Co-Counselling Manual

John Heron

1974, 1979, third and revised edition 1998


Foreword and Introduction


Basic Principles of Method

Present Time Techniques
Control Loosening Techniques
Basic Working Techniques
Celebration and Empowerment
Starting a Session
Finishing a Session

Counsellor's Tool Kit

Some More Techniques

Transpersonal Expression

Compact Co-Counselling Manual

Follow Up and Community Building

See also my:


This manual is offered as an aide-memoire only. It is given to participants in basic training courses in co-counselling, and it presupposes experience of such a course.


Co-counselling is a method of personal development through mutual support for persons of all ages and both sexes including, with suitable modifications, children. It is not for those who are too emotionally distressed to give attention to a fellow human on a reciprocal basis. It is a tool for living for those who are already managing their lives acceptably by conventional standards, but wish significantly to enhance their sense of personal identity and personal effectiveness. It is part of a continuing education for living which affirms the peer principle.


My formulation of the theory on which the practice of co-counselling rests is as follows. All persons are differentially stressed by virtue of their immersion in the human condition which has at least the following sources of stress: the separation trauma of birth and death; the tension between physical survival and personal development; the relative inscrutability or apparent meaninglessness of many phenomena; the intractability of matter; the inherent instability of unprogrammed and probably unlimited human potential; the presence of other stressed humans.

On the one hand such stressors can be enabling, providing the shock of awakening that promotes personal development and cultural achievement. On the other hand they can be overwhelming and disabling so that personal and interpersonal behaviour becomes distorted and persons interfere with each other, either unawarely or deliberately and maliciously. There are thus two sources of distress: the primary source in the human condition, the secondary and derivative source in the interference of other people. The latter is what co-counselling is most obviously and immediately concerned with.

Human infants have remarkable though undeveloped capacities for love, understanding and choice but lack the information, skill and experience with which to actualise them. They await wise and loving education, but are also highly vulnerable to interference by others - the blocking, frustration, rejection or neglect of their deep human potential. The result of such interference is a line of distress in the mind-body, the emotional pain of grief, fear, anger, shame or embarrassment, together with correlated physical, often muscular tension. The effect of such distress is to suspend the effective response of human capacities - of love, understanding and choice - so that the child is left with an undiscriminating recording of the traumatic, interfering interaction, including the child's own maladaptive response. These distress recordings can become ingrained and extensive through cumulative repetition of interference from parental and other sources. There is invariably a double interference, firstly with the deep human potential, and secondly with the child's attempt to find a way of dealing with the pain of this through catharsis: hence the double negative message - "Your human capacities are no good, and the pain you feel at their suppression is no good".

In our emotionally repressive society, distress recordings acquire a dynamic functional autonomy, often unidentified and unacknowledge They are the source of unaware, compulsive, maladaptive and rigid behaviour patterns, Some of these patterns are periodic, triggered by particular types of situation that significantly resemble the early interference situations: for example, when rational behaviour breaks down in the presence of someone seen as an authority figure. Others are endemic or chronic, a persistent distorted way of feeling and thinking and doing that infects behaviour in a wide range of situations: for example, a chronic self-deprecatory attitude. Here the trigger is being in the world at all - which has become associated with a deeply ingrained distress recording.

When triggered in later life, the distress recording unawarely plays itself out, either the child's end or the parent's end of the recording being reproduced in behaviour and attitude, depending upon the situation. Or both may be reproduced at the same time as in a chronic internal pattern of self-condemnation. Typical recordings, which can combine and interact in various ways, are those of:

Such patterns may be acted out, in interactions with other people; or they may be acted in, in internal transactions within the self. In either case they are, for the adult, maladaptive. For the child they have some survival value - the trauma and pain become encoded as a ritual distortion that at least enables the person to continue on without total breakdown and disruption. But they restrict and constrain a mature, flexible and innovative response to changing circumstances in the adult.

