Co-counseling is a powerful approach to emotional healing, involving two people who work together in pairs. One person is the counselor for the first half of the session, then the two people switch roles for the second half.
Co-counseling is not the best option for people whose lives are in current crisis, as it demands an ability to completely lay your own concerns aside and focus on someone else for nearly an hour at a time. It’s a healing approach that works better for people who feel like they’ve come out the other end of something — such as surviving childhood, for example — and now have some space to focus on healing from the wounds that came before.
We sometimes refer to co-counseling as “splitting time,” but that term has a wider meaning; we use it anytime that people are evenly dividing up the talking time and are timing each person’s turn. For example, we split time in PLN support groups, and people may split time in pairs to work on setting and meeting goals or to work through the exercises that accompany The Joyous Recovery.
You can learn to co-counsel by taking a training class. You can also learn independently (with a partner of your choice) from the free PLN co-counseling manual, The Healing Partnership, and the online co-counseling training videos.
The unique healing power of co-counseling is due to multiple factors:
* It’s free. Instead of exchanging money, you exchange counseling time. Not only does this remove economic stress from our sessions, it makes healing available to everyone.
* It’s mutual. Both people play the role of counselor and the role of client, switching off. We heal better in an atmosphere of equality because many of our deepest wounds are due to experiences of inequality. In addition, playing each role enhances our success in the other role, for multiple reasons.
* It’s based on a humane and practical understanding of where emotional healing comes from. The field of psychology is, unfortunately, better at understanding how we get wounded than how we heal. Co-counseling draws upon an array of techniques that truly work, relying heavily on our innate cathartic emotional releases.
* It’s rooted in the belief that we can heal deeply and live a transformed life. We truly believe in people’s ability to be well and love life, not just to make small improvements. And we see it come true.
* It connects participants to a wide base of support, through the creation of networks of people who are practicing co-counseling. Successful healing is a collective effort that requires a wide network of people helping each other move forward.
* We work to constantly become more and more skillful. This is not like “peer counseling” which assumes a low level of training and skill. Co-counselors work to keep learning concepts and techniques, becoming increasingly effective counselors for each other over time.
You can learn more by watching the video What is Co-Counseling?.
Finding a Partner
You can find a partner to split time with, whether you’re looking for a co-counselor — which implies pursuing emotional healing following the co-counseling structure as taught in classes and in the manual, or looking for someone to work on goals with or to do the exercises from The Joyous Recovery.
To find a partner, we recommend that you take both of the following steps:
1) Join the PLN Slack space and put a post in the channel called “co-counseling find partners.” Specify in your post whether you’re looking to do co-counseling or to split time in one of the other ways mentioned above. Specify also if you have particular preferences for a partner (prefer a woman or a man, prefer someone from your background, etc.), and say a little about your weekly schedule and when you’d be most available to split time. Say also whether you’re open to working with someone by phone or Zoom, or if you’re only interested in working in person. If you’re looking for a co-counselor, mention whether you’ve had a Level 1 training or not, just so that potential partners know if you’re at the beginning of learning.
2) Send the same information to [email protected]. We keep a list of people who are looking for partners and the details of their preferences, and we’ll do our best to help match you up with someone.
The Peak Living Network offers free or low-cost trainings in co-counseling, and offers a range of free supports for people who are using the practice in their lives.
LEVEL 1 CO-COUNSELING COURSE
The Level 1 course, taught virtually, lasts for eight weekly classes. It is a intensive training, involving a commitment to:
* regular and focused attendance at all classes, seated with cameras on and free of all distractions (which means people cannot attend the class while driving and cannot have other people in the room with them or coming in and out of the room)
* a co-counseling session outside of class each week of 90 minutes or more with someone else from the class (more about this below)
* a small but important amount of reading each week
* personal sharing during class meetings
* a willingness to strictly practice the counseling approach taught in the class during the full eight weeks, following the teacher’s instructions and the practices explained in the course readings
During the early weeks of the course, the teacher will pair people off for their weekly outside-of-class co-counseling session. Later in the course people will be free to choose their own co-counselors.
Co-counseling is a process that involves deep emotional work. This training course is therefore distinct from a class where you are just learning information or studying concepts; you’ll practice these techniques for your own healing throughout the course, both in class and out. You’ll be learning not just how to be an effective counselor, but how to make your turns as client work powerfully for you.
The teacher will choose one or two students each week for counseling demonstrations during the class, cycling through the class members over the weeks until everyone has been in a demonstration. These are not role plays; the teacher will work with people on real issues that they want to work on for about fifteen to twenty minutes in front of the class. Participants can request to be in a demonstration on a particular week if they wish.
1) Participants will need to attend an informational session prior to registering for the class.
2) The Level 1 course costs $75. Payment plans and work exchanges are available. The class fee goes to PLN expenses. (No one gets paid for anything in PLN.) We recommend that you obtain a copy of The Joyous Recovery, which will be an additional expense if you don’t already have one.
3) The classes are taught by Zoom. They run once per week for 90 minutes, and continue for eight weeks.
4) Participants are committing to attend every class and to complete their out-of-class co-counseling session every week. It is disruptive to the class when participants don’t honor this commitment.
5) Participants are committing to schedule their weekly co-counseling session within 48 hours of each class meeting, and to complete that session prior to the next class.
6) Participants’ names an email addresses will be shared with the whole class. If this is not a safe time for you to share that information, consider waiting until a better time to take the training.
Whenever a new co-counseling training is scheduled, it’s announced in the PLN Newsletter [LINK to mailing list signup].
LEVEL 2 AND LEVEL 3 COURSES
The Level 2 and Level 3 co-counseling courses are each eight weeks long and are free of charge, though voluntary donations to PLN are gratefully accepted. A person who has completed all three levels is considered a fully-trained co-counselor. At the same time, we strive to continue throughout our lives to improve our skills and knowledge as counselors, and to advance our ability to make the best possible use of our own turns as client.
How to Co-Counsel
A co-counseling session can be of any length, short or long, but we have found that a turn of 50 or 55 minutes for each person is ideal, allowing the client enough time to work into feelings at a powerful depth without being so long as to exhaust both counselor and client.
Co-counselors also do “mini-sessions” in pairs, usually over the phone or internet, where the turns may be as short as five minutes per person.
Any method can be used to decide which person is client first; one person may express a preference to go first (or second), or you might alternate based on who went first last time you co-counseled, or you could flip a coin.
The counselor is responsible for setting a timer for the client’s turn. Set the timer to make a clearly audible tone, so that both you and the client will know when time is up (and so that you don’t have to look at it at all during the client’s turn, which can be distracting to both you and the client). Set the timer to go off when there are five minutes left in the session; at that point, set it for another five minutes so that it beeps audibly again when the client’s turn is over, at which point it’s time to switch roles (or the session is over for both people).
The session takes place in four phases. It’s the counselor’s responsibility to move the session through its phases.
First Phase: “New and Good”
At the beginning of a session, the counselor invites the client to talk for four or five minutes about positive news from recent life, by asking, “What’s new and good?” This is a time for the client to notice things that are going well, recent moments that have felt good, and successes or accomplishments. Strive to celebrate triumphs, tap into sources of pride, and remember good moods.
Don’t rush or skip the “New and Good” phase of a session. By habit we tend to focus on things that hurt or frustrate us, and to overlook causes for hope and joy. If we carry that perspective into the counseling session, we can’t develop the kind of strength and hopefulness we need in order to do deep healing work. Bringing to light and digesting what is good gives us the power and safety to work successfully on the hard things (rather than just stewing around in them).
Second Phase: Minor Challenges or Upsets
After a few minutes spent on recent positive feelings, the counselor asks, “Have there been any small things that have bothered you lately?” The client spends four or five minutes on recent tensions, upsets, or irritations that she would like to give some attention to but doesn’t want to make the main focus of the session. Giving these side issues a few minutes of attention helps to clear them aside for now, freeing up the client to address the larger theme she’d like to take on that day.
Sometimes a “minor upset” is not minor at all; it just goes in this category because the client has something else that she wants to primarily devote her turn to that day.
Third Phase: The Heart of the Session
Once the client has spent a few minutes on the smaller concerns, it’s time for the counselor to ask, “What would you like to focus on today?” This third phase is the bulk of the session, which the client spends doing healing work on whatever she chooses to being with.
If she’s not sure of a direction for her turn, the counselor can ask questions such as:
Counselor: What aspect of your life could use some attention?
Counselor: What feels like it’s most in the way recently of fully enjoying your life?
Counselor: What’s on top?
When you’re in the counseling role, it’s not your job to decide, or even to suggest, what the best way is for the client to use her time. Your job is to support her to make her own choice about what direction to take today.
Co-counseling (and the Peak Living Network overall) is an “advice-free zone.” Unsolicited advice – even at the level of saying, “Could I make a suggestion here?” – is not acceptable. We strive to even steer away from problem-solving, such as questions that start with the words “Have you tried”?
The counselor may make suggestions for approaches to try inside of the session – techniques, in other words – but never gives advice about actual actions to take in the world outside of session.
Your role as counselor is to support the client to feel her feelings, and to discharge them when possible, using a large array of techniques and approaches that you’ll be learning in the pages ahead.
Fourth Phase: “Present Time”
When there are five minutes left in the client’s turn, the counselor informs the client that it’s time to “get his attention out,” or “focus on present time.” In this final phase of the session, the counselor helps the client to turn his attention away from internal pain and emotional disturbances, and put his focus back on the world outside.
If the client is in the midst of a deep release, let him know that five minutes are left but allow him to continue discharging for a couple of minutes; he will need to rise gradually to the surface (like a scuba diver who needs to avoid coming up too fast).
The goal during the “present time” phase of the session is to bring the client’s attention onto positive aspects of current or recent reality. We do this by asking the client what he’s looking forward to, directing his attention to sights and sounds in his environment, or asking him entertaining questions such as trivia. This process makes it possible for the client to continue his day unfettered by the weight of the issues he worked on in the session.