The Teacher of Re-evaluation Counseling [1]

by Harvey Jackins

(Using Re-evaluation Counseling in a Group)

Re-evaluation Counseling is the giving of attention and support and listening by one person to another, in order that the person receiving this attention, support and listening can discharge the emotional and physical tensions left by past distress experiences. It consists of two or more intelligences focussing on one person’s distress.

Such discharge allows the person to re-evaluate the distress experiences (with sufficient discharge, they can become re-evaluated completely) and become rational and relaxed where she or he has been irrational and tense before. The discharge is outwardly characterized by tears, trembling, laughter, raging, talking and yawning.

In the most common mode of Re-evaluation Counseling this takes place between two people, one person being the person paid attention to (the client) and the other being the person listening and paying attention (the counselor). In Co-Counseling the roles are exchanged in sessions. This works well and is economical in the use of only one counselor per client.

There are certain advantages, however, in having the one client have the attention of a group of listeners. It is important that only one of these play the role of active counselor (asking helpful questions, directing the progress of the session, offering directions against the distress); but the group attention of the group as a whole enhances the discharge and re-evaluation of the client. Generally in such a group each person will have a turn at being the listened-to client, and it can often happen that all members of the group will discharge together with the designated client.

The presence of additional listeners multiplies the awareness available to the client and acts as a powerful contradiction to most distresses.


The most common form of such group counseling is the support group. Support groups began in RC but from there have spread widely through the general population in several countries.

The basic content of a support group is that each person has a roughly equal turn of being listened to without interruption. Various refinements and additional characteristics can be added to this, but if a small group of people will make and keep an agreement with each other that each is to have his or her share of the group time to be listened to while all the others pay attention to the person being listened to and will not interrupt, it will be a refreshing and satisfying experience for participants even if they had been given no previous exposure to theory and had no previous experience.

Experienced Re-evaluation Counselors will be generally eager to use their turn for discharge and will, but people who have been given no theory at all, to whom the value of discharge has not been communicated or emphasized, will almost always “invent” the use of discharge for themselves. Talking may be the only discharge for the first session or two, or talking mixed with laughter, but after not very many meetings someone will spontaneously shake or cry, and, if they are not interrupted, the occurrence seems to be intuitively understood by the others as expressing the possibility of the others also discharging such emotions overtly, so that laughing, crying, shaking and yawning, as well as talking, will come to dominate the turns in the group. Then theory can be offered by the RCer or the group leader in response to requests for explanations by an eager audience rather than by “teaching or preaching” before they have their own experiences of it.

A support group needs a leader. It needs a leader on the most basic level, to remind other group members, when they forget, not to interrupt the person whose turn it is. For most RC support groups the leader will be expected to also serve as a counselor during each person’s turn: assisting the client to begin and persist in discharge, unless someone else has been designated to play that role.

The safer the person who is being given the others’ attention feels in the group, the easier it will be for that person to “open up” by communicating and discharging. A strong factor in such a feeling of safety is feeling understood by the listeners. Apparently for this reason support groups whose members share some kind of a commonality of interest or experience tend to function better than those composed by random assembly. Support groups may be assembled simply on the basis of residence in a particular neighborhood, or because of ease of travel to the common meeting place, but it is common practice to have support groups assembled on the basis of a commonality. Examples are women’s support groups, men’s support groups, young people’s support groups, young adult support groups, working-class support groups, middle-class support groups, pipefitters’ support groups, African heritage support groups, Chinese heritage support groups, “mental health” system survivors’ support groups, and so on.

At workshops, support groups serve as a small, basic “workshop” within the larger workshop and are often grouped around the commonality of a common interest in a particular topic. Usually during introductions at such a workshop, people propose a desired theme for a support group, and a series of quick, straw votes determine which themes will have at least three participants, and the support groups are set up on that basis. If more than about seven or eight people want the same theme, generally two or more groups on the same topic are set up. It is sometimes assumed that people will then work only on their distresses which relate to the theme of the group, but in practice each individual almost always works on what she or he decides to during her or his turn. The common theme frequently seems only to enhance the feeling of safety in the group because of this common understanding and interest.

Some support groups are organized primarily around discharge in a particular direction, such as the complete appreciation of oneself. Certain commitments which have become known as the Frontier Commitments are very effective when everyone in the group works on the same commitment.


A support group can be, and in many RC Communities is, a principal avenue for the entrance of new people into Re-evaluation Counseling. The benefits of participation are so immediate that people can begin to “feel at home” with the use of RC at once and learn the beginnings of the theory from practice rather than from “being told.” The question, “Whom would you like to invite to attend the next meeting of the group?” can be asked at every meeting, and, if the person proposed is acceptable to the other members, an invitation is extended.

Since to have more people than eight in a support group session lasting a couple of hours tends to make the turns somewhat short, a group that has reached eight members should, for at least part of their meeting, divide into two groups, meeting perhaps in adjacent rooms with one of the more interested and capable members playing the role of leader or assistant leader with the second group. After this functioning has been tested, the group should probably divide and the two new groups continue to invite new people until they themselves divide. This can lead to a growing network of particular kinds of support groups, and the larger numbers can greatly enhance the stability and resources of the Co-Counseling Community. Thus, if such a network of men’s support groups spreads across a city, there is a growing, rich variety of Co-Counselors becoming available for the men involved, and there is a basis for frequent and effective men’s workshops. Improved men’s policies in the wide world and in non-RC organizations can result almost effortlessly.

A support group can take on some of the aspects of a class in that the group leader can explain, emphasize and demonstrate the uses of self-appreciation, of holding a direction, of individual commitments, and other counseling tools.


There is a certain kind of discussion group which has evolved within RC that is very effective and avoids most of the difficulties which beset group discussions in usual human affairs. We have called these “topic groups.”

Typically, the topic of such a “topic group” is proposed by any person who is interested in having such a discussion. In a large conference or workshop it is proposed to meet at a time that does not conflict with other agenda points of the large meeting. The topic, time, and Convenor (the person proposing the discussion) are posted on the wall or notice board. The people who attend are simply the ones who are interested in such a discussion. There may be many proposed topics posted at the same time so there will be a variety of choices for people. No one is assigned to a particular topic. All who attend will be there of their own free will.

The general rule at Re-evaluation Counseling workshops and conferences is that at least two people must attend in order for the report from the topic group to claim the time of the large body. An exception to this occurs when the report is about some particular kind of oppression. In this case it often happens that to begin with, no one else will be interested in discussing this topic except the person who is a victim of that particular oppression. In that case, even though no one else joined in the discussion, the Convenor has the right to present a report on the oppression to the whole workshop or conference.

The Convenor of a topic group posts the notice, arranges for a place to meet and convenes the topic group. The Convenor first has the group choose a chairperson for the discussion, and a reporter who will prepare a short (usually four minutes long) report to the larger body, and, if possible, a second reporter who will submit a written report on the discussion to an RC journal or newsletter (if it is an RC workshop or conference) or to the local press as a “letter to the editor” or the pertinent journal that is relevant to the topic of the discussion. The Convenor may be chosen to be chairperson or either or both of the reporters, but need not be.

The chairperson’s job in a topic group is to see that the discussion bears on the proposed topic and that issues are discussed rather than personalities, that personal antagonisms or criticisms of other members of the group are not rehearsed, that no person speaks twice before everyone has spoken once, and that no person speaks four times before every person has spoken twice. These simple rules increase the effectiveness of the group marvelously.


Leaders’ groups (Wygelian type) evolved in the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities and are now widely used in the Communities and in the wide world. They eliminate many of the difficulties previously arising in the relationship of leaders to each other, permit the release of a great deal of individual initiative, and meet the essential needs of leaders in their relationships with each other. The membership of a leaders’ group (Wygelian type) consists of everyone who is operating as a leader or willing to learn to do so in a particular constituency. Such a constituency may consist of the Co-Counselors in a particular Area, Region, or locality or of people who share a commonality of occupation, interests, concerns, or oppression. The only functionaries for a leaders’ group (Wygelian type) are (1) a Convenor and (2) a Consultant. The Convenor is a member of the group who agrees to keep an up-to-date address and phone list of the members and notify them of a meeting when circumstances indicate a need for such a meeting. (The leaders’ group [Wygelian type] does not meet regularly but only “when there is something to meet about.”)

A Consultant may be a member of the group but need not be. A Consultant is the most skillful and best informed Co-Counseling leader available to assist the group (within Re-evaluation Counseling it is often practicable to request the Regional Reference Person to be the Consultant or to have her or him choose someone to play the role). The Consultant serves as chairperson during the first three items of the regular four-point agenda and serves as counselor on the last item.

A typical leaders’ group (Wygelian type) agenda will be as follows:

“News and goods” as people arrive.

1) Report, without interaction or comment from the other members, by each member of the group on what each member has been doing as a leader of that constituency.

2)  An analysis by each person from that person’s own viewpoint of the current situation facing the group’s constituency, what is favorable in the situation, what is difficult in the situation, what opportunities are waiting to be seized, and what challenges need to be met.

3)  A report by each leader on what he or she proposes to do as a leader in the next period.

4)  A demonstration counseling session with each leader by the Consultant on “What’s getting in the way of my leading well” with follow-up commitments to continue such counseling by other members of the group wherever possible.

A closing circle in which each member says what he or she valued most about the meeting.

Leaders’ groups (Wygelian type) do not attempt to draw up over-all plans or check up on the performances of the members. They do not meet unless the members or the Consultant feel there is a need for a meeting. They do release individual initiative very effectively and they do provide for rapid training of new leadership.

Having more than eight or ten participants at a particular meeting can make the meeting unwieldy in terms of duration. It has worked best to divide the group in terms of the functions into two or more groups when this happens. (For example, a women leaders’ group might split into one group for women leaders in RC and a second group of women leaders in wide world groups.)


Other structures and procedures will evolve in the future. As they do, it will be important to remember that any directive counseling should come from one clearly designated individual while other members of the group only furnish aware attention. The use of group attention is a powerful and satisfying resource. The multiplied awareness of many intelligent listeners is a resource that will often overcome counseling difficulties that are otherwise recalcitrant.

[1]  First published in 1969; revised in 1991


Alone and dull, if I but seek and find

Attentive eye and ear and open mind,

Confusion clarifies,

Awareness multiplies.

I give attention and am paid in kind.

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