Blog entry by Alan Chapman
Everyone can try and practice co-counselling, it's simple.
It's basically people listening to/sharing personal thoughts and feelings: helpfully, non-judgementally, sensitively.
If everyone co-counselled much more, this would help society and planet enormously.
Because openness enables mutual understanding and cooperation.
Co-counselling is completely free and natural in us.
It's also enjoyable, uplifting, energising, and very flexible as to where, when, how, who, etc.
While co-counselling is extremely beneficial, like any personal growth and exploration, it can at times be uncomfortable or painful, a little or a lot, depending on the situation.
Co-counselling can be used for (i.e., co-counselling applications)
Co-counselling is a much under-used extremely natural way for people to improve in a vast range of ways:
- personal growth,
- healing oneself and others,
- friendship and relationships,
- self-help groups,
- teaching and education,
- conflict resolution,
- dating and mating
- marriage, romance,
- suicide prevention,
- work 'buddying',
- managing and supervising
- 'supervision' (as in reviewing/supporting independent practitioners)
- mentoring and coaching,
- appraisals and feedback,
- restorative justice and restorative practice,
- and more.
As with any powerful human concept, various 'branded' interpretations of co-counselling have been developed throughout recent human history (in the age of business and formalised organisations).
This short article keeps things simple and generic (free of brand/concept names), so that you can make of co-counselling what you want.
You will find many different terms used to refer to co-counselling, and many different 'models', concepts and interpretations of it. The terms 'peer-to-peer' or 'peer-support' are used often in referring to counselling and co-counselling, especially when formally organised.
In this context the word 'peer' basically means someone who's similar to, or mutually connected with, another person or group, which can be according to many different factors, for example:
- work 'buddies',
Simply being a member of the human species is enough for two or more people to co-counsel.
What matters is the activity of co-counselling. Besides this any other basis of the relationship can be anything that's appropriate.
Note that US-English spelling is 'co-counseling'. Some people prefer cocounselling or cocounselling, and given language development the hyphen will probably disappear in the future.
As at October 2020 Wikipedia's quick description for co-counselling is:
"Co-counselling is a grassroots method of personal change based on reciprocal peer counselling. It uses simple methods. Time is shared equally and the essential requirement of the person taking their turn in the role of counsellor is to do their best to listen and give their full attention to the other person."
And that's basically it.
Co-counselling is simply a helpful conversation between two people about each other's personal thoughts/feelings/challenges.
Helpful means that it helps both people, and this generally implies or requires that some simple 'rules' are observed:
- Co-counselling should be private between those taking part.
- There should be an understanding before it starts or already within the relationship about expectations of each person taking part. This is often referred to as 'contracting' but basically it amounts to trust and mutual agreement, and simply each person involved understanding about what's happening and its purpose and meaning.
- There should be sufficient balance of give and take, so that participants are happy that they are benefiting as much as they need. In other words, it's fair.
Co-counselling - obstacles, differences, opportunities
Women generally co-counsel each other as part of normal relationships, and often in groups of three or more.
Men tend not to co-counsel each other because men tend not to discuss personal thoughts/feelings/challenges with each other, and certainly this would be extremely rare in informal groups.
This means that co-counselling between men and women is rare, which is a huge opportunity, because many of the challenges of the modern age can best be resolved by men and women cooperating better, in every aspect of life.
There's also vast opportunity if we can increase co-counselling between different ethnicities, religions, political groupings.
This difference between men and women is fundamental in mental health and suicides, and a major opportunity in addressing higher suicide rates in men compared with women (although other factors influence this too; not least physics/weight and the related lethality of methods of attempting suicide).
Some cultures, ethnicities and other groupings of people are more or less likely to co-counsel naturally.
Fears and taboos, and social defensiveness tend to obstruct people in co-counselling, whereas people who are more fearless, willingly open and comfortable with vulnerability, are more likely to engage readily in co-counselling.
Sadly this situation often means that the people who would most benefit from co-counselling, are the least likely to engage in it.
And that's partly why I'm offering this article, at this time especially.
Why and how co-counselling is so powerfully beneficial
Human beings are designed and evolved to exist, survive, and thrive in social groups.
This has been our evolution for six million years.
This means small social groups, interacting physically, using all our senses.
Humans have had technology we use today for about 20 years.
We've evolved, 'hard-wired', for six million years, to live and relate to each other in small local physical social groups.
And so we are 'hard-wired' to talk, to listen, laugh and cry, love and learn, with eyes and feelings as well as ears.
Six million years of evolution.
We are all designed and evolved to talk and listen, and to support each other.
Think about it.
Co-counselling works because, and helpful reference ideas
We see life and everything - including ourselves - as we are, not how everything is - including ourselves.
So the better we understand others, the better we understand everything, and this includes our understanding of ourselves, and our biases, which tend to come from our childhood 'formative' years, and then from the conditioning we experience later in life.
Traumas and achievements and big life-changing events can be 'formative' in creating bias in our thinking, and all of this can be helpful for us or unhelpful.
Erikson's Life-Stage Theory is a useful reference.
Katherine Benziger's work on the human brain and personality is helpful in understanding our natural thinking preferences, and also the general differences between male and female brains.
I say 'general' because we are all a mixture: some women have thinking styles/personalities that are somewhat 'male', and some men have thinking styles that are somewhat 'female'. We are all human, and the human brain is probably impossible to understand beyond quite basic interpretations.
Bias is difficult to change because mostly its hidden, even before we start to understand where it came from, in ourselves and in others. This is crucial in leadership of course.
Co-counselling helps us all because it shifts us from being 'unconsciously incompetent' into being consciously 'aware' of our weaknesses and strengths, which is vital for us then to consider what and how we might want to change/improve.
The Jo-Hari Window model is hugely helpful for understanding the opportunities, and also for offering a sort of framework for co-counselling.
Transactional Analysis is a helpful reference, and although not co-counselling, can be adapted to be so.
Also explore subjects like forgiveness, gratitude, vulnerability, love, etc., many of which are introduced in this blog section, and/or covered in more depth elsewhere in this website.