Critique of Re-evaluation Counseling


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Original essay: 1995

This blog version: 2011


There are days when I think that RC taught me everything I know. A taxi driver thanks me for a great conversation, a person looking left out at a wedding is happy that I drew her into the company, a rather formal colleague suddenly sits down and wants to talk something over with me, a friend with cancer is relieved to find someone who isn’t afraid to talk about death, children fall in love with me because I look them in the eye and interact with them in their own way… I get complimented on things like this and I think, that’s just basic RC.

And then there are all the leadership and organisational tips I picked up – all the sterling and practical advice in the RC journal ‘Wide World Changing’ that I do my best to remember and implement and that I’ve adapted now to many different contexts.

At my strongest, I remember to use what I learnt about managing myself too – hanging in there through a depression and reminding myself that all I need is a little love and/or discharge and my perspective will change rapidly; making the choice not to sink into catastrophic thinking about someone else’s ‘unloving’ behaviour but to read it as them handing me their distress to be worked on, and an invitation to me to stand outside my ‘frozen needs’.

I was active in Re-evaluation Counseling in England for ten formative years between 25 and 35 and was deeply immersed in both the theory and the practice. I met some people I came to love dearly and I treasured their intelligent support. I might well have ended up in the mental health system if it were not for them. Several of the more prominent RC leaders struck me as monumental examples of human intelligence at work – inspiring and admirable people.

But gradually I became concerned about certain aspects of RC and found that it was not easy to air them within the organisation. I asked questions at workshops – always politely. I looked at my own prejudices and feelings in my co-counseling sessions, as I was supposed to do. I wrote a couple of letters to Harvey Jackins, then the leader of RC (and got warmly encouraging but brief replies.) Eventually, when I was studying for an MA in politics, I realised that the topic I most needed to think through thoroughly was RC. So I wrote the attached essay, completing it in 1995.

The essay is contained within the blog – I’ve split up into sections as you can see in the previous posts column. Few people have read it so far. I now see that I have not shared it widely before because I have remained sufficiently intimidated by the powers that be in RC to believe that I might in some way be wrong to have written it – to have carried out an unwarranted ‘attack’ on the organisation owing to some unresolved psychological problem I have. Moreover, I have a genuine affection for many people involved in RC and wish them well. When I wrote the essay, it was largely to clarify my own thinking but I harboured a few quiet hopes that it would lead to productive discussions within the organisation. In fact the three people I lent copies to never read it and no-one else ever asked to see it – even those who willingly filled in a questionnaire for me (see Appendix.) I don’t think this is because it is of no value; I think people couldn’t cope with the business of criticising RC.

In the process of writing the essay, I stopped participating in the Re-evaluation Counseling communities and have never returned, although I do have the occasional co-counseling session with a trusted friend.

Some time after Harvey Jackins died, I sent a copy of the essay to his son, Tim Jackins, who had taken over as ‘International Reference Person’ as an attempt to get some constructive discussion going. I found Tim’s reply upsetting:

“I took a quick look at your essay and while you clearly worked at it and stated your perspectives, some of which were interesting, it doesn’t seem useful.


Tim Jackins”

I replied to Tim but heard nothing more. I wondered for while if he had seen something I hadn’t; perhaps he was right. I had wasted my time writing this. The point is to do things to change the world, not write essays. Maybe it was all a projection of my own ‘distresses’? If I really wanted to do something useful, maybe I should re-engage with RC and work with good will from within?

But, even allowing for the misreadings to which email is prone, Tim Jackins’ answer now seems to me insensitive and abrupt. There is plenty in this essay for those who have the best interests of RC at heart to consider – even if only to say it’s all been addressed in the last twenty years! I have decided therefore to put it out on the net so that those who are working from within RC will have access to it and can see if any of it is still relevant. In response to Tim Jackins’ criticism, I have inserted a list of practical suggestions in a separate post.

I would like to point out that the criticisms of RC in this essay are almost all at the theoretical and the practical level, not the personal level. When I wrote it, I knew of rumblings about Harvey Jackins’ personal behaviour but chose to ignore them on the grounds that those issues were (and are) hotly contested and would distract from my other arguments. (If you want to dig into the history, there is plenty of information available on the net.)

Jackins’ restatement of the RC gay policy happened after I had left, so this, too, is not mentioned in the essay. However, when he changed the policy from each person being encouraged to decide for themselves what was ‘rational’ in their sexuality to a statement that all homosexuality was ‘distressed’ and should be discharged, it did reinforce the criticisms I had made in the essay about the moralisation and impracticality of some of what he said.

Something that does cast doubt on Jackins’ integrity is his covering up of his early involvement in Dianetics (Scientology) as described at:

Unless these documents are fakes, which I doubt, they show not only that Jackins was involved in Dianetics but that he set up Personal Counselors explicitly to explore the ideas further, albeit in his own way. This means that Jackins’ story of RC’s origins mentioned in the history section of my essay is at least partly false. It always did seem extraordinary, this story of a man called Merle who had a completely transformative experience that apparently no one else has had since, but I took it at face value and included it in my essay. No doubt Jackins wanted to dissociate himself from Scientology but the result is that I and many others were misled.

Until the full truth of these matters is known, doubts will remain about Jackins’ integrity. This is a pity given his admirable qualities; even if, like many gurus, he is eventually exposed for having feet of clay, his development of co-counseling practice and the RC communities will remain amazing achievements. Current co-counselors who wish to promote the benefits of RC could do so with an explicit recognition of its founder’s mistakes; instead of colluding in cover-ups, they could make the case that the organisation has learned, made changes and moved on.

There is an additional criticism that I have of RC since I wrote the essay, one that is, I think, very significant: RC co-counseling sessions in my experience focused on the feelings and perspectives of the client. I don’t recall a counselor ever saying ‘why don’t you look at it from the other person’s point of view?” If my memory is correct, this exemplifies a crucial flaw in RC theory – the idea that discharge is sufficient in itself to ‘liberate’ a loving, benign, rational self. To those of us not caught up in RC orthodoxy, this is self-evidently not so. Looking at situations from others’ points of view is not only the basis of all morality, it is also a basic practice in other therapies e.g. Gestalt. In spite of the rhetoric about ‘everyone having done their best’, RC seems to teach people to look for other people’s patterns, rather than empathise with them in their human imperfection. This is a serious flaw.

Finally, this essay is offered to the world not as the last word on RC – it is in many ways simplistic and lacks a deep theoretical examination of the impact of catharsis, for example – but as a well-intentioned attempt to bring some critical perspective to RC as I knew it, in the hope that its better traits might be developed in the future. I remain deeply grateful to RC for the support, education, advice and inspiration it gave me over many years and I would re-engage with it if I believed that serious action was being taken to counteract the pernicious features I outline in the essay and above. I think that discharge, properly understood and contextualised, has a role to play in helping individuals lead their lives well and in supporting political activists working for a better world.

“Anton Chekhov”


(formerly I used the pseudonym ‘Guy Fantastic’ but I found someone else with the same name making questionable comments on the net.)

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June 4, 2011 at 7:30 pm

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Here are some practical suggestions to improve RC – as I knew it.  Some of my criticisms and remedies must surely be out of date – I know that Tim Jackins has brought a degree of ‘glasnost’ to RC.  However, recent conversations with RCer friends in 2010 suggest to me that many of my concerns remain valid.


  • Open RC theory up to critical review and ‘falsification’.
  • Engage as experts in the field in the intellectual debate about the impacts and benefits of catharsis/discharge.
  • Make a contextual statement about where RC fits in with other therapies at the time of its inception and since. Own up to whatever early links there were with Scientology and clear the air once and for all.
  • Remove the concept of re-emergence and replace it with a concept that is more realistic and forward looking, e.g. ‘personal development’ or ‘life enhancement’ or ‘fulfilling your potential’.
  • Acknowledge that human beings’ innate intelligence is subsequently shaped by experience, knowledge and skills. This includes thinking skills, such as logic. Study Philosophy for Children and other approaches and turn every ‘topic’ group discussion into one in which everyone practices and  improves their thinking skills.
  • Run work groups looking at the features of creativity e.g. imagination, risk-taking, idea generation and practical experimentation. Formulate policies and practices that enable RCers to expand their creativity, both within and outside the RC communities.
  • Broaden RCers’ understanding of ‘altered’ states. Especially explore the benefits of meditation as a route to re-evaluation.
  • Get real about ‘chronic patterns’ and the extent to which they can be loosened. In the light of this, review the gay policy and all RC policies and return to the realistic and humane policy that each person is responsible for deciding for themselves how they want their life to be and what their counseling priorities are.
  • Get real about terms and concepts used outside RC (by everybody else) – has RC ever developed an analysis of ‘depression’ for example?
  • Dig deep into the US cultural patterns that may have become attached to the RC communities, including ‘pioneering’, ‘world-leading’, ‘pro-active’, ‘individual’, ‘optimistic’ etc.
  • Produce a new manual of RC theory and practice in the light of all the above.


  • Build in to early fundamentals training and all subsequent practice ways of looking at situations from the point of view of different actors.
  • Shift the focus from what happened to people in their pasts to what they can be and do in the present and the future.
  • Encourage realistic goal-setting and action planning, not fantastical directions. In this process train all co-counselors about the difference between a direction and statement of reality. (Do RCers still use the Commitments? They used to make this distinction.)
  • Set homework tasks as CBT does. Set up ways that counselors can work in threes or small groups to see each other in action in their lives and practise interventions. Don’t rely on what people say in sessions.
  • Let people write honestly in RC journals and have a real debate – why not online too?

 Social change:

  • Put more emphasis on the concept of personal responsibility within a realistic sphere of influence. Discourage RCers from complaining that ‘oppression’ stops them from doing things.
  • Engage with the reality of relationships – that they are dynamic, two way or more. Explore ways that people who are in conflict can exchange attention, not just take rigid turns. Above all, get people to look at their impact on others, not just focus in on their own histories and feelings.
  • Explore Clare Graves’ Spiral Dynamics and other models of social development and work out strategies for responding to different levels and types of distress e.g. if someone is in ‘survival mode’ or ‘kill or be killed’ mode, it’s not the time to offer them a direction.
  • Use critical thinking to refine RCers’ understanding of different degrees and forms of ‘oppression’ and ‘internalised oppression’ and the most effective strategies for dealing with them. End the use by RCers of these generalised abstract terms in an unthinking way.
  • Put a stop to arrogant statements to the effect that only RC has a handle on rationality and instead work respectfully with other activists to learn together.
Overall: Take on board my interviewee Anne’s advice, given back in 1992: “I think RC needs to be less centralised with more debate about theory and practice and less pretence about the successes we achieve.”

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June 4, 2011 at 7:27 pm

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Key words: Re-evaluation Counseling, co-counseling, catharsis, radical therapy, prejudice reduction, community development.


Founded by Harvey Jackins in Seattle, USA, in 1950, Re-evaluation Counseling  is a form of radical humanistic therapy which rejects the professionalised therapist-client relationship in favour of the egalitarian practice of  “co-counseling”. In this, two or more people take turns to counsel each other, assisting each other to release emotional tensions and think through their goals. It has a strong social and political awareness, unlike most therapies which tend to ignore the crucial role of these factors in causing stress and emotional disturbance. It is a valuable resource for people seeking inexpensive therapy and for activists seeking a means to deal with emotional tensions. Committed to the ideals of rational but benign behaviour and a high level of personal responsibility, it has refreshing insights and a number of useful skills to offer for community building.


However, the very real benefits it brings are offset by a number of weaknesses in theory and practice and an insular mentality. Critical debate,  realistic strategising, and the prioritisation of  creativity over “correctness” need to be taken on board if Re-evaluation Counseling wishes to wield credibility as a tool for building the non-oppressive society to which it aspires.





The therapeutic context

The history and theory of RC

The strengths of Re-evaluation Counseling

The weaknesses of Re-evaluation Counseling




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June 4, 2011 at 7:20 pm

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Re-evaluation Counseling (known as “RC”) can be seen as a form of radical therapy – radical in two senses: as a psychological theory it completely rejects psychotherapeutic orthodoxy and attempts to formulate its own principles based on the experiences of its practitioners; and it is radical in the sense of having a political dimension located somewhere at the left end of the political spectrum yet claiming to fall outside of conventional alignments. Critical of unequal power relations not only in the wider society but also in the traditional relationship between therapist and client, Harvey Jackins, the founder of RC, evolved a uniquely reciprocal therapeutic practice he called “co-counseling” in which two or more people took turns to listen to each other and assist in the release of painful emotion. The basic theory could be taught easily and cheaply, thus allowing access not only to therapy but also to the skills of being a therapist to any person of any class.

Started by Jackins in Seattle in the USA in 1950, RC has spread widely through an international network known as the “Re-evaluation Counseling Communities”. This network spans at least 56 countries, now including India, Kenya, Bosnia-Herzegovina and China. Numbers are difficult to gauge. There are some 230 organised areas with active memberships of 20-50; another 500 people are listed as independent teachers, and then there are those who have left the communities but who still work with at least some of the ideas and practices. RC is an independent movement, financed by its participants and occasional donations. Its administrative centre is Jackins’ own counseling business in Seattle, Personal Counselors. Here too can be found the Re-evaluation Counseling publishers, Rational Island, who have printed some 13 books by Jackins himself and over a hundred journals compiling the contributions of Re-evaluation Counselors, including the quarterly magazine “Present Time”.

I chose Re-evaluation Counseling for this dissertation for two reasons : firstly, it is a unique and remarkably durable attempt to create a practical psychology of social and political change. At its best, it offers its members a profound training in coping with their own and other people’s emotions. It also provides an excellent education in issues of discrimination. It has offered support, insight and useful ideas to a wide range of political and community activists, including peace activists, and it throws out some stimulating challenges to accepted ways of acting in the political arena. On all these grounds, I believe it deserves serious attention.

But the second reason for writing this essay is that I find that RC, in spite of its strengths, is flawed, both in theory and in practice. The case I shall make out is that, in order to wield both the therapeutic and the political credibility to which it aspires, RC needs to engage with the critical and imaginative facilities far more deeply, to locate its expertise in working with the emotions within a more creative practice of questioning, discussing, strategising and practising skills.

