Shadow Sides of NVC and Co-Counseling

Posted on March 7, 2011 by
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Shadow Sides of Nvc and Co-counseling

Mini session.

Author: Dona Willoughby
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #150

My heart is pounding out of my chest, my palