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Clarifying and Summarizing

I want to review the remarkable clarification of the fundamentals of counseling that has taken place in the recent period. As advanced concepts have broken through, they have illuminated what we'd been doing previously, so that we can now better summarize the fundamentals of RC.

The Fundamental Theorem

The first clarification of the basic theory is what I call the "Fundamental Theorem of RC." This is the realization that what everyone in the world is trying to do, intuitively and spontaneously, all the time when they're with other people, will work if they will just take turns. That's the fundamental theorem. Clarity for me on this came at the last general Arab workshop that we held. We held it on the island of Cyprus so that people of various Arab nations could come together. Most of them were almost completely inexperienced in RC. They had friends who had told them to come but they had little practical experience at all. In an effort to base the instruction on their own experience, I took time in the beginning to ask them what, in their opinion, were people doing when they were with each other in any situation where work or other attention-compelling activity wasn't demanding all their attention. How did they spend their time with each other?

They had a variety of suggestions at first, but I kept the discussion going, and finally they reached complete agreement, out of their own experiences. They agreed that whenever people were together, in the coffee shop, or the bazaar, or whatever the particular culture provided for contact, they were all trying to get someone to pay attention to them. After a lot of discussion, they reached agreement on this. Whenever people are together, they spend their time seeking to have someone else pay attention to them, to listen to them. This fit all my experience, too.

Then I asked them, "And are the people paying attention to each other?" At first they said, "Yes," but the discussion went on, and finally they reached the conclusion, "No, no one pays attention; no one is ever really listening. They're all waiting impatiently for their chance to interrupt and try to get someone to listen to them."

I think this is the situation around the world. Four-point-eight billion people are spending whatever slack they have in the company of others trying to get someone to pay attention to them, trying to get someone to listen to them. We know why. They're trying to get a chance to discharge some of the distress that their attention has been wrapped up in ever since they were first hurt. In general, no one is paying attention because everyone else is also preoccupied with trying to get attention. So the fundamental theorem of RC can be re-stated: What everyone in the world is trying to do, all the time, intuitively and spontaneously, that is, claim someone else's attention so they can discharge and re-evaluate, will work, if they will just take turns.

It probably should be no surprise that, at our most advanced levels of RC, we still run into the problem that people do not really pay attention to each other. We now know why. This is the second great clarification of the fundamentals of RC theory. The breakthrough came at a "Counseling with Supervision" workshop in October, 1982, in New Jersey, a workshop that had been specially called to try to see if we could locate the answer to this problem.

The Ancient Habit-Pattern

It was plain, even in '82, that the theory was advanced enough and furnished all the tools necessary to make possible tremendous advancements in people's lives. This theory was also being lived up to occasionally in brilliant counseling demonstrations at workshops. Yet the general level of counseling in our Communities, including that of the most experienced counselors, was very erratic. The practice of counseling was just not living up to the possibilities, and we didn't know why.

We had made various guesses. We had tried various devices without much success. We still had to cope with the phenomenon of a brilliant theory and occasional brilliant demonstrations co-existing with a generally low and unsatisfactory level of counseling. So we gathered there in New Jersey, fifty-some of the best Co-Counselors that we could gather together, and we set up two video cameras. Everyone was committed to counsel before the cameras and then examine the sessions critically. We were determined to put our finger on the reason why counseling practice was so far below the level of theory.

It worked. We had many experiences, some humiliating, some amusing. By the end of the workshop, we were confident that we knew what the sought-after factor was, the mysterious factor that had kept counseling practice so unsatisfactory. The problem all along had been an "Ancient Habit-Pattern" of keeping our attention on our own distresses all the time, even when we have promised to put our attention on our client in our role as counselor.

What had been keeping counseling so sloppy was this ancient habit-pattern of being preoccupied with our own distresses even when we were counselor. The basic definition of Co-Counseling, which had always been "two intelligences paying attention to one person, or to one person's distress," was being violated. Two people had usually been paying attention to two people's distresses, by and large. The occasional brilliant counseling had come when, for some reason, the counselor had lived up to the fundamental definition and had kept his or her attention on the client.