Research method

The bulk of the material drawn on for this essay is literary. In Doing Counseling Research, McLeod (1994) outlines the methodological and ethical difficulties involved in gathering evidence on the effectiveness of counseling and psychotherapy. It would have been desirable to conduct a series of structured interviews with co-counselors but this seemed to be beyond my remit as well as being fraught with complications around confidentiality. Moreover, a central plank of the RC Communities’ policy is the principle of “not socialising” : RC members make a particularly strong agreement to limit the scope of their non-counseling interactions. This is the RC equivalent of the privacy of the consulting room, regarded as important in enabling work of a highly personal and emotional nature to take place without fear of subsequent manipulation or abuse. Having been a co-counselor for nearly fifteen years, I consider myself to be bound by this agreement. My solution in this instance was to gather a few comments from Re-evaluation Counselors who I know personally as well as through RC. I did this by means of a short questionnaire. It was sent to a tiny sample of 14 people, all either academics or artists, of whom  8 replied. On the whole they support my analysis. I include brief pseudonymous comments from “Martin” and “Anne” in the text and leave the rest for perusal in the Appendix.

Other examples I give from personal experience. This has raised the problem of subjectivity. RC itself has much to say on the factors which determine this. Not to acknowledge the provenance of one’s own values and opinions is arguably always unscientific. That said, there is a trap waiting for anyone who attempts to criticise therapy: the client’s judgements are seen to be unreliable (McLeod p158) and criticisms can always be attributed to her or his mental imbalances (Gellner p.219). Rather than over-personalise the essay, I prefer to offer a quiet disclaimer here: my perceptions are undoubtedly affected by my personal history [details removed]. Nonetheless, I believe my opinions are well-grounded. This essay constitutes the sum of my reflections and research at this time.

There is a shortage of written information about and criticism of RC. This was true when R.D.Rosen wrote an account of RC in 1975, and it remains true today. One reason is that Jackins prefers word-of-mouth publicity and distrusts both academia and the media. (Rosen 1979.) It might also be that RC does not command professional credibility. In the Social Sciences Citation Index (1981-1995) I found only 10 hits for Jackins and a handful of other references to people I know to be co-counselors. T.J. Scheff’s Catharsis in Healing, Ritual and Drama is one of the few books that overtly expounds a version of RC theory (Scheff 1979). Consequently, for most of my evidence regarding RC, I refer to Jackins’ published works, which mostly consist of collections of articles and the transcripts of talks and demonstrations he has given. At times I refer to publications written by other Re-evaluation Counselors and to my own notes from  lectures and workshops I have attended.

I have given considerable space to quotations from Jackins on the grounds that those who read this essay are most likely unfamiliar with the man and his style. One thread in this piece is subjectivity and I follow John Berger in believing that: “True style is inseparable from what is being said” (The Guardian, Sept 2, 1995, p.31). For the sake of space, Jackins’ own books are referenced under initials, e.g. “RP” stands for The Reclaiming of Power. Full details are listed in the bibliography. Titles followed by a number refer to RC journals, e.g. “Sisters no.9”. I have retained the US spelling of “counselor” and “counseling” throughout. In order not to misrepresent Jackins I would point out that, with the exception of his earliest book The Human Situation, he carefully alternates pronouns in order to address the question of sexist language but this may not be apparent in my selection of quotations.

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June 4, 2011 at 7:18 pm

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I shall first put Re-evaluation Counseling into its context. In so doing I shall follow McLeod and Samuels (1993) in conflating the terms “psychoanalysis”, “psychotherapy” and “counseling” but I will use “therapy” as the generic. While RC is different from many therapies in ways which I shall discuss, its antecedents were, as for all twentieth century therapies, the theories and methods of Sigmund Freud. Freud’s creation, Psychoanalysis, involved the client in a protracted (and expensive) relationship with the analyst, mining the unconscious for the origins of emotional disturbance (Patterson 1986, p.33). During the treatment, it was claimed, buried painful feelings about parents and other influential figures from infancy and childhood would come to the surface by being  “transferred” onto  the analyst who would offer her or his “interpretations”. Gradually the symptoms would subside leaving the client  with “ordinary unhappiness” instead of their “neurotic misery” (Kovel p.222).

By 1950, when Jackins started RC, schools of therapy had burgeoned. There was a host of neo-Freudians. Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlington in London had shifted the emphasis away from “the neuroses to developmental theories of the formation of both normal and abnormal character structure.” (Mitchell 1974, p 229.) Jung had developed his theories of archetypes and the collective unconscious. The existentialists took their clients back to “the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate alonenesss; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life.” (Yalom 1989, p.4) Behaviourists were very much to the fore, regarding “only overt behaviour as significant” (Patterson, p.33); thus therapy should be about training people to act differently. Out of Behaviourism grew Cognitive Therapy, which is based on what people think and say about themselves – their attitudes, ideas and ideals. (Patterson p.33)

RC falls into the category of Humanistic Psychology which developed apace on the West Coast of America after the Second World War. In the context of post-war optimism and economic growth, on the one hand, and of an earnest search for new values following the Holocaust and Hiroshima, on the other, humanistic psychologists questioned the perceived authoritarianism and limited therapeutic aspirations of psychoanalysts and other therapists. Joel Kovel describes humanistic psychology as an attempt to salvage faith and joy (Kovel 1978,p.155.)  Humanistic psychologists drew on the image work of Jung and the body work and cathartic techniques of Reich to widen the therapeutic repertoire. They combined the focus on immediacy of the existentialist psychologists with, Kovel says, the typically American ideology of the perfectibility of human beings (p.153) Its most influential figure became Carl Rogers who pioneered the concept of “client-centred” therapy in the early 1940s and who undertook various projects investigating wider social relations, for example in Northern Ireland, but whose work, according to Kovel, still remained largely within a bourgeois American framework : “a highly individual yet typically American blend of pragmatism and optimistic faith in the individual” (p.99). By 1961, when Rogers’ highly influential On Becoming A Person was published, the field of humanistic psychology was rapidly expanding and this continued throughout the Sixties. Kovel points out that in 1969, the “modest-sized” town of Palo Alto in California had 360 psychotherapeutic groups (p.221).

At this time, Palo Alto was the location of the Re-evaluation Counseling pre-school, an experiment in applying its principles to children. Harvey Jackins had set himself up as a counselor in Seattle in the Fifties, starting out by taking “every kind of client” to see what he could learn from working with them. (Those who paid him enough to live on were, of course, the more well-heeled.) He had gone on to develop and disseminate his idea of “co-counseling”, in the belief that anybody could learn to assist someone else to resolve painful emotions – a total challenge to the “expert” and professionalised role most therapists claimed for themselves. Jackins came from a different background from most of them. A farmer’s son, from a Norwegian Protestant family, he had studied mathematics at college but then went on to work within the Trade Union movement. He saw himself as a working class political activist. From early on taught that individual change was not enough; the individual had to be seen in the context of the oppressive capitalist system.

Jackins was unusual in this respect. Most therapy, then and now, has failed to grapple with politics. In The Political Psyche (1993), Andrew Samuels, a Jungian therapist, tells how he conducted a survey of 621 therapists – mostly Jungians but some psychoanalysts and Humanistics – in Britain, the USA, Italy, Germany, Israel, Brazil and Russia. He asked how they handled political material in the clinical setting. His questionnaire, he admits, was an “informal, opinion-seeking” one. (p.264) Samuels comments on two apparent divides within the profession of therapy. One is between “those who apprehend the reality of the political and those whose definition of their job concentrates more in what is theorised as part of the inner world”(p.265) A variety of comments made by respondents indicate that all would bear in mind that political issues raised by a client might reflect more on the client’s perceptions than on external realities. The most traditional analysts believe that it is not the job of therapy to engage with the external realities at all, but always to focus on “what the patient is communicating to the analyst at that moment about the state of his internal (phantasy) relationships and his (phantasy) transference relationship to the analyst”, e.g. “I always seek the inner over determining forces of conflict that the patient is warding off by means of ‘political protests’ (i.e. rationalisations, etc.)” (p. 236-7) Others try to distinguish between the inner and the outer, and a minority will even encourage the client to “think and act politically” (p.243).

The second divide that Samuels apprehends is “between the public, apolitical, hyperclinical face of the profession – something that has rightly been criticised – and the private face of the profession – practitioners all too aware that they have political histories themselves, struggling to find a balance between inner-looking and outer-looking attitudes to what their patients bring them.” For many respondents, filling the questionnaire in appeared to have been a consciousness-raising exercise. Only 9% had discussed politics at the time of their application for training and only 32% had formally discussed politics during their training. The majority appear to be liberal or left in inclination and several commented on how refreshing it was to be asked about this topic. However one British psychoanalyst brazenly defends a totally uncritical position, albeit in a pseudo-academic manner: “I’m a traditionalist (tredo, tradere – to hand over). I see no reason for changing for change’s sake. If I’d been brought up as a feminist communist I’d have stayed that way. I am and have been Tory Calvinist!” (p.251)

Samuels’ aim in writing his book is to propose both the centrality of the social and the political in the individual psyche (p.56) and the need for emotional sensitivity in politics (p. 42) Like Joel Kovel, another analyst but also an avowed socialist and active peace campaigner, he does not question the value of analysis in itself. Others have done so, in some cases uncompromisingly. Jeffrey Masson’s iconoclastic polemic Against Therapy (1990) highlighted instances of therapists abusing their clients. He accused even well-meaning therapists of being complicit with abuse, not only by failing to challenge the grosser manifestations, but also by profiting from the unhappiness of others and displaying a lack of interest in social injustice.(p.284 etc.)

In The Origins of Unhappiness (1993), David Smail makes similar comments in a more moderate tone; “Psychology, in encouraging us to restrict our gaze to the microenvironments which provide the context of our personal experience – the ambit of our physical being – wittingly or unwittingly aids the process whereby the machinery of social injustice is kept out of sight” (p.37). He examined the indexes of all the psychology texts he could find in his local university bookshop: “Out of nine texts, only three listed ‘power’ and none listed the principal medium of its application in our society – money” (p.25). The actions of therapists – whether psychoanalysts interpreting their clients’ transferences or “the Rogerian counselor’s concentration on the crucial powers of the ‘warmth, empathy and genuineness’ of his or her relations with the patient”- are  insignificant compared with the events in the world around the client. “Failure frankly to acknowledge this limitation is to court absurdity” (p.163.)

In We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy And The World’s getting Worse (1990), James Hillman, another Jungian analyst, criticises his own profession for depoliticising its clients. He quotes the example of a woman whose long-standing depression was not helped by eight years of analysis but disappeared almost immediately as soon as she moved out of polluted Los Angeles (Hillman and Ventura p.82.) He talks of  “therapy as sedation” (p.151): “If therapy imagines its task to be that of helping people cope (and not protest), to adapt (and not rebel), to normalise their oddity, and to accept themselves ‘and work within your situation; make it work for you'(rather than refuse the unacceptable), then therapy is collaborating with what the state wants: docile plebs” (p.156)

Hillman and his co-author Michael Ventura muse about the possibilities for turning the consulting room into a “cell for revolution”: psychotherapy could perform a crucial role in helping people to analyse society and how it is affecting them as individuals (p.118) Similarly Smail suggests: “the point of therapeutic clarification is to undo the mystifications of power” (p.174). What such statements do not address, however, is what therapists can actually do to assist people with distressing emotions. At this juncture, Kovel re-affirms the validity of psychoanalysis. He believes that, once acquired – by whatever means – a “neurosis” has an existence of its own. Therefore therapy and politics should be kept separate: “A person can be socially alienated and neurotic, and should bear in mind that he will seek appropriate remedies for each, and not believe that political participation will cure his neurosis or that his therapy will make one whit of difference in the larger disorder” (p.60) Smail too advocates realism about what each individual can achieve on their own, but he is dismissive of the claims of psychoanalysis.  Therapists should come down to earth and recognise that all they can offer is Comfort, Clarification, and Encouragement.(p.166.) In contrast, Hillman takes off and suggests art as the paradigm for therapy –  staying sensitive to what is happening around us, refusing to be numbed into mediocrity and giving creative form to our emotions (p.159).

What makes these debates appear topical – the books by Masson, Smail, Hillman and Ventura were all published in the last five years –  is the taste for debunking (in this case Freud) in the so-called post-modern era. In fact, doubts about the validity of therapeutic theory and practice, including its lack of social awareness, date back several decades. Hillman and Ventura’s idea of the consulting room as a cell for revolution was discussed by feminists and some socialists at least as far back as the mid-Sixties – and Jackins has been working on the idea for forty years.

There are two sides of the political therapy coin: what therapy can offer politics and what politics can offer therapy. As far back as 1930, Harold D. Lasswell had written of the need to bring the tools of therapy to the political arena. “Political prejudices, preferences and creeds are often formulated in a highly rational form, but they are grown in highly irrational ways.” (Lasswell 1960 p.153) But progress has been slow in furthering this discussion. In Britain, the contemporary writer and feminist psychotherapist, Susie Orbach, is still a lone voice in the media with her campaign to bring “emotional literacy” to public life (The Guardian, August 5th, 1995.)

It was the Women’s Movement that made a slogan of the notion that “the personal is political”. Sheila Ernst and Lucy Goodison describe how “consciousness raising” groups in the late Sixties and Seventies enabled women to discover that their problems were common to other women. “We saw a clear link between our ‘personal’ feelings as women and the political structure we live in.” (Ernst & Goodison 1981, p.3) Both women and men campaigning for social change came “to feel the need for some kind of therapy either because we were personally desperate and needed help or because we more consciously felt the need for changes in ourselves that went along with the wider changes we wanted to see in society” (p.5) Ernst and Goodison were instrumental in establishing a group called Red Therapy in London – much to the contempt of other left-wing activists whose conviction of  the primacy of political conditions became a rigid opposition to any form of ‘navel-gazing’.

Another member was Victor Seidler. He writes in Recreating Sexual Politics (1991) of the value of therapy for men – as a means to uncover the feelings they had been conditioned to repress, as a means to extend knowledge through “the re-evaluation of experience”, and as an antidote to the culture of self-denial that pertained in socialist circles. The members of Red Therapy were aware that therapy could be used “in reactionary ways” and that at times it could take people away from political action. Seidler does not think this is necessarily a bad thing – therapy can be “important work….[giving us] a sense of the ways in which our present is deeply informed by earlier relations”, including the factors of class and ethnicity (p.189.) Ernst and Goodison accept that “the ‘acting out’ of unresolved childhood feelings [sometimes] lies at the very heart of an individual’s political motivation” (p.317) and point to therapy as a means to acknowledge the reality and the complexity of individual contradiction: “inconsistency is in no way recognised by the rather sociological model of motivation put forward within radical political movements. And until political movements can actually meet the complexity of individuals’ experience, they aren’t going to mean very much except in a rather self-denying and moralistic subculture” (p.316).

