Re-evaluation Counselling EDITED




Liz Maynes


According to the theory of Re-evaluation Counselling it is natural for a human being to think well, to act rationally, to enjoy life and to have good relationships with other humans. The terrible feelings and miserable relationships and mistake-making we experience arise from past distress and its after effects. 





Rationality: This term, as used in the theory, refers to the distinctively human potential for a high level of creative, intelligent response to new situations, the capacity to create innovative and exactly appropriate solutions to new problems. The actualisation of the potential is, however, restricted by the occurrence of patterns. 


Patterns: According to the theory, human behaviour is frequently characterised by repetitive, stereotypic and relatively maladaptive reactions called 'patterns'. Such reactions are rigid and un- responsive to what is new and changing in the situation. The individual has little control over them. Pattern behaviour is the result of un-discharged distress. 


Distress: Human beings are highly vulnerable to being hurt. They may suffer physical distress or psychological distress in many forms (grief, fear, anger, embarrassment, boredom). 


Discharge: The natural healing process for distress, whereby human beings become unhurt, is the combined physical and emotional process called 'discharge'. Grief discharge is dependably characterised by crying, fear by shaking, anger by 'storming', embarrassment by laughter, boredom by non-repetitive talking and physical distress by yawning and stretching.


The development of patterns: If distress is not discharged it will be stored as tensions that result in pattern behaviour. Cumulative un-discharged distress becomes established in negative, maladaptive and rigid emotional attitudes that are expressed in repetitive and inappropriate behaviour. Such attitudes and behaviour become congealed in rigid and emotionally closed social structures and their norms. Parents, themselves socialised by norms that inhibited the discharge of their own early and subsequent distress, impose similar norms on their children: the parent cannot tolerate in his child a discharge process that is under chronic inhibition in himself. The suppression of discharge is at first externally imposed; but the suppression eventually becomes fully internalised by the child as a device for maintaining social acceptance.


Invalidation: To interrupt and suppress, the discharge process in another human being is to invalidate his humanity. Once internalised, such interruption and suppression is established as an internal norm of self-disparagement maintaining pattern behaviour. 


The effects of discharge: Discharge is achieved by attaining the safe conditions for it and by over- coming the subtle control patterns of discharge- disparagement. Discharge is the process of becoming unhurt. As discharged a hurtful incident proceeds, that incident is progressively re-evaluated in terms of new memories and new insights, and the pattern that resulted from its stored distress will disappear. This intelligent re-appraisal of distressful incidents signals the release of rational capacity, which is the goal of Re-evaluation Counselling. The immediate effects of emotional discharge are an enhanced sense of well-being and fellow-feeling, and a heightened awareness of and responsiveness to the present situation. The long- term effects of releasing one pattern after another through emotional discharge are expected to be an increased capacity for creative, intelligent coping with change; for warm, caring relationships with other human beings: and for enjoyment of life.




Through the practice of co-counselling we re-open the natural channels of recovery from our distresses. Almost any person who is handling life reasonably can be effective in co-counselling from the very start. Here is an outline account of some of the central features of the method. 


Two-way counselling Co-counsellors typically meet once or more a week for two hours: for the first hour, one is counsellor and the other is client, and for the second hour these roles are reversed. In the class context, participants have mini-counselling sessions of from five to twenty minutes each way. Such co-counselling rests on the twin principles of cooperation or mutual support and self-direction. 


The role of the counsellor The counsellor's role is to be present. To be present means to be fully supportive of the client, giving the totality of one's free attention to the client as a gift for him to use. The counsellor sits opposite the client, gazes steadily and attentively at the client and indicates his interest in all the nuances of expression in his face and in the movements of the rest of his body. The counsellor does not interpret, advise, exhort, admonish, criticise or sympathise verbally: all these -activities tend to interfere with the client's exploration of his experience and with his capacity for discharge. The counsellor's supportive presence, his gift of free attention, facilitates the client's self-direction. 


The role of the client The client is in charge: it is fundamentally his responsibility to decide what he does, when and how he does it. The client is self-directed in using the methods to explore his emotional space and find ways of discharging buried distress. He looks at the counsellor while talking, if possible, and works within the counsellor's supportive presence. 


Free attention This refers to the attention of either counsellor or client that is not locked up in recent or remote patterns of distress. It is the amount of undistracted attention that the person can bestow on the immediate here and now environment. 


Balance of attention The necessary condition for effective discharge is that the client has enough free attention available so that he achieves a balance of attention between the present situation (including the counsellor's support) and the content of the distressful material that is due for discharge. Visual and physical contact between counsellor and client while the client is working helps the client sustain this balance of attention. 




There are a variety of techniques to facilitate discharge and the balance of attention. They are for use by both counsellor and client, the client in directing himself, the counsellor in making suggestions to the client when the latter appears to be blocked or to have lost his way. But since the client is in charge it is his prerogative to discard any suggestion from the counsellor that does not seem to be helpful.


Repetition The repetition of a phrase, the first utterance of which produced vocal, facial, and other signs in the client of hidden distress, may produce discharge or make the distressful material more available for discharge.


Contradiction The client contradicts or is invited to contradict any statement of his which is self-deprecating, which negatively qualifies his own worth. This contradictory statement is one of unqualified self-validation or self-appreciation, and is called a positive direction. Such a positive direction, if it is accompanied by a tone and volume of voice, a facial expression and bodily movements and gestures that all contradict an ingrained pattern of self-disparagement, will break up pattern behaviour and facilitate the discharge of hidden distress.


Free association The client mentions or is invited to mention the thought, image, or feeling evoked by repetition or contradiction or any other technique used. To verbalise such a thought, image, or feeling will facilitate the availability of discharge material.


Role playing To assist the client discharge on some stressful incident, the counsellor may play the role of one of the central persons in that incident.


Acting into When the client becomes aware of distress associated with some incident, he may facilitate the discharge of that distress by going through the motions of, say, an anger or a fear discharge. Such acting into the discharge will often permit the real discharge to occur.


Present-time techniques Without free attention the discharge process cannot begin. The client can gain free attention by becoming aware of what is going on in the present moment: he may describe the counsellor or the room where he is working or see how many details of his present environment he can be aware of at once.


Remembering With chronically ingrained distress patterns, the problem is that the client's attention can be swamped and engulfed by them, in which case discharge cannot occur. A reservoir of free attention for working at deeper levels can be built up by a spectrum of techniques that moves from light to heavier demands on the client's capacity for sustaining a balance of attention: (I) a quick, random review of pleasant memories; (2) a quick, random remembering of minor upsets; (3) chronological scanning of memories that fall under a specific category of incident, first of a pleasant kind, then of a distressful kind; (4) sustained review of one particular distressful incident.


Validation This is a central principle in the practice of Re-evaluation Counselling. The client seeks the reversal of patterns, the overcoming of inhibiting controls of self-disparagement, by validating himself through the use of positive directions and by validating others. The counsellor validates the client by giving him free attention, suggesting positive directions to him where appropriate, and by fully respecting his autonomy by refraining from interpretation, advice and interruption. This consistent use of validation works to undo the after-effects of the torrent of invalidation to which the client has been subjected since his earliest years, and so to facilitate discharge. Workshops and classes in co-counselling are currently being held in Tasmania, Adelaide, Sydney and Armidale. These workshops and classes are not therapy, encounter, or sensitivity groups. Instead they are groups in which we create a supportive, non-critical, non-interpretive and validating atmosphere where discharge of old distresses can begin the process of recovery of our natural human qualities.


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