Co-counselling theory also holds that catharsis is a way of releasing distress from the mind-body. Keeping some attention in the place of the aware adult in present time, the client in co-counselling reaches down into the hidden place of the hurt child, honours and experiences the pain, and releases it:

This is a healing of the hidden painful memories, a reintegration of the occluded past. The effects of sustained catharsis are:

The person can thus live more creatively and awarely in response to what is going on now.

Finally, the way of regression, catharsis and reintegration of the distressed past is complemented and indeed consummated by the way of celebration - the joyful affirmation of felt strengths, of experiences and projects that are worthwhile, enjoyable and creatively rewarding.


Co-counselling is a two-way process among peers, each taking a turn as client and counsellor (or worker and helper). It typically involves a two-hour session with each person taking an hour in each role. Client and counsellor exercise appropriate skills, acquired on a basic training course of at least 40 hours, with on-going groups, intensive workshops and advanced workshops for systematic follow-up.

Co-counselling is not simply client-centred, it is client-directed. The client is the person who is taking her turn, working on the way of regression and catharsis, and the way of celebration and affirmation. The basic techniques are primarily for the client to work with on herself, with the aware supportive attention of the counsellor. This is particularly important in the early stages so that the client does not become strongly dependent on counsellor interventions.

The counsellor does not interpret, analyse, criticise or advise on problems, but only acts within a contract indicated by the client. This contract may ask for non-verbal attention only; for occasional interventions when it seems to the counsellor that the client is missing her own cues, is getting lost in her own defenses; or, at a later stage when the counsellor has acquired the requisite skill, for interventions which work intensively with client cues and which focus in on areas of primary material. The counsellor's interventions are always in the form of a practical suggestion about what the client may say or do. The rationale of the suggestion is not verbalized; and the client is in principle free to reject the intervention.

On the way of regression and catharsis, the client is trained to take charge of the discharge process by always keeping a focus of attention in the place of the aware, mature adult outside the distress of the child within, and to work with accessible and available distress, with what is on top. This ensures that the healing of the memories occurs in a relatively undisruptive way, in a sequence and at a pace which the client can readily handle. The client works not only upon childhood experiences but also on more recent and present relationships, both personal and professional, and also on future expectations and on political and institutional tensions. Some of the introductory techniques the client uses, and which the counsellor recommends when she intervenes, are:

Many other techniques are used, and co-counselling at its various stages of development can accommodate the four primary ways of managing catharsis: active imagination, passive imagination, active body work and passive body work. Transpersonal co-counselling is an important development for working on the repression of, and for transforming one's being by, the sublime and archetypal; and for addressing some of the primary sources of tension in the human condition, mentioned in the theory section above. Fundamental throughout is the validation, affirmation and celebration of the inalienable worth of humans and their capacities.

History and Organisation.

Co-counselling was developed out of other sources by Harvey Jackins in Seattle, USA in the 1950's and 1960's. Under his auspices it spread through the USA and Europe in the late 60's and early 70's, and thereafter to other parts of the world. Networks of co-counsellors were organized under the title of Re-evaluation Counselling Communities. This organization early on became theoretically rigid and internally authoritarian. In 1974 Co-counselling International was formed as an alternative network. It federates entirely independent communities of co-counsellors in several countries. These communities develop their own decision-making procedures consonant with the peer principle, and their own approach to the training, assessment and accreditation of teachers of the method. International workshops are held regularly in the USA, Europe and New Zealand.

Co-counselling as a practice primarily occurs in people's own homes on the basis of one-to-one informal arrangements. The purpose of a network or community is to provide up-to-date address lists of trained co-counsellors, and to provide a continuous programme of groups and workshops for follow-up, group support, intensive co-counselling, refresher course advanced training, teacher training and social change activity.

Basic Principles of Method

Role of client The client is in charge, is self-directed, decides what to work on, how to work on it, how long to work on it. It is her time. She is free to accept or reject the counsellor's suggestions. She is concerned with the liberation of her own potential. Her working options include, among others:

She deals with what's on top, with what she can handle and needs to work on at the time, with whatever combination of methods seems to her appropriate.

Role of counsellor Each partner takes a turn as both counsellor and client.

Free attention All available attention that is not:

  1. Distracted by events in the environment.
  2. Sucked into / swamped by internal distress. Free attention is the facilitating energy of awareness. Giving free attention is an intense activity, a fundamental validation of the person to whom it is given.

Contracts The client needs to make it clear at the start of a session what kind of contract she wants.

  1. Free attention contract The counsellor gives free attention only. No interventions.
  2. Normal contract The counsellor intervenes when the client appears to have lost her way, to be blocking, to be 'in pattern', to be missing her own cues. There is a co-operative balance between client self-direction and counsellor suggestions. Occasional interventions.
  3. Intensive contract The counsellor works intensively with client cues, making as many interventions as seem necessary to enable her to deepen and sustain her process. This may include leading a client in working areas being omitted or avoided. Frequent interventions.

Discharge Facility in discharge of past distress is one of the early goals of the client. Discharge sooner or later elicits spontaneous insight, fresh recall, a reappraisal of the area being worked on. It is to be distinguished from dramatization or pseudo-discharge, which is to act out distress without discharging it (e.g. pseudo-grief or pseudo-anger).

Balance of attention The client can only discharge when she has enough free attention outside the distress and when her attention is balanced between the distress material within and what her free attention is engaged with outside it, such as the supportive presence of the counsellor, the technique she is currently using.

Present Time Techniques

These techniques are for you as client (1) to get your attention out, to release your free attention, at the start of a session, so that you may have attention available for maintaining a balance of attention when working; (2) to restore your free attention if you get shut down in the middle of your session; (3) to bring you back fully into present time after working on past events.

  1. Good news Relate your current good news, what is going well in your life at present, what agreeable events have occurred.
  2. Present description Describe the immediate environment, give a literal account of what you can see and hear and touch around you. Describe your counsellor, give a literal description of the appearance of your counsellor.
  3. Future promise Relate what you are looking forward to doing over the next few days.
  4. Simple pleasures Relate any simple pleasures of your life that come to mind; or your favourite colours, smells, tastes, sounds, textures, etc.
  5. Micro upsets Describe very trivial little upsets you have had recently.
  6. Reverse calculation Say the eight times table backwards: 8x12 is ? 8x11 is ? etc.
  7. Movement Move around slowly in the environment, noticing changes of view and perspective. Or move in an agile way, leaping, jumping, dancing, etc.
  8. Change the environment Rearrange items on the table, on a shelf, in the room.
  9. There and now

Control Loosening Techniques

To loosen up embarrassment and the denial and repression barriers:

  1. Facial expression Describe in detail your last meal, exercising all the muscles on the face in every possible direction.
  2. Gesture Describe a house and garden of your childhood, with elaborate gestures at shoulder height and above.
  3. Tone of voice Express your present state of mind and feeling in glossolalia (jabbertalk), or have a conversation with your counsellor in glossolalia.
  4. Act into laughter Sustain a loud, very vigorous artificial laugh.
  5. Act into fear Stand, press your finger-tips lightly but firmly into your counsellor's back and tremble all over (hands, arms, shoulder, head, neck, jaw and knees), hyperventilate, let some sound out.
  6. Act into anger Kneel in front of your counsellor, pound the air with your fists beside his head, and yell 'No' very loud into his eyes. Or the same on a cushion on the floor.
  7. Mad dog Shake an imagined mad dog vigorously off your left leg and yell. Repeat with your right leg.
  8. Body shake Shake each limb, then head and trunk.
  9. Rapid breath Breathe in and out very quickly saying 'Oh' on the out breath.

Basic Working Techniques

These are for you as client to use in a self-directed way to dislodge control patterns and to facilitate discharge of stored distress and tension, and subsequent release of insight.

  1. Literal description Describe and evoke the sensory texture of a traumatic event, the sights, sounds, smells, behaviours, the exact dialogue used. Don't analyze the event, but be literal and detailed; and repeat the description.
  2. Repetition Repeat several times words and phrases that contain a hint of distress, some charge of emotion. Try repeating them louder, exaggerating the posture or gesture that accompanies them.
  3. Amplification Exaggerate and repeat any sudden distress-charged movements of hands, arms, feet, legs, pelvis, head and neck. Find the sound that goes with the amplified movement, then the words. Who are you saying them to, and about what? For tight, rigid body postures, exaggerate them extremely, find the sound that goes with this, then the words, then develop the psychodrama. Or use body-rigidity contradiction (see below).
  4. Psychodrama Play yourself in an early traumatic scene. Let the counsellor be the other person in that scene. Say, and repeat to her several times, things that you never said at the time, but which express and help discharge the distressful feelings. Combine with acting into.
  5. Acting into Act into fear or anger, when appropriate, during repetition and when saying things in a psychodrama. This means simulating vigorously, and purely physically, the movements and sounds of fear or anger discharge. It often helps the real discharge come through, and sometimes it may be different from the acted emotion.
  6. Free association Let deeper levels of your mind work spontaneously.
Counsellor Client
Who do I remind you of? Mr. X
How am I like Mr. X? (replies)
What is left unsaid from you to Mr. X? (replies)
How am I not like Mr. X? (replies)

You can also use this whenever any irrational irritation or negative feeling arises between co-counsellors. Thus A is irritated by B's habit of doing Z, so B says to A: Who does my doing Z remind you of? Then B takes A through the last two steps.

Celebration and empowerment

These are techniques for celebrating and exercising your personal strengths and powers. They affirm and manifest the real you, the empowered person, in charge of self-creation, social change and ministry to the planet. They consummate discharge techniques and manifest the potential released by healing the memories. They also go beyond the healing, affirming strengths you have had for years, and potentials never blocked yet still uncovered. They can be used in part of, or for the whole of, a session. It is quite a good idea to use them for the last part of a discharge session as a way coming back into present time and into the fulness of your personhood. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Celebration Affirm your presence in the world, your potent embodied and embedded relationship with other presences in the world. Celebrate your personal power, your capacities, developed abilities, achievements. Celebrate your passionate engagement with people and places, your interests, interactions, friendships, intimacies. And so on.
  2. Openness Affirm your openness to wider reaches of being which embrace this world, and to the immanent, interior depths within you. See transpersonal expression below.
  3. Creative thinking Think aloud on the frontiers of your thinking on any topic which fascinates and engages you.
  4. Problem solving Address a challenging issue which confronts you, with the excellence of your resourceful intelligence.
  5. Project the future Boldly imagine and express positive possibilities for yourself and the world in 5, 10, or 15 years' time. Imagine extraordinary possibilities for the world in 200, 500 or 1000 years' time.
  6. Life-style analysis Creatively consider the various domains and social roles in your life, the relations between them, envision potentially fruitful developments and changes, then set some realizable goals and plan relevant actions to achieve them.

Starting a Session

As client, make clear the kind of contract you want. Then your working options, among many others, include:

Finishing a Session

As client, this means you are coming back into present time. Options include:

Counsellor's Tool Kit

For the person whose turn it is to be counsellor.

