I love to source and introduce people to a variety of peer support models. I am also inspired by the way that certain individuals – or communities – will take the best elements from certain models, to create a process that works best for them. As an example, a late friend of mine was inspired by the work of Harvey Jackins and the International Re-Evaluation Co-Counselling communities. This lead him to take “the most healthy/positive aspects of” the Co-counselling and Re-Evaluation models to develop a peer support process (Re-Evaluation Co-Counselling: One Perspective*), that would work best for him. The peer support process that he developed was a great self-help tool, for him and the many people who engaged in the process with him. I would now like to share that process with others, to let them determine if it is something that they would like to add to their own self-help tool kit.
RE-EVALUATION CO-COUNSELLING: One Perspective*
The purpose of counselling is to work through unreleased emotions (distress) to a point where clear thinking can take place. The manner in which the distress surfaces – whether through crying, laughing, shaking, yawning, or loud continuous talking – is called DISCHARGE.
If discharge is not allowed to occur, then clear thinking will increasingly become clouded. Eventually it reaches a point where we are reacting to the same “feeling” in situations totally unrelated to those in which these feelings first surfaced. This repetitive way of reacting to new situations with old responses is called a CHRONIC PATTERN. Discharge helps interrupt chronic patterns and can be encouraged by using the following principles.
BASIC PRINCIPLES OR TECHNIQUES FOR COUNSELLORS:
EQUALITY – The co-counselling relationship is based on equality. Both people assume a “role” for an agreed upon period of time. Initially, one person role-plays the COUNSELLOR, for say 30 minutes, while the other assumes the CLIENT role. At the end of the 30 minutes, they switch roles for an additional 30 minutes, so both have an equal amount of time to give and receive counselling. The total length of time spent counselling by both parties is called a SESSION.
TOUCH – Maintaining physical contact with the client is a physical reminder of your caring presence. Holding one or both hands is usually the practice, but any comfortable combination will work (an arm over the shoulder, firmly grasping a foot or leg, etc.). Do not allow the clients unease to restrict you: remain in close physical proximity and watch for the discharge.
EYE CONTACT – Try and maintain eye contact at all times. This is to show you are listening to what is being said and encourages discharge. It may, however, require a bit of maneuvering, as people generally do not like to be “stared at” and become self-conscious.
FACIAL EXPRESSION – Keep your face relaxed, open and interested; some counsellors smile encouragingly and not to indicate their involvement in the clients story. Do not look surprised, shocked or judgmental at whatever you may be hearing, as that will shut down the client (she may well spend more time wondering what you really think of her rather than on discharging).
ACTIVE LISTENING – Involves really listening to what the other person is say – primarily to find out what the emotional triggers are for them. If you offer advice, criticism, sympathy or analysis, you are not doing your job as a counsellor. When something is not clear, ask clarifying questions, do NOT tell the client what you think she should be doing or feeling. It is not important that you understand every detail of the clients story; since the purpose is emotional discharge and not factual accuracy, content is not relevant except if it provides an emotional key for discharge. If you are not sure what to do, ask “feeling questions” (How did it feel? What were you feeling at the time? How would you describe the feeling? ) or simply listen and the client will do the work herself.
FEEDBACK – Refers to making connections between emotional blockage and clear thinking. This occurs when the counsellor thinks there are clues emerging from the client’s material that she may not have seen yet. Reflect them back to test them to see if the client feels your ideas make sense. If she doesn’t agree, drop it or relate back what you’ve observed and ask what she thinks it means.
REVERSALS – Very often the client will make a very clear statement of what she would have liked to do in a given situation, such as “ I wanted to say no, but I didn’t”. The counsellor could suggest that the client do the very opposite (“I love saying no – I say it to everybody I possibly can!” or any other creative combination). While the client may resist actually saying it (in which case the counsellor can say it for the client), the counsellor will know if the reversal is successful by the amount of laughter or angry response that follows.
CONFIDENTIALITY – Will apply to each and every counselling session. This is a verbal guarantee that the counsellor will not discuss the client’s material (story) with anyone, at any time. This is also a promise not to discuss the client’s material with the client, at any time in the future, without the client’s permission. At the core of co-counselling is individual responsibility – the client is always in charge of her own material and her own session. The counsellor must abide by the clients wishes as to how the time will be spent; this additional promise of confidentiality within the sessions is one way of reaffirming the clients personal responsibility for her own material.
BASIS STRUCTURE OF A CO-COUNSELLING SESSION:
The stages of counselling flow one into the other, without effort. Each step is important and should not be eliminated (unless there’s a very good reason, like time limit or a sudden crisis).
NEWS & GOODS – Always start with the positive. This becomes an anchor, a strong reminder that while you may feel the world is a rotten place, there are a few good things happening as well. New & Goods can include things the client feels she has done well since the last session or something as simple as having seen a good movie in the past week.
WHAT IS ON TOP – Is usually a starting point – a way of finding out if there’s anything currently weighing the client down – something that must be dealt with first. If there isn’t, move rapidly to the next stage. However, there may be a connection between “what’s on top” and “emotional work” – so watch for it.
EMOTIONAL WORK (or “I want to work on______today!”) – Very often a client comes to the session knowing exactly what she needs/wants to spend her time on. This stage is the focus of a counselling session; this is the part where the tears, laughter or anger come pouring out until the client has had enough, shuts down or the discharge process stops…whichever comes first.
RE-EVALUATION – When the client has had enough opportunity to discharge, she will then want to focus on the reality of the situation being counselling on. With less emotional baggage, some clear thinking begins to happen. With new insight and understanding, the client begins to determine for herself what the “truth” of a particular distressing situation was; and what are the next steps she needs to take – now and in the future. The counsellor can help by asking clarifying questions or giving feedback, but again, not at the expense of the clients own best thinking.
PRESENT TIME (or “Here and Now”) – Close to the end of the sessions, the counsellor must assist the client’s transition away from old emotional distress and direct her attention back to this present reality. The counsellor can do so by testing the client’s awareness of reality by asking specific, detailed questions: What day is it? What is the predominant colour in the room? What’s your telephone number backwards? What is your favourite book (dessert, movie, song)? What are you looking forward to this week? Etc. (an easy tip is to create questions based on the five senses). After several questions, ask the client if she is “here” or not. If she says no, ask more questions; if she says yes, move on to the next stage.
VALIDATION – This is also a difficult stage in counselling – asking for and giving positive feedback about the client. We have all been conditioned to believe that saying good things about yourself is self-centered and egotistical, so asking the client to proudly describe what she does well and then adding your own positive and sincere observation to hers, will inevitably result in much laughter and denial. Should the denial happen, insist that the client hear the validation again, and then simply answer “thank you”. A final affirmation is to conclude the counselling session with a hug (which is of course optional, but worth doing anyway).
PHONE SESSIONS – After completing approximately 10- 15 in person sessions, if both parties agree (and find it more convenient to do so) the in person format can then be moved to a phone format (where the counselling is done over the phone).
*Derived from the work of Harvey Jackins and the International Re-Evaluation Co-Counselling communities (can also be called by other names, such as Peer Counselling, RC, Co-Counselling, etc.).
Other Information related to this topic:
- Best Practices Identified for Peer Support Programs (Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic)
- Peer Support: What Makes It Unique? (Shery Mead MSW , Cheryl MacNeil Ph.D. )