How to Split Time
“Splitting time” is one the two most basic activities that form the foundation of the Peak Living Network, along with the open support meeting. Splitting time is a way to dramatically improve the focus and the quality of listening that we offer to each other, and is a life-changing practice when we build it regularly into our lives.
Splitting time involves two people who are agreeing to give each other the highest quality of focused, supportive, respectful attention that they are capable of giving. The time available is divided in half. During the first half, one person gives full undivided attention while the other person speaks – or sits quietly, or writes, or cries, or does whatever they find most useful to do with the aware and loving attention of another human being. Then the two people switch roles for the second half of the time, with the listener becoming the speaker and the speaker becomes the listener.
Two people can split any length of time; a session could last six minutes (three-minute turns each) or it could last two hours (one-hour turns each). Believe it or not, a three-minute turn with another person’s loving attention can sometimes have a surprising impact on your day; there is no amount of time that’s too short to be worth splitting. Time can be split in person or over the phone, both to great effect.
However, it’s also true that you’re going to do a very different kind of work in a turn that’s just a few minutes than you would in a full hour, and talking on the phone is not at all the same as having someone in your physical presence. So these different kinds of sessions (short or long, in person or on the phone) tend to serve somewhat different purposes.
People find that they get much more benefit from their open support meetings if they also are engaging in splitting time with someone between meetings. Similarly, people who split time regularly find that those sessions improve their effectiveness when both people also regularly attend support meetings. In other words, the two central activities of the Peak Living Network – splitting time and attending open support meetings — work together more powerfully than they do separately.
A few quick words about the terminology we use: First, we often refer to splitting time as “a support session” or “co-counseling session” or simply “a session.” These all mean exactly the same thing. Second, we refer to the person who is speaking as “the speaker” or “the client,” and the person listening we call “the listener” or “the counselor.” None of these terms should be confused with a professional counseling relationship; for example, in a PLN session, the “client” is entirely in charge, not the counselor. Equally important is that these roles are temporary; in the PLN context, everyone takes turns being the speaker and being the listener, so the “counselor” is not considered to have any more experience or knowledge about healing than the “client” does. We are a peer organization where everyone contributes to one another’s healing.
Finally, when two people are splitting a short period of time, say twenty minutes or less total, we refer to this as a “mini-session.”
Choosing a Space
Splitting time can be done in person or over the phone or Skype. In-person sessions commonly take place in people’s homes for convenience and comfort, but they may also be done outdoors, in a quiet corner at a workplace, or in any private space that’s available to you.
Choose a space that is as attractive and uncluttered as possible; people have an easier time doing healing work when their physical surroundings reflect hopefulness and coziness, and where there are pleasing things to look around at such as plants, pictures on the walls, or crafts. Be away from noises or visual distractions (such as a window onto a busy street) that will interfere with listening to each other really well. If you are on the phone, take the time to put yourself in a spot where you like sitting and where you will be able to focus fully. Don’t do anything else while you’re on the phone, such as folding laundry or washing dishes. We’re reaching for 100% attention.
For in-person sessions, find a spot where both people can sit comfortably and have back support. A bed that is in the corner of a room is often a particularly good choice, as each person can have their back to a wall, perhaps cushioned by a pillow. Sitting near each other in chairs is an okay fallback, but it can make people feel more distant and less supported than sitting closer on a couch, bed, or floor, perhaps on a set of mats or cushions.
The host should make tissues and water available. However, the focus should be on the session rather than on hosting or socializing, so don’t offer food or other drinks and just get down to the business of splitting time.
Begin by agreeing to the length of turns you are each going to take. Unless each person’s turn is going to be twenty minutes or less, allow for about a five-minute break between turns to stretch, use the bathroom, get a drink of water, and mentally prepare to switch roles. So, for example, if you have two hours total, that means you have time for each person to take a 55-minute turn, with a short break in the middle of the session.
If one person has a preference to go first (or not to go first) you can choose turns on that basis. Otherwise, flip a coin. Each time you meet subsequently, switch off which person goes first unless one of you has a strong preference otherwise.
The listener is responsible for keeping time. It can be distracting to the speaker if the listener keeps checking the time, so it’s best to set a timer if you have one or to set an alarm on a watch or phone. (Buying a small hand-held countdown timer is a good investment for PLN participants, especially because using the timer on your phone can mentally connect you to sources of pressure or tension.) Set the timer to go off 1-5 minutes before the person’s turn ends (depending on the length of turns you are taking), so that the client has some time to prepare mentally for the end of his or her turn.
Phones need to be turned off or set to airplane mode during sessions. It is not acceptable to take calls or check messages while you are in the counseling role, no matter how briefly; you want to strictly avoid anything that keeps you from giving the speaker your completely undivided attention.
The speaker is the ultimate decision-maker during his or her time; this is a crucial distinction between a PLN session and some other counseling contexts. During your turn, that time belongs to you, and the listener should never pressure you in any way about how to use your turn, though questions or suggestions are fine as long as they are offered in an open, non-pressuring way.
At the same time, it’s very helpful for the speaker if the listener takes charge decisively of the basic structure of the session unless the speaker requests otherwise. The listener, thus, should begin by setting the timer, turn his or her full attention to the client, and begin to guide the session through the phases described below.
The Structure of a Session
The core of what keeps a local PLN network strong is regular attendance at open support meetings and frequent splitting of time among participants outside of support meetings. If you want your network to thrive, and your own healing to shoot forward, build these practices into your regular routine with discipline and commitment.
One: Starting on an Upbeat
The counselor’s first job is to ask the speaker questions that draw attention to positive threads in life. You might ask, for example:
“What has gone well lately?”
“What’s new and good?”
“What have you felt good about over the past week or so?”
Devote five minutes or so (less in a mini-session, of course) to these positive aspects of recent life, and longer if the client wants to. The goal is for the speaker to take in some good feelings for a few minutes, noticing these hopeful signs and getting in touch with sources of happiness or pleasure. Sitting with these positive thoughts builds strength that helps anchor the client as she dives down into difficult feelings or situations that she wants to address during the bulk of her turn.
Don’t rush the “new and good” section of a session. Our habits tend to lead us to be heavily conscious of things that we are hurting or frustrated about while overlooking causes for hope and joy. If we carry that perspective with us through the counseling session, we don’t tend to do productive healing work. Starting on an upbeat gives us the strength and safety to work on the hard things.
Two: Minor Challenges
After the speaker has spent a few minutes sharing what’s gone well, the listener moves the session to the next phase, by asking, “Have you had smaller challenges or upsets lately?” The purpose of this portion of time is to clear aside issues that may be weighing somewhat on the client but that is not the topic that he or she wants to make the main focus of the session. Giving these sources of distress some brief attention makes it easier to lay them aside, leaving the speaker freer to attack the larger issues. We generally look to spend about five minutes or less on this “minor upsets” section, similar to the time we spent on the good news.
Three: The Heart of the Session
The bulk of the session we spend time working on some issue(s) that we particularly want to make progress on. The counselor can help focus this section by asking at this point, “What do you want to focus on today?” or “What’s on top?”
The speaker can choose whatever way he or she wants to spend this time that feels the most useful. The time can be spent:
* Talking and expressing feelings while receiving the listener’s support
* Laughing, crying or releasing distress in other ways
* Thinking through problems, searching for practical solutions to concrete challenges
* Writing in a journal with the benefits of receiving aware attention while doing so
* Sitting quietly
Four: Returning to the Present Moment
We end a session by spending some time assisting the speaker to rise out of any painful or stressful feelings that have come up during the session, returning his or her attention to the present moment and to reasons to feel powerful and hopeful. In a full-length session, this “present time” section should generally be given a good five minutes, whereas in a mini-session this period might be as short as one minute.
The PLN approach to these last few minutes is different from what you might encounter in other types of counseling. We don’t review the session, try to summarize it, or look for lessons or conclusions to draw from it. On the contrary, the point of the wrap-up is to focus the client’s attention on completely different aspects of life that are disconnected from sources of distress or injury. Some questions the listener might ask during this part of a session include:
“What are you looking forward to in the next few days?”
“Can you describe an object in this room that you find interesting?”
“Can you tell me five green things you can see right now?”
“Could you describe one of your favorite pieces of art or music?”
The goal is to bring the speaker into sensory awareness of the present moment, and to leave the distressing aspects of life aside, returning to them another time.
One of the goals of the PLN approach to healing is to avoid spending a lot of time mulling over our issues. Instead, we try to structure time each week, and perhaps a short time each day, to focus fully on our distresses; then we work hard the rest of the time to keep our attention focused away from our “stuff” and onto positive engagement with life.
Finding Someone to Split Time With
There are a number of ways you can find a partner to split time with. The approach that is most likely to succeed is to approach someone you care about and respect in your current life and see if they would be interested in trying the process out with you. Hand them a copy of “What is the Peak Living Network” and of this article (“How to Split Time”), both of which you can print out at .
Another way is by attending a PLN Open Support Meeting. Open support meetings are great places to meet people who might be a good match for you to split time with.
The last way is to sign up for the PLN “Seeking a Co-Counselor” list. We’ll send you any information we have about people within 50 miles of you who are looking for someone to split time with. To do this, send an email requesting to be put on the list, and including your zip code (which we use to find people who live in your region), to PeakLivingNetwork@.