I spent the weekend with friends old and new at a co-counselling residential. What is it? Well, I can’t do better than to quote from the website:
Co-counselling is reciprocal peer counselling:
- Reciprocal: co-counsellors take it in equal turns to be client and counsellor.
- Peer: everyone is equal, there are no “experts” trying to “sort out” other people.
- Counselling: it is a bit like other forms of counselling in that one person listens while the other talks (or “works” in other ways), but there the similarity ends. It is the person being client who is in charge of the session and the person being counsellor mainly just gives very good attention.
Co-counsellors make their own arrangements to meet up, usually in pairs, for co-counselling sessions.
Co-counselling sessions are free.
How do we organise ourselves?
CCI is a remarkable organisation. It is a peer organisation, that is everyone has equal status, and it aims to avoid all forms of authoritarian control. Much of CCI, particularly in the UK, has no formal organisation. Nevertheless, a lot gets organised, mainly on the basis of individuals and groups taking responsibility and getting things done. In the UK there is a wide range of activities to support co-counsellors and co-counselling.
What’s the point? Again:
Co-counsellors in particular develop emotional competence, that is they become comfortable with emotions and the expression of emotion both in themselves and in others. Co-counsellors find that they can:
- Release pent up emotions in ways and situations that feel safe.
- Allow their emotions to do what human beings evolved them for, to help them to handle danger, aggression and abandonment more effectively, to have fun and feel more loving.
- Relate with others more clearly and effectively because they do not have to do all the things that people do to avoid emotions.
A few of the 30 people there are some of the closest friends I have. They know me and all my foibles exceedingly well. They support me to overcome my fears and give me opportunities for joy.
At a co-counselling residential we take it in turns to put on workshops to address feelings in creative and challenging ways. For example, in a workshop entitled “Portrait of Me, Portrait of You”, one by one we were invited in 3 minutes to sit by ourselves in front of 10 others and describe who we thought we were. Then those listening were invited to tell us how they perceived us to be in 3 minutes. And finally, we gave the others our reaction. It was a salutary exercise!
I discovered that even friends of mine who’d known me for 7 years didn’t really see me. They described a woman far more competent – controlling, even – than I thought of myself! Only the closest really came nearest to capturing who I was.
I was mortified and concerned. Though it was a chance for fantastic learning. Really, how many people see who we are? One person may seem arrogant, when they are actually feeling nervous and scared. Another person may look miserable when they are just reflectively thinking. And especially many of us look highly confident and together when we’re shaking in our boots!
More and more I realise I don’t really know what life is like for others – and it’s been my business to read and listen to people for 30 years! The big mistake many make is to imagine what others are thinking of them when they don’t actually know. Often I come across self critical people who when delivering a presentation, hamper their performance by assuming their audience is as critical as they themselves are of their performance – but they don’t know. They are filling the blank of the unknown with their fears. And as you’ll recognise, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is not to try to change what others think of you. But to change what you think of you. If you can set aside the incessantly critical voice which undermines your confidence and instead, give yourself encouragement and support, you will change your performance. Your audience takes their lead from you. If you treat yourself well, so will they. If you treat yourself badly, so will they. As Henry Ford said,
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.”