How to Begin United to End Racism (UER)
Co-Counseling Sessions

The article below is available as a downloadable PDF

Everyone benefits from being listened to about their experiences related to race and racism. Each of us, regardless of our race, has been affected by growing up in a society permeated by racism. We all need to tell about our experiences with people of other races; about how we’ve been hurt by racism; about how we learned about injustice; about when we’ve been scared, sad, angry, or confused, and so on. Below is a description of a dependable approach to exchanging support so everyone can be listened to and recover from the effects of racism.

United to End Racism (UER) co-counseling sessions can be used by anyone for freeing themselves from the effects of racism and other oppressions. While these co-counseling sessions are effective in addressing the full range of oppressions and other experiences of mistreatment and/or emotional hurt, this handout focuses on addressing issues of race and racism. People who have been the targets of racism (Africans or African descendants, Indigenous people, Asians or Asian descendants, Pacific Islanders, Latinos/Latinas, Chicanos/Chicanas, Mestizos/Mestizas, Arabs or Arab descendants—people of color), and people conditioned to act as agents of racism (people of European heritage—white people), have both found this method to be effective.

This is an approach to healing the damage that has been done to individuals by racism. In addition to doing this individual work, we must also change oppressive policies, practices, and institutions. Removing the damage done to us as individuals enables us to be more effective in taking action against racism and other forms of injustice in our institutions and at all levels of society.

TAKING TURNS

A UER co-counseling session consists of two people taking turns listening to each other. It’s simple to get started. It just takes two people. Find a friend (or co-worker or spouse) who will try it with you. Agree that you will take turns listening to each other without interruption for an equal amount of time, and agree how long that time will be. Then decide who is going to talk first. That person talks about whatever he or she wants to talk about. In UER we refer to this person as the client. We refer to the person listening as the counselor. The counselor simply pays attention, conveys an attitude of respect and a desire to hear more, and doesn’t interrupt to give advice or comment or tell how he or she feels about what is said. After the agreed-upon time, the client becomes the counselor, and the one who listened first now talks about anything he or she wants to talk about.

It is important to agree that whatever is said by the client will not be repeated by the counselor outside of the session. This makes it safe to talk more fully. The whole process becomes more effective the more you use it. UER sessions can be as long or short as you have time for. Even a few minutes shared can make a big difference in how you are able to think and function, and two hours shared is even better. Using a timer for each turn can help to keep each person’s turn equal.

HOW HAS RACISM AFFECTED YOUR LIFE?

Being listened to with care and respect as we tell the stories of how racism has affected our lives begins the healing process. The client in a UER session may choose to respond to questions such as: “How has racism affected your life?” “What are your earliest memories of being aware that there are people whose skin is a different color from yours?” “What are your earliest memories of being aware that people are mistreated based on the color of their skin?” Or the client may want to simply follow his or her mind wherever it goes when being listened to on the topic of race and racism. The client could also tell his or her life story from the perspective of being targeted by racism or of being white and set up to be the agent of racism.

When we are allowed and encouraged to fully tell the stories of how racism has affected us, with others listening and giving their full attention, we will begin to heal. When we are able not only to recount the facts of these stories, but also to allow ourselves to feel and show what it was like personally—feel and express the rage, grief, or terror—we become increasingly free of the damage of racism. All of the emotional effects of racism can be healed, if the person is given enough time, attention, and understanding.

 UER sessions are done primarily for the benefit of the client. As the counselor in a session, the attitude and attention you bring to the listening will make a significant difference in how safe your client feels and how openly he or she can reflect and share. You will be most helpful if you listen with respect and delight in the person, while assuming that your client is intelligent, powerful, and loving. Be sure to keep the focus on the client, keeping your memories of similar experiences and your emotional reactions to yourself. Don’t try to analyze, “psychologize,” or give advice. Communicate relaxed confidence in the client, in yourself, and in the importance of the session. Because we have been so conditioned to try to “fix” anyone who is expressing a difficulty, you may want to counter this tendency by setting out to say very little or even nothing in the session. You will often be surprised at the good use your client can make of just your warm attention.

Sometimes the client may begin to laugh or cry or get angry, or sometimes tremble or yawn. These forms of emotional release are a natural human process for healing emotional hurts. Both for people targeted by racism and for white people, healing fully from racism involves releasing the emotional tensions left from early hurtful experiences in our lives. While this expression of emotion may initially make you uncomfortable, it is actually a sign of progress. It simply means that the person is feeling some embarrassment, grief, rage, or fear and is becoming “un-embarrassed,” “un-sad,” “un-afraid,” or is healing the anger. The person listening can feel pleased if this happens and should continue to pay attention to the client without trying to stop any emotional discharge that is happening but rather encourage it. (In UER we refer to emotional release as emotional discharge or discharge.)

SUPPORT GROUPS

It also works well to get a small group of people together to take turns listening to each other. In UER we call this a “support group.” Each person gets an equal amount of time to talk and/or discharge while the rest of the group listens. One person acts as leader of the group to help the group decide how much time each person will get, who will go first, and so on. Again, use of a timer can be very helpful here. The leader can actively support each member to speak, in turn, and encourage the release of painful emotion. The leader can also help remind the group about the importance of confidentiality, assist the group to schedule its next meeting, and so on.

Six to eight people seems to be the optimum size for a group. Groups can meet as often or as many times as the group members wish. Support groups are a good structure for people from a similar background (e.g. Black women, young people, working class people, etc.) to use to talk about what they like about being from that background, what has been hard about it, what they wish other people understood, and so on. When each person has had his or her turn to be listened to, you can end the meeting with each person getting a chance to say what he or she liked best about being in the group meeting or something he or she is looking forward to.

HOW TO USE YOUR TURN IN A UER SESSION OR SUPPORT GROUP

You can start your turn by telling your counselor about good things, big or small, that have happened lately. It could be a beautiful sunset you saw, meeting a friend, or solving a problem. The idea is to give yourself a chance to notice the things that are going well. This is particularly important if you feel discouraged. Painful feelings often pull at our attention and make it more difficult to think and function. This will also prepare you to be able to look at and release the tensions from events in your life that were upsetting by reminding you that there are and were good things in your life.

A UER session is a good place to talk about recent events that have been upsetting. Often you will find that being listened to about them, without someone trying to give you advice, allows you to get a better perspective on them. Often you can think of a good solution, if you just have someone hear you out and show confidence in you while you feel upset and talk about the problem. It can also be useful to ask yourself what earlier experience this reminds you of, or when you felt this way before. You will almost always think of some situation from the past that was hurtful or upsetting in a similar way. Talking about it and/or releasing painful emotions can remove the burden of it. Sessions can also be used for telling your life story, appreciating yourself, reviewing successes, or setting goals.

In general, because of the power dynamics of racism, it works better for white people to be listened to by other white people when they are talking about their upsets and feelings related to race. (Exceptions can be made if a person targeted by racism chooses to be the counselor.) It has also proven workable for people targeted by racism to be listened to by other people targeted by racism. As white people do more and more of this emotional discharge work, they also can become good counselors for people targeted by racism.

At the end of a session, especially if you have been talking about something difficult for you, take a few moments to redirect your thoughts to something you are looking forward to, or some simple subject you don’t feel tense about, such as favorite activities, scenery, and so on.

United to End Racism (UER) is a project of the International Re-evaluation Counseling Community. UER procedures, including UER co-counseling sessions, are based on the theory and practice of Re-evaluation Counseling (RC). You are invited to become acquainted with Re-evaluation Counseling and, if interested, to join the Re-evaluation Counseling Community. For more information and/or a local contact person, please contact the International Re-evaluation Counseling Community and United to End Racism by email at ircc@rc.org, or by telephone at 1-206-284-0311.


Last modified: 2016-07-21 17:04:17-07