The co-counseling community is a nationwide network of people offering to support other community members. Experienced teachers offer classes—usually in their own homes—on how to ask for and give support. The classes themselves serve as support groups, and as an opportunity to meet other potential support people.
If you and I were to have a co-counseling session together, it might go something like this. First, you'd be the counselor and I'd be the client for, say, an hour. During this time I'd have the opportunity to talk about how I was feeling, trying in particular to focus on difficult, stressful experiences and relationships, both recent and past, and to discharge feelings I'd been unable to express.
As long as I seemed to be dealing with authentic feelings, you would remain silent. You might not sneak a word for the whole hour; but if I seemed to be avoiding my feelings you would gently guide me back to my emotion-laden experiences. If, on the other hand, I were to be so swept away by recalling difficult experiences that I lost touch with the safety and security of the present situation, you would gently call me back.
At the end of this time, we would reverse roles. You would become the client and I the counselor.
The skills of co-counseling—what to do when you're the client and what to do when you're the counselor— are now being taught in classes throughout the United States and in several other countries. The basic course meets once a week, two and a half hours per session, for sixteen weeks. It costs approximately eighty dollars, of which sixty goes to the teacher or teachers, and twenty to support local and national co-counseling networks.
Class time is divided between co-counseling demonstrations by experienced co-counselors, short lectures on the theory behind the practices, and co-counseling mini-sessions, with the class breaking up into pairs. In addition, students exchange out-of-class counseling time with at least one other student each week. During the sixteen weeks of the class, each student has an opportunity to co-counsel with every other student at least once.
When the class ends, each student receives a list of class members with addresses and phone numbers. Thereafter you may call—or be called by—any of the class members to request a co-counseling session. The person called may either accept or decline the session.
Students are encouraged to exchange time frequently with those class members with whom they feel most at home. Many co-counseling relationships continue for years, although "socializing"—establishing relationships other than that of co-counselor with persons met in class—is actively discouraged.
The co-counseling community now numbers over twenty thousand people. It began in Seattle, in the early 1960s. Co-counseling's founder, Harvey Jackins, has written a number of books and manuals on the method (available from the national headquarters in Seattle). Jackins now serves as International Reference Person for the co-counseling network.
The co-counseling community is not widely known, largely as a result of efforts to discourage press coverage of their activities. They consider themselves a network of friends, and admission to co-counseling classes is by invitation only. Their approach to recruitment is notably different from self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which maintain "open-door" policies. Co-counselors are advised to invite only people " in the very best shape we can find . . . those we would be delighted to have as co-counselors." Inviting "very deeply distressed" persons is not advised. Co-counselors are asked to refer such persons for conventional, "one-way" counseling.