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Co-Counselling Manual

John Heron 1974, 1979, third and revised edition 1998


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:

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

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.

Control Loosening Techniques

To loosen up embarrassment and the denial and repression barriers:

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.

Celebration and Empowerment

These are techniques for celebrating and exercising your personal strengthsand 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:

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.

Some More Techniques

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

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

Basic Polarities in the Client’s Work

Follow Up and Community Building