John Heron (25 Dec 96)
Here are some final reflections on independent co-counselling communities.
They have pioneered their way through some of the very challenging issues
which face 'self-governing peer organisations, exploring ways of being
effective social structures while avoiding all forms of authoritarian
control', to quote the definition above. Here are a few of the problems
(together with their RC counterpart problems), which have been and are
being worked through with a variety of strategies:
In dealing with these and other issues, and in their sustained commitment
to human unfoldment, the independent co-counselling communities within CCI
have shown, for over 21 years, that growth-enriching human love can flow
powerfully within non-authoritarian structures and be conjoined with a spirit
of open inquiry. Those emerging from the RC experience can surely add a
very great deal to this process. CCI communities have always, to my knowledge,
welcomed RC co-counsellors to their workshops for trained co-counsellors,
as well as, of course, to fundamentals courses. There is a lot of exciting
and liberating and rigorous work we can all do together. There is much more
to be said, but this contribution [...] is already very long.
- Impotent and messy democracy in which many people hang back for fear
of being, or being seen to be, too controlling and directive. (RC has
had the opposite problem: oppressive autocracy in which a few people
stay at the top being too controlling and directive.)
- Open sexuality in which people confuse distress-driven sexuality with
liberated sexuality. (RC has had the problem of sexual hypocrisy: a
stringent rule which prohibits sex between people who meet in a co-counselling
context, a rule which people break, particularly at the top of the hierarchy,
and then systematically cover up the infringement and abuse, a cover
up with which many collude.)
- Eclecticism without adequate integration: exploring all kinds of different
growth methods, without attending to their effective interaction with
existing co-counselling techniques. (RC has had the problem of dismissing
too many worthwhile growth methods as 'junk' and as a contamination
of limited RC techniques.)
- Theoretical stasis and underdevelopment: the difficulty of sustaining
an adequate peer forum for the development and refining of basic theory.
(RC has had the problem of an oppressive central control of basic theory
and its development, e.g. the integration - after RC had spread to several
countries - of early RC theory with Marxist doctrines underlying the
Communist Manifesto of 1848.)
- A general reticence in sustaining outreach, in going out to lead more
people into the freedom of their own autonomous and co-operative communities.
(RC has had the problem of going out and leading people into pseudo-freedom
within an authoritarian community.)
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John Talbut (1 Feb 1997)
I have just been looking at JH's notes about Independent
Co-Counselling Communities and I would like to respond as follows:
I think John's notes convey an unduly pessimistic view of
CCI. Of course co-counsellors are human beings and we are not all perfect.
If there were not things about ourselves that we wanted to change then
we would not be co-counselling. So problems do exist, but they do not
outweigh the very positive state of CCI. In fact the existence of problems
and the ways in which we approach them adds much to the vibrancy of CCI.
These are my impressions from over 12 years of very active
involvement in CCI of the situation with regard to the points that John
Also, I don't think John is right about RCers being welcome to CCI workshops.
Maybe the way for me to respond to that is to add another FAQ: Can RC co-counsellors
attend CCI activities. In general the answer to this is 'No'. In order to
be entitled to attend activities for CCI co-counsellors someone would need
to comply with John Heron's "A Definition of Co-Counselling". However, the
nature of CCI is such that it is up to the organizers of activities, the
people taking part in them or both to decide who can attend so some CCI
activities are open to RC co-counsellors. There are also occasional activities
which are for co-counsellors of any variety.
- Impotent and messy democracy: My description of the situation is potent
and creative panocracy (rule by everyone). Certainly the level of activity
in the UK and, I think, other parts of the world does not indicate impotence.
I have been impressed by the way in which gatherings of co-counsellors,
sometimes of 20 or more people, make decisions. The process may look
messy but it is efficient. It works because participants take responsibility
for their part in the process, are heard if they want to be and don't
then go about blaming other people or the leadership if they don't get
what they want. Frequently in smaller groups decisions are made with
peer facilitation, in other words there are no nominated facilitators
and each participant takes responsibility for assisting the process.
I have seen this work with groups of 80 or more co-counsellors.
- Open sexuality: I have been involved in running numerous workshops
on sexuality and in exploring sexuality with co-counsellors. On the
evidence I have, and I have a fair amount of evidence, the idea that
distress driven sexual activity is rampant within CCI is a myth. Of
course there are exceptions, but my impression is that generally there
is a high level of awareness and responsibility around sexual activity.
John Heron's guidelines for exploring sexual attractions and RC theories
around sexuality and intimacy are widely shared in CCI. In fact I would
say that one of the things that CCI is very good at is helping people
to learn to enjoy their sexuality in aware and responsible ways.
- Eclecticism without adequate integration: The whole point about "A
Definition of CCI" is that it clearly sets out the boundaries of what
is acceptable in CCI co-counselling. Any technique from any growth method
that can be used within the Definition is acceptable, and nothing else
is. This gives co-counsellors when they are in the client role great
flexibility to use techniques that work for them. In practice this means
that co-counsellors use analytical, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic
and transpersonal method in seamless, flexible and effective ways.
- Theoretical stasis and underdevelopment: I think that stasis comes
when you agree on what the theory is. Since CCI neither attempts nor
has any mechanism to control theory it provides a wonderful forum for
theoretical debate. That debate is far more useful than any resolution
since it encourages people to think and develop their own understandings.
- A general reticence in sustaining outreach: There certainly is a problem
here, although I don't think reticence is the right word. Rather there
is no pressure to do this, there is not a sense in CCI that people should
be going out and helping other local networks to get going. If people
in a new locality want to get involved in CCI there does not seem to
be any reticence in CCI to give help and support and no shortage of
teachers willing to go to new places to teach co-counselling. What CCI
relies on, though, is for people locally to put in the sustained effort
needed to keep organizing and recruiting for the basic training courses
and organizing ongoing activities and networking.
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