Perhaps some people went too far in examining their own contradictions: in The Awareness Trap (1976), Edwin Schur criticised those who believed that ‘personal growth’ was the key to social progress – a “serious misconception  as to how people live and social change occurs” (p.2). He concludes: “There is no such thing as radical therapy – there is only therapy and radical politics” (p.159)

Written by antonchekhov

June 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm

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Throughout these discussions and up to the present day, Re-evaluation Counseling continued to provide a form of therapy with a political slant. It started in 1950 when Jackins, then 35, had an experience which convinced him that emotional release was beneficial. The story is told in Rough Notes From Buck Creek 1 (p.384.) A friend of Jackins’ had what would often be called a nervous breakdown. Jackins decided to stay with him in the hope of preventing his being hospitalised. The man, Merle, went through two weeks of intense emotions, crying a lot, and shaking. He  gradually moved from a state of wild irrationality to greater coherence, talking over traumatic memories that surfaced in his mind. Then one day he suddenly cheered up and went back to his life with unaccustomed zest. Jackins and his friend Eddie concluded that Merle had benefited from releasing a lot of repressed emotional tension and they speculated whether this would be beneficial for others too. They began to experiment, getting each other to talk about past painful experiences. On one occasion, going over a memory of being badly beaten up, Jackins found himself shaking and laughing and feeling humiliated :

“After an hour and a half I got up and put my foot down. I said “I’ve had enough of this hanky panky stuff. I’ve had humiliations enough to last me the rest of my life and I’m having no more.” I stomped down the stairs and got in my car and drove off.

I got about half way home and suddenly realised that my whole world had changed. Fears that had been riding me close had suddenly retreated; they were back there where I could see them with some perspective… I have never in my life since that time, even on the worst days, felt as bad as I apparently did all the time until then and didn’t realise it.” (BC p.319 )

The changes Jackins experienced are important as they underpin the theory and practice of RC as it came to be developed. My own first experience of co-counseling, when I knew nothing of the theory or of the RC communities, had a similarly enlivening effect. The next day, I found myself bouncing down the street and feeling, like Jackins, that my world had changed.  Scheff also gives examples of expanded attention following emotional release. (p.17.)

Jackins believed he had uncovered a natural process of healing and on this simple foundation he built RC. My own reservations about aspects of RC theory and practice I will examine later but the fundamental observations of Re-evaluation Counseling can be confirmed easily by anyone who cares to walk around town with a kindly expression and a willingness to catch people’s eyes: people do want to be listened to; children do intuitively seek out the nearest kind looking adult to tell them when they have hurt themselves or been through some emotional experience; allow them release their feelings for as long as they want and they do usually seem refreshed afterwards, or, on occasion, tired but relaxed.

The value of listening is attested in all branches of counseling and to some extent in the wider Western culture. Although emotional release provokes more complex reactions, people proverbialise that “it’s good to get it out of your system”. The attraction of Jackins’ theory is both that it seems common-sensical and that it finds a function for what therapists too often pass over as an incidental. Scheff believes that Freud made a mistake in abandoning his early work with catharsis (Scheff p.34) reducing “abreaction” to a by-product of the transference process. Yalom points out, “this irrepressible curative factor appears to operate in virtually every form of psychological healing endeavour” (Scheff p.90) but Kovel is content to comment blithely that “letting go of feelings that get bottled up in everyday life is bound to have a helpful, balancing effect” ( Kovel p.76) without saying why this is so.

Seidler and Hillman concur on an analysis tracing distrust of the emotions back through Kant to Descartes: the emotions are seen as undermining rational intelligence. Jackins would agree but argues that thinking is often affected by repressed emotion. He is terse about unexamined intellectualisations : “Such ‘abstract’ attitudes arise for a reason. It is a common practice of our flawed educational systems to encourage people, in the name of being ‘intellectual’, to divorce their thinking and concepts from reality.” (UT p.422)

In many cases, ‘reality’ includes the emotions and these can distort our ability to reason, unawarely. In certain highly charged areas, such as sexuality, emotional interference can be profound and Jackins believes that emotional release is the only way to glimpse reality more clearly : “Until persons have done this, they frankly do not know what they are talking about…, no matter how firm their opinions are.” (UT p.429.)

Jackins’ theory is that a natural response to painful experiences – whether physical or psychological – is to heal them through catharsis. If this doesn’t happen, the memory is stored with the emotional associations somehow attached. Then two things can happen: firstly, any reminder of the hurtful incident (aware or unaware) will tend to trigger the associated emotions – a phenomenon Jackins follows Scientology in labelling “restimulation”. Secondly, people fall into rigid behaviour patterns either associated with the incident itself or adopted subsequently in an attempt to prevent its recurrence. These Jackins calls “distress patterns”.

At the heart of RC theory, as it came to be developed, is a belief in the flexibility of human intelligence, intelligence being defined as “the ability to come up with a brand-new, accurate response for each new situation…” (FM p.49.) It is contrasted with the more rudimentary mechanism of conditioning : “Once [in human evolution] we had this high-level ability to think, it was vulnerable to the previously present conditioning mechanism. Our pre-human ancestors could be conditioned, as horses and dogs still can be, in what amounted to a very crude type of learning, so that the individual could learn from distress experiences to avoid similar situations.” (RL p.28.)

Jackins draws an important conclusion: “For our pre-intelligent ancestors or other mammals, this process of substituting a new rigid pattern of behaviour for the inherited, rigid, instinctive behaviour, did not degrade the level of functioning. For human beings, having once attained the level of intelligent functioning, the distress pattern conditioning degraded, and degrades, our level of functioning enormously.” (RL p.28.)

RC theory assumes the existence of a universal human nature, resourceful and benign in character, not damaged but “obscured” by conditioning.  Irrational, destructive and oppressive behaviour in human beings is accounted for by distress patterns, except in a minority of instances where people are brain-damaged, diseased or have congenital defects (RP p.48; SO p.261) The patterns are not only acquired through personal trauma. They can also be passed on: through our unaware example, we teach them to our children – a process Jackins calls “contagion”. On the wider scale, they can become institutionalised. In the development of society – through slavery to feudalism and ultimately to post-industrial capitalism – institutionalised distress patterns give rise to the many overlapping layers of oppression we call classism, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc.

The hope for humankind is to understand and learn to undo these distress patterns, both in ourselves and in the structures of society. This is done, at the personal level, by identifying the rigid attitude or behaviour, releasing any associated emotions – which is referred to as “discharging” them – and then “re-evaluating” the information contained in the memory from a rational perspective. Thus RC claims to pay attention to feelings not in order to increase their power over us, but to free us from their effects.

In this respect, in theory at least, Re-evaluation Counseling is markedly different from other humanistic therapies. R.D. Rosen’s book Psychobabble is a contemptuous attack on the excesses of humanistic psychology, written from the point of view of a psychoanalyst. He has some justified criticisms of RC but also accords it more respect than most: “What is most strikingly different about co-counseling … is its insistence on the importance of intelligence, logic, and rationality. In a time when Feelings, and Deep Feelings particularly, are thought of as the lost paradise to which all must return …co-counseling, more than most alternative therapies, appears to concern itself with the complex relations between logic and emotion…” (Rosen 1979, p.90.) A key concept in RC is “the balance of attention” between the distressed emotion and the critical intelligence. Scheff rephrases this as a balance between distress and security. In RC, “emotional distress is reawakened in a properly distanced context” and this enables re-evaluation to take place. Scheff says other therapies are either “over-distanced” (denying feelings) e.g. Behaviourism, or “under-distanced” (too caught up in feelings) e.g. Primal Therapy (p.208.)

In fact, co-counselors claim that RC works so differently from other therapies that it is not a therapy at all. In “Present Time” No. 94 Cathy White exclaims: “RC is NOT therapy. Therapy “helps” you adjust to the oppressive society. Therapy is used to “help” you feel better. (RC is used to THINK better).” (p.59.) I use “therapy” as a term for RC in this essay because the reality is that RC is largely used as a way for people to deal with their feelings, but the word implies a model of mental ‘health’ and ‘illness’ which Jackins explicitly rejects. It is associated with a profession whose theories he considers to be highly unscientific and whose impact he finds reactionary, if not downright oppressive. RC’s “one-point program” has long been “to seek recovery of one’s occluded intelligence and to assist others to do the same.” Moreover Jackins takes pains to make clear that his approach to this goal has been methodical:

“The theory of RC grew as an inductively logical structure…The mistake of attempting to explain [our early successes] on the basis of existing confused theories was avoided by an early decision to make a completely fresh start…My early associates and I decided…to be rigorous about restricting the basis of the growing theory to our own experiences with the clients that we ourselves worked with and to only those parts of the experiences that proved consistently reproducible…” (HS, p.18.)

He is adamant that “RC is the application of the scientific method to human behaviour and to social interaction.” (RL p.194) “It is not based on metaphysics, it is not based on unthinking beliefs, on transcendental idealism, on do-goodism, on sentiment, or on trusting or gratifying one’s feelings.” (UT p.192) It is, in fact, a physical science. (BR p.25)

In contrast, most other psychotherapeutic theories have little to be said for them. Jackins acknowledges the good intentions of some individuals but says he cannot go along with nonsense (UT p.81) : “Forgive Freud. He at least rebelled against the previous nonsense…[but] his theory was an oppressive theory and a reactionary theory.” (UT p.218) “[It] portrays humans in an inhuman way.  In practice, it becomes a tool for degrading people, for limiting their goals.” (UT p.30) According to the booklet, What’s wrong with the Mental Health System and what can be done about it? (1991), written by other co-counselors but edited by Jackins : “The belief that human beings are basically bestial and selfish, and that only social conditioning can make something good out of us is at the root of psychoanalysis.” Because of its premises, “Analysis will always support the status quo of society because ‘civilisation’ is defined as what makes human beings good,” the authors say, whereas in fact civilisation is built on uncomprehended and oppressive “distress patterns.”

Jackins gives short shrift to the behaviourist school of psychology, because it deals only with stimulus-response learning : “Because this mechanism is easily observed, it has been used as a basis for explaining animal behaviour and animal ‘learning’, so-called. It has been used over and over again in attempts to explain human behaviour. These attempts have succeeded in explaining almost everything about the human being except his humanness.” (HS p.76.)

Meanwhile, humanist psychologists like Maslow, Perls and Rogers “were very human people, and their attitude towards humans was quite enlightened…They were not in general terribly helpful to people, but they wrote good books and they said good things. Their followers have not, in general, …been harmful in the way that many of the followers of the older theories have been.” (SO p.52.)

Jackins is scornful of the social sciences, especially psychology “which has seen little or no scientific rigour applied ever.” (UT p.37.) The authors of the Mental Health booklet say that, in their experience, “Correct information based on the experience of survivors [of the Mental Health system] is neither wanted nor sought” by psychologists (p.56.) Jackins concludes that psychotherapy has been “an idiot pretence of a science” (UT p.198.)  Similarly, Gregory Bateson says the behavioural sciences can often be accused of what he terms comically (following Moliere) the “dormitive principle”, i.e. they give a label to something that really has no independent existence because it is actually part of a complex interdependent system, and then use the label as proof of the thing’s existence (Bateson 1972). Jackins also objects to the stereotyping caused by categorising mental illnesses: “The minute you start classifying and putting a label on somebody or on somebody’s problem, you’ve lost touch with reality. That person’s difficulties are his own unique difficulties” (UT p.198.)

In contrast, Jackins believes he has developed a theory which makes only appropriate generalisations about the processes of the human brain while allowing equally for the uniqueness of individual behaviour : “Once the explanation of the distress recording and the discharge and re-evaluation process are out in the light, then it doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or humanistic Dr Freud or others are, or what historical credit should be given to them; all theories that do not include this are completely obsolete at this point, and ridiculously so.” (SO p.261.)

Intemperate as they may seem, Jackins is not alone in holding such opinions. It is a characteristic of the field. Kovel refers to “the slovenly state of definition and conceptualisation in most therapies” though he presumably excepts psychoanalysis, his own practice (Kovel p.291.) There again, the behaviourist, H.J. Eysenck has inveighed against psychoanalysis for decades – “at best a premature crystallisation of spurious orthodoxies; at worst, a pseudo-scientific doctrine that has done untold harm to psychology and psychiatry alike” (Eysenck 1985, p.208)  Thomas Szasz, the radical psychiatrist, describes psychology as “fake science” on the grounds that it has no concrete phenomena to analyse (Szasz 1978, p.61) Jeffrey Masson accuses psycho-therapists of not being truly engaged in a critical endeavour at all: they are primarily concerned with their image, their income and their loyalty to their profession (p.296).

Broadly speaking, all of these critics would probably approve of Jackins aim to think clearly about mental processes and to work towards more respectful and effective ways to support people in distress. However, I imagine they would be sceptical about his claim to have found the true science of psychology. As I shall discuss later, Jackins’ scientificity is not unassailable. Nonetheless, Re-evaluation Counseling is at the very least a committed attempt to formulate a coherent explanation of the inter-relation between the intellect and the emotions, and to develop a non-abusive therapeutic practice. It is surely on the right track in its questioning of concepts that appear to have no basis in reality; while it does reify what Jackins calls “distress patterns”, it is far less prone to such nominalisations than psychoanalysis and its offshoots. It aims to address itself to both feeling and intellect, the verbal and the non-verbal, the conscious and the unconscious, the individual and the group, and it does so in the context of a genuinely radical political/economic analysis, the lack of which distorts or invalidates so many therapies. It is this political analysis to which I will now turn.

Jackins’ political theory

Jackins’ political theory was outlined in the journal “Wide World Changing” no. 3 in 1979 and  subsequently reprinted in 1990. It remains Jackins’ key statement on political action. His viewpoint is basically Marxist : “The fundamental oppression in class societies is economic, the robbery of the majority producing class by the minority ruling class of much of the value produced by the majority.” (SO p.218.) He displays a particular admiration for the early achievements of the Paris Commune and Mao Tse Tung, but is disappointed in and realistic about developments: “The most remote corner of the world is [now] affected by the ideology of capitalism… Because of the deep commitment of all capitalist institutions to the profit motivation…, no safeguards are left within the structure of the capitalist society to preserve the environment, human life, human culture, and all the rest. Breaking out of capitalist society is necessary, not only for the improvement of human loving and thinking, but for human survival.”  (“Wide World Changing” no.3. p.10.)However, Jackins distinguishes himself very sharply from most left-wing activists who he sees as being: “so heavily involved and emotionally committed to not-correct-enough policies and political rigidities as to constitute a difficulty and an obstruction… ” (Ibid. p.11.)

In contrast, he asserts that RC provides a theory and a set of tools that enable people to organise effectively and to change hearts and minds : “This is what we are about, this changing of people’s minds, this enlisting them with us for enlightened knowledge, confident power, and decisive action on every front…, to help us guarantee our own, the universe’s and everything in between’s survival.” (RL p.42.)

His vision is of a classless and ecologically sustainable, high-technology society free from all oppressions. (RL p. 51.) He offers no blueprints, assuming that through the adoption of a rational and humane process appropriate structures will emerge. He assumes that capitalism will eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. In an address to a Peace Activists workshop in 1988, he asserts that the greatest danger is nuclear holocaust, but “if we can lay the nuclear threat to rest, the collapsing society can be allowed to collapse gently, without too much destruction of wealth and people”, so long as the tools of RC are used to promote rationality. (SO p.115.) It is important that peace activists stop huddling in the middle-class peace movement and get themselves involved in Trade Unions, upon which, in socialist tradition, he lays great emphasis.

The “critical elements of an effective strategy” are: the transformation to a classless society where everyone owns in common and everyone works, the education and organisation of the working class, the building of a broad unity movement of all groups of people fighting oppression, resolute internationalism, and the formation of an international leadership structure. The chief tactic is “the achieving of individual, personal friendships by each conscious wide world changer as the only dependable-enough contact between individuals”. A long list of other tactics includes: critical discussion to learn from past struggles, the use of electoral processes for the purpose of educating rather than the illusion of gaining meaningful power, the use of logic rather than emotion, and the systematic placing of the theory and practice of Re-evaluation Counseling in the hands of all wide world changers. (“Wide World Changing” no.3. p.4-5.)

Jackins’ recipe is an invigorating blend of traditional international socialism, 1980’s-style rainbow coalitions and processes for personal development. Throughout it all runs the thread of his conviction in the value of co-counseling. Earlier in RC he announced that it seemed to be necessary to prioritise the emotional work because it was so new and people hadn’t grasped its implications well enough to act truly flexibly in their political activities (BR, p.48.) However now, like the Red Therapy practitioners, he calls for simultaneous action on both personal and political fronts: without the former, activism too easily falls into thoughtless and ineffective behaviours; without the latter, theory loses touch with vital practical information and fails to bring about concrete change.

In practice RC itself is focused on change at the psychological level, agreed policy being to impose no political programme on co-counselors but rather to use the RC communities as places to “discharge” their distressed emotions so they can do their “own fresh thinking”. In addition Jackins & his colleagues have developed leadership and communication theories and structures which co-counselors are urged to practice within RC and then take out into their workplaces, churches, political organisations or wherever. The remainder of this essay will constitute a critical appraisal of the merits of Re-evaluation Counseling as a tool for both personal(therapeutic) and political change.

Written by antonchekhov

June 4, 2011 at 7:14 pm

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The strengths of RC include: a comprehensive psychological theory well-grounded in practice and connecting personal experience with social, economic and political conditions; techniques and confidence in facilitating the safe release of debilitating emotions; the grassroots teaching of solid counseling skills, many of which can be applied in many spheres of a person’s life; the model of a committedly supportive one-to-one relationship; the principle of seeking flexible, rational responses to each new situation and the encouragement to think for oneself; analysis of the different struggles and needs of various social groups; a theory and practice of empowering leadership; an international network doing all of the above; and the example set by Harvey Jackins himself.

Inexpensive therapy

Firstly RC does make available a very cheap form of therapy. Trainees usually pay for an introductory “Fundamentals” course. Thereafter they have the option of paying for further courses and “workshops” but for the basic practice all they need to do is make contact with another trained co-counselor – wherever in the world there is an RC community.

At rock bottom what they will get as a client is a sympathetic ear. As Smail comments, “Our whole experience of life impresses upon us the value of proximal solidarity” – in his view sufficient explanation for the benefits offered by the therapeutic relationship (Smail p. 166.)  More than this, co-counseling offers the chance to relieve emotional tensions. Jackins considers that many other therapists are less effective in this regard  because they are locked into a professionalised role in which they assume a  false attitude of superior self-control, denying themselves access to the emotional release they need to clear their own thinking. Occasional professional supervision is inadequate to the task of dealing with many clients’ feelings, day in and day out:

“The limiting factor for [emotional] discharge for a particular client on a particular day is pretty much the free attention…which the counselor can turn to the client. There are many therapists who turn to their patients an ‘unconditional positive regard’ [Carl Rogers’ term] which is so fuzzy, so rigid, and so unaware as to leave the client still very much on his own, thus limiting his ability to start discharging and continue with it. Discharge seems to occur well and profoundly only in the company of another human and the difference in ability to discharge depends on how much that human is really ‘present’. If a counselor is not himself receiving effective counseling regularly, his ability to elicit and assist discharge from his clients will stay limited or even regress as restimulation adds to his own tensions.” (HS p.26.)

Here Jackins answers a criticism Masson makes of Rogerian therapists, that their ‘unconditional positive regard’ is inevitably a pretence, a lie, because nobody can be fully ‘present’ all the time (Masson p.232). Good RC practice does seem to handle this well, because the counselor is always able to stop and take a turn to discharge any feelings which are preventing their giving good attention to the client. The ‘free attention’ Jackins refers to describes a state in which a person is open to the information in the environment . It is also referred to as ‘slack’. Many co-counselors can tell stories about how “their friends and neighbours smell that they 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 counselled.” (HS p.27.)

The Re-evaluation Counseling communities provide grass-roots teaching of a useful set of counseling skills, including and going beyond attentive listening. Co-counselors learn not to be afraid of confronting strong emotions, either their own or their client’s. This skill can be highly empowering. Unconstrained by emotional blocks, especially fears, it often seems that any situation can be handled. According to RC, the key is for people to take turns to release their emotions responsibly. The co-counseling relationship requires thoughtfulness and responsibility. There is no “professional” present to come up with the answers, so the two co-counselors have to work together. Jackins describes the process as “pulling each other up by the bootstraps”. RC leader, Mary Hodgson, advises that “you have to assume that you can make a difference”, even if you feel totally inadequate for the task.  The act of deciding to put aside one’s feelings when in the role of counselor (however close one comes to it in actuality) is extremely empowering with potential applications in the rest of one’s life.

Encouragement to think

RC encourages its members to “do their own fresh thinking” on every aspect of life. Martin comments: “[It’s} good to think things through.” The literature yields many examples of co-counselors who have taken this idea on board. Flicking at random through 3 copies of “Present Time” (nos. 86-88), I am struck by: an article in which an adoptive mother describes how she helped her adopted son deal with his feelings of not belonging by playing a game in which he pretended to be inside her and kicking; a gay man in a new relationship he valued strongly deciding not to fall in love because “Once I fell, my ability to think and make choices would be seriously circumscribed and in the long run that would be bad for the relationship”; some articles trying to analyse exactly what the nature of middle-class conditioning is; a piece describing the campaign by a woman who had been raped to prevent her assailant from receiving the death penalty; and a description by a social worker in England of how she has managed to have a positive influence on consultants and others in a hospital in spite of her low position in the hierarchy.

Further examples of co-counselors seeking fresh viewpoints can be found in the booklet “Women”, the report from an international RC women’s conference in the Netherlands in October 1984. The document proposes a programme for women’s liberation at all levels, from parenting to international relations, and the courage to explore and uphold unorthodox ideas and to seek rational appraisals of complex matters is manifest at several points :

On men: “We remain firm and intransigent in our stand against sexism, sexist patterns, and sexist institutions…(but) we will hold a positive attitude towards men as men and show other women by example that women can be more powerful and effective in our own liberation by making allies of men” (p.49-50)

On abortion: “Given the present oppression of women and the necessary right of women to control their own bodies, we will protect the right to choose abortion against attacks on this right… At the same time we cannot conclude that all sympathisers in the “pro-life”, “anti-choice” movement are the enemy of the women’s movement…We respect all human life at all stages of development and see the present conflict as a short-term one. In a rational society women will no longer be forced to choose between an unwanted pregnancy in a limiting and sometimes desperate situation or the taking of a human life” (p. 47)

On sexuality: “We need to protect individuals and fight against any oppression towards a person for their sexual preference and/or sexual patterns (whether they be heterosexual or homosexual)… At the same time we need to make a commitment to discharge thoroughly in the area of sex so that we can determine the nature of rational and humane sexual activity… We need to separate sexual activity from closeness and commitment. People can and need to be close to members of both sexes and this is separate from the issue of sexual choice ” (p.42.)

Innovative work on sexuality

The work on sexuality deserves to be highlighted as one facet of RC thinking which is decidedly innovative. It is the most rigorous attempt I have come across to understand how patterns of sexual arousal develop and how they can be changed.  Few prominent speakers and writers on sex undergo the ongoing personal exploration and regular emotional release of co-counselors, so they tend to remain locked within rigid viewpoints somewhere along the spectrum between authoritarian repression and uncritical permissiveness. Behaviourally-oriented sex therapists tend only to manipulate symptoms. Jackins acknowledges that the work is complex and difficult (“A Rational Theory of Sexuality”, BR, p.185) and that mistakes have been made. However he has supervised the development of a procedure for uncovering the formative determinants of sexual behaviours, which has provided the safety to do in-depth counseling on matters such as sexual identity, sexual fantasies and sexual abuse. The results in my own experience, and as reported by others, are a lessening of both compulsion and inhibition and an increased ability to make flexible choices in an area which is commonly presented as uncontrollable by the manipulative consumerist society.

Social awareness

If many therapies lack social awareness this is certainly not true of RC. At the individual level,  Jackins always encourages co-counselors to assume that in any situation they personally can be the one to take the initiative to see that things go well for everyone concerned. They are taught that it is possible to keep thinking critically even in the midst of emotional turmoil. When I was involved in a car-crash with some co-counselors people rapidly went into action, not only doing what was necessary in terms of getting those who were able out of the cars and contacting the rescue services, but also seeing that those most shocked or hurt were getting good support, including the drunk driver who had nearly killed us all and her (even drunker) husband who could only worry about what the police were going to say.

But RC goes further than philanthropy. Jackins’ socialist background and the reciprocality of the co-counseling relationship soon led him and his colleagues to reflect on their responsibilities in relation to each other. One of his early collaborators in the Fifties was a woman called Mary McCabe and together they began to address the issue of sexism. In this way, Jackins was some way ahead of the men who came to take an interest in feminism in the Sixties and Seventies. In due course, he turned his attention with remarkable commitment and tenacity to analysing the operations of a wide range of oppressive attitudes and structures.

After Fundamentals level, perhaps the bulk of co-counseling activities continue in the context of what Jackins calls “liberation” work. Here the co-counseling process is used to examine the effects of  the “oppressive society”. RC teachers and leaders aim to analyse the features of each oppression both as it manifests itself in the structures of society and in people’s behaviour. Considerable emphasis is placed on the concept of “internalised oppression” – what Gordon Allport called the “traits due to victimisation” which can so often be used as the justification for stereotyping and prejudice between social groups or within them. (Allport 1954, p.142.)

Jackins sees internalised oppression as the chief difficulty  facing oppressed groups attempting to build effective alliances against the common oppressor, the owning class.

Certain co-counselors hold positions in the communities in which they co-ordinate a particular area of “liberation” work. There are currently  “International Liberation Reference Persons” for : “artists, black people, Catholics, Chicanos/as, college and university faculty, disabled persons, classroom teachers, elders, farmers, people of Filipina/o heritage, incest survivors, people of Japanese heritage, Jews, lawyers, lesbians and gay men, men, mental health system survivors, middle class people, Native Americans, owning class people, parents, peace activists, psychiatrists and therapists, Puerto Ricans, people raised poor, Trade Unionists, translators of RC literature, wide world changers, women, working class people, young adults and young people of all ages.”

These individuals aim  to build up a comprehensive picture of their constituency’s strengths and its “distress patterns”. They are assisted in this by practitioners at all levels of co-counseling, including the members of small local “support groups” whose experiences get filtered back. In this way RC is conducting a fascinating ongoing research process at grass-roots level. At its best, the analysis that emerges illuminates the experiences and attitudes of each constituency in an accessible, non-academic style.

Building friendships through sharing personal histories

Positing the forging of close personal friendships as a crucial tactic in a strategy for effective change undoubtedly has certain merits, even if events in former Yugoslavia show that those friendships may have to be very deep to survive in the midst of a brutal war. Co-counseling enables people to build strong alliances across social, ethnic and national divides. Co-counselor Susan Lewis pointed out to me the value of hearing other people’s life-stories. As a black woman from a working class background it is easy to assume that when white middle class people are being patronising or distant that is simply the way they are. Hearing the details of their upbringing enables her to see how those behaviours were taught to or imposed on an unwitting child. She then feels better able to negotiate with the person rather than maintain an inflexible adversarial stance.

Narration helps the narrator too, as Seidler pointed out (p.179), as they come to pinpoint the sources of their identity, their loves, hates, strengths and difficulties. Psychoanalysis sees the cluster of relations between infant and parents as crucial in determining character. RC reminds us of the importance of the child’s developing social identity. Lewis gives the example of British people born in Africa or the Caribbean who often retain vivid memories of their early years and of the emotional turmoil caused by emigration even if they moved to Britain at a very young age. These early experiences can colour their perceptions of themselves and their compatriots right into adult life.

RC’s cathartic practice intensifies the quality of these narrations. Co-counselors get to see other people opening up in a way that is worthy of a Hollywood movie. The client may talk energetically, burst into tears, start to chuckle, shake with fear, moving  rapidly from rage to tenderness, from despair to laughter. Their habitual mask may melt away so that they suddenly see a vibrant individual where before there had been only a protective socially-modulated facade. At such times, deep connections can take place and prejudiced first impressions can give way to empathy; you can feel respect for someone’s survival in spite of the lack of love, the abuse or whatever else  they have been through; you may notice just how unique that person is and with that realisation can come a sense of their preciousness, rather than Yalom’s existential meaninglessness; the foundations of  respectful, mutually supportive relationship can get laid down. After that, the way is open to make similar connections with other people from that social group, and the strange can gradually become familiar.

Tools for alliance-building

RC has created a number of processes for raising awareness of prejudice & discrimination, which, coupled with a range of practical ideas for networking and community building, provide a workable framework for negotiation within the pluralist democracy. Research in prejudice reduction suggests that attitudinal change requires contact to take place under six conditions: mutual interdependence, a common goal, equal status, informal and interpersonal contact, multiple contacts, and social norms of equality.(Aronson, Wilson, Akert 1994, p.533.)  Re-evaluation Counseling meets most of these criteria. At their “workshops” and “support groups” co-counselors get to practice RC processes under controlled conditions and then the more committed ones apply them outside the community. Co-counselors have been active in churches and synagogues, in the peace movement, at the International United Nations Women’s Conferences and in many left of centre political parties. Cherie Brown, an internationally respected trainer in prejudice reduction and conflict resolution, founded her National Coalition Building Institute on RC principles.

Co-counseling creates positive conditions for building human empathy across cultural divides. For instance, one of the formats used at RC workshops is the “panel” where members of a particular group speak out publicly and show their deeper feelings about their lives. After one such event led by Jackins in Israel, a Jewish man reports: “he did some excellent work with Palestinians and with Jewish allies of Palestinians. At some points, an outside observer might have thought we were having a pro-Palestinian (and therefore, it is assumed, anti-Israeli) political meeting. But then Harvey gave his attention to two Israeli women who voiced the pain we all feel in seeing our country attacked from without and within. I think that the end result was a profound feeling of closeness between us all.” (“Ruah Hadashah” no.7, p.53.)

Cherie Brown calls this kind of process “public healing”. Traditional therapy privatises experience, she says, but the hurts of oppression don’t only take place “in small rooms” but in the public arena. Hearing people speak out from their hearts can be deeply moving and as Brown says, “People will be allies to others to the degree that something that’s happened to that person is something they can identify with.” (Public presentation on challenging anti-Semitism circa 1989.) This is the fundamental justification for RC’s theory of a universal human nature. As RC leader Charles Kreiner says, people of all cultures know what it is like to be hurt and they  all know that it is undesirable. There is an inherent morality in human relationship. Smail too seizes on our physicality as the hope for the human race: “The ultimate solidarity is the solidarity of pain” (p.215). “New Scientist” magazine (January 21st, 1989) quoted Paul Ekman at the University of California who had been doing research in the emotions: “What binds us as humans is that we have the same expressions for emotions and the same physiological changes or feelings to accompany those emotions. What distinguishes people from each other is how they think about feelings and use language to express thoughts.”

While debate continues over the long-term results of this kind of work (as it does over Burton-style conflict resolution workshops), there is no doubt that some co-counselors feel inspired to become active in challenging prejudice outside RC. Christian clergy have commented that RC has enabled them to put into practice the concept of “loving your neighbour as yourself” in a way that their seminaries were unable. Similarly, political activists have found these skills and attitudes useful. A peace activist writes in “Peace” no.1: “People work best toward a common goal when they are united by love. Because of internalised oppression and other hurts, I often dislike people, especially other activists, at first. Eventually, I always end up liking and respecting them. Hearing someone’s life-story helps melt the initial negative feelings. It’s more efficient to hold a positive attitude from the start and to remember that I will eventually grow to love this person.” (p.105.)

Jackins as a model

Jackins himself is an inspiring model of commitment to people from oppressed groups. He has probably attempted to think about the psychological traits and needs of more social groups in the world than any other person I have ever heard of. RC leaders of all constituencies acknowledge him as their most reliable ally and counselor in times of difficulty, even when they plainly don’t agree with everything he says or does. He responds personally to hundreds of letters each year from co-counselors around the world and often remembers their names. He encourages people everywhere he goes. It cannot be overlooked that he has made a singular personal contribution to the successes of the RC communities.

His centrality is not without its downside, as I shall discuss in due course. Evison and Horobin, in another of the few outside accounts of RC, recount: “During the growth of RC Jackins remained a powerful central figure, who demanded that RC be characterised by consistency of practice, theory and organisation. Any sustained disagreement with Jackins meant people left or were excluded from RC” (Rowan and Dryden 1988, p.86.) In 1974, when RC had only recently arrived in England, a split took place: John Heron, an English therapist, left RC to found Co-Counseling International (CCI), a decentralised organisation in which “local groups are self-determined and there is no coherent organisation” (p.87.) Twenty years later, CCI still exists with Heron still its leading light. He has been influential, say Evison and Horobin, in spreading “cathartic intervention methods in group and individual work” within the caring professions.  However CCI has not grown to anything like the same degree. Fourteen years after starting out, Evison and Horobin report “over 30 CCI-style teachers actively running beginners classes. Inside RC – 26 organised areas, each usually involving several teachers.” Jackins would say that these statistics justify one of his key assertions: the necessity of leadership for bringing about effective social change.

Leadership theory

In the early days of RC, Jackins experimented with leaderless groups. The aim was to extend the principle of equality in the co-counseling session into the co-counseling group, putting the onus on each individual to see that they did whatever they needed to do. Leaderless self-help groups are Jeffrey Masson’s proposed alternative to professional therapy (Masson, p.30). However, leaderless groups throw up certain problems – problems which Jeffrey Masson does not consider in his book, which is stronger on iconoclasm than on making proposals. Kovel, in his discussion of psychotherapy and Encounter groups (p.213-227), acknowledges the value of groups for looking at relationships in an atmosphere of heightened openness, but he also mentions the risks of people projecting their feelings onto the leader and onto each other, sometimes traumatically. Eliminating the leader “is a possible strategy to further reduce the bugbears of transference and dependency. The only problem is that it also reduces some of the therapeutic  leverage.” Kovel, being a psychoanalyst, reiterates that his conception of effective therapy requires the illumination and recognition of all tendencies to transfer dependency onto others. Ernst and Goodison acknowledge that “Questions of leadership are crucial within the therapy situation”. Male leaders too often end up taking advantage of women, whether or not they intend to. Some impose a competitive model which Ernst and Goodison identify as a masculine trait. In any led group, there can be a problem with its members either deferring unduly to authority or else opposing it as dogmatically and inflexibly as the authority itself. (Ernst & Goodison, p.313)

Jackins came to the conclusion that “leadership is necessary” (EL,p.2) Leaderless groups were less effective because even if co-counselors had been trained to take turns, rather than overtly competing for attention as was common in Rogerian ‘Encounter groups’,  it was still too easy to sit back passively and cease to pay thoughtful attention to the other group members. Jackins pointed out that somebody had to take overall responsibility; any group needs a person who thinks about more than themselves : “Leaders must transcend this point of view and think of the group as a whole.” (Ibid, p.6) It is “excellent and very workable” if more than one person does this, but there needs to always to be one person ready to take a final decision if consensus cannot be reached and ready to take on the role of counselor if emotional difficulties blow up.

Quite a number of co-counselors, then and since, have resisted the notion of the necessity of leadership but, Jackins says, calls to adopt the Gestalt philosophy that “everyone should be allowed to do their own thing…. turned out to be the results of [past] experiences with oppressive leadership.” (Ibid, p.2.)

He encouraged co-counselors to differentiate between their feelings and their rational assessment of a situation. Feelings of apprehension resulting from bad experiences of authority are understandable but not rational; they need to be discharged, not acted on: “Do not act on them. Act on logic and logic alone (or the best approximation of logic that we can make in sometimes confusing conditions.” (RP p.51.)

What is radical in Jackins’ model of leadership – and, I believe, very valuable – is the conviction that the benign leader’s role is to assist others to realise their own leadership potential. RC leaders encourage all co-counselors to see themselves as leaders in building a “rational” society. They may give people in their classes small tasks at first to build their confidence, such as tidying the meeting room. Rapidly they are encouraged to start facilitating sub-groups and considering becoming teachers of RC. At one RC workshop I attended, all the prominent organisational roles were given to black people in order to give them the experience of being in charge of a large group of mainly white people, and to give the white people the experience of being organised by black people, in clear contradiction to the history of the oppression. Similarly, Re-evaluation Counseling has been a particularly effective training organisation for women to develop leadership skills, and in fact women form the bulk of the leadership.

RC leadership theory has a great deal to offer the left, the green, and the peace movements because it offers a model of efficient but empowering leadership. In return Jackins calls for something only too rare in politics – support for leaders. He points out that in all existing political organisations leaders are routinely attacked, subjected to motions of no-confidence, competed with, or ejected from office as scapegoats when they have failed to meet everyone’s demands overnight, even when they have been doing the best they could under the impossible conditions imposed by capitalism. Such behaviour “has often defeated or demolished organisations.” (EL, p.22.)

Under RC theory, leaders need to have counseling skills in order to handle their members’ distress patterns while members need to support leaders to re-evaluate theirs and improve their record. One means of achieving accountability without negativity is for leaders to undertake regular public self-estimation (a more supportive structure in RC than the original Maoist model). Another way is to encourage individual action instead of blaming the leadership. A simple but versatile format Jackins has evolved is the “Leaders Group” in which participants take turns to address:

(a) what they have achieved since the last meeting

(b) how they perceive the problems and opportunities in the current situation

(c) their personal next steps

(d) any feelings that might get in the way of implementing those steps.

This structure “eliminates ‘agreeing on a unified plan’, or ‘appointing someone to check up everybody to see they carry it out’, or coming together again to see how far we got and blame each other for what we didn’t do. All these things that used to go on in [RC] leaders’ meetings were completely useless. One great advantage of the Wygelian leaders’ meeting is the things we don’t do any more. We do do the important, useful things.” (SO, p.177.)

Through introduction of practices like this, substantial numbers of co-counselors report that they have been able to build better relationships and stimulate constructive thinking in their work or their political or community groups. In “RC Teacher” no.20, for instance, Martha Boelter describes her successes in her Methodist church (p.2.) Mike Spring, a trainer, tells how RC techniques helped a young offender after the social workers and psychologists had given up on him.(“Present Time” no.96, p.86.) I myself know that I made a strong impact on a sports training course I attended. Even after I had had a significant disagreement with the tutor at the end she still wanted to acknowledge me for having helped make the atmosphere the best they had ever had.

Adopting a high degree of personal responsibility for seeing that “all goes well for everyone” is elementary in RC. Co-counselors rapidly learn skills in listening to, encouraging and actively assisting others, which can make a huge difference in groups and organisations. Working as a trainer and consultant, I have been disturbed to discover how few managers appear to have these basic skills. In contrast, the average co-counseling teacher, perhaps a working class woman teaching a small group of friends in her living room after work, strives to take on attitudes of sensitivity and responsibility which most of us were lucky to find in two or three teachers in the whole of our schooling. She is expected to be aware of every individual in the group and monitor their development as well as providing an appropriate programme of learning, worked out in her own way, not according to any set format, as this would contradict RC’s aspiration to flexibility.  She has to decide for herself, with the backing of her volunteer assistant, when to be firm about what she believes to be a correct position and when to be patient and let things go. If she makes a mistake, she will do what she can to correct it, if necessary apologising. It is her job to think about the oppressions experienced by each group member and how they have affected her or his behaviour. She is supposed to be ready to take a position on “every controversial issue facing humankind”  and be a model of determination to make a difference, while always seeing that she herself is adequately nourished and well-rested. If one of the challenges facing the world is that of harnessing individual initiative and responsibility, assisting people to become co-counseling teachers could indeed be a revolutionary act.

Written by antonchekhov

June 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


with 6 comments

I will now turn to a critical evaluation of some of the weaknesses I perceive in Re-evaluation Counseling. The aspects of RC that I will pick out are not necessarily uniform across all the communities, nor all co-counselors. I shall make out the case that Jackins himself is as central to the weaknesses of RC as he is to its strengths, but sometimes it is Jackins who is most critical of RC. He would readily acknowledge, for example, that there are numerous inefficiencies and misrepresentations of theory and practice perpetrated by co-counselors in what is, after all, a highly dispersed and almost totally voluntary organisation. There are areas of RC theory and practice where he freely admits uncertainty, for example, the crucial question which most therapies come up against: what is the most effective balance between aiming for behavioural change in the present and looking into the past to try to resolve formative traumas? Jackins accepts it as inevitable that an evolving body of knowledge will retain areas of uncertainty.

Other of my criticisms Jackins would be unlikely to accept, as far as I can tell. Some of them have been raised in the past and he has made his position known. Nonetheless, I think there are some tendencies within RC that are problematic, if not harmful, and they have never yet been adequately addressed.

In summary, the weaknesses I see in RC are these:  Although in theory RC purports to emphasise intelligence, in practice the focus of co-counselors tends to be almost exclusively on the emotions. Moreover, the opportunities for discussion are highly restricted and there is no forum for wide-ranging critical debate. For all of Jackins’ claims to scientificity, the practice of RC is tainted by moralising from above and, reciprocally, by timid and deferential attitudes from below. I believe this failure is associated with the lack of opportunity to develop one’s critical skills in RC. There are major weaknesses in the theory itself, including its inability to acknowledge the full range of states of human consciousness and the central role in human affairs of the imagination. One result is a dampening of creativity. Resulting from all the above,  Re-evaluation Counseling is limited, if not on occasion counter-productive, as a tool for realistic strategising, even at the personal level, but even more so at the level of political action.

Jackins’ own biases

It is a truism in RC that any organisation will tend to reflect the attitudes and perceptions of its leadership. In spite of all Jackins’ efforts to the contrary I believe that he has failed to avoid this in his own case. The weaknesses in RC can be traced back to his own history as an American Protestant rationalist turned revolutionary. Thus we find that a typically American pioneer spirit has kept RC operating in isolation. Catharsis is Jackins’ great personal discovery and it becomes both his ‘unique selling point’ and his dream of redemption. He keeps promoting it long after its restrictions have become apparent. In his loyalty to the ideal of rationality he rejects any positive value in emotion, habit or in non-rational states; his protestations notwithstanding, emotion becomes sin to be cast out. His Puritanism gets attached to his Marxism and an anti-creative notion of correctness results. Through it all, in spite of all his good work on community building, runs a thread of individualism and a distrust of collective experience.

I will now discuss these points and the implications for Re-evaluation Counseling as an agent of personal and social change. In several places I use as a touchstone Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which, like RC, claims to be a radical reappraisal of therapy based on a scientific process of observation. Richard Bandler and John Grinder, started their research at the University of California in the mid-Seventies (O’Connor & Seymour,p.22.) Their intention was to reject therapeutic rhetoric and unverifiable belief systems in favour of careful observation of what effective therapists actually do and how clients respond, cognitively, behaviourally and affectively. (My use of NLP for comparison does not constitute an endorsement of its methods.)


The role of morality in therapy is not easy to resolve. Szasz sees psychotherapy as “a religion that pretends to be a science” (Szasz, p.28). Bandler and Grinder consider most therapies to be “psychotheologies” – packages of beliefs as well as methods.(Bandler & Grinder, p.6.) Jackins has tried to tease out his own formula. He is sceptical about the concept of god which he sees as a projection of the inherent reality of human beings (BR, p.121) and sees most religious practices as “distressed”. He says, “The whole desire for “absolute truth” … arises only from the insecurity of human distress patterns” (UT p.77) but elsewhere he is tempted to speculate about the postulates of RC offering a model for a rational religion. It has been argued that the need for therapy in our times has to do with the loss of an external framework of meaning. One of the carrots that Jackins holds out to co-counselors is that RC will bring back meaning into their lives. In fact RC does display many of the characteristics of a religion, but within an austere not mystical framework. Its classes and workshops are rituals that go unrecognised as such. Above all, it has a strong morality based on a set of beliefs about the eternal nature of things.

Moralising seems to adhere to Jackins in spite of all his avowed principles: “There are no “shoulds” in the universe”, he intones. (RP, p.108) but he is committed to the notion of “correct” positions to prevent the intrusion of “distressed” ideas into RC. (HS p.181.) He adds that the basic concepts should be applied with complete flexibility (Ibid, p.183) and that any that turn out in practice to be wrong can be changed (BR p.596) But moralising is the flipside of his stand on correctness. It shows through in his moments of intolerance and in the fear that so many co-counselors have of doing something wrong. Jackins genuinely desires to undo the dynamics of oppression/powerlessness, authoritarianism/rebelliousness, but he hasn’t fully grasped the nettle in his own back yard. RC’s programme of empowerment is undermined by elements which demand people’s acquiescence. “Reason is liberated by the absence of threat”, says Smail (p.207). If somebody absorbs the principles of RC through a filter of fear, the fear of doing it wrong, then, in fact they are not being liberated but re-conditioned.

Co-counseling intrudes morality deep into the essence of human beings. Because Jackins sees the conditioning mechanism as “degrading human functioning” rather than being a part of the complex repertoire of human beings, “distress patterns” come to be bad. Co-counselors are repeatedly urged by their leaders to “eliminate” all of their distress patterns (e.g. SO, p,346.) This exerts pressure on clients even when the counselor is encouraging them to “think for themselves” or whatever. It means that RC can be as guilty as any other therapy of trapping clients in a set of contradictory messages: “It is safe for you to show your feelings here” becomes “You must show your feelings here because you must eliminate your patterns.” Even if Jackins is right that the conditioning process is “the source of and explanation for human irrationality” (RP p.48) and therefore of evil,  it is a mistake to spend time trying to root out every trace of distressed or inflexible behaviour, if only in terms of time management. Ventura suggests this is Puritanism at work in therapy and that it kills creativity and eccentricity (Hillman & Ventura, p.201). Certainly the culture would be much depleted of artists if everyone adhered to Jackins’ strictures.

Compare RC with NLP whose only judgement appears to be “Does it work ?” or with the more benevolent forms of Cognitive Therapy which ask “Which choice do you wish to make?” and the morality of RC shines out dazzlingly. The roots lie probably in Jackins’ Protestantism and in his early Marxism. Seidler sees both as being inimical to therapy (p.183). Jackins’ enjoins his own feelings of urgency about the state of the world onto other co-counselors. He suggests that a counselor should hold out to her client “relaxed high expectations” but it frustrates him that relatively few co-counselors share the same level of political determination as himself.(SO, p.289.) The most effective of the world’s activists, he complains, do not come into or stay long in RC, even if they use the practice of co-counseling sometimes. He blames this on the  vacillation and timidity of the middle class people who dominate the communities. But there are other reasons for which he could take more responsibility, including all the “boundaries” RC imposes, as one former co-counselor said to me.

Moralising runs throughout RC practice. In their sessions, co-counselors frequently make statements to their clients which are value-laden: “You didn’t deserve this”, “You are a good person”, etc. even though all they are supposed to do is to help the client to discharge so that she can think better for herself. There is confusion about what is actually happening in a session. The theory is that the process frees up co-counselors’ “real selves”. Certainly, it can be very reassuring to reveal your repressed feelings in public and discover that nobody thinks any the worse of you. But there is an element of the process which is actually teaching by example. In a typical counseling demonstration, the counseling teacher stands up in front of the group or workshop, holding the client’s hand, and looking relaxed and affable. When the client hits on some grief, the counselor will adopt a soft tone of voice and offer a shoulder to cry on. When the client needs to rage, the counselor will offer their back or a cushion to be hammered. All of this can be very appropriate. What is overlooked, however, is that what is being taught is a stock set of attitudes and phrases. I noticed this when an English co-counseling leader finished a demonstration with the question to the client, “Can we put a check on that? – an American expression that is totally meaningless to the English; the teacher was acting out a pattern of behaviour they had learnt from watching an American leader. In other words he had learnt how to counsel by copying, by imagining himself to be somebody else, which according to NLP is one of the best ways to learn, but it casts doubt on the idea that the teacher was actually being some kind of inherent “real self”.

These confusions can pose enormous problems for co-counselors, especially to people like myself brought up in strong religious traditions who find it less easy simply to take Jackins with a pinch of salt. Jackins recognised long ago that requiring a student co-counselor to undergo “set exercises” was a denial of the uniqueness of their needs. He fails to extend this recognition to the whole of RC: any blanket prescription will be wrong for some people. Some of Jackins’ recommendations to co-counselors – like never showing your feelings to somebody unless they have explicitly agreed to listen – are ignored in practice by all co-counselors except the tiny group at Personal Counselors who reputedly dare not reveal a hint of emotion unless it is in a formal “session”.  In the real world, one has to play things flexibly. Martin says he now sees “how useless it is to counsel people outside rare and specific situations”. Just listening to people will not change them: some people will happily be listened to forever and not even notice that they are not reciprocating. Others are disturbed by a person who never talks about their feelings; they don’t feel they are building real connections; at some level they don’t really trust them. The truth is that, if there really are to be no “shoulds”, then there can be no prescriptions either.

If co-counselors are truly to empower themselves they need the space to experiment and  to explore a genuinely creative personal approach – which may mean  doing it wrong sometimes and breaking the “guidelines”. In other words, the need for flexibility in the individual counselor comes into conflict with the demands for conformity imposed by the organisation. When one reads of Jackins’ early explorations, as in Rough Notes From Buck Creek 1, it is clear that he once had this freedom to try things out; new co-counselors don’t.

Confusing presentation of “reality”

Co-counselors make value-laden statements because RC makes them. They are told in their first class that they have an inherent nature which is good, loving, powerful, etc. RC shares these assumptions with most other Humanistic Psychologies but is particularly insistent upon their being true. One of the central difficulties experienced by co-counselors is where to locate reality. Jackins uses “reality” to mean what he calls the “Benign Reality” – an underlying, inherent connectedness between living things. In their sessions, co-counselors are encouraged to take this “reality” as the basis for their decision-making, aiming to think beyond the limitations their upbringing has led them to accept in themselves and others. Exciting new perspectives can result but does this necessarily mean that reality has been revealed? It could simply be that, as George Weinberg says in his book Self Creation (Weinberg 1978, p.5): “Every time you act, you add strength to the motivating idea behind what you’ve done.” It could be that the very process of being with another person who is loving you and encouraging you is creating a new reality.

Co-counselors often confuse a “commitment” or “direction” taken in a session for the purpose of jiggling up thought patterns with a statement of reality. Jackins fails to make the distinction clear. One example is his position on mortality: “The goal of immortality, seriously taken, contradicts and permits the discharge of important distress for every client. It will certainly enhance the possibility of, and may possibly lead to, immortality.”(RP p.100.)

Imagining being immortal may be a useful device for side-stepping fear or despair. There is also a  valid scientific debate about the nature of the ageing process and the possibility of slowing it. But Jackins conflates the two and since he is the ultimate arbiter of “correctness” in RC co-counselors are prone to treat what he says as Truth.

Confusion about the nature of reality impedes effective strategising within RC. It is not that it isn’t done – co-counseling can be useful for setting goals and monitoring them. But the attitude is problematic. I once asked Jackins how one should choose between one goal and another. Jackins replied that: we all have freedom of choice; settling for having to choose only one thing is “internalised oppression”; he himself plans to do everything – it just happens that his novel has been on the back-burner for 30 years while he has been developing RC (Lecture January 1990). These reassurances did not help me to set realistic goals.

The trouble with RC’s Utopian notions is that vision can become fantasy, and inaction results. If Jackins wants to change that – which he says he does – he needs to come down to earth. RC doesn’t allow people to confront the reality of their own limitations; In contrast, Nelson-Jones, using a Cognitive Behavioural approach, suggests people “confront their finiteness” and acknowledge their personal constraints. (Nelson-Jones 1989, pp.35,126.) Similarly, RC has expertise in building empathy and rightly challenges prejudiced attitudes but it does not help people to deal with real differences between them. Of course, in practice, RC leaders make discriminations all the time as they decide who to encourage into leadership first and in what sphere, and in the specific counseling interventions they make with clients. As Smail points out, nothing is gained by pretending that everyone is equal (p.220). Supportive goal setting should be about dealing with the realities of power, difference and choice, not fabulous visions and uncritical encouragement. The orthodoxy of equality in RC leaves co-counselors dislocated from reality not connected to it.


In spite of his Utopian double-take on reality, Jackins fundamentally looks to a rationalist view of life. Rationality is at the heart of his theory. However, he does reinterpret it somewhat. For him, rational premises are those derived from the qualities he sees as inherent in human beings before they were “hurt”. Rationality is equivalent to benignity, for “the more we discharge, the more benign we become” (Lecture, January 1990.) Rationality here is something akin to the Buddhist concept of  “right relationship” for it is in our inherent nature to be loving and co-operative: “Love is the way people naturally feel about each other” (RP p.57.)

Thus rationality in RC has meanings beyond those assumed in the dominant scientific culture. However it does not meet the requirements of Samuels who calls for a redefinition of rationality, factoring subjectivity into it, in opposition to “modernity’s totalisation of reason” (p.42.) RC falls somewhere in between. Jackins allows recognition of the emotions but only so that they can be expunged. He dismisses out of hand any explorations of non-rational states. For instance he rejects meditation because of its association  with “eastern religions” which he sees as “denying reality, preaching acceptance of and resignation to suffering and oppression….. in complete opposition to the RC attitude of freeing the human to lovingly master the environment and improve it” (“RC Teacher” no. 5, p.19.)

Jackins’ tone will not surprise the reader at this point. What is striking is not so much his scepticism about “eastern religions” – for he is sceptical about all religions – but his attitude towards Nature and his total acceptance of the traditional scientific belief in controlling it (Ekins 1992, p.203.) We might note, too, how he rejects everything associated with Eastern mysticism, rather than seeking to discover what RC might learn from it. In The Reclaiming of Power (1983), he reprints a letter from Barbara Miles who has left RC. She talks of the benefits she has since found in meditation : “Old patterns have fallen away as I have spent time sitting quietly in the presence of a loving God, seemingly without any effort. And really fallen away, in ways that have changed my life and relationships radically….From where I am now I see RC as very limited because of the fact that its theory has no metaphysical transcendent basis…I feel, too, that there is a kind of pride in the total newness of RC that is both limiting and dangerous…because of the dogmatic aspect I have seen it take.” (RP p.359-60)

In his reply, Jackins blames Barbara’s teachers – a common tactic of his. Their limited understanding of RC must have led them to present it as a set of “limitations and shoulds and should nots” instead of revealing its “continually open, continually growing content.” He clearly does not see his complicity in creating an isolated culture obsessed by “correctness”. His refusal to consider the possible virtues of meditative states masquerades as an assertion of intellectual rigour, but in fact it is intellectual cowardice.

In disallowing recognition of altered states, Jackins diminishes his theory, restricts the effectiveness of RC practice, and locks the doors of creativity. In contrast, NLP is based on the recognition that human beings move in and out of differing states of consciousness. Its practitioners try to teach people how to recognise and use these states. While there may indeed be a state of maximum rationality which in NLP is called “uptime” and in RC is called “present time”, it is debatable how consistent that state can be. A person who is “lost in thought” cannot be said to be in “present time” – they might be completely unaware of everything going on about them. They are not necessarily reliving old emotions, however. They might be imagining. In Tongues of Fire : An Anthology of Religious and Poetic Experience (1985), Karen Armstrong describes the creative potential of meditative states :

“Rational activity will help the inventive thinker only up to a point. As long as he struggles rationally, he is, necessarily, imprisoned in ideas and forms of thought that have already been established.” She quotes Darwin saying: “Ideas and beliefs are certainly not voluntary acts. They come to us we hardly know how or whence.” Archimedes was relaxing in his bath when he had his flash of inspiration. In such a receptive mood, we are more open to the layers of the subconscious, says Armstrong. (p.338.) Her view is shared by Arthur Koestler who quotes similar examples, including of one of Jackins’ heroes, Albert Einstein, who, though a mild and sober man, displayed “distrust of conscious conceptual thought.” (Koestler 1970, p.171.)

The sober truth is that RC has far too little to say about the role of the imagination in human development and thought. This is a serious limitation because, as Bandler and Grinder point out, the human ability to distort reality is not only the source of our emotional disturbances, but of our great creative powers. (Bandler & Grinder, 1975, p.3.) In fact, according to Hillman, “The primary activity of the psyche is imagining.”(p.62.) There are many therapeutic implications in this omission. Bandler and Grinder go to great lengths to teach therapists how to use language in such a way as to highlight the “deletions, generalisations and distortions” firstly in the client’s apprehension of the world and secondly in the language she uses. Their “Meta-model” for therapeutic questioning far surpasses RC in its precision. Symbolism is completely ignored in RC. All disturbed images are attributed to past situations of confusion or tension or “hurt”. Most co-counselors still tend to treat memories as literal. When I told one leader that my greatest fear was of being chopped up by a man with a knife, she assumed that something must have directly happened to me that I had blocked from memory. In fact, I think the horror came from being told the story of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” when I was a boy.

The lack of recognition of the operations of the imagination accounts for the mixed feelings many artists have about co-counseling. They find it a useful practice for relieving some of the stresses of surviving as an artist and for thinking aloud about ideas for their work, but they are often resistant to the Puritanism of RC. They know that their creativity comes from a mixture of thought, feeling, experience and imagination.

Armstrong and Koestler’s books point out that the same can be said of scientific discovery. The irony of Jackins’ loyalty to a Western modernist scientificity is twofold. Firstly, as Ekins points out, science itself has overtaken him: “Post-Einsteinian thinking… emphasises uncertainty, subjectivity, cognition and the subordination of individuality to relationship” (p.203.) Even more ironically, RC activities such as the work on prejudice have already made a contribution to the above process. Jackins’ long battle against Sixties hedonism and escapism appears to have impaired his ability to review his original assumptions.

Over-emphasis on catharsis

RC has shown that access to emotional release can be highly beneficial. However the fundamental theoretical assumption, that catharsis on its own is transformative, does not hold water. Jackins is right that appropriately distanced catharsis is an important piece in the therapeutic jigsaw but he treats it as if was the only piece. This was especially true in the early  stages of his experimentation. At the outset, he believed that all a client had to do was to discharge all of their distress and they would “re-emerge”. The simplicity of the notion should not deny its merits: Jackins’ friend Merle and many people since have indeed changed enormously. But it became apparent to Jackins that progress for most clients was very slow. The intractable difficulty was what he labelled “chronic distress patterns” – those attitudes and behaviours that did not seem to be easily re-evaluated, which seemed to be integral parts of the client’s  personality. Co-counselors began to experiment with the idea of “cleaning up an incident” – going back repeatedly to a significant trauma and working through every bit of associated feeling until, after a final period of intense boredom, the client arrived at a point where they could remember the incident in full detail if asked but they had no feelings about it, nor any pull to dwell on it whatsoever. Stories began to filter through RC of a few clients who had done this. Jackins said it took about 200 hours and it brought permanent changes. (RP, p.49.)

Until, that is, the next most traumatic incident began to cry out for “cleaning up”. The rhetoric began to shift. Jackins still asserts that distress feelings can be completely discharged, but he began to lay more emphasis on cognition and action: “think, decide and act first – discharge later.” This trend was enhanced by his re-formulation of the concept of “restimulation”. Wishing to emphasise co-counselors’ capacity for control of their lives, he started to say that emotional triggers were not involuntary but “the usually unaware, but nevertheless intentional, bringing up of past distress … in the hope that someone will listen to us and we’ll be able to discharge the distress”. (SO p.59.)

He talked of freedom of decision and our “complete power to have the universe respond to us in the way we want it to.” (SO p.73.) But he balked at saying the previous decades of co-counseling activity had been wrong – for the opportunity for regular discharge of feelings had  made a huge difference to a lot of people. He now advises that: “Thinking and discharge can and should take place simultaneously.” (RP p.85.) Where feelings completely overwhelm thought (as in sexual feelings) he advises discharging the feelings associated with the earliest remembered incident in the “chain of distress”.

He freely admits that he does not have a final answer as to the most effective way to work though he remains committed to the value of catharsis. The most recent developments have been counseling techniques aimed at avoiding all sense of victimhood. He has taken a stand in the False Memory Syndrome debate advising that any memory or impression of past abuse will facilitate useful catharsis but it cannot be relied upon as true. He is aware, as Hillman points out, that “My memory can make me a victim”, that the recent trend in therapy has been for everyone to discover victimhood and then cling to it for comfort and sympathy.(Hillman & Ventura p.26.)

There has therefore been evolution in RC techniques, but most co-counselors still seem to focus excessively on feelings. The writer Guy Dauncey said to me: “The trouble with co-counselors is they can’t make a decision until after their session next Friday.” Anne, a very active co-counseling leader, commented: “I think you should have a section on how we think RC might have been detrimental to our lives! I think I may well have not had five years of illness if I had not done RC…In some deep way RC encourages us to bring up our most chronic material, and this can cause havoc with health, relationships, etc.” Co-counseling can also be detrimental to others who come within its ambit. A woman I know had a relationship with a man who had been in co-counseling for many years. Initially she was drawn to his emotional openness and his ability to provide emotional comfort for her. Then he started to see another (younger) woman because, he said, felt he had a need to do so, but he assured her that he would support her to deal with her grief about the matter. She cried on his shoulder until she realised he was using his counseling skills to manipulate her. Men’s leader Charles Kreiner has fulminated against this kind of “sexist abuse” of RC, and Jackins would be outraged too, but seemingly some co-counselors have not yet learnt to practise emotional discipline, and catharsis on its own promotes neither self-criticism nor ethical action.

Research on the nature and role of the emotions is still inconclusive. They probably need to be approached from a systems perspective. Labott, Elliott and Eason conclude form their study of a “weeping event in therapy” that weeping does produce cognitive shifts but the “hydraulic” model espoused by Jackins “does not come close to accounting for the complexity of the event (e.g. operation of triggers)”. Nor is the Cognitive model adequate to the task: “The cognitive model is too simple and undirectional to explain this process [of intellectual processing interspersed with affective expression] and ignores the involvement of a cluster of related interlocking schemata”. They conclude that “unfinished emotionality, current distress, accessing of original memories and schemata, and a safe atmosphere [all] operate together to explain intense therapeutic weeping.” (1992, p. 49-60.)

Insular mentality

Jackins’ admits that even after four decades of cathartic counseling he himself has found some habits and attitudes very difficult to change. Doggedly he persists in blaming “patterns” and assuming that he just hasn’t found the right way to “discharge” them yet. What could he do instead? He could question some of his practices and learn from others in his field. But he has chosen to proceed in splendid isolation. Discussing Carl Rogers, another American Protestant, Robert Fuller points to Martin Luther as Rogers’ model of personal integrity and quotes Rogers saying: “Man’s ultimate reliance is upon his own experience”. (Fuller 1982, p.25.) In comparable fashion, Jackins made the decision to “restrict the basis…of the theory to our own experiences.” (HS p.18.) Whatever merit this had in terms of maintaining consistency, it has also served to decontextualise RC, to isolate it from the surrounding culture and to cut off many potential avenues of growth. There is more than a touch of arrogance involved. Jackins often assumes – and is then parroted by many supposedly free-thinking co-counselors – that any “good” thinking manifest in the wider society must have been inspired, at least indirectly, by Re-evaluation Counseling.

His professional isolation has practical consequences for co-counselors. For example, I have already commented on the acuity of many of NLP’s observations. At a very practical level, Bandler and Grinder noticed that all human beings have a set pattern of casting their eyes in certain directions when they are thinking about different things. To know this could be an asset to any counselor in any discipline, but co-counselors are still routinely taught to hold the gaze of the client as much as possible, thus preventing this vital exchange of information.

NLP might be able assist co-counselors in their stated aim of taking effective action to change the world. To do this, it would surely be helpful not only to be able to express obstructive emotions such as fear, but to be able to switch them off. Jackins’ best proposal to his Peace Activists is that they do what they believe needs to be done and just let their fears “run off in rivulets” as they do it, i.e. that they “combine heavy discharge with functioning well”. (SO, p.113.) The confidence to do this is indeed valuable, but if RC were to look outward it might find other means of handling fear that would be less daunting and less disturbing to others. NLP practitioners point out that it is possible to be imaginatively “associated” with an emotion or “dissociated” (O’Connor & Seymour, p.57.) They teach people how to disengage from debilitating emotions and deliberately call up empowering ones. Not having Jackins’ belief in an inherent self that must at all costs be revealed, they simply look at what a person can do with themselves to get certain results.

Failure to contextualise RC

It is understandable that Jackins felt he had to protect his enterprise from the intrusion of ideas from the wilder therapies proliferating on the West Coast at the same time, but his own “rich cliquish claims,” as R.D.Rosen calls them, (Rosen p.109) are a mistake. Purely in terms of the  principles of learning that Jackins espouses his isolation is an error: “Context must come first” he states in “The Nature of the Learning Process” (HS p.122). This surely means that in order to absorb new information the learner needs to relate it not only to what she already knows, but also to what she thinks she knows – her existing preconceptions and misinformation.

Occasionally Jackins will spend time explaining the differences between RC theory and others (e.g.. “Letter to a Respected Psychiatrist” – HS p.25 – & SO p.51), but in general he denies any cross-fertilisation of ideas. This is a pity when therapy so clearly needs critical examination and would benefit from being treated as an inter-disciplinary activity (McLeod, Preface.) There is no discussion in RC of postmodernist challenges to concepts like the “true self”, nor of anthropological investigations into the constraints of language (Whorf et al), of the cultural construction of space (Hall’s “proxemics”), nor even of the different functions encompassed by the word “thinking”.

Jackins advises co-counselors to study political theories critically, but he himself quotes mainly poetry and the works of Han Suyin. Every now and again another writers’ name crops up but it is never quite clear why they have been so honoured. Jackins may be wise to be suspicious of much academic activity, too much of which is indeed characterised by status-seeking and redundant research with a false sheen of objectivity. Perhaps the NLP trainer I observed who quoted sources at every possible opportunity was seeking to lend himself just such an air of credibility. On the other hand,  Bateson warns wisely against adding to “the existing jungle of half-baked hypotheses” (Bateson.) Jackins has indeed been more rigorous than most therapists but even though his practice has proven itself to be very workable in many respects, he certainly fails to apply the Popperian criterion of falsifiability to his research.

There is a sizeable constituency of academics within RC. They appear to value it because it corrects the emotional ‘overdistancing’ (to use Scheff’s term) of academia (RC Teacher no.22, p.21.) Those who stay in co-counseling do not do so because of its intellectual attractions. If they have doubts about RC theory they soon learn to keep them quiet for the sake of peace. One such pragmatist told me that RC’s “Faculty” workshops don’t invite participants to apply or sharpen their thinking skills any more than other RC workshops; they focus on providing support for people working within an unenlightened educational system – a real enough need, only if the academics are not going to do much critical thinking within RC, what other co-counselor can be expected to do so?

Lack of critical discussion

There is a serious lack of critical discussion within RC. Some co-counselors would deny this: debate does take place within certain agreed contexts. In the scores of journals co-counselors swap their observations on RC policies and seek to refine their analysis of different oppressions.

Jackins will occasionally initiate discussions at workshops, although tightly chaired according to the RC principle of everyone speaking in turn. Diane Balser is an exception to the rule. She has been promoting Conferences rather than Workshops for women in RC.

But debate in RC is limited in kind, quality and quantity. Far greater priority is given to catharsis. The one discussion group slot at workshops is nine times out of ten given over to more “discharge” work in spite of Jackins’ having instituted it. The causes are several. One is the simple pull of emotional work. Another is the tension co-counselors feel about having to re-emerge as quickly as possible. A third is that catharsis is seen as the only way to achieve re-evaluation. A fourth is the nature of the theory.

One of the central weaknesses of co-counseling theory is that it presents the untraumatised child as the model for human potential. The co-counselor is trying to “re-emerge” from the effects of her traumas to be as curious, joyful, loving, etc., as she was before she was mistreated. The language used – “re-emergence” – proclaims the retrogressive nature of this concept of growth. Hillman reckons most therapy is guilty on this account and he attributes it to America’s culture having historical roots in the separation from parental Europe.(p.69.) “Democracy depends on intensely active citizens, not children”, he says, but therapy encourages people to go back to their “inner child” (p.6.) Ostensibly they do so in order to become better-functioning adults but only too often they become dependent on a never-ending process, as Zoe Heller reports in an article on “12-step programs” in Prescott, Arizona. (The Independent on Sunday, June 14, 1992, p.2.) Co-counselors may not be as bad as the 12-step program addicts – at least they are supposed to aim for rational behaviour – but they are still led to believe that the only way to really grow is to release all repressed emotion. The fact that is constantly overlooked is that to free up one’s potential is not the same thing as to acquire the information or skills to exploit it.

Co-counselors assume that thinking skills are entirely inherent. The only skills RC consistently develops are those of listening to and stimulating emotional release. This could be seen as a legitimate choice of emphasis but it means that an air of unreality pervades proceedings. It means that the theory lacks “richness” (Rosen, p.98.)  And it means that Jackins’ more arrogant statements go unchallenged. To outsiders reading his books, it is not clear how he is different from a score of dubious gurus proclaiming, “We are the only group on Earth that has a workable solution” (L.Ron Hubbard, “The Auditor” no. 257, 1991, p.1.)

Jackins appears to have swung away from an earlier interest in thinking skills. In his second book, The Upward Trend, he gave a long list of “common pitfalls” in thinking including:  generalising from too little information; not being clear about one’s assumptions; thinking that thinking isn’t hard work; treating repeatable experiments as proof of “laws” rather than “useful generalisations” that may not be universally valid; failing to allow for the difference in viewpoint of different people.(p.109.)

His list could be the basis for some valuable work at the cognitive level, not focused on catharsis. It is not hard to find resources to add to it. Bookshops are full of books on critical thinking. There is an excellent programme called “Philosophy for Children” which offers a framework for thinking about values and matters of social concern. Its creator, Matthew Lipman talks of converting the classroom into a “community of inquiry in which students listen to one another with respect, build on one another’s ideas, challenge each other to supply reasons for unsupported opinions, assist each other in drawing inferences from what has been said, and seek to identify one another’s assumptions.” (Lipman 1991, p.15.) In the same humanistic spirit as Jackins, Lipman believes that children are “natural philosophers”. They find the classes enjoyable and empowering. (“The Transformers”, BBC TV programme, September 1990.)But although they don’t need to be told how or what to think, they do need the opportunity to develop their innate potential by using it in practice.

Moreover, the process is not one of individual development only; it is also about community. Lipman says: “[The philosophy class] is not a community of conformity…There’s a division of feeling and thinking, so they rely on each other. It’s very much like a team… and that’s the kind of community you need to create [in a democratic society].” ((Ibid.) This is very different from the tightly structured RC group where turn-taking is emphasised and there is no concept of the free flow of ideas nor any space for the rapid exchange of thoughts, which would be seen as simply bouncing off each other’s “restimulation”.

I believe one consequence is that too many co-counselors, especially in the lower reaches of the organisation, become dependent, just as Ernst and Goodison warned can happen in groups.(p.313.) Another is that the theory lacks subtlety: concepts like “oppression” and “internalised oppression” – vague ‘nominalisations’ according to NLP – are insufficiently differentiated. Allport lists a spectrum of prejudice from ‘antilocution’ to genocide (p.14) but in RC it is all “oppression”, just as fights between ethnic groups are all “internalised oppression”, whatever the differences in history and power between them. The concept of a “distress pattern” needs clarification: a memory of a traumatic event is not the same as the self-protective behaviour adopted in response to it. A cognitive “schema” is not the same as an emotional trigger. All such distinctions are mistakenly levelled out in RC in the name of simplicity and unpretentiousness. What’s more, what would a person be like who had no rigid behaviour patterns? They would be very unpredictable, surely – “dangerously fluid”, as Ventura puts it (Hillman & Ventura, p.10.) How much unpredictability can a society take, even if it does not impose the oppressive conformities of current societies? These realistic questions raise many others about human beings and human societies. Both RC theory and RC counselors would be stimulated by discussing them.

“The Transformers” shows the positive impact of Lipman’s programme on disaffected young black people in New Jersey. The programme appears to get results without focusing on people’s pain and distress, above all, by making space to ask questions, a space that is very minimal in RC, and even actively discouraged by the leaders, who listen out only to correct the ‘distress’ in any challenge, rather than answer the intellectual content, “which is odd for a therapy whose guiding theory exalts the use of rational intelligence” (Rosen, p.104.)  I imagine that RC practices, judiciously applied, could be useful back-up tools when feelings are interfering with rational discussion; but that would seem to be the logical order of priorities if one’s prime concern is to promote good thinking.

Jackins has repeatedly offered RC theory and practice as the key tools for  making a better world but co-counselors do not discuss political and economic details sufficiently. There are indeed short articles and letters that are printed in “Present Time” but rarely do they reach the standards of debate in the quality newspapers. This may be because so many co-counselors come to RC for emotional not political reasons or that they lack the education required. But what is to prevent their learning and studying together? Hard left parties like the Socialist Workers Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party do this all the time. Jackins rightly condemns their rigid assumptions and hectoring tone but RC could surely draw on its experience in creating a positive atmosphere to do the job equally thoroughly but more attractively.


Jackins’ independent spirit is a liability as well as a strength. Because he emphasises individual responsibility and tries to separate out one person’s feeling from another’s, he loses sight of the dynamics of interaction.  RC does not explore group psychology rigorously enough; it does not allow for the messy complexity of real life outside of the carefully structured agreements of the co-counseling guidelines. The weakness is one that Jackins accuses others of – a failure to establish what the situation really is. Coupled with co-counselors’ fear of breaking RC’s rules, this weakness limits the effectiveness of most lower level co-counseling relationships. Strange as it may seem, co-counselors can be familiar with each other’s deepest feelings and feel emotionally close to each other but not really know each other very well, i.e. not know the bald facts about each other’s lives, not be familiar with their normal ways of behaving. Their relationships lack what the educationalist John Holt calls “reality of encounter”. Feelings about each other are often not adequately explored for fear of upsetting the balance of the relationship, which gives ammunition to the criticisms of counseling by analysts like Kovel. Smail reminds us that all relationships involve negotiation of power.(p.32.) At the personal level, ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ are not fixed roles but a relationship with a constantly shifting dynamic.

The most experienced RC leaders do tackle these questions but fail to appreciate that they are actually operating as professionals, with a lot of resource to draw on. They fly into workshops and tell less experienced counselors they should behave more normally with each other, ignoring the fact that beginning co-counselors have been inundated with instructions not to act normally or say what they think for fear of “dramatising their distress”. For things to be different, RC would have to be less moralistic. Co-counseling sessions would have to be more like the “processing” of relationships advocated by Jordan and Margaret Paul in their book Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You? (1988.) Following a cathartic model very similar to Jackins’, the Pauls see the key to resolving emotional difficulties in relationships being respectful dialogue leading gradually into the deeper feelings. Some RC leaders have moved in the direction of interaction. Jackins’ own son, Tim, specialises in working with children, who don’t observe rules about how and when they express their emotions. His “Family Workshops” are very fluid in structure and provide a possible model for future developments in co-counseling practice.

If individualism weakens the impact of co-counseling in  general, at its worst it can be totally debilitating. Jackins’ emphasis on personal responsibility is an important corrective to unjustified dependency but he talks rarely of the essential interdependence of human existence. The most extreme example of reality confusion in his writings is the statement: “If any one individual reclaims her or his power and moves, that one individual can guarantee the future of the world” (RP, p.75.) This is not only nonsense, it is dangerous nonsense, and it has nothing to do with the realities of social change. As Smail says, this is “magical psychology” (p.178), a far cry from Jackins’ claims to science.

The inadequacies of RC literature

It is a great pity that RC does not make more of its literature. Jackins is right that, overall, it is a “remarkable compilation” of contributions from around the world (SO, p.340) but it is spoiled by the tendencies I have been discussing. Since people are not supposed to display their “distress patterns” within RC, their written communications get censored before publication, if they do not sanitise them themselves. In the journals, the pain and messiness of people’s real lives is only acknowledged in certain contexts: one is when the writer appears to have acquired a more “rational” perspective on their past behaviour. This kind of writing can be useful and inspiring when it marks a genuine arrival, or a learning process.

At times, though, it seems to degenerate into ritualistic affirmations of intent rather than a record of real change: “One of RC’s gifts I treasure is its restoring to my awareness knowledge that we can thrive co-operatively and lovingly. The shame and terror that kept this knowledge from my awareness for most of my life still sometimes interrupts my acting on it.” (“Present Time” no. 88, p.64.) Authentic self-revelation also seems to be permitted when a writer represents a constituency that is just coming into RC, not yet socialised into its code of conduct, and treated indulgently because they are potentially the keepers of the keys for others. “Dr X” of Warsaw is the most vivid example. He has had unprecedented space in “Present Time” to write of his struggles with his depression and his attempts to co-counsel with his mother. A delightful saga has unfolded, and a very individual voice can be heard: “Often I woke my mother at night, and she listened to me, trying to say something cheerful. She has been very patient listening to my dissatisfaction with the ineffectiveness of her help. (It was out of my despair – I am sorry.) She has been very persistent to start anew as she failed. Then, I counselled her, and she shed a lot of tears. Then, after, I cried out my feeling guilty about hurting and tiring her.” (“Present Time” no. 67, p.63.)

But such a voice is rare in RC publications. Compare this: “The RC video “Discharging the Patterns of White  Racism” has been very helpful to me… The tape gave theory and excellent guidance on how to discharge racism. And it was quite restimulating, which was also useful… Overcoming racism doesn’t feel like a ‘fun’ topic, but I think my persistence in working on it has paid off. Of course, I do not claim to have gotten rid of my racism, but I do feel I have made tremendous progress.” (“Present Time” no.

88, p.65.) This contribution displays typical RC features: the effort to sound cheerful and optimistic; the use of jargon; the obligatory gush of validation for those who made the video – uneasily balanced by the equally obligatory display of self-esteem, on the one hand, and the anxious modesty about her persisting prejudices, on the other. None of this means that the writer has not been doing things that have meant something to her (and quite possibly to others) but I find in the writing the voice of conformity not individuality.

It is a great pity that all of the books published on RC are by Jackins, denying co-counselors the opportunity to hear different voices. Scheff’s book (op.cit.) was a refreshing discovery during this research. His explanation of the theory filled in gaps for me simply because he presents the information differently.

Most of Jackins’ books are actually transcripts of talks he has given. Some freshness is thus conveyed but the true warmth and poetry of the man does not come over. In print one is bored by the remorseless repetition and the limitations of his vocabulary. He appears not to have considered that the nuances one is able to convey in speech are different from those possible in writing. His first large book, “The Human Situation” (1974) was written to lay out the main ideas of RC at that date and it is a better balanced book than the rest. RC still very much lacks a well-written and up-to-date overview of its theory, in spite of discussion of the idea as far back as the early Sixties (BR, p.431.) whereas countless books have been written on NLP in half the time. Jackins should not lament that co-counselors neither read nor recommend his books enough when there are so many of them in such a jumble and so jargonistic that it takes the fastidiousness of an academic to work through them.

Weaknesses of RC as a theory and practice for social change

All of the weaknesses I have listed taint Re-evaluation Counseling not only as a therapy but as a resource for community-building and they limit co-counseling’s usefulness as a tool for realistic strategising. Luckily, individual co-counselors have been able to make the best of RC’s strengths by picking and choosing from among its ideas and applying them judiciously. Their stories emerge in the journals and at co-counseling events fairly regularly. But how many co-counselors are actually active political activists and how much respect they command is impossible to determine.

Jackins himself is disturbed by the failure of RC to turn out as many activists as he dreams of. In Start Over Every Morning (1989), he reprints an exchange of letters he had with Michael Brown, a Peace activist in Massachusetts. These letters are clearly included because of a serious desire to consider issues about political activism. By 1989, Jackins seems less confident about RC’s role in the political arena than formerly. Brown’s letters are well-pitched. He is careful to credit RC with its good points and then appeals to Jackins as a fellow activist. He raises matters of central concern to this essay, such as : “[Does] RC ever impede the development of an objective program because of its emphasis on “friendship networks” rather than winnable objective victories?” (SO p.286.) “Individuals and organisations are different animals…An organisation does not necessarily change because the people within it feel a different way.” (SO p.292.) He refers to Saul Alinsky, whose book “Rules for Radicals : A pragmatic primer for realistic radicals” (1971) proposes a very different approach from RC. Alinsky believed you have to organise people on the basis of self-interest and to force compliance by those in power by analysing their weak and strong points and then wittily threatening to humiliate them. His position is morally relativist: for him any means is justified.

Jackins responds by urging the application of RC ideas where appropriate (SO p.288) and – ironically – the development of discussion groups. He laments “how low a level  of commitment people [in RC] have and how terrified their lives have left them of making a commitment” (SO p.289). He wonders, with what is either a curious affectation of naiveté or alternatively disillusion, how to get commitment on a more positive basis than painful emotion, patriotism, hatred of the class enemy or fear of nuclear arms. But then he returns to familiar themes. He speculates about developing a new three-point programme for RC: “the reclaiming of lost intelligence”, “liberation”, and “taking charge”. The key means of the latter would be use by co-counselors of the “commitment”: “From now on, I will inspire, lead and organise all people to eliminate every form of humans harming humans. ” (SO p.294)

In my view, he will not accomplish this laudable goal by only getting people to release their emotions while saying the above. It is indeed inspiring to have such an uncompromising vision articulated and the commitment may stimulate many useful actions. But it will need to be backed up by hard thinking, realistic strategising, and creative experimentation. If Jackins wants co-counselors to change the world then he will have to submit RC practice, theory and literature to radical reappraisal. I move to a close with a quotation from Alinsky – not because I think he is superior to Jackins (he was clearly less aware of sexism, for example), nor because I think his methods are unassailable, but because he offers a useful corrective. He too wondered about the necessary motivation for an activist :

“There was a time when I believed that the basic quality that a [political] organiser needed was a deep sense of anger against injustice and that this was the prime motivation that kept him going. I now know that it is something else : this abnormal imagination that sweeps him into a close identification with mankind and projects him into its plight…Imagination is the basis for effective tactics and action.” (Alinsky 1971 p.74.)

Written by antonchekhov

June 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm

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Re-evaluation Counseling has much to offer as an inexpensive and socially aware form of therapy. At its best, it can be experienced as an enormously empowering resource in a person’s life. It provides an unparalleled education in handling emotions responsibly and in developing relationships across social divides. It has been and is a significant support and inspiration for many who aspire to creating a just and harmonious society, including peace activists.

However, there are tendencies within RC which cause many co-counselors concern but which have never yet been properly addressed. It can encourage people to focus too much attention on their emotional states, sometimes at the expense of their own well-being, sometimes at the expense of others. People who start co-counseling because they feel the need of some comfort, clarification and encouragement can be drawn into a seemingly endless, subtly debilitating and scientifically dubious process of trying to completely change themselves. At its worst, its moralising and confusion of rhetoric with reality can place ludicrous pressures on its members. Lacking a practice of creative, critical debate and resistant to any ideas from outside, its ability to develop is restricted and its credibility is drastically weakened.

The RC communities contain many well-intentioned people. Whether they will be able to make the changes to allow RC to realise its potential as a creative and realistic force for change will probably not be known until after Jackins’ death. Effectively a benevolent dictator, his own attitudes and prejudices currently dominate all proceedings. It would be unfortunate if RC were to go the way of Yugoslavia after Tito in spite of all its “alliance building”. More likely is a big shake-up along the lines suggested by Anne: “I think RC needs to be less centralised with more debate about theory and practice and less pretence about the successes we achieve.”


Written by antonchekhov

June 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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Works by Harvey Jackins and other co-counselors

All published by Rational Island Publishers, P.O. Box 2081, Main Office Station, Seattle, Washington 98111, USA. All by Harvey Jackins unless otherwise stated.

HS  The Human Situation, 1973.

BC  Rough Notes From Buck Creek 1, Harvey Jackins and others, 1976.

UT  The Upward Trend, 1977.

BR  The Benign Reality, 1981.

RP  The Reclaiming of Power, 1983.

FM  Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Manual, 1982.

RL  The Rest Of Our Lives, 1985.

EL  The Enjoyment of Leadership, 1986.

SO  Start Over Every Morning, 1989.

“What’s Wrong With The ‘Mental Health’ System”, various, 1991.

“Women”, various, 1984.


Other works

Alinsky, S. D.  Rules For Radicals, 1971, Vintage Books, New York.

Allport, G. W.  The Nature of Prejudice, 1954, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Mass., USA.

Armstrong, K. Tongues Of Fire: An Anthology Of Religious And Poetic Experience, 1985, Viking, England.

Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D. & Akert, R.M.  Social Psychology, 1994, HarperCollins, New York.

Bandler, R. & Grinder, J.  The Structure Of  Magic, Vol.II, 1975, Science & Behaviour Books, Palo Alto, CA, USA.

Bandler, R. & Grinder, J.  Frogs Into Princes, 1979, Real People Press, Utah, USA.

Bateson, G. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind, 1972, Chandler Publishing Company, New York.

Ekins, P. A New World Order, 1992, Routledge, London.

Ernst, S. & Goodison, L. In Our Own Hands, 1981, The Women’s Press, London.

Eysenck, H.J.  Decline And Fall Of The Freudian Empire, 1985, Viking, England.

Fuller, R.C. “Carl Rogers, Religion & The Role Of Psychology In American Culture”, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol.22 No.4, Fall 1982.

Gellner, E. The Psychoanalytic Movement, or The Coming Of Unreason, 1985, Paladin, London.

Hillman, J. & Ventura, M.  We’ve Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse, 1992, HarperCollins, New York.

Koestler, A.  The Act Of Creation, 1970, Pan, London.

Kovel, J.  A Complete Guide To Therapy, 1978, Penguin, England.

Labott, S.M., Elliott, R. & Eason, P.S.  1972, “If You Love Someone, You Don’t Hurt Them”, Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, Vol. 55 No. 1, February 1992.

Lasswell, H.D.  Psychopathology And Politics, 1960, Viking Press, New York.

Lipman, M.  Thinking In Education, 1991, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Masson, J.  Against Therapy, 1990, Fontana, England.

McLeod, J. Doing Counseling Research, 1994, Sage, London.

Mitchell, J. Psychoanalysis And Feminism, 1974, Allen Lane, London.

Nelson-Jones, R.  Effective Thinking Skills, 1989, Cassell Educational, London.

O’Connor, J. & Seymour, J. Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming, 1990, Mandala. London.

Patterson, C.H.  Theories Of Counseling And Psychotherapy, 1986, Harper & Row, New York.

Paul, J. & Paul, M. Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?, 1988, Grapevine, Guildford.

Rosen, R.D.  Psychobabble, 1979, Avon, New York.

Rowan, J. & Dryden, W., Eds. Innovative Therapy In Britain, 1988, Open University Press, Buckingham.

Samuels, A.  The Political Psyche, 1993, Routledge, London.

Scheff, T.J.  Catharsis in Healing, Ritual And Drama, 1979, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Schur, E.  The Awareness Trap, 1976, McGraw Hill, New York.

Seidler, V.J.  Recreating Sexual Politics, 1991, Routledge, London.

Smail, D.  The Origins Of Unhappiness, 1993, HarperCollins, London.

Szasz, T. The Myth Of Psychotherapy, 1978, Syracuse University Press.

Weinberg, G.  Self Creation, 1978, Futura, London.

Yalom, I.D.  Love’s Executioner And Other Tales Of Psychotherapy, 1989, Penguin, London.

Written by antonchekhov

June 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized