Effects of Co-Counseling on Learning and Teaching


Learning is naturally exciting and enjoyable. To confirm this, simply consider the confidence and satisfaction of a young child investigating oatmeal or rubber bands . . . . Originally, all of us explored our environments with similar enthusiasm, pleasantly anticipating discovery and comprehension. Indeed, even as adults, we are still familiar with delight at the prospect of learning something new and the triumphant pride of accomplishment. A recent personal example is my accidental involvement in learning shreds of Greek and Vietnamese from two of the kindergarteners in my class. They each brought a book to school written in their own language; I could have spent the entire week happily “reading” the books, giggling with the children at how funny I sounded, and occasionally, exultantly, understanding a word. (Chao is Vietnamese for hello and goodbye.)

In “The Nature of the Learning Process” in The Human Situation, Harvey makes two basic points about distress-free learning. He explains that no one can learn while they are preoccupied with hurtful experiences. Learners must be feeling good about the world and, in particular, about themselves. Secondly, he says, in order to avoid being overwhelmed, bored, or discouraged, learners must be able to relate new information at a comfortable rate to what they already know. It is only because hurried, upset people and rigid, indifferent schools sometimes make us feel bad about ourselves and our learning that every learning experience is not one of zestful curiosity and power. I would love to see us all freed from the restraints of our superficial and unnecessary feelings of anxiety, resistance, and lack of interest.

At recent “Educational Change” workshops there has been a strong emphasis on recapturing the lost enjoyment of learning. Although this work has been done at gatherings of people with a special interest or involvement in schools, it is relevant to everyone. Many people think of learning primarily as something that is supposed to happen in schools. They overlook the crucially important learning of infants and pre-schoolers, and they play down the learning that continues throughout our lives in every setting. “Learning” includes the wealth of intellectual theory, information, and skills traditionally emphasized in schools. Learning also includes understanding other people and oneself, and it encompasses all varieties of manual, physical, practical, and artistic activities.

Learning Counseling Theory

Naturally learning also includes learning counseling theory—not as a difficult chore but as an intrinsically rewarding experience. I think that, unfortunately, counseling classes are often just sufficiently like school that part of our attention is often unwittingly dragged back, even though there is more sitting on laps and more laughing in any counseling class than there probably was in most of our schools! I think we will function even better in our counseling classes than we do now when we recognize and discharge this identification with past schooling.

When we counsel on a school experience, it will help to remember both its good and its bad aspects. Historically, in this country, schools have served two different, contradictory social purposes. On the one hand, they explicitly have been a force for discipline and repression, intending to produce compliant members of the industrial and domestic workforce. On the other hand, schools have often opened the imaginations of people, giving them opportunities and the tools to fight for progress. Many of us can testify from our own experience to the role of schooling for or against liberation.

Harvey’s article emphasizes the role of the “teacher”—someone deliberately attempting to “communicate information.” Leaders in educational change workshops in the last few years have added another emphasis: people have been encouraged to look at their spontaneous delight in independent learning. School is only part of the story. Rather than get directly involved with whatever distress has become attached to learning, people are asked to go back to their earliest, exuberant memories of learning. The results are very exciting.

Counseling on Learning

In a demonstration I have seen, the combination of blue and yellow paint to make green became again the miracle that it was the first time the client mixed colors at the easel. In this sort of counseling, the negative feelings and grieves are discharged spontaneously while the client concentrates on feeling wonder, curiosity, and freedom of exploration. At the end of the demonstrations, the entire workshop is often elated and in tears.

Demonstrations at workshops are, of course, special situation. Your discharge as you counsel on learning will depend in part on how much free attention your counselor has in this area. I assure you, however, that classes and individuals who have never counseled on learning have something to look forward to! Start with specific, pleasant memories, avoiding heavy restimulation. If the client bogs down, the counselor can ask rapidly for “a pleasant memory of learning about colors . . . , or about water . . . , about making something,” and so on. If there is no answer, skip on to another question. When this has gotten to be really fun, go on to minor upsets, moving quickly still, unless one memory obviously merits more thorough discharge. Again, the counselor may provide leads: “Do you have an unpleasant memory of learning about words? about sports? about animals?” etc. Another technique is to boast proudly about all the things you have learned in your life, for example, “I learned to cast on in knitting! to ride a bike!” This contradicts the chronic “taking for granted” of all that we know and the feeling that we know so little. If you want to concentrate on learning in one specific subject area, it may be useful to scan all the memories, pleasant and unpleasant, proceeding in chronological order and adding new memories each time as they come.