After the workshop Nancy Kline wrote a couple of articles pointing out that, having not had any other resource when small, we could be proud of ourselves that we had, after our first undischarged hurt, kept our attention on the distress in order to have it ready to hand out if anybody came by who would pay any attention and help us get some discharge. Intuitively knowing that this could work, we could be proud that we had tried to make it work. Then, though it may have worked a few times when we were very small (which probably reinforced our decision to keep our attention on our old distress in case we ever had a chance to haul it out for discharge), it had not worked well enough. Frustration and disappointment accumulated, and what began as a choice and became a habit, went on to become a habit-pattern, rigid and loaded up with distress. Thus, all people have been preoccupied with their own distress ever since they were first hurt, and that preoccupation has become rigid, has become a pattern. This is the primary reason why counseling had remained at such a low level compared to the possibilities revealed by the theory. Meanwhile, however, the theory had progressed pretty steadily and was then and is today at a high level. We have all the tools and information necessary for complete, rapid re-emergence available in print and video today.

The Repeated Decision

We've created a tool for dealing with the "ancient habit-pattern." This is simply a repeated decision to give up this habit-pattern and substitute for it a posture or attitude of paying attention only to interesting and profitable concerns. This is a slow, sometimes seemingly cumbersome technique, but it's what we have so far, and it works.

With your permission to be client, I will now demonstrate it:

It is logically possible and certainly desirable to end this ancient habit-pattern of paying attention to my old distresses all the time and substitute for it a new attitude of paying attention to interesting concerns. This certainly would include present time - the lake out there and the birches on the shore, and all those good things; the fact that I'm in the middle of a semicircle of interesting people whose attitudes toward me seem largely benign; the poetry that I have memorized, the songs; the existence of my family. And so, I now decide to end this ancient habit-pattern and adopt a new attitude and posture of paying attention to workable matters. And I do this for a number of reasons. The first reason is that the old preoccupation with distress hasn't worked. Not only have I not profited by this preoccupation, but I don't know any one of the 4.8 billion people in the world that has gotten anywhere with it. I'm going to keep on making this decision, because it obviously doesn't work to do it only once; much of our re-emergence is like melting a big block of ice slowly. And so, I now again decide to give up this ancient posture of being preoccupied with my old distresses all the time and substitute for it a new attitude of paying attention to interesting things. I will persist in doing this because, so far, after nearly three years of doing it, I've never failed to yawn whenever I've done it, and, as experienced counselors, you know to treasure yawns; these are the pulling up of the roots of a pattern, and they have profound results. It works if I make the decision before a workshop like this demonstration, it works if I do it as a client in a two-way session, it works if I do it in a group, and it even works if I do it by myself. For years, I've fought the anxiety pattern that wakes me up at four o'clock some mornings, to wonder if I failed to do something yesterday that will eventually lead to nuclear holocaust because I failed to do it. (You know that kind of thing.) I previously had all kinds of other devices for resuming sleep. I'd read RC literature and yawn and go back to sleep; but now I don't even have to turn on the light. I make the decision about three times, and the yawns start coming, and about the fifth yawn I wake up the right time in the morning. Ahhh!

We have a little group at Personal Counselors in Seattle who meet once a week before work and take turns making this decision. We've learned that after we've gone around the circle making the decision three times at each turn, it works well to go around saying what we've been thinking of during the previous circuit. It turns out, of course, that often what we've been thinking about is our old distresses, but by now we're immune to embarrassment about that. It's also true that that isn't all we've been thinking about. Some very interesting thinking comes out of that circle. Then, we go around once again with each person making the decision three times, and after that each one says once again what he or she has been thinking, and so we continue until it is time to go to work. I yawn steadily and others discharge in every possible way.

