You've been fighting with your husband, your kids are driving you crazy, and work has been stressful. You don't want to invest in long-term therapy but you wish you had someone objective you could talk to; someone who could support you as you sort out your feelings. Sound familiar? If so, co-counseling could be worth considering.

What Is Co-Counseling?

"Co-counseling is a peer group of people who offer support for personal change based on reciprocal peer counseling," explains Lisa Brateman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in private practice in New York City. "The original ideas around co-counseling consisted of understanding the patterns of behavior that cause distress, and recognizing how to release suppressed feelings by emotional discharge of past traumas," Brateman says. This alternative approach began in the 1950s and unlike traditional counseling, which is led by a mental health professional, in co-counseling, participants take turns serving as the counselor and the client, listening to and helping each other process their situations and decide how to deal with them.

The Co-Counseling Model

In a typical peer-to-peer or co-counseling session, each person takes equal time to be the counselor and the client, so both participants have a chance to listen and to be heard. "The client leads his own session, while the counselor acts as an active listener, occasionally guiding the conversation without passing judgment. As the client talks about his issues, he can gain a better understanding of himself and his situation. Many people find that serving as both the counselor and client in turn can be very rewarding and effective.

The approach used in co-counseling makes this a viable alternative for people who don't feel comfortable with psychotherapy. "Peer-to-peer can feel more like a support group, which may feel safer to them," Brateman says.

Co-counseling may also appeal to people who want to avoid the expense of more traditional therapy options. Sessions are generally free—but you will need to invest in a training course to learn both the guidelines, and how to handle both roles most effectively. The initial training usually costs no more than a few hundred dollars, though over time some people also take inexpensive workshops or other continuing education offerings to hone their skills.

Who Shouldn't Use Co-Counseling?

Brateman says that people who have insight will be most likely to benefit the most from the co-counseling process. It's not an appropriate fit, though, for anyone

  • with deep psychological issues
  • prone to high-risk behaviors
  • grappling with addictions

In any of these situations, she stresses the need for the person to be seen by a mental health counselor.

With peer-to-peer counseling, "There can also be a risk with regards to detecting potential signs of violence," she warns. Therefore, if you have any concerns, you'll want to skip co-counseling and seek out the advice of an expert instead.

How to Find Co-Counseling

For many people, co-counseling can be a good option. To find out more and to connect with a network in your area, you can visit Co-Counseling International's website, or search online for groups that serve your region. You can also find out about upcoming trainings and learn how to connect with the peer-counseling network.

Lisa Brateman, LCSW, reviewed this article. 



Co-Counseling International USA. "Are You Ready?" Web. 9 May 2013. Page accessed 16 July 2013.