Co-counselling helps us to maintain mental wellbeing, improve interpersonal relationships and develop more satisfying approaches to life. There are many ways in which you may seek to change and develop in your life. For instance, you might want to spend less time feeling anxious, irritated, or bored. Maybe there are things you wish you didn’t do, like procrastinating, worrying too much, or feeling angry or helpless. Perhaps you want to develop more loving relationships, change your lifestyle or your work.
So what stops us from responding to others the way we would like to, being kind to ourselves, and reaching our full potential? Co-counselling theory suggests that we each have ‘patterns’ of thoughts, feelings and behaviour which limit us. Patterns are repetitive, stereotyped and inflexible responses set down in childhood. They reflect the early ways we learnt to respond to distressing events and the messages we internalised about ourselves. As adults, when we behave and think in ways which are not clear and positive, this is often because an old pattern is being triggered.
We are all born with the capacity to love, understand, and adapt. During childhood we experience occasions where our needs are not met, we are not heard, and we are hurt. This may be as extreme as physical abuse, or it may be more subtle, such as the child who is told ‘big boys don’t cry’, who is criticised when they have tried hard, or is shamed over something they did not mean to do.
Associated with these experiences, are emotions such as grief, fear, and anger. Most of us are taught that we should suppress these emotions. In some situations, emotional suppression can be a necessary adaptive response. For instance, the full expression of fear in either battle or business may counter-productive. However, suppression can also come at a price. It can result in muscular tension, troubling dreams and distorted behaviour. Sometimes our feelings burst out unbidden, for instance when we lose our temper or cry over some seemingly small matter.
Co-counselling invites us to recognise the past events which have affected us and to ‘discharge’ pent up feelings through cathartic responses, such as sobbing, trembling, raging or even laughing. Fully honouring our feelings within the safety of a co-counselling session can lead to spontaneous insights and enables us to re-evaluate our situation in a new light. We are then able, with clearer thinking, to explore new options and develop goals. We find that patterns lose their power so we have more choices about our behaviour and more energy in our lives.
Co-counselling paves the way to ’emotional competence’. An emotionally competent person:
- recognises when their hurts originating in the past are being triggered;
- accepts their feelings and recognises that appropriate expression of emotions can be healing;
communicates emotions in ways that improve rather than impair interpersonal relationships;
- harnesses emotions for planning and action rather than being overwhelmed or driven by them;
- recognises patterns of distress in other people and organisations.
Co-counselling also encourages us to celebrate and affirm the good things about ourselves, others and our environment. It can be uncommon, as we grow up, to learn to give and receive praise, to openly express appreciation, and to view life positively. Celebration can be used as a therapeutic tool, helping us to get in touch with the underlying self limiting thoughts, and lifting us out of our worries.
Co-counselling methods are based on principles of:
- working together as equals;
- exchange of equal time in the roles of client and counsellor;
- the person in the client role is the expert on their own experience;
- the client is in charge of their own session.