And so, once again, I decide to change this ancient habit-pattern of paying attention to my old distresses all the time into a new attitude or posture; and I don't care how slowly it goes, it's going; it's getting there. And I'm encouraged to keep doing it, and I encourage all of you to join me in doing it, because it seems to be solving the problem. Ever since I've been doing this, people have been saying spontaneously, "Hey, your counseling has improved a lot since last year!" It seems to be making a difference. I know that I'm a tougher counselor by far. And so, I will continue to make this decision. It does work. The habit has been installed and re-installed for sixty-nine years, so it's not surprising it's taking a while to get it completely out, but the improvement is steady, and so I highly recommend it. It will seem boring, over and over and over again. I yawn, and yawn, but many other people have other kinds of discharge. It does work, and I suggest you do it routinely, that you do it under all kinds of circumstances, in order to move steadily out of this preoccupation that has kept us such poor counselors for each other compared to what we could be. That's the second great clarification of the fundamentals.

Revising Our Preoccupation

At this point, I ask you to take a very advanced step with me. All of us, as far as I can tell, have been preoccupied with getting good counseling. I would like to ask you to join me in making a decision to give up this preoccupation with getting good counseling, to just give it up. (After discussion, almost everyone joins in the decision.) Now, I would like you to join me in another preoccupation instead. I would like you to join me in a preoccupation with giving good counseling. Giving good counseling is extremely rewarding. You have the delight in giving effective help to somebody when they need assistance. (After discussion, there is agreement and decision by the group.)

The Exact Tools Of The Counselor

The third great clarification of the fundamentals of Co-Counseling is the definition of exactly what the counselor needs to do in order to help the client discharge. Now, not everything the client needs from the counselor is help in discharging, not everything. There are times when the client needs information. There are times when the client needs other kinds of assistance. Standing guard is partly assistance with discharge and partly assisting people to rest deeply. There are other things a client can need from a counselor besides help in discharging; but at least 95% of what the client needs from the counselor is help in discharging, because where the whole re-emergence and recovery process has been held up is in the blocks on discharge. In the development of RC we have correctly put our emphasis on what the counselor can do to help the client discharge.

Now, we know exactly how to help the client discharge under any conditions. The counselor needs to do three things:

1. Pay enough attention to the client to see clearly what the distresses are.

2. Think of all possible ways to contradict those distresses.

3. Contradict the distresses sufficiently. The client will always discharge.

The First Point

On the first point, the key word is "clearly," to see clearly what the distresses are this session, this time. Now, the most common substitute for doing this is, of course, to "know" what the client's problem is because you "understand" - "I feel that way myself" - to project your distress on the client. There are many other patterned substitutes for paying this attention, as well.

The Second Point

The second point is to think of all possible ways to contradict that distress, and keep thinking! It is not sufficient to come up with one notion. (Well, often it has been, or apparently has been. The way counseling has worked, let's face it, is that, in a great many sessions, the counselor, in great confusion, fires a bullet at what they think the client's distress is, and the client, in his or her great eagerness to make it work, picks up the target and runs over and puts it where the bullet lands and manages to discharge. I remember, in the early years of professional counseling, that I would sometimes offer a client a phrase and the client would burst into wild discharge, and I'd sit there kind of smug, thinking "I really hit that one," and the client would discharge and discharge and pause to mumble the phrase, and I'd lean over to hear, and they weren't mumbling my phrase. They'd misunderstood me just enough to get a lot of discharge.)

We might as well be good counselors and try to think of all possible ways to contradict the distress. Words are a weak contradiction to a pattern, yet this is often as far as you see the counselor's mind go. The client says, "I don't feel anybody likes me." "Okay, say everybody likes you," says the counselor, in an offhand tone. Every pattern in existence has been argued with thousands of times already. The pattern is used to words; it's calloused to words, numb to words. Words are the least effective contradiction. Because of the rigidity of our chronic patterns of voice and posture and facial expression, the pattern has hardly had any contradiction in those areas, and it's completely vulnerable there. If you tell me that nobody likes you, I can even agree in words - "You know, that's right!" (in a bright tone of voice). The pattern is disarmed by my verbal agreement, but my cheerfulness contradicts the patterns completely so discharge follows.

Think of all possible ways to contradict the distress. Think of tone of voice; think of facial expression; think of posture, think of anything else. You should have five or six contradictions in mind. Get in the habit of thinking of at least five or six ways of contradicting the distress. Once the client starts discharging, revealing more details of the pattern, you can add all kinds of other contradictions. Don't go unaware when the client's discharging. This is a chance to think of additional contradictions so the discharge can proceed from a trickle to a thunderous roar.

I don't know anyone yet who's thought of all possible ways to contradict a distress, but in the spirit of no limits, say "all possible ways," and then don't start until you have three or four of them in mind at least. Don't just think of one contradiction and then quit thinking.

The Third Point

For the third point, the key word is "sufficiently." Contradict the distress sufficiently. The client will always discharge. If you have thought of four or five contradictions, and you've put them in, and the client still isn't discharging, it isn't time to give up. It's time to contradict the distress more. As soon as you've contradicted it sufficiently, the client will always discharge.

Every one of the 4.8 billion people in the world, hardly any of whom have ever heard of RC or the word "discharge," is waiting, patiently or impatiently, for another one of the 4.8 billion people to come up to them, pay enough attention to them to see clearly what the distress is, think of all possible ways to contradict that distress, and then contradict it sufficiently. Each one will immediately burst into as much discharge as the distress is contradicted. They don't need to have any sessions on theory. This is completely built-in for every human being. Every one of the 4.8 billion people is waiting for you to do just that. Every one. It'll take a while to get around to 4.8 billion people, but you can enlist others to do it with you.

To read this is helpful; to hear it said is helpful; but remember the three pseudo-abilities that a pattern has. The pattern has the ability to persist, it has the ability to confuse you, and it has the ability to make you forget. Anything that is as anti-pattern as these three directions gets obscured. I know it gets obscured because we have brilliant leaders of the RC Community, who do good jobs; when I do a supervised counseling demonstration with a couple of them, and I say, "Counselor, why don't you turn to the audience and say out loud the three things that a counselor must do to let the client discharge?" the counselor turns to the audience and says, "Um, ah..." and has forgotten the three conditions. When you go into a counseling situation as a counselor, the pull to be client yourself makes it easy to forget. So I suggest that you burn these words into your brains in letters of fire. To make a start of it, I'm going to ask you to repeat them rote fashion with me:

1. Pay enough attention to the client to see clearly what the distresses are.

2. Think of all possible ways to contradict those distresses.

3. Contradict the distresses sufficiently. The client will always discharge.

The Great Clarifications

These are the great clarifications of the fundamentals of counseling: First, the fundamental theorem that it's a completely spontaneous process; that what everybody is trying to do will work if you can just introduce the notion of taking turns.

Second, that the obstacle to applying our theory is the existence of an ancient habit-pattern in each of us of being preoccupied with our own distresses all the time in the hopes that having our attention on them will enable us to pull them out and put them before someone and get some discharge. It's understandable how we got into that habit, and it's also possible to give it up.

Third, the clarification of exactly what the counselor needs to do for 95% of the counselor's job, which is to help the client discharge: Pay enough attention to the client to see clearly what the distresses are; think of all possible ways to contradict those distresses; contradict the distresses sufficiently. The client will always discharge.

The Re-definition Of "Restimulation"

Now, there have been all kinds of brilliant insights breaking through on the frontiers of counseling, all based on these fundamental clarifications. One of the great insights on the frontiers is the re-definition of restimulation. Our original definition of restimulation was "the involuntary association of old distress with something in the present." We found this useful and very helpful. Instead of being reproached for being upset, we were not. To hear about restimulation as an involuntary association relieved us of a lot of guilt, but the old definition began to show strain. As things progressed, Co-Counselors were talking about resisting restimulation. If we decided to resist the restimulation, what happened to the involuntary business? It became voluntary. People were saying that they decided not to be restimulated.

The new definition of restimulation is "the usually unaware, but nevertheless intentional, bringing up of past distress, with the excuse of some similarity in the present, in the hope of claiming someone else's attention and securing some discharge." This puts us in the position of saying that we have to decide to be restimulated. If we get the definition internalized and integrated into our thinking, it gives us a chance to decide not to be restimulated ahead of time, to establish habits of resisting restimulation.

It hasn't worked well to decide to be restimulated. Sometimes people in the Communities have seemed to make it work.

I remember, early on, how some people were competing with each other about discovering new restimulations. What they were doing was using their upset as a way of imposing the role of counselor on someone else. A lot of that's gone on in the Community, the unaware clienting, the forcing ourselves on people, forcing other people to be our counselors without their agreement. It hasn't really worked, even though it apparently worked for a few people who assumed the role of a kind of nuisance within the Communities for a while and got lots of discharge, but not to any enduring purpose, because they ruined their relationships as they went.

The point of deciding not to be restimulated ties right in with giving up the ancient preoccupation with our old distress. This has been an important clarification, that restimulation is something that we decide to do. In general, we will have a better session if we decide not to be restimulated but contradict the distress instead of plunging into it. The fact that we have sometimes gotten restimulated and then been able to claim support from someone else and have a great session doesn't mean that that's the best way to do it. If we completely forget all our advanced theory, we can still lurch along like that, but we won't have a responsible relationship between ourselves. We won't have the most supportive Community. To accept the new definition of restimulation and, hopefully, decide not to be restimulated, every time we manage it, is going to improve things all the way around.

Intelligence Plus Other Capacities

Another important insight is the realization that we have many profound capacities besides our intelligence. The universe is dynamic, observably. Everything is in change, always. That supposedly eternal rock out there is vibrating in every crystal, atoms are creeping through the lattice structure, and weathering is taking place. Lichens are etching away the surface. The supposedly immutable is actually in constant change. It's a universal characteristic of the universe, to be in dynamic change all the time.

Quantitative Changes Alternate With Qualitative Ones

Observably, change occurs in alternating forms. Small, quantitative changes occur over a period and then reach a certain nodal point, and a sharp qualitative change occurs. The simple, familiar example of this is ice. Ice can be at a very, very low temperature, and then you allow it to warm. The water molecules are in a crystal lattice, but they're vibrating in the lattice, and, as the ice warms, they vibrate faster, they move more, until you get to 0° Centigrade, and then the slow quantitative changes produce a qualitative change, and the molecules break loose from the crystal relationships and start sliding over each other, and you have the liquid form of water, a different relationship, a critical, qualitative change. Then, as you increase the temperature, the molecules slide over each other faster and faster, till at 100° Centigrade (at normal atmospheric pressure), they slide so fast that the quantitative changes lead to a qualitative one, and they quit sliding and start bouncing. They assume a different relationship to each other and become a gas. Molecules rebound from each other and have all the characteristics of a gas. The slow, quantitative changes reach a certain point and qualitative change occurs. The dynamism of the universe expresses itself in the alternation of quantitative change and qualitative change.

This takes place on all levels of complexity. As life evolved, there were many qualitative shifts. As central nervous systems developed, they started out very simple and became more complex as life evolved. At some point, the quantitative change in increasingly large central nervous systems reached such a point that qualitative change occurred. The last article I read on our brains said that our central nervous system has 100 billion neurons. Observably, only a few hundred of these bring information into our central nervous system from our sensors, and only a few hundred of the neurons take commands out from our central nervous system to our muscles and glands. Do you know what the rest of those 100 billion or so do? They sit and talk to each other. Tremendous interplay. The development of central nervous systems reached a point, somewhere in evolution, that a critical, qualitative change occurred - the emergence of intelligence as a completely different way of functioning. We define intelligence as the ability to come up with fresh, new, accurate, successful responses to each new situation, not ever having to be limited to inherited responses or the conditioned warping of inherited responses.

The Distress Pattern Is A Reversion

Actually, the distress pattern is a reversion to that earlier kind of functioning, which, for our prehuman ancestors, constituted a crude form of learning. The deer that gets stuck in the quicksand and manages to escape acquires a warpage of the familiar pattern of approaching a water hole because of this distress and avoids that spot, a crude form of learning. The use of this patterned conditioning, which we do with our horses and dogs and call it training, installs patterns. In general, the patterns installed are not any worse than the ones they replace. The animal's functioning is not degraded by the substitution of a new stress pattern for the inherited instinctive pattern. But for human beings, the imposition of the distress pattern is enormously degrading. It shoves us down, at best to the level of stupids and at worst to the level of monsters whose exploits are celebrated in newspaper headlines.


The qualitative shift in central nervous systems brought intelligence, which we treasure and value and seek to recover by getting the distress patterns off it through discharge. It brought not only intelligence but also a super-function of awareness, which seems to arise out of intelligence but is more than intelligence, because a lot of our intelligent thinking goes on below awareness.


The same complexity which developed so that billions of neurons interact with each other all the time, continually, awake or asleep, also brought us a couple of other capacities that have been obscured from us by the accumulation of distress patterns. One is inherent power. There seems no question now that power is inherent, that all of us were conceived and most of us born with an inherent expectation that the universe would be responsive to our wishes. If you observe the occasional child who had a wonderful pregnancy and easy delivery and has been encouraged to discharge, there's no question: They expect everything to go according to their wishes. They're friendly about it, not dictatorial or arrogant, but they really expect it.

There are some grounds for this. Notice, in a group of adults, when a child raises its voice, cries, demands attention, every adult within earshot takes notice. We can not ignore that greatest voice in the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, in the grip of a pattern, the adult may go over and slug the child or something like that, but the child's expectation and the nature of their relationship with adults is that they have power. They have power to call adult human beings to their support and to get what they want, and that's power. If the adults were all rational, this power would be plain.

Apparently, power, complete power, is inherent in the complexity of our central nervous systems. It's inherent, just as intelligence is. The realization that power is inherent simplifies our job, because it doesn't mean that we have to pump up our muscles or get six Ph.D.s in order to have power. It means that we have to discharge the powerlessness patterns that have been imposed upon us.

Freedom Of Decision

Another capacity is apparently inherent: This is a complete, absolute freedom of decision. We can decide anything. We're absolutely free to decide intelligently or decide unintelligently. We're free to decide on the basis of the evidence; we're free to decide in the teeth of the evidence. We're free to make a good decision or a perverse decision. This may not sound very progressive, but I think we have to face this absolute freedom of decision or we won't reach for our power. This freedom of decision means we can decide, right now, not to indulge in a single bit of patterned behavior from now on. I don't know how often we're going to have to decide, but we have the freedom to decide and make it stick. Apparently, the complexity of our central nervous system, once it attained a certain level, not only brought us intelligence and the super component of awareness, but also brought us inherent, complete power and inherent, complete freedom of decision. We can make any decision we want, regardless of circumstances. Now, the conditioning of this society, of course, has told us ten billion times, with fear and cruelty and interference and everything else, that we don't have any power; we've got to do what we're told; we don't have any freedom of decision; we have to do what our parents said, or what the church said, or what God told us or God told somebody else, who told us. The reality has been hidden, has been denied to us, and so we have thousands of distress experiences of being told we can't decide and we have no power.

The situation is such, and the operation of the oppressive societies is such, that at least two of us are going to have to do enough trenchant work, counseling each other, discharging powerlessness, and discharging the notion that we're not free to decide, that we can act on these clear insights.

A Fresh, Clean Future

Each new moment brings the beginning of a fresh, clean future that we do not need to allow to be contaminated by past distress. We can keep it clear and clean by decision.

If we succumb to carelessness and slip and allow that new future to be messed up, all is not lost. Here comes another new moment beginning another clear, clean future that we can have just the way we want it.

And if we mess up that one, there's an endless series of such fresh starts still coming.

It's a very exciting time. We're on the edge of having everything we want.

Harvey Jackins

                                                   (From a lecture on September 7, 1985 at a workshop in Anchorage, Alaska, USA. Appeared in RC Teacher No. 21.)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00