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Letter to a Respected Psychiatrist [1]

by Harvey Jackins

Dear Dr.     :

Thank you for your letter of June 16. My slowness in replying has been due to a summer surge of activity.

Yes, we do have a great many special techniques for facilitating discharge other than Roger’s “unconditional positive regard.” They are not, however, techniques of the sort that one may add to an existing structure with any hope of long-range success. The difference in the application of Re-evaluation Counseling and other approaches to therapy begins on the axiomatic level and unless the counseling proceeds from these basic assumptions, one is not likely to do much better than well-meaning therapists of any other persuasion.

One needs to remember at all levels of counseling technique that the human being is intact, complete with vast intelligence and goodness, in spite of the appearance given by the distress pattern; that the distress pattern and the human are distinct, very different entities and that completely different attitudes to each must be maintained at all times; that the counselor’s helpfulness is restricted to assistance in securing discharge (with a small amount of furnishing information being the only and occasional exception); that the client is in charge of the session and the counselor is in the position of “helper,” being directive only against a pattern and never against the human client; and so on. These are summarized in “The Postulates of Re-evaluation Counseling” and many of the theorems derived from them are in the other published material.

Of equal importance, what makes Re-evaluation Counselors so effective in securing thorough, exhaustive discharge from their clients is that these counselors are being counseled themselves, regularIy. The limiting factor for discharge for a particular client on a particular day is pretty much the free attention (“awareness,” “slack,” “thoughtful attention”) which the counselor can turn to the client. There are many therapists who turn to their patients an “unconditional positive regard” which is so fuzzy, so rigid, and so unaware as to leave the patient still very much on his or her own, thus limiting his or her ability to start dis- charging and continue with it. Discharge seems to occur well and profoundly only in the company of another human and the differences in ability to discharge depend on how much that human is really present.

If a counselor is not himself or herself receiving effective counseling regularly, his or her ability to elicit and assist discharge from his or her clients will stay limited or even regress as restimulation adds to his or her own tensions. The counselor who is having counseling regularly, however, has more awareness, more slack to turn to his or her client each time they work together. The results show dramatically. Beginning men students in Re-evaluation Counseling classes, for example, frequently have difficulty in “getting” their clients to cry. Why their clients don’t cry is a frustrating mystery to them. When, however, they have themselves overcome the “big boy” conditioning and discharged grief, then their clients quickly sense their openness and proceed to cry easily and well with them.

A counselor who has himself or herself been counseled successfully and profoundly frequently need only look at his or her client for that person to begin massive discharge whether in a formal or informal situation. Members of the Co-Counseling Community which has grown up around us here in Seattle frequently comment that their friends and neighbors “smell that I have some slack” and converge on them to burst into tears, tell their life story, or whatever gambit they use to begin the relationship of being counseled.

If the second person (the counselor) is not tense about discharge, then the first person (the client) will spontaneously move to it. The negative signals which the tense counselor emits are many and varied but they are received clearly, usually unawarely, by the client and his or her discharge is inhibited. On the other hand, if the counselor is not afraid (awarely or unawarely) to have his or her client cry, if he or she is not afraid to really look into his or her client’s eyes, if he or she is not conditioned to not really think about his or her client, and for his or her client, then the client responds, often with dramatic speed, and begins to discharge full tilt. If the counselor is not afraid to put an arm around the client, not afraid to hold him or her in a warm, loving embrace while he or she sobs, then this will be recognized by the client who will proceed in this direction. If the counselor is acting on the basic axioms of Re-evaluation Counseling, he or she will have clearly in mind that his or her role with the client is not to analyze or understand or manipulate but simply to secure exhaustive discharge of stored up emotional or physical tension so the client can free himself or herself from the rigid patterns left by past hurts. Thus he or she is clear that when the tears or laughter stop, his or her responsibility is to redirect the client’s attention to the point where the discharge can occur again and to do this repeatedly until there is no more discharge left of any sort even if this necessitates carrying on over several sessions. The client can and usually will bring up exactly what he or she needs to discharge on (even though in the case of chronic patterns, he or she brings up the opposite and depends on the counselor to guide him or her to reverse his or her phrases and attitudes so the discharge can begin).

It is the counselor who must take the responsibility for returning the client’s attention again and again and again to the thought or phrase which elicits discharge because the client is simply not able to furnish this persistence himself or herself.

This persistence goes on past any one form of discharge. The Re-evaluation Counselor knows when the person is through shedding tears, however many hours it took to shed them over the incident or problem, that this is not the end. There is still trembling ahead if the narrative is repeated and skillful help at beginning trembling is furnished. When the trembling has taken place and comes to an end, then laughter lies ahead and then angry storming and laughter again with yawns appearing whenever the pattern of painful emotion becomes ragged and “drained” enough to permit the “core” tensions of physical hurts to disperse.

A great deal of the effectiveness of this relationship in securing and completing discharge is that it is a relationship between peers. Even the professional Re-evaluation Counselor who is being paid by the hour for his or her services regards himself or herself as “helper” of the client and feels that he or she is basically a Co-Counselor with his or her client even though his or her own counseling is being done by another person and he or she may be counseling this particular client for pay. For discharge to proceed to the profound thoroughness which it needs, it is necessary that the relationship with the therapist be a peer relationship. A “condescending savior” or “dependency” relationship is not effective, and we think it is not effective because it is not realistic.

What the client has needed all along is the warm, understanding regard of another friendly human who will not get upset by his or her distresses while he or she allows himself or herself to feel, express and discharge the stored-up upsets and be free of them. All the familiar tricks of analyzing or suggesting tend to get in the way of the client and prevent this thorough discharge and the complete re-evaluation which can follow.

Given these basic attributes of the relationship, there are many, many techniques for helping discharge to begin and persist with it thoroughly. A good counselor will tend to create new techniques within each session. These techniques do not work alone; they are effective only when functioning on these basic requirements for Re-evaluation Counseling

With an open counselor and good rapport, the counselor often need only ask, “What do you need to say to me?” and then, with friendly insistence, “What was your first thought?” for the client to begin discharge. If the first thought is verbalized by the client without discharge, the counselor asks for quick repetition with “Again!” and yet again “Again!” Discharge usually ensues.

The “first thought” or “flash answer” question will vary, being chosen to fit the context of client and previous sessions: “What is the thought that will let you cry?” “What are you afraid to say to me?” “What’s on top today?” “What do you need to talk about?” “What does Joe (Ellen) need to say to me?” Usually the counselor’s quick, friendly insistence that the client actually try to voice the first thought is necessary. (The first thought will often appear out of context or unimportant to the client but it is the one that will bring discharge if followed up.)

If the counselor is well-counseled, it is a rare client who can tell the story of his or her life without spontaneously beginning to discharge. This is because the client is eager to discharge, regardless of his or her patterned appearance, and the aware attention of the counselor is a magnet for discharge. Of course, the client’s voice may only break or his or her eyelids flutter spontaneously, and it is up to the counselor to focus attention sharply enough at that point (usually by repetition) for discharge to begin.

A warm direct gaze into the client’s eyes is often essential. (This is not the tense stare or glare of the uncounseled therapist.) Holding both of the client’s hands relaxedly but warmly is good communication and assists discharge (not the fishy grip or jerky clutch of the therapist who has not discharged his or her own tensions).

A Re-evaluation Counselor will hold out his or her arms for a client on the verge of tears or trembling to rush into and will hold that client as tightly and as lovingly and as long as it promotes discharge.

Setting of and coaxing and encouraging the client repeatedly to try a behavior direction that contradicts the pattern is crucial for coping with chronic patterns, and it leads to the scores of hours of heavy discharge necessary to eliminate such chronic patterns.

Deft, straight-faced mimicry of a pattern (“crowding the client out”) is an irresistible weapon where the pattern prevents overt cooperation with the counselor. (Discharge is often explosive.)

All of these and an ever-growing list of hundreds more, however, only work well in the hands of an aware, growing human. His or her own success at being counseled is the Re-evaluation Counselor’s basic and not-at-all secret weapon.

If I have not been clear, please let me know. I will try again. The best communication about this would be for you to see some Re-evaluation Counseling in practice, or participate in it yourself. I know your schedule must be busy, but if it is ever possible for you to participate in any of our work, you will, of course, be most welcome.

With warm regards and best wishes,

Harvey Jackins

[1]  First published in 1970 as a pamphlet.


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