First-Session Counseling Tips

Here are some tips I’ve given fundamentals students before their first Co-Counseling session:


As counselor, you—your presence and loving attention—are the most important thing you can give. Not being alone with the places we hurt or feel bad about ourselves is the biggest “contradiction” to the feelings.

The key things are (1) listening to and caring about the client; (2) noticing where their feelings come up; (3) helping them touch those feelings and keep returning back to where they can cry, laugh, tremble, and so on; (4) believing in them; and (5) trusting their mind to be able to figure out what they need to do.

Listen and provide safety and reassurance. If someone is already discharging, you’re on the right track. If they are not, just keep listening and watch for the signs that feelings are close to the surface.

Your job is not to solve the problem but to help the client discharge the feelings that get in the way of their ability to solve it.

The feelings are more important than the story. Notice what the underlying feelings are or might be and help the client to touch and look at those. Follow the feelings, and they will lead to the deepest, oldest core hurts.


As client, you are in charge of your session, though the counselor can suggest and encourage a direction or offer or model a perspective. The goal is discharge.

It’s useful to think about yourself as if you were a counselor—for example, to ask yourself, “Where are the feelings?” “What do I need to do to allow myself to touch or feel the feelings in that place?” It is often intuitive and involves listening inwardly.


Co-Counseling is not really about feeling good. It’s about reclaiming our ability to think in areas in which fear, grief, shame, and other emotions interfere and cause confusion. If we reduce the amount of emotional tension associated with those areas, we become more able to think and know what to do. We “get our mind back.”

The emotional tension comes from having been hurt. Some of the hurts are individual, for example, from family dynamics and relationships. Some are cultural and institutional, for example from racism, sexism, classism, or young people’s, elders’, Gay, disability, or anti-Jewish oppression. The hurts interfere with our ability to think, especially in circumstances that somehow remind us of when the hurts occurred.

Discharge—crying, laughing, trembling, sweating, expressing outrage, talking, yawning, and stretching—is the body’s built-in physical way of undoing these hurts. It is what children will naturally do, if allowed to, after something hurtful happens. They will seek benign adult attention, tell the story, discharge, tell the story some more, discharge more, and so on.

For most people, discharge has been cut off or inhibited—in ways that vary depending on culture, gender, and individual circumstances. So step one is often recovering the ability to discharge.

Will (McNaughten) Loving

Northampton, Massachusetts, USA

(Present Time 185, October 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00