



    CoCounseling International USA Virtual Workshop

    jeu 15 avr 2021. - lun 19 avr 2021.

    CCI Europe, 2020 postponed to 2021

    dim 25 juil 2021. - sam 31 juil 2021.

    Bölcske, Hongrie

    CCI Southern Spring Event postponed until September 2021 at Earthspirit Centre

    jeu 16 sep 2021. - lun 20 sep 2021.

    Glastonbury, Royaume-Uni

    CCI Aotearoa New Zealand, January 2022 - Tentative

    ven 21 jan 2022. - jeu 27 jan 2022.

    Taupo, Nouvelle-Zélande

    Other CoCo events

    Refresh your Co-Co workshop - Monthly drop in

    Mardi, 2 mars, 2021 - 19:00 - 20:45

    Midlands Community Day

    Samedi, 17 avril, 2021 - 10:00 - 16:30

    Birmingham, Royaume-Uni

    Online Co-Counselling Facilitator Training Programme 2021

    Jeudi, 13 mai, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00, Jeudi, 27 mai, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00, Mardi, 8 juin, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00, Jeudi, 24 juin, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00, Jeudi, 22 juillet, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00, Jeudi, 9 septembre, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00, Jeudi, 23 septembre, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00, Jeudi, 7 octobre, 2021 - 19:00 - 21:00

    Midlands Community Day

    Samedi, 15 mai, 2021 - 10:00 - 16:30

    Birmingham, Royaume-Uni

    Midlands Community Day

    Samedi, 12 juin, 2021 - 10:00 - 16:30

    Birmingham, Royaume-Uni

    Midlands Community Day

    Samedi, 17 juillet, 2021 - 10:00 - 16:30

    Birmingham, Royaume-Uni

    Newly added posts

    There is also the option of being notified when people add comments. For this to happen you need to go to the page and subscribe to it.

    Co-counselling teachers' manual, by John Heron Biblio

    Posted dim 3 jan 2021. | Tags Teaching a Core Training, 'Organising' a CCI community network

    Teacher Training CoCoPedia Topic

    Posted dim 3 jan 2021. | Tags Teaching co-counselling, Promoting Co-Counselling
    Info on ways of teaching coco, example exercises, etc

    Make Good Trouble Article

    Posted mer 23 sep 2020. | Tags none assgned.
    Make Good Trouble!! “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.  In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of... Read more

    Can CCI co-counselling be learned on line? Article

    Posted sam 12 sep 2020. | Tags Teaching a Core Training, Developing Co-Counselling theory & practice
    This is a gathering together of ideas on this issue. If anyone wants anything altered or added, please email the ideas to John Talbut, jtdpets [dot] uk(link sends e-mail). The intention is to summarize each idea here... Read more

    A Well That Keeps Flowing: The Power of Co-Counseling Biblio

    Posted dim 2 aoû 2020. | Tags Books
    A Well That Keeps Flowing is an easy-to-read presentation of the power of CCI Co-Counseling to change your life. The author took four years and four complete drafts to finish this uplifting book. After each draft... Read more

    There is also the option of being notified when people add comments. For this to happen you need to go to the page and subscribe to it.

    National Contacts Wiki

    Co-counselling teachers' manual, by John Heron Biblio

    • CoCoInfo tags: Teaching a Core Training
    • CoCoInfo tags: 'Organising' a CCI community network

    Teacher Training CoCoPedia Topic

    • CoCoInfo tags: Teaching co-counselling
    • CoCoInfo tags: Promoting Co-Counselling

    Co-Counselling Teacher Trainers' Manual Biblio

    • CoCoInfo tags: Teaching new trainers - manuals

    Catharsis in Human Development Biblio

    • CoCoInfo tags: Literature supporting Co-Counselling

    A Well That Keeps Flowing: The Power of Co-Counseling

    F. Wallace, A Well That Keeps Flowing: The Power of Co-Counseling. Be Your Greatness, 2015.

    A Well That Keeps Flowing is an easy-to-read presentation of the power of CCI Co-Counseling to change your life. The author took four years and four complete drafts to finish this uplifting book. After each draft critical feedback from people within Co-Counseling and from people who were not familiar with the process was received and utilized to improve the book.


    CoCoInfo Tags: 

      Literature tag: 

      Dialogue about CCI

      D. Sargent et Heron, J., « Dialogue about CCI », CornuCopia Publications, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2001.

      January 1997 - Auckland Aotearoa

      John Heron              Dency Sargent


      This conversation between Dency Sargent and John Heron, co-founders of CCI, was recorded at the CCI International Workshop, Auckland, New Zealand, January 1997. Joke Stassen and Niek Sickenga transcribed the recording and the transcript has been fully edited and revised by Dency and John. October 2000

      Dialogue about CCI

      Where do we take co-counseling and CCI? Well, I started co-counseling within Re-evaluation Counseling in about 1970. What attracted me to co-counseling was that it gave me an opportunity to get my own time. In those days I was working full time in the library world, I had a young daughter - who is now not so young - and I was also helping my husband, Tom Sargent, set up a counseling and consulting center. Tom and I were doing training for peer counselors when we came across co-counseling. We read in the paper about this woman who was teaching RC. I went to her class, ostensibly to support the development of our center, but right away I didn't’t much care what it had to do with the center, I wanted it for me. As I said co-counseling has always been essential for me because it legitimizes my getting my time. And this is still important for me.

      Tom and I went to several RC workshops, at some of which John was also present. Very soon I was teaching RC, in fact I was the second teacher in Connecticut. The first teacher was also the area reference person, for those of you who know RC structure. Our local RC community grew very fast. I couldn’t teach enough classes, people were banging on the door. It became very important for me and for Tom to develop a community structure that was based on the peer model of a co-counseling session. We were seeking to develop a horizontal, rather than a vertical, model of community, and of course there are very few or no models of horizontal community structure. So a core group of us spent many sessions over weeks and weeks, co-counseling, thinking, writing and developing guidelines to create our community. These guidelines included making decisions by consensus.