Depending on your purpose, one of the following questions from workshops may be a good starting place for a session: What is an area you have been struggling with? What do you have to do to open it up for you? What’s an area you have been avoiding learning about? What is the biggest difficulty in the way of learning? What was a time that you took charge of your own learning? When did you feel powerless? When did you stop asking questions and why? What is the earliest hurt that ever confused you? How does each of your oppressions and oppressor roles affect your learning?

One other approach that is fun: try learning something while your counselor gives you attention. Tell him/her what kinds of appreciation will most exactly contradict your recorded invalidations. Take breaks as necessary to recall pleasant memories and successful learning experiences. When I did this in a music lesson, I discharged constantly (mostly gentle shaking), even when my awareness was totally concentrated on the notes I wanted to play. The distress was dissolving without my being conscious of it at all!

You CAN learn anything!

Ruth McNeill
Massachusetts, USA


I began to draw again. This is an activity I always loved, pursued more than most, but not to its limits (or mind). Though I have used my artistic creativity these past six years since we’ve been in a house . . . I had ceased drawing. Some of my drawings are quiet good and some still hesitant and rough. I know this return to drawing is partly due to Julian’s Learning Workshop, although I don’t know exactly how.

. . . Another area where I have been learning is athletics, an area that was cut off for me from an early age. I have been playing racquetball for two years now, the first sport I’ve found as an adult that seems accessible, that I feel I can perform fairly well. Actually, something has been changing for me lately as a woman so that I now want to be strong and see this as being womanly. I am taking myself more seriously and am playing with people who challenge me.  . . . I am working out with weight machines and enjoying watching my muscles start to become hard and bulge. I want to be strong and tough and able to take care of myself, as well as being soft and nurturing.  . . . I love learning how to become strong, and this very up-and-out activity completely takes my mind off any distress I might have.

Judy Lazarus Yellon
University Heights, Ohio, USA


Something wonderful happened since the last workshop. When I was young I used to read a tremendous amount, but since college I lost my attention for it entirely. Well, I got a lot of good session time at the workshop without ever seeming to work directly on the reading blocks, but I came back and picked up a book one day and haven’t stopped reading it since. I’ve been reading the way I did as a young person, with total interest, excitement, attention for the book! It was a truly great breakthrough.

Laura Burrows
Chicago, Illinois, USA


My counseling on early learning has been focused on the confusion and powerlessness which started with being in an isolette for two months and was built on with later experiences as I tried to learn about and be powerful in my world. There’s a lot of grief and fear connected with not understanding what was happening, or why, not knowing what I could do to make it different. Although there’s more work to do, there are several areas where I can see changes. I have a lot more attention for young people, for example, in listening to my children’s feelings about bad experiences at school or from adults. Another change is that in parenting, in teaching and learning, I’ve become much more sensitive to unaware oppressive assumptions and remarks and more deft and creative in handling them. A third is that in my own learning I’m challenging assumptions, not accepting “expert opinion” without thinking it through myself, finding it easier to ask questions when I don’t understand. Best of all, I will be working one day a week with young people on reading at the local elementary school.

Jean Baierlein
Portland, Connecticut, USA


About a year ago I started my first class in Physics, a second semester class. I felt scared that it was going to be too hard.

The first week wasn’t too bad even though I was having a hard time studying. Then came the first test. I thought my knowledge was sufficient. I got a C— on it, and it was clear that I needed some help.

Things went from good to worse. Every time I sat down to study I would fall to sleep for an hour. Worry was a major preoccupation and fear about failure increased.

Since I knew about Re-evaluation Counseling and the theory of learning presented there, I decided to bring the problem to session. At first, I tried to remember all my pleasant memories concerning school. The counseling went very hard and slow with a lot of shut down feelings on both of our parts (counselor and client).

One session before a test I happened upon the idea of taking pride in all I did know about that week’s subject material. The results were that I felt great, knew exactly what I needed to review and had confidence in my knowledge. The test the next day was a success.

These are the counseling techniques that I found helpful in learning something new. Remember that it was important to keep the tone high in each of these steps.

1.     Review pleasant learning memories.

2.     Review any memories at all concerning learning.

3.     Talk with a counselor or another student about what you’ve learned.

4.     Share the excitement of learning something new. Be courageous in letting those feelings through more and more of the time.

5.     In studying for an exam, pinpoint points on which you need more information of practice.

6.     Study with a friend.

7.     Talk with the teacher, ask questions, show delight.

Nancy Parker
Andover, Connecticut, USA

 Two years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to swim. I had an intense fear of the water and also had spent most of my life being told I was un-athletic.

I nervously signed up for a Beginner’s class at the YWCA. At the first class we were told to put our heads in the water. I almost quit the class. Somehow I persisted and practiced daily. (I drank lots of chlorine that summer!) At the end of four weeks I started an Advanced Beginners’ course. I started to make friends with two other women and felt a bit more at east in class. We practiced together: we’d swim one fourth of a width, then spent most of the time choking, laughing, despairing, and cheering each other on. I practiced daily and started cheering myself on. I was determined.

In the fall my two friends and I took an Intermediate class—the biggest challenge of all. I pushed and pushed, feeling totally inadequate the whole time. Having two friends who always reminded me of my persistence made a huge difference. (What support will do!) When we all passed our class I hugged everyone, jumped around the pool, and I organized a success dinner. I clapped when everyone got her card. When I got my card, I got an ovation—everyone knew what it had meant to me.

I later went on to the Swimmers class and private lessons. I started to swim daily at 6 A.M. I began doing a few laps—choking at every half length. The whole time I had to hold completely appreciative directions—Relax, you won’t choke. You’re doing fine. one lap: hurrah! etc.

Now, one and a half years later, I still swim daily, but now I swim one and a quarter miles without stopping. I still have days and weeks of feeling I can’t swim, my body won’t work right, etc., but deep in my heart I know I’ll never give up! Each morning, when I’m done, I am reminded of my power, my strength and my beautiful healthy body. YEA ME!

Helene Wagner
Massachusetts, USA

I think counseling on our learning is of great importance to all people because it is so much fun to learn. Therefore this is closely related to our natural zest. In the long run, we’ve got to have fun too, when changing the world, in order to not burn out. Counseling on learning will certainly tackle the patterns that prevent us from having a zestful life all the time and I assume that there will come a lot of power out of that.

Anders Burvall
Bollnas, Sweden

I am teaching Neuroanatomy (the structure and connections of the brain) to medical students at the University of Lund. The major portion of this teaching is done as formal lectures to groups of approximately one hundred students, and a minor part as informal discussions with about eight to ten students at a time.

About two years ago I decided to work on my teaching and role as teacher with Re-evaluation Counseling techniques. I assure you I found a lot of material to work on: fear of students, anger, disappointments, and experiences from my own education. It has become a habit to devote one or a few Co-Counseling sessions to teaching before each new series of lectures I give, and I usually spend some time on the subject while the course is running. The result has been good! First of all, I am positive in the teaching situation: I actually enjoy seeing the students. I see the individual student, his/her capacities, and I like every one of the students.

So far, I have only begun introducing RC ideas in the actual teaching. I have convinced the other teachers to make certain events non-obligatory. I have introduced “extra-lectures,” which present the scientific research done on the nervous system (the idea behind this is to remove the mystery usually surrounding these activities). Finally, by bringing about discharge in the classroom, I have sometimes been able to improve learning and problem-solving in the lectures.

The students have seen and appreciated my development. I have received numerous evidences of this. Students approach me as a friend. Some students wrote to me that they enjoyed me “as a teacher who is really concerned about us and our studies.” A few months ago a couple of students told me they wanted me elected as “Master” by the Medical Student Association. (This is an honorary title given once a year to a teacher at the faculty whose teaching the students have especially appreciated.)

Leif Wiklund
Lund, Sweden 

Recently, I decided to read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, six survivors’ account of how the bombing of Hiroshima affected the city. Reading alone, I would fall asleep before I could finish five sentences. I took that as a clue that something was going on, so I devoted three successive sessions to reading the book with my counselor simply paying attention while I did so. I shook, laughed, and cried a lot through the rest of the book, finishing it without falling asleep again. Two weeks later, I realized that I’ve also retained more information from the book than I usually do with a casual reading of a book. I attribute that to the discharge and reading aloud of sections of it to my counselors.

Joyce Millman
Chicago, Illinois, USA 

1.     I’m learning to trust my own thinking.

2.     I don’t accept any longer that people criticize me when I am learning something.

3.     I have the courage to start learning all kinds of things: playing guitar, rollerskating.

4.     I feel interested and I want to know exactly “how it is” (e.g., history)

As a teacher, Co-Counseling has affected me in the following ways:

1.     I am aware of the position of children and I try to be an ally.

2.     I know the children better than before because we tell each other all kinds of personal things, we listen to each other; we trust each other.

3.     I support the children in making clear what they like to learn, in which subjects they are interested and how we can organize getting more information on that subject.

4.     I play with them during the breaks and also during the lessons.

5.     I don’t test children and don’t give marks.

6.     Co-Counseling makes me very aware of my distress from the past and that of my colleagues . . . and that ‘s hard.

7.     I appreciate my colleagues, I remain in a counselor role because if I become “client” too, no problem would ever be solved since we would all be acting angry.

8.     I organize my own support in an educational change support group.

9.     I make physical contact with the children a lot and already a bit with my colleagues. This breaks down barriers for us.

Heleen Langerwerf
Haarlem, Netherlands


“I must have learned reading very well . . . “

In my sessions I have been recalling pleasant memories around reading. At first I could only come up with two. During my next session a burst of a dozen or more good reading memories came up. Now I’m beginning to know that I was reading a lot as a young person and that I must have learned reading very well because I’m uncovering so many indications that I was easily reading everywhere. The whole image of feeling bad about myself as a slow learner is blowing away.

“Limitless amount of attention for young people . . . “

Another wonderful re-evaluation is knowing that I have a limitless amount of attention available for young people to assist them in their explorations and their struggles with learning. Regular discharge on myself as a learner releases a tightness around being with others through their learning process. I keep that little phrase Theresa said tucked away within me: “Tension and urgency is definitely not the way!”

Sally Schwartz
California, USA 


Over the years, my experience in RC and my observations in the classroom have altered my attitude toward young people’s tears. When I started teaching kindergarten, I, like many well-meaning adults, dutifully tried to comfort or cheer up anyone who cried. As a result of counseling, however, I saw the importance of permitting and encouraging crying. At that point, if I heard wails or if a student reported to me that a friend was crying, I rushed to the scene. Shooing everyone else away, I held the discharging one on my lap until he or she finished (unless first aid was needed), without necessarily insisting on knowing what the matter was. I often discussed the value of crying with the whole class or with spontaneous groups. For the most part they readily agreed that crying “lets you sort of forget about it.” (as one girl said). They could remember lots of examples of times that they had cried.

At some point I realized that the people who invariable crowded around an injured classmate were not there out of voyeurism. Instead, they came out of curiosity and stayed out of a natural desire to offer attention. Once I relaxed enough to stop sending them away, I learned from the onlookers. Whereas I acted as if crying were some big special thing, they treated it as a natural occurrence (in perfect accord with RC theory, I realized). I loosened up some more: I ran only if there was a chance of serious injury; I was willing to give attention to other problems while someone still sobbed. I began to leave crying students in the charge of their friends, and to ask people in discussions what they could do (besides call the teacher) when a classmate cries. Each year, one or two people are particularly interested and make especially loving counselors; once I encourage their confidence, their attention is every bit as effective as mine. Often now I don’t get involved at all.

Ruth McNeill
Massachusetts, USA

Last modified: 2023-04-15 09:24:12+00