  1. Free attention Give supportive, sustained, expectant, totally aware and alert free attention, always wider and deeper than the content of your client's speech.
  2. Remember the distinction between the person and the pattern: it is the basic rationale of giving free attention.
  3. Clarify the contract If your client forgets to specify the contract, prompt her to state clearly what kind of a contract she wants.
  4. Identification-check Remember to remind a new client about this.
  5. Interventions On a normal or intensive contract, make practical prompts, based on client cues, about what your client may say or do to facilitate discharge.  All the following items presuppose there is a normal or intensive contract
  6. Client cues Work with cues your client provides: slips of the tongue, sudden phrases that show a hint of discharge, negative statements that need contradiction, distress-charged body cues, and so on.
  7. Accept your client's rejection of your suggestion. Don't be attached to your interventions.
  8. Always interrupt a pattern Always intervene with a suggestion when your client is talking or behaving compulsively, in pattern.
  9. Interrupt premature closure Clients often tend to avoid further discharge in some area by coming out too soon. With a normal or intensive contract, encourage your client to open up the area again with more description, repetition, psychodrama, acting-into, etc.
  10. Help gear change Be alert to cues that suggest your client's need to change from literal description to a psychodrama, from the discharge of anger to the discharge of fear, from grief to anger, etc., and intervene to help the change.
  11. Validation of your client Affirm your client, when appropriate, during discharge (thus you may say 'You really are loved' while she is discharging on rejection); by touching/holding/supporting during discharge; by verbal encouragements; at the end of the session.
  12. Interrupt withdrawal from fear Client unaccustomed to fear-discharge may curl up, withdraw, run away; so reach out and hold them supportively, encourage them.
  13. Light techniques to switch levels Be a master of light directions to help the client switch to a lighter level of discharge when her attention gets sunk, swamped by too much distress.
  14. Mimicry Take over the client's control pattern in facial expression, tone of voice, gesture, posture, in what she says. This is very effective tool if it is used while giving totally supportive free attention.
  15. Counterpartal psychodrama Play negative figures that client is discharging on, and use triggering phrases, facial expression, tone of voice, gesture.
  16. Look for bodily rigidities Encourage your client to contradict them.
  17. Watch for dramatization Allow for some dramatization since it may lead into discharge, but interrupt persistent dramatization by suggesting a phrase or an action that gets authentic discharge going.
  18. Help your client back Remember to bring the client to insight gathering, positive directions, and to present time at the end of the session.

Some More Techniques

For you as client to use when you have a good grasp of basic working techniques and can discharge freely.

  1. Take charge now You assume you are distress-free now and give a non-stop account of how you will take charge of your life in all respects and transform it. This may lead to copious discharge.
  2. Non-verbal Work for a whole session or part of a session using non-verbal directions: sounds, gesture, posture, gaze, moving to and from your counsellor. No speech is used. Contradict the control patterns built into your normal use of speech by working without speech.
  3. Body contact Work standing or kneeling in your counsellor's arms or kneeling with head and shoulders lowered on her lap.
  4. Bad parent - good parent When you are in touch with deep infantile rage, kill the bad parent (attack a cushion, etc.) with blows and cries while your counsellor acts out the parent dying with cries and moans, falling about, etc. When the parent is dead, the counsellor becomes the good (ideal) parent, holding you, giving love and support, while you express positive feelings to the good parent.
  5. Regression positions Assume infantile positions, e.g. lie on you back, knees in the air (as if in your cot); suck your thumb; play peeka-boo with your counsellor; suck your mother's breast (your counsellor's elbow); act into infantile screaming and rage (lie on your back, kicking and screaming). And so on.
  6. Primal When well into early material, hyperventilate, act into screaming (e.g. cry out for Mummy/Daddy), let full autonomic discharge occur with fine trembling, 'streaming', primal cries; let it continue until it works itself out; give space for the flow of insight afterwards.
  7. Birth work When in touch with natal material, as for example in a foetal position feeling pressures or tensions in your head, neck shoulders, buttocks, etc. invite your counsellor to externalize these pressures with cushions, then allow the feelings behind the tensions to surface and discharge. Allow plenty of space for rest, and hyperventilation to contradict controls on deeply occluded material. Training in client and counsellor skills is recommended and available in workshops on birth re-enactment.

Transpersonal Expression

This is a form of celebration and empowerment whose primary purpose is stated in the first item below. The other secondary and supportive, discharge-oriented purposes presuppose some facility with discharge and a grasp of the basic working techniques.

Compact Co-Counselling Manual

There are three ways in which the client can work:

The Way of Celebration

The Way of Regression and Catharsis

The Way of Action

Basic Polarities in the Client's Work

Follow Up and Community Building

  1. Confidentiality What you as client work on in a session or group is confidential to that session or group.
  2. Sexual attraction between those who first meet as co-counsellors. Make it verbally explicit, counsel on it and discharge on it, rather than act on it.
  3. Reaching out Who may need attention and a session but be too distressed and shutdown to ask?
  4. Possible activities for a local community

Copyright John Heron. Third and revised edition, June 1998

South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry
11 Bald Hill Road, R.D.1 Kaukapakapa, Auckland 1250, New Zealand,
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