      As we applied our guidelines, conflict grew between Tom and the area reference person, who was also becoming uneasy about the growth and popularity of our community. And at some point Harvey Jackins had the person who was second in command in RC visit Hartford, Connecticut, where we were based, and basically tell us that we weren’t doing it right, that I wasn’t doing it right, that there were problems with what I was teaching, mostly in the area of validation, that we could no longer have our community, that I needed to be taking my direction from the area reference person and that my choice was to accept this direction or leave. Well, it was a wrenching, wrenching time, because I and all of us had a sense of belonging and empowerment within RC. It was like being told. It was horrible...

      I had a lot of support from Tom and a lot of encouragement to leave RC and we did. We established what we called People’s Re-evaluation Counseling. At the same time we noticed that John Heron's name no longer appeared on RC lists, as European regional reference person. We both paid a lot of attention to this and said "Wait a minute, what happened to John?". In that year, 1974, Tom and I went to England and met with John and created the guidelines for Co-Counseling International and we still use those guidelines in CCI USA.

      laughter, mini is offered

      Well, we started right away with what has since become a pattern for international workshops. We did a first CCI workshop in the United States and I think I am correct that John led it. Then he and I together led the first European workshop in England that same year. That pattern has been maintained, as you know, with an annual CCI workshop in the United States, which our community organizes, and then another annual one in Europe, which now rotates between England, Holland, Hungary, Scotland and Ireland. More recently, New Zealand started another workshop every three years or so, in our winter, your summer. Richard Horobin and Rose Evison came to the second European workshop and then to the United States. They were our first people from England to be a regular part of the United States CCI. They contributed a lot to us and their participation, in addition to the original participation with John, has been very significant for CCI USA.

      I trained teachers and they trained teachers and there were little pockets of community around Connecticut. At some point there was a breakdown of community structure following the separation from RC, so I rebuilt the co-counseling community with a structure that was much more tied to the counseling center. The pockets continued in other areas and we all came together every year at the CCI USA workshop.

      After Tom and I separated, which was over 10 years ago, I and others put a lot of time and energy into bringing our communities together and now we have a group, representing the whole north-east US, which organizes the CCI workshop every year. One of my goals was to have this group run itself, so that I no longer needed to be part of organizing the CCI workshop. Now it is carried on by others. Our teachers have come together: we have consciously attended to inclusion rather than exclusion, to celebrating our differences, to learning from one another and to increasing our quality of teaching and our quality control around teaching. This has been very rewarding. Now I am one of the two continuity persons for our community, and I am very active in our teachers group.

      Co-counseling and my profession in the library world are the two primary commitments of my life. Co-counseling has given me a place to belong with my power and bigness, and a place where I can fall apart, where I can be respected across the whole range of who I am, in a way that I have not found in any of the other arenas of personal growth that I have visited. It is a place where my participation can make a difference, and this is a very big deal for me. Co-counseling by its nature generates community, so what I have now is the opportunity to help create that, and to grow through meeting the many challenges on the way, and through relationship with all of you within the international community. In the United States, in my experience, we tend to be isolated and arrogant; we don’t learn other languages. For me to be with you here is a gift and for me to have you visit us in the United States is a gift. So I have a good life and I have set about to create its richness mostly through my work as a co-counselor. I thank you all for your part in the energy of this creation which empowers me and you and all of us to have great lives.

      Remark: I’d like a mini.

      Question about boundaries between RC and CCI

      There has not been much softening of the boundaries between RC and CCI. People in our area that want to be involved in RC are still told by RC that they must choose between RC and CCI. RC does not support them being involved in both organizations, so what I do, and what I think others do, is to tell people that although our workshops are open to them, they need to be aware that by attending them they are putting at risk their participation in RC. So we tell them this and they decide how to handle it. Sometimes people are able to get away with being in both for a while.

      Question about how the differences between CCI and RC arose

      Some of you may be familiar with a RC book called The complete appreciation of yourself. I took this very literally and built it into co-counseling, so that we used validation for strength building, celebration, not just for discharge. Those early pockets of RC were pretty isolated from the teachings at mainstream workshops, so it was quite a bit later I learned that it was the RC norm to use validation only for discharge. But I wasn’t using validation only for discharge, so that was used as part of the reason for telling us to leave RC. I think the real reason was that we had developed a big community of our own which was not inside the vertical hierarchical system of RC, and this was just not acceptable to the hierarchy.

      Question about difference around client-centeredness

      One major difference between CCI and RC is that the RC counselor is asked to be responsible for intervening in what he or she interprets as the client's patterns or distress areas. In CCI we teach that the client is responsible for selecting the area of work and for choosing the contract with the counselor. This is a very distinct and major difference between RC and CCI co-counseling. It is about where responsibility lies for the work done and the way it is done. There are other differences too, but this is a major difference.

      The way CCI and RC use validation continues to be a difference, as I explained earlier. We also do a lot with action-planning, goal-setting and creating the belief system that each of us has the power to shape a great joyful loving life and to take active steps towards its manifestation. I don’t know where that stands in RC, since I'm so far away from RC - after all it's been over 20 years.

      Remark about social activism as an other difference

      Yes, as Cathy pointed out, RC is far more involved in social activism and issues of oppression and racism, areas that we haven’t addressed a lot. It is a matter of time and energy and numbers, so we have not taken that kind of direction.

      Question: Did RC change or did you want to change RC by leaving?

      No, because early on I really didn’t know that what I was doing was different from RC. I developed our approach from our counseling center’s point of view, with a belief-system all about us as clients, about our own goodness and ability to change and grow. I was isolated and it was only later that I learned how what I was doing could be seen to be wrong from within RC. Basically we didn’t choose to leave, we were told to leave or were told to behave differently or leave. So we didn’t separate off in order to change RC. As I say, I didn’t realize we were different, and that this was such a big deal as it was at the time.

      Question about discharge

      Yes, basically what you said is my experience. In RC the issue was not that you as client got into a certain work area, but that you did so on your own and not through the direction of your counselor. RC says that the counselor is the one who is responsible for directing the client, so if the client goes off and directs himself, that’s just not acceptable within RC.

      The other thing that was also part of my experience I discovered some time later. It was that people in the RC hierarchy were discussing what had gone on in some of our co-counseling sessions, including the content of the sessions. This information was used to support their view of how it was that we weren't OK. This was an enormous experience of violation. The hierarchy stated that there was confidentiality, but at the same time breached confidentiality in order to protect the purity and safety (or whatever) of RC from anything it judged to be unacceptable behaviour.

      Question about you couldn’t teach enough courses, I am struggling to find enough people in Sheffield, is there a difference in climate?

      No, it is worldwide. At the time when I started teaching there was really almost no such thing as personal growth. RC hit Hartford and Connecticut in a growth void, so I raised the flag and there was a huge response. Today I could raise the flag, do cart wheels and send off fireworks and there would not be that kind of response. Since the late sixties and seventies endless personal growth opportunities have become available, everything from twelve steps groups to you-name-it has occurred. So we are competing with all this popularization of personal growth, all the same things that you are competing with. We can no longer just say "here is a class".

      It takes a lot of work to get classes going.

      Remark: It also really changed how classes go, I mean things that used to be really kind of earth shattering and need to take a lot of time in fundamentals, you know people take up in about five seconds, because it is sort of out in the air now.

      Question about how fixed is CCI?

      I still experience CCI as what we originally said it was, a federation of independent co-counselors and co-counseling communities. We don’t even have a structure for saying what it is or what it isn’t and therefore what it can become. Already an enormous number of other things have been incorporated, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I think the development of CCI will be dependent on where we say it will go and to the extent that we say it as a group, then there is a group possibility for that to be. If we don’t say it as a group, then it is going to happen a little bit here and a little bit there: we’ll come to workshops and say "Ah, what are they doing?" and either decide to learn from it and hope somebody will teach us, or else we'll just keep doing slightly different versions of co-counseling in every community, which is what I think is happening now.

      Question: I am sure you are aware that a lot of people in RC are dissatisfied and are thinking about leaving. I guess they might want to join CCI and I wonder what your response to that is, do you see that as a threat, a challenge, something you look forward to, are you helping them?

      I just got some of their names. I am on email now, so I emailed them and gave them a slightly different version of what I have just said, a more localized version of my history. When I get back, I am going to talk to them and find out more. I think there is a pretty large community of ex-RCers out there. Michael seems very eager to be connected with them and participate more and more in outreach.

      Cathy and I just started teaching a weekend fundamentals. I know for you that is the norm, at least it was. A woman from Pennsylvania who has left RC was in that workshop and she posted on the email list some of her reactions to our class. So one of the things I want to bring to the table within our community right away, is just how we are going to prepare ourselves both to be respectful of where ex-RCers are and supportive of that, and also not to be overwhelmed by it, particularly by the healing that may need to take place. It is a lot to take on, as those of you who have been through this will know, and we haven’t had this discussion yet about how to prepare ourselves both to take care of ourselves and to build a welcome for ex-RCers participating in our groups.


      It is beginning to grow. We have right now a lot of energy, and people are popping up with things. A man in our community, who is not a teacher, just sourced a group in a prison and we have four people going there to teach. We couldn’t call it co-counseling because there was a RC group there that objected, so we call it something else. We also have some self-run groups popping up and some interest in exploring aspects of spirituality. So things like this are going on, and there is also an interest in the whole area of oppression. I think that as our community evolves we will take on more areas of concern and interest that are meaningful to people. We have one woman who is very interested in environmental issues. We are in a place where there is going to be more space for focusing on those kinds of directions.

      Remark about time

      Dency: time.....

      Ok let’s stand and turn around three time and sit down.

      My story starts in July 1971 summer, when I attended the annual conference of the British Association of Social Psychiatry in Oxford. In the middle of some interesting and some tedious presentations there was one by Tom Scheff, who was Professor of Sociology at UCLA in Santa Barbara, and also a Re-evaluation Counseling teacher. He gave a very elegant, illuminating account of the basic theory and practice of Re-evaluation Counseling and then did a brilliant demonstration, working with with two or three people from the audience. There was a woman called Elspeth sitting beside me, and after Tom had finished I turned to her and said "Let’s go and have a co-counselling session". She said "That's a good idea". We went straight upstairs to one of the rooms and had a good session, simply on the basis of Tom's excellent exposition and demonstration. He had given us a simple and challenging theory of the human condition, had showed us what to do about it, and we went away and got on with it and it worked really well. Elspeth later became a Re-evaluation Counseling teacher, about a year after I did.

      Tom was in England because he was researching the anti-psychiatry of Laing, Cooper and others. And this meant of course that he was also interested in peer self-help methods of mental health, such as co-counselling. After the conference, Tom ran two RC fundamentals classes in London at weekends. I went to both of them. He combined huge intellectual competence with extraordinary sensitivity, skill and compassion in working with people. He was remarkably balanced and integrated and skillful. If this is Re-evaluation Counseling, I thought, I want more of it. Then he asked me to have a co-counselling session with him, which I did. After the session with him he asked me to be a Re-evaluation Counseling teacher and the Area Reference Person for London. I said "OK, why not". After he returned to the USA, he sent me a document signed by Harvey Jackins, authorizing me to teach "re-evaluation Counseling", and stating that this was a legally registered service mark in the USA.

      I didn’t meet Harvey Jackins for over a year during which time I taught re-evaluation Counseling in various parts of the UK, in Belgium and in France. Eventually I wrote Harvey "We have been going for a year. You’d better come over and run a couple of workshops". He led two workshops at the University of Surrey in the late summer of 1972, and authorized several other people to be RC teachers. Soon after that he asked me to be European Regional Reference Person. I thought how grand and elevated and I agreed. This meant that I was his first lieutenant outside the USA and first senior leader involved in the worldwide spread of RC. I went to the US to a couple of workshops and a huge correspondence developed between us. We had a great deal of discussion about what it meant to make RC a worldwide movement, what it meant to take something developed in northwestern USA, with a local folksy flavour, and make it international.

      What I discovered through personal conversation and our correspondence was that he was applying within RC a strict neo-marxist, leninist approach. He told me that he had earlier been a member of the communist party and had been busy in the labour struggles in the northwestern USA, and that he resigned from the party because its members were too full of their own unprocessed distress. What he didn't tell me, though it soon became obvious, was that he took from the party the leninist doctrine of firm central control of theory and policy in running RC. He was the sole source of RC theory, edited anyone else's version of it, and controlled the policy of developing the RC communities, appointing and sacking local teachers and organisers. And he was remarkably intransigent in both respects.

      He opposed every suggestion I made about policies to develop RC in ways appropriate to the European context. If he had followed some of my ideas there might well not have been the later defection of whole RC communities in Belgium and elsewhere. On the matter of theory, I put it to him that if he really believed in the liberation of occluded intelligence through the discharge of distress, then the sign of true liberation is that people will apply their intelligence awarely, lovingly, creatively and critically to the theoretical assumptions in terms of which it has been liberated. And until they can do this, their intelligence isn't really free. Under the impact of this inescapably powerful view he promised, at a public workshop, to set up the so-called Revaluation Counseling Theoretician, a journal for the open discussion of theory among experienced and mature co-counsellors. He never did set it up.

      For some while we aired our differences in public, sending copies of our exchange of letters to all the local RC leaders around the world. Eventually I realized I needed to leave RC: I could not honour my own humanity and remain part of a system that in principle would not have dialogue and debate about the premises on which it is based, a system that was an ideological and political autocracy. In February 1974, I resigned from all my RC roles and started to develop co-counselling on an independent basis. Later in that year I first met Dency and Tom when they visited the UK, and we co-founded CCI.

      Two things took me into, and underpin my involvement in, co-counselling. When I met Tom Scheff in 1971, I had just started my interest in democratic research, people researching people, doing research with  people not on   them. In 1996 I published, after twenty five years of work on this kind of person-centred research, the first full account of co-operative inquiry, in which people together agree on theory, explore it through their own experience, and review the theory in the light of their continued experience of it. From the outset, co-counselling seemed tailor-made for this way of people doing research with each other. So I ran the first RC class at the University of Surrey, for 20 weeks starting October 1971, as a co-operative experiential inquiry into the theory of RC. From the very beginning my commitment to co-counselling has been based on inquiry. It always has been and it always will be. Co-counselling is ideally suited for participative, shared, conjoint inquiry.

      The other fundamental reason I became interested in co-counselling was because I was and am a mystic. I believe deeply in the spirituality of the universe as a multidimensional creation. And I saw in co-counselling an excellent and successful way of making space for the dynamic, indwelling spirit to move within and heal me, flushing out emotional pain through discharge. As a client, I opened to a deep creative principle which, given half a chance, recreated my way of being in the world. That was for me living experiential theology, and always has been. I'll now say a bit more about each of these two interests.

      I soon I realized that inquiry was not allowed inside RC. I could have nothing to do with this movement with such a prohibition in place. If you create a community with a lot of love about, but the love is separated from inquiry, then the love becomes fickle and potentially traitorous. It only appears to be liberating, for it turns into its opposite and becomes damaging and destructive toward people who have authentic doubts. This is what happened in RC. As soon as a member disagreed genuinely about fundamental theory or policy, there was no dialogue, the love stopped and he or she was cast out of the fold: in a loving community one day, and out in the cold the next. That's the tragedy. Shared love and shared inquiry need each other.

      In the early eighties Peter Reason and I launched co-operative inquiries with groups of co-counsellors. One inquiry was into the prevailing basic map of client states and processes. We went off and had sessions, made notes and diagrams about our work as clients, brought these back to share with the whole group, revised the basic map in the light of the sessions, and went around this cycle several times. We found that the more we engaged with the inquiry, the deeper the sessions became. The more we were concerned to refine the map, the more profound the cathartic work and the deeper the levels we reached.

      From the very beginning I have been concerned to find holistic ways of working within co-counselling, so that as client I can manifest myself as a totality of the physical, the emotional, the mental, the psychical and the spiritual. I don’t want any part of my being left out. In my first workshops, I introduced the transpersonal (as transpersonal direction-holding), and that has been my continuing commitment.

      The spiritual is excluded from RC because RC is born out of the secular trio of Marx, Darwin and Freud. These three great luminaries created a very powerful secular climate, and Harvey Jackins was influenced by all three. RC theory, as he conceived it, is rooted in a humanist and materialist world view. This has rolled on through the years, and my concern has been to try to find a way of making the theory truly cosmic, truly participative, truly engaged with the totality of being. And that’s what I am currently busy with. I call it co-creating so that we don’t get confusion.

      Just to give a hint of my views, let's ask why people hurt people. It can’t be explained in terms of innate aggression or we are all in trouble. The traditional RC view is that people hurt other people because of ordinary ignorance - they lack appropriate knowledge and skills. I agree with this, but I think there is also a deeper truth. People hurt other people fundamentally because they have forgotten whence they come.

      I believe I am part of, I emerge out of, the free attention of the universe. I don’t think free attention is localized, some little aura of consciousness that is around me. I think it is here, there and everywhere, and because of the tensions and stresses of the human condition, we forget that it is our home. Forgetting this, we keep contracting into the subtle pain of such forgetfulness, and it is this kind of alienation which at root underlies alienation between people. So I want the freedom in a co-counselling session to announce, to celebrate and to affirm that I am part of, an expression of, the free attention and living presence of the cosmos; that I am an autonomous being in interconnectedness with all other beings. That is how I want to do co-counselling and I am currently exploring that in an inquiry format and, as I have said, I call it co-creating, so that it doesn’t create confusion. Now it is not everybody’s cup of tea, so I am happy to be a friendly heretic within CCI, and to be cautious, quiet and restrained about it - and to be in endless inquiry.


      Early in 1978 Ros Capper came from Wellington to a co-counselling workshop of mine in Quaesitor, a growth centre in London. She was in London with her husband who was a counselor at the university in Wellington and on a sabbatical in the UK. She said "If I get money will you come to New Zealand". I said "Sure". So she got the Mackenzie Educational Foundation to cover the fare and other expenses and I came to New Zealand for six weeks in September/October 1978 and led a whole number of workshops of different kinds, including co-counselling fundamentals in Auckland and in Wellington and a follow-up workshop which included elements of how to teach co-counselling. After I left, and to my delight and hugely to the credit of your visionary enterprise, co-counselling communities in Auckland and Wellington took off.

      Co-counsellors from New Zealand used to pop in and say hello to me in London. I would fish around and ask "Well, any chance of a return visit, to help you out?" They said "We don’t need your help, we are getting on with it". In Auckland in those days they were vigorously engaged with the peer principle, with in an interesting kind of peer teacher training, and up to four people co-teaching fundamentals as peers. My impression from the outside has been that the Auckland and Wellington communities each developed a distinctive aroma and character, because of interesting differences in history and other factors.



      Harvey is a very remarkable man, and it is a pity he is not a friend. He would be if he wasn’t being so stupido, as the Italians say. He also has a remarkable pathology, like so many greats in the growth movement, present company excepted.

      Question: Would you like to own that?



      The letters between Harvey and me in 1973 circulated to all the reference people all over the planet. Our disagreements grew and he asked me to come to a meeting of all the top leaders in California. And I said "No, this is a setup and I am not going to fall for it". When I got the letter I realized that there was no way I was going to be be drawn and quartered by Harvey's remorseless authoritarianism, with which the leaders around him all colluded. I decided that it was no good wasting time in trying to change RC from within, as it was too much in Harvey's grip. The only sensible thing to do was to salvage co-counselling from its relentless authoritarian framework.

      From the very beginning of setting up RC Harvey had used the leninist principle of firm central control of theory and policy, but in the early days he kept quiet about the origins of this principle.What he went on to do, once RC got worldwide, was to make his Marxism much more explicit within RC. He rewrote the Communist Manifest of 1848 for the RC communities, putting discharge theory into it. And it is an ingenious rewrite, in which discharging RCers, recovering their occluded intelligence through releasing the pain of being oppressed, become the new vanguard of the proletariat.

      He then introduced Marx's theory of class into direction-holding. This is dubious to say the least. Marx himself was inconsistent in his different accounts of class. Nevertheless, RC co-counsellors were taught to use different directions for discharge, according to whether they were owning class, middle class or working class. This business of categorizing RCers into classes did not well up from the grass roots. It was imposed on RC by Harvey's doctrine that the leader thinks on behalf of the communities he leads, just as within RC the counselor thinks on behalf of the client.

      This kind of imposition is not good news for the human race. I left RC before the Marxism became fully explicit. I resigned all my roles. This was a solo act. I told all the RC teachers in the UK what I was going to do and why. I didn’t try to influence them, since it was their personal decision whether they stayed or left. I realized that they must do their own thing. But I have to tell you that I was disappointed that only two other teachers, out of twelve or so, resigned. I was disappointed that they couldn't see the writing on the wall, or if they could see it, didn't care about it. I was also deeply hurt that all those people who were very close one day, were distant and rejecting the next. This has been a very painful thing for people to cope with when they leave RC: the love that seemed to be so intense, intimate and powerful proves to be fickle and unreliable and quite unable to honour the fact that a person may have genuine differences. This is a big issue for ex-RCers, because they carry a lot of hurt and need a lot of healing.

      Question regarding parallels with Trotsky


      That is an interesting way of putting it, certainly. I wouldn't put it in those terms myself, because I don’t respect contributions to Marxism. I have too many problems with its fundamental materialism. I prefer to talk in terms of the autonomy of the human spirit. I am writing a book on divine autonomy. The thing about autonomy for me is that its heart is divine. The only way anybody can judge what is divine is by being attentive to their own autonomous judgment. There is no other source of authority for what is divine than our own inner discrimination. And I believe this capacity for autonomous judgment within us is itself divine - an interesting paradox.

      The interesting thing about Harvey was that he didn’t have a glimmer of an idea about the principle of respect for autonomy. It wasn’t part of his universe. But I think it is a fundamental principle. What is inspiring about CCI is that everybody is pioneering the integration of their developing autonomy with the co-operative parity of their peers. This is marvelous. Let’s have a little chaos on the way, because out of genuine and authentic chaos, higher levels of order and integration arise - as complexity theory tells us. Controlling systems that always try to control chaos are avoiding the emergence of real order. We should awarely let the chaos run for a bit and sooner or later a new kind of order will emerge in its own good time. In the early days of CCI, certainly in Guilford and surroundings in the UK, there was chaos around as the loam of new development. Nowadays there is in CCI a huge amount of very interesting creative order emerging, for example, in this wonderful workshop. The thought, the care, the discipline, the consideration, that you have put into it, all worked through by a group of peers, this is excellent. It’s worth its weight in gold for this planet in my view.

      (Long) question


      Yes, and my contribution to it is my book ‘Co operative Inquiry’ published by Sage, last year, September 1996. It is for people who feel and think like you, to help us to form peer groups, and devise ways of inquiring into the fundamental premises of our practice so we can check them out. Then we can develop a manageable inquiry format we can work with, and use responsibly to refine our theory and unfold theoretical change. There will be differences of view, you know, because it is relativistic universe. There is some cosmic given and everybody has a unique co-creative perspective on it. Our diverse perspectives will overlap and interweave to some degree in a shared fabric of thought. But the idea that there would be absolute theoretical unanimity is in my view a nonsense. There will be interesting divergences of theoretical perspective, as well as a common convergence. I feel it is the challenge and the delight of our inquiries to honour these differences and celebrate them. If you have a somewhat different theoretical perspective to me, this may alter slightly the way we co-counsel, but as long as we each understand where we are coming from, you and I, we can still respect each other and we can still do business.

      Remark: It is time. So this is question is to both of you.

      Question: Can you name six or seven basic fundamental principles of co-counselling that you agree with, that are essential

      John: I’ll try, this is off the top of my head, so watch me carefully.

      (1) Honouring the wounded being within, and healing the woundedness by discharge and re-evaluation, by understanding how unhealed woundedness distorts behaviour in compulsive ways.

      (2) Using the co-counselling format for really imaginative creative problem-solving.

      (3) Visualizing the future as a basis for goal-setting and action-planning. I mean actively engaging now with a vision of the future as a basis for planning on a grand scale for tomorrow.

      (4) Celebrating my spiritual identity and my participation in the greater, wider cosmos.

      (5) Using validation and celebration generically, in every which way.

      Remark: adding client in charge, confidentiality in a session

      I was on a slightly different path. I was thinking of five major areas of client work. What you are talking about is equally important - the basic ground-rules of the method.

      Remark about the container in which we do our work, you cant have fear, so that is the ground rule for me that system that takes the fear away in terms of ourselves

      You and he did that beautifully. Thank you.

      Remark about the connection between the source of a community and how that community grows

      Can I respond to that? I am just thinking how much CCI has taken up the inquiry principle. Certainly not formally, but it has taken up the inquiry mode very powerfully and informally by meeting and doing and exploring and trying things out.

      Remark: where people are tossing out for workshops its inquiry inquiry inquiry

      In an email discussion group I once gave a list of all the problems in CCI, challenges let’s say, and all the degenerations, sorry, challenges in RC. When I was in RC, Harvey called every other growth method - Gestalt, encounter, etc - junk, and they all went out the window. So many wonderful growth methods simply aren’t utilized in RC. CCI goes the other way. It is very open to everything, but the question of how another method integrates with co-counselling practice sometimes doesn’t get addressed at all. And that applies to spiritual methods too.

      Question about lack of structure, in UK

      We were actually far more similar to your situation several years ago. Development was very individual, by teachers that were doing their own thing. It was one teacher (not myself because I had already created the original community) who brought the teachers together. The teacher's name is Jenny Dilman. Jenny said, "Dency, I want the teachers to get together, I want the support". And I said to her, "Jenny, I’ll support you. I won’t source it, because I sourced it the last time and we had so much breakdown, that I feel somebody else should take over". So she called the teachers together. It took us a long time to develop safety and trust. We had to hang in with dealing with the fear that you are going to tell me that I am not doing it right, and the fear that you are offering something that I don’t know of but am curious about and want to know how I am going to learn about it. Then there were all those questions of quality control and everything it was going to take for people to build real support for each other. We created for ourselves some guidelines around sexual attractions and relationships. We addressed that in a general sense for the safety of our individual students, but we also had a situation that came up that meant that we had to address it among as ourselves as teachers and authority figures in the community. Establishing our own guidelines around our accountability to each other has been a major breakthrough for us.

      Remark: the gong did go off

      Let’s just talk about it for a bit. We only have forty-five or fifty minutes left. What we had planned was that could do a think and listen in pairs: an opportunity for each of us to articulate our own visions, our own questions, our own dreams for the future, what would we like to see. And then do a popcorn sort of thing with all of us, and see what that produces - whether there is something here that we can create for the next move forward. Another possibility would be to continue just as we are with a big group, and maybe shift our thinking a little bit to what I just said about our visions and the future.

      A decision is made to give it another ten minutes.

      Question about autonomy seen as an alternative for structure, and the possibility to have both

      Yes, of course. I must immediately dissociate myself from any view that autonomy and structure are incompatible. I don’t think this is so. I have never thought it and I never would think it. I think they are profoundly compatible.

      Question around communities

      I think it behoves any teacher to explore what pathology motivates - in part - their teaching. I hope it is not too oppressive a thought to suggest that any teacher who is committed to train other people to discharge may partly be driven by some hidden distress, which seeks to get other people to discharge in order to assuage by proxy the teacher's hidden pain. I doubt whether there is any teacher of co-co-counselling who is not running some sort of major or minor unconscious pathology through the role. A peer inquiry among teachers could fruitfully open up and share such hidden pathologies.

      Remark about respect for each other

      Request regarding workshop facilitated by John and Dency

      I will do one on life action. But I haven’t put up a sign yet, because I haven’t thought out how I am going to language it, but I will get something up there.

      And I decided I would be cautious and careful and wouldn’t do a workshop unless I was asked. So I will be very pleased to respond to your request.

      I’d like to speak to that. I want us to hear what John said. He is proposing an exploration of a direction that could be quite different and it could be quite easily integrated. What I hear him saying is that he wants to be respectful and cautious and be asked, and not only just in this setting. So there is a way we can take some responsibility for how we are being in relationship with this kind of inquiry. We can care for our own settings and our own communities around asking and then negotiating. So his saying that he is willing to be asked is in a bigger frame than here.

      Dialogue about openness to spirituality in co-counselling communities

      I would like to reciprocate that respect and encouragement. I am very interested in a CCI, a co-counselling world, in which humanists and people interested in spirituality can deeply respect, appreciate, admire and respond to each other. A purely humanistic model of co-counselling has great importance and virtue in our culture, which still bears the scars of thousands of years of grotesque oppression of human beings by distorted spirituality. We have to face the fact that most of the distress caused on this planet has been in the name of misbegotten religion. Given thousands of years of that kind of stuff, there is a strong case for having available a purely humanistic process which, without talking about anything other than human beings, affirms and releases and strengthens and empowers people. I think someone who is being intelligently sceptical about past spiritual teachings is still playing a very fundamental healing role in our culture. At the same time, we need pioneers to explore spiritual beliefs and practices which are free of the oppression of the old autocratic religions. It would be wonderful if these two strands could flourish side by side, respectfully dialoguing.


      Do we allow another ten minutes?

      Can I say something? What I said before cuts both ways. You can begin with the past, retaining a strong humanistic focus in co-counselling, which is helpful and healing. But if you think of the future, then something else has started to be happen - and here I think of my son who is now about forty - I think co-counselling without spirituality will be worthless (snaps his fingers). Younger generations will look for planetary stewardship and cosmic citizenship. That is my hunch and my sense of it. So I have no resolution of the two views. I just say that both stories have their claim, given this watershed era we are in.

      That was keen ...


      Remark about openness to spirituality

      Remark about how spirit song is or isn’t regarded as co-counselling, depending on what the client wants

      I’d like that people who haven’t spoken before get a chance to speak ....


      Anyone else that hasn’t spoken that wants to speak? This is a great challenge to our free attention ....

      Remark about difference between client directedness, doing whatever you want in a session, and how we present co-counselling, in a pure form

      Can I just make a point about the word "pure". It always presupposes a specific theoretical standard and this is dangerous, because it implies a pure standard that is absolute, eternal, and for ever correct.

      Remarks about CCI in a wider context, differences with RC, helping the wider society to change

      John spoke about five things around the session. Then we spoke about confidentiality and the client in charge. Joke spoke about free attention and balance of attention. Niek spoke about respect. I think those were the agreements we were speaking about. We train ourselves in free attention, we know in our own work about balance of attention, we honour ourselves and each other - that is what we are saying about how we are special.

      Conversation about spirituality in fundamentals and pain, spirituality, co-counselling and changing the world

      Ah, on that note it is time for our closing circle.


      Holding job holders properly accountable at the AGM

      J. P. Hoogma, « Holding job holders properly accountable at the AGM », 1998. .

      To avoid Co-Counsellors having to come together each day to have a mini AGM for the smallest decisions, we work with job holders who have more or less specific job remits. The AGM delegates its authority to an individual or a group of individuals to execute a specific job, often with a specific amount of money.

      Generally speaking most jobs in Co-Counselling are done in a satisfying way and with satisfying results. However, this is not always the case. When this happens, it is important to remember that the AGM has not only the right but also the obligation to its members to check whether and how the job has been accomplished, and if necessary to correct the course of action. Because of this, it is important that the AGM has ways to keep their job holders accountable for what they are doing.

      When things go wrong it is sometimes easier to turn a blind eye on the functioning of job holders. Arguments are used like 'Job holders do their best, don't they?' 'We trusted them to do the job, so we can't complain, can we?' But this reasoning leads to a slippery slope, in which the AGM is actually not in charge of what is happening.

      Keeping jobholders accountable by asking questions
      The job holder is responsible for what he or she is doing in the job. The meaning of the word 'responsible' here is almost literal: the jobholder has the obligation to respond to any questions relating to his job.

      The aim of questioning the job holder is first and foremost to try to get clear why the job holders did what they did and to explain what they are going to do and why. Challenging questions can and must sometimes be put forward: "You said this, but you did that. How can we understand that? What does this mean for your future actions?"

      Provided with answers by the jobholder, those at the AGM can make up their minds about what to do next. This might imply reversing decisions if possible, changing policies, amending a situation which has arisen through the jobholder's decisions etc..

      Questioning job holders, however is not always easy or productive. There is a risk that holding a post holder accountable in a positive and constructive way may too easily slip into a questioning of the person's motives, attitudes, personality or mental state, rather than a questioning of his or her actions. This can be experienced by the job holder as a personal attack.

      Preventing personal attacks from happening

      In order to prevent personal attacks from happening several things need to be kept in mind.First of all it should be remembered, that it is much easier for an AGM to evaluate a decision already made, than for a job holder facing a decision to make it.

      It should be remembered that the job holder did the best they could under the circumstances at the time, whatever the AGM thinks of the results of the jobholders efforts with the benefit of hindsight.

      But most of all Job holders should be held responsible for their actual decisions and actions, not for their presumed patterns, perceived distress or mental state. It is the action that influences what is happening in the network. People with strong patterns operating might still do very valuable things for Co-Counselling. On the other hand, people with the most loving and undistressed personalities can bring huge damage to Co-Counselling because of ignorance or incompetence. Not to mention how difficult and often arbitrary it is to asses other peoples' patterns and distresses.

      It is necessary that we develop a proper way of holding jobholders accountable in the AGM. My wish is that job holders will be held accountable for what they are doing, not for who they are.

      © 1998 CornuCopia Publications


      How might effective conflict facilitation in organisations as Co-Counselling look like?

      J. P. Hoogma, « How might effective conflict facilitation in organisations as Co-Counselling look like? », 2001. .

      Often it seems that conflicts in organisations and communities, such as Co-Counselling, are between two people and indeed that can be the case. However, it could also be that a conflict between two people is actually the tip of an iceberg. It could be that it is the most visible part of a struggle between two or more groups, each with their own realities and their own understandings of what is important. One of the first jobs of the professional conflict facilitator is to identify whether a conflict is between two people or between two groups with opposing viewpoints. Is it a personal fight between Rev Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams or is it a fight between sections of the nationalists and the unionists? In this article I want to explain what I believe to be good conflict resolution. It’s not an easy job and I’ve called it ‘professional’ because the job demands a high level of skills and is a difficult job to do successfully.

      What is good conflict facilitation?

      Good conflict facilitation involves trying to engage the co-operation of all parties involved, with the ultimate aim of trying to eradicate sources of conflict and rebuilding the bridges and trust between them.

      Alternate realities

      This is one of the key concepts in professional conflict facilitation. The facilitator tries to non-judgementally understand each party’s reality from their own perspective. He or she also tries to identify which events in the outer, physical world have contributed to the sense of conflict for that party. This is similar to the task of the counsellor in person-centred counselling who tries to empathetically and non-judgementally understand the client’s reality from their own perspective. The difference is that the conflict facilitator must attempt to do this with two or more parties. Identifying events that have been the source of conflict in the past provides an insight into what issues and events may be the source of conflict in the future. In other words, at this stage the facilitator tries to identify what needs to be learned from the past in order to develop a better future.

      The summary report

      Based on a real understanding of the conflicting ‘alternate realities’, the facilitator writes an overview of all the core issues that sparked off the conflicts in the past and that are likely to spark off new conflicts in the future. You could call this an ‘agreement about the core disagreements’ in the conflict. The parties involved are consulted to make sure that they recognise their ‘alternate realities’ in the report. It is this feeling of being acknowledged and respected that will entice the parties to co-operate with the facilitators and stay in the conflict resolution process.

      Hopefully the report will give the conflicting parties insight into each other’s perspectives and also allow onlookers some understanding of the different sides of the conflict. In this way a good report can sometimes help to build bridges and mutual understanding between conflicting parties and onlookers, where before there was only mistrust.

      A really good summary report, however, also contains something extra: an overall framework for moving forward. And here is the most superb trick a skilled conflict facilitator can pull out of his or her hat to move the most entrenched positions. Each party will have positions on first analysis from which they will apparently never move. Positions where they say ‘I will not under any circumstances &ldots;’ The facilitator’s job is to explore with each party under what conditions these positions could move into negotiable ones. For example, the ‘we will have nothing to do with the Irish Republic’ becomes negotiable with the ‘we will never have anything to do with the British’ position.

      A good summary report is firmly focused on the future: its ultimate aim is the co-operation of the conflicting parties in order to eradicate the sources of the conflict and to rebuild bridges and trust. The Framework proposal in Northern Ireland is an excellent example of this. The different perspectives of the parties were summarised and a framework for negotiations established. A crucial element of this was that all parties felt acknowledged and respected in their ‘alternate realities’.

      The challenges to a conflict facilitator

      Working with ‘alternate realities’ is a hugely demanding task for the facilitator. In a therapy situation the counsellor has only to understand one ‘alternate reality’, and that can in itself be a difficult task. In a conflict, however, there are not only more than one alternate realities, but the facilitator also has to understand how these realities interact with each other.

      Enlisting and keeping the co-operation of all parties is one of the biggest challenges faced by facilitators. The facilitator needs to develop a co-operative relationship with each of the parties, who are no longer willing to co-operate with each other. On these alliances a bridge is formed via the facilitator through which the parties can eventually come together to co-operate with each other in talking and thinking about mutually beneficial ways out of the conflict.

      This starts with the facilitator gathering information from each party about their ‘alternate realities’. The facilitator really needs to build a trusting relationship with each party, in which everyone feels safe enough to express their views as fully and honestly as possible. Where one party is concealing something, the facilitator must find ways to encourage that person to speak out. The facilitator must be prepared to hear each side’s views in confidence if necessary and then provide an analysis in the summary report which gets to the heart of the issues involved, without sharing exact information that parties wanted to keep confidential.

      The summary report needs the continuous co-operation of all parties to make sure that the core issues are described in such a way that each party will feel acknowledged in their truth and ‘alternate reality’ and that the report indeed is an agreement about the disagreements.

      If the ‘summary report’ doesn’t meet these criteria, it will probably escalate the conflict. The ‘camps’ will get even more entrenched: the camp that is seen as favoured by the report, will be even more convinced that they are right; the camp that felt disadvantaged or disrespected by the report is likely at best to end co-operation with the conflict facilitators or at worst to go on the defensive or on the attack as the best defense.

      The job of the conflict facilitator is so complex that he or she can easily get seduced into simplifying the conflict before they have really understood it. They are at risk of taking on the role of judge or of taking sides, and when this happens the conflict is simply repeated and the facilitator loses the co-operation of one or more sides. This is why conflict facilitators need to be ‘professional’. Professionals are aware of these pitfalls and will try to avoid anything that can destroy their co-operation with the conflicting parties, ie which can be seen as repeating the conflict, being partial or judgmental.


      Gathering - A process for decision making

      J. Talbut, « Gathering - A process for decision making », 2001.

      Gathering is a highly effective and surprisingly efficient method of decision making. It works in any group whose members are prepared to take responsibility for some of the group process. In other words it works in peer facilitated groups and it can also work in hierarchically facilitated groups as long as the members can exercise some of their power.

      The process goes like this: At any stage anyone who thinks it is appropriate can start a gather. What they do is to summarise the situation. The aim of the summary is to incorporate all the different opinions and needs being expressed.

      If anyone disagrees with the gather, i.e. they think it is not a complete summary or it is inaccurate in some way, then they can re-gather. The rule is, though, that the re-gather must be a complete summary. In other words the re-gatherer is not allowed to just disagree with some part of the gather. If anyone disagrees with the re-gather then they can re-gather in the same way. The process continues until everyone is content with the latest gather.

      This way a summary is arrived at which incorporates all shades of opinion, need and fact. This means that the group validates all points of view, minority views are as important as majority views.

      The gather may effectively be a decision. It could, for instance, be along the lines that a majority want to do A, a minority would prefer to do B, which is incompatible with A, but do not object to A, another minority want to do C which can be done in addition to A, another minority is opposed to A and most people think that it is acceptable for A to be done despite this latter minority's objections.

      If there is a sense that that the situation outlined in the gather is not a satisfactory basis upon which to proceed then the discussion will continue until someone starts another gather.

      Although the process can sound a bit complicated, in practice it is usually surprisingly easy. Often it can circumvent the need for unnecessary discussion. Thus, in an ongoing group dealing with an ongoing issue someone can start off with a gather that summarises the current situation. If everyone is happy with that and there is nothing more that needs doing currently then the group can get straight on with the next business.

      The discipline of the process encourages everyone to give good attention to all points of view. That means that people are and feel heard and understood. This can avoid a lot of repetitive argument as people struggle to be heard.

      The process also encourages a creative problem solving approach to decision making. In other words the group looks for solutions that can honour all the different needs and opinions rather than arguing over the merits of existing proposals.


      Independent Co-Counselling Communities

      J. Heron et 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.


      CoCoInfo Tags: 

        Literature tag: