Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thoughts from co-counseling

Elizabeth and I had a great opportunity to participate in a co-counseling training last fall.  There were two trainers and 10 other participants.  The training lasted for 2 months.  It was great!  I had some experience in counseling and support group sessions, but this was my first time being in a co-counseling group.

Even though I was originally there as a teacher at Tumbleweed, I quickly started focusing on myself at the first training session, kind of forgetting about my role as a teacher, and got more curious to look into deeper layers of myself and revisit my childhood, something I had been avoiding, whether intentionally or not.


To me, one of the most significant rules about co-counseling was the minimization of interruption.  You find a partner and play the role of counselor for 30 minutes, while your partner is a client, and then swap roles for another half hour.
When you’re a client, it’s your time to talk.  You can laugh, cry, yawn, sweat, even scream, shout or roll over.  These are called “discharges.”  While you are the one talking (and discharging),  you get unconditional attention from your counselor.  On the other hand, when you’re a counselor, you need to remember it’s NOT your time to talk.  It’s your time to give your client unconditional full attention by just LISTENING.

FIrst, I find it challenging to just listen for 30 minutes.  My client is sobbing, I feel like I need to say something kind.  I feel like saying, “I had the same experience,” or even “I know how you feel” or “that’s awful” or all kinds of different things.  But those reactions are not helpful in co-counseling.  Co-counseling made me realize how we are not used to giving our full attention to people when they need to talk.  We’re trained to “interrupt.”   As if we’re not cool if we have no relevant story to tell back to our conversation partner.  We’re under pressure to throw a good ball back to the other.  But isn’t it actually even more challenging to just stay quiet and listen and let the other person finish saying what he/she has to say?  And believe or not, if really feels good to get someone’s full attention for a good 30 minutes!

Inherent Human Nature

At one of our trainings, we talked about "Inherent Human Nature.  Qualities that every one of us is “universally” born with.

- Smart
- Curious
- Loving
- Spontaneous
- Flexible
- Dynamic
- Fun
- Lovable
- Bold
- Creative
- Connected

And those qualities are not only universal, but also unique, complete, permanent, limitless, and unconventional.

Imagining all of our lovely kids at Tumbleweed, all of those qualities are present in each child, there is no question about that.  I look at Elizabeth who is sitting with me in the room.  Oh, yes, I'm sure she has all of those, too.  But, wait, was I also born with all of that?  Once upon a time, did I have all of those qualities?  I guess I did, if they’re right about them being “universal.”  Then where have they all gone?

Here is the answer, if you’re also skeptical about your inherent nature.  Our trainers talked about how we can become disconnected from these qualities as children.  Imagine there is a pair of scissors that cut the string that connects us and those qualities when we experience something negative as a kid.  We feel hurt.  We feel rejected.  We feel neglected.  We feel discouraged.  We don’t want to feel hurt.  We choose not to feel hurt.  We start acting safe so that we don’t get hurt, hopefully.  Over time, we gradually get disconnected with our inherent nature.

But what can be the scissors?  Here are the quotes from our heat-up class.


We could have gone forever listing those “scissors.”  I remember when my parents seemed annoyed when I was curious about their conversation.  I remember my teacher seemed upset when I knew something that he didn’t teach.  I remember feeling hurt when TV told me I am overweight.  It was all their fault!!

Wait a minute though.  Now I have an 8-year-old to parent.  I am a teacher for those beautiful kids at Tumbleweed.  Am I potentially their scissors?  Well, I hope not.  Well, I’m not perfect, just like my mom wasn’t.  But I’ll try my best. 

The things I learned in this co-counseling training reinforced the notions of respectful education that we try to practice at Tumbelweed.  Our focus on emotional intelligence, community leadership, self-advocacy, and critical thinking will keep on rocking!

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