Who Is In Charge Of A Session?

I have heard discussions at workshops and have had the question raised in correspondence as to "Who is in charge of the session?" It has sometimes been proclaimed that "the client is in charge of the session." Various irresponsibilities on the part of counselors or poor results from counseling have sometimes been excused on that basis.

On the other hand, from the time of the early article "Who's In Charge?" we have held to a general position that each person is in charge of everything, as the only possible rational attitude for entities possessed of intelligence. Also people have applauded and admired "tough," demanding counseling which broke through difficulties for the client.

Who is really in charge of the session, the client or the counselor? I would say both.

If we look at the session process as a whole, I think we're bound to recognize that two (or more) intelligences being involved is the central feature of effective counseling. We've been emphasizing that the ineffectiveness of much past counseling was caused by the counselor having his or her attention on the counselor's distress instead of on the client's during the session. We now have a commitment, that has had fine results in the last three years, to end this ancient habit-pattern.

If two intelligences are involved in a process , can one intelligence be subordinate to the other and only carry out the thinking of the other person? I think not. It's true that a person can function as a helper to another person. It's true that one person can function under another person's direction. Any symphony player knows that the exquisite cooperation between a hundred people present in a good performance only comes when the directing is done by the director and individual players don't set their own tempo or interpretation. Nevertheless, the violin players are in charge of playing the violins, each one of them, and the trumpet player is in charge of playing his or her trumpet. The full intelligent in-chargeness of each person is required in this kind of relationship.

The same thing is true of the counseling relationship. It is an exquisite and extremely rewarding cooperation between two intelligences. Each one of the people is necessarily going to be in charge of the session if the session is to be optimally effective. The client is in complete charge of the session from the client's point of view and in terms of the client's functions. The counselor is in complete charge of the session from the counselor's point of view and in terms of the counselor's functions. Any idea that one should be subordinate to the other misses the fact that there are two distinct roles which have to be carried out here.

What are the specific roles of the counselor and of the client? What in-chargeness lies in each one's domain?


The client is in charge of anticipating and planning his or her role in the session; is in charge of combatting the three tendencies of patterns to confuse you, to persist, and to make you forget; is in charge of assembling and keeping in touch with written directions, frameworks, and commitments that have worked well; is in charge of thinking about what can be the most crucial factor for the client's re-emergence if it can be worked on successfully. The client is in charge of recalling and reviewing (before the session or at the beginning of it) the importance of decision, not necessarily decision following discharge but, more powerfully, decision preceding and amplifying discharge. The client is in charge of thinking about the particular counselor, and about what distress, if any, is likely to not be handled successfully by the particular counselor. The client can choose to work on distress that is likely to be handled successfully rather than be unrealistic and push a kind of distress at the particular counselor which he or she is unlikely to handle well and so weaken the relationship and accumulate disappointment.

It is the client's responsibility to choose to be a successful client as far as the client's own role will carry the day. The client is in charge of trying each direction the counselor offers at least a time or two before arguing or rehearsing the distress the direction is intended to contradict. The client is in charge of thinking or remembering that the counselor is another human being with complete goodness, power, and freedom of decision. The client is in charge, of not writing the counselor off or "being disappointed" in him or her.

The client can properly keep in mind the possibility of exchanging roles, at least briefly, (or, if one is engaged in "training one's own counselor," for an extended series of times) in dealing with any of the counselor's difficulties.

The client is very much in charge of being on time, being courteous to the counselor, being appreciative, and, in reviewing the session after it is over, being sure to emphasize the positive aspects of the session, the counseling, and the counselor before making any "helpful" suggestions as to how they could have been better.


The counselor is in complete charge of coming to the session determined to take (and practiced in taking) his or her attention away from his or her own past distress (using the commitment against the "ancient habit-pattern," or the commitment against lending a pattern one's own power or influence).

The counselor is in charge of reviewing his or her memories of the client and what he or she has heard about the client from other counselors or teachers. The counselor is in charge of coming to the session with a clear expectation of paying enough attention to the client to see the distress clearly, of thinking of all possible contradictions to the distress, and of helping to contradict it sufficiently to bring discharge by the client. The counselor is in charge of realizing that a good counselor thinks about the client not only for the one session but for the client's entire existence. The counselor not only thinks of what attitudes, directions, or commitments will bring discharge right then, but also which series of actions or perspectives will move the client toward continuing re-emergence. The counselor needs to think of the client from the perspective of the rest of the life of the client and plan on leaving the client with attitudes, commitments, directions, and relationships that will enhance the client's continued re-emergence after the session, towards having more sessions, and towards good work in later sessions.

The counselor is in charge of putting aside any other feelings in order to love the client deeply, depending, if necessary, on the theoretical assumptions about what any human being is like underneath the distress. With that unpatterned human being in mind, and loving that human being, the counselor's thinking will be enhanced. The counselor is in charge of having relaxed, but high, expectations of the client. The counselor assumes that this client has a full capacity to be the greatest thinker the world has ever known, and to function in the most loving and totally supportive way toward other human beings, the world of life, and the upward trend in the universe. The counselor assumes that the client has complete freedom to make decisions and carry them out, and that the client has an inherent sense of complete power which needs only to be challenged and uncovered for it to begin to operate.

The counselor is in charge of remembering and holding the seven attitudes toward the client of approval, delight, respect, confidence in and for the client, relaxed high expectations, commitment to the client, and love to and of the client.

The counselor is in charge of challenging any patterned attitudes toward being a client that have accumulated on a client.

I find, for example, that I often work at workshops with clients who, in the absence of effective counseling support, have worked out a routine of "running their own sessions" in an effort to make their counseling work without much support. They often, unawarely, rehearse their distress over and over thinking they are contradicting it.

Confronted by a good counselor they then will tend to make one of two kinds of mistakes. (1) Feeling that there is now support against their distress, they abandon the effort to contradict the distress themselves. This leaves the situation pretty much where it was previously when the client was trying to contradict the client's distresses alone. Again only one of the team is contributing. It is now the counselor alone trying to contradict the client's distresses, while the client rehearses the distress over and over. (2) The other tendency is for the embattled client, who has been trying to "counsel herself" because of lack of adequate participation by previous counselors, to stay in the rigid routine of "counseling herself" by arguing with every direction the counselor offers before trying it. In these cases I find it is part of my role as counselor to "retrain" the client to reassume the client's role by offering information about theory, by persuasion, by formulating good directions or commitments that define the client's contradiction to the distress. (Directions and commitments are, basically, tools for helping the client function well in the client's roles.)

A top-notch session will have both the client and the counselor contradicting the client's distress, the client in the client's roles and the counselor in the counselor's roles.

Who is in charge of the session? The client is in complete charge of the session. The counselor is in complete charge of the session. Each has completely distinct roles to play. When both sets of roles are well played, then memorable sessions take place and re-emergence is rapid.

Harvey Jackins

Last modified: 2016-05-11 22:22:14+00