The first class meeting was at a friend's house a few blocks away. There were a dozen students and two teachers. Nearly all the faces were familiar. One of the students was a woman who had been co-counseling for four years.
We went around the room introducing ourselves, and the teachers asked each of us in turn to say our name ("Tom Ferguson"), to share where we lived ("Inverness" ), something special about ourselves ("I'm a good writer and I work very hard"), something we'd like to change about ourselves (`'Like to be more sensitive to other people's feelings"), how we spent our time ("Writing articles, reviewing books, answering mail, being with my family, running, taking walks"), and something new and good in our lives ("A twenty-mile hike, alone, from Bolinas to Inverness last Saturday").
Next we broke up into pairs and spent a few minutes telling, then listening to our partner tell, things we liked about ourselves. After the teachers talked a bit about the theory and technique of co-counseling, we broke up into pairs again—with a new partner—and had a ten minute co-counseling session each way. The class ended with a "closing circle." We came together, arms around shoulders, and progressed around the circle, telling the person beside us something we'd noticed and appreciated about them during the evening.
Nearly everyone wanted to be part of the class. I did, too.
Co-counseling puts the responsibility for taking good psychological care of yourself squarely in your own lap. It provides tools and structure, but the work is up to you.
It's something that comes slowly. You proceed at your own pace. No one tells you what you should work on or how. The best learning experience is watching experienced co-counselors work on their own material. It's often most impressive. Awe-inspiring, even.
As a counselor, you learn to be more and more comfortable simply being there for your client, without being upset by what he or she is going through, without putting any of your own demands on him/her. After a session, you feel a pleasant combination of gratitude and being needed.
It seems so much easier to be vulnerable, to explore your own hard places, when you know that in a few minutes your counselor will be exploring his own hard places with your support. Some people may be able to work as well with a paid, professional, more "objective" therapist. I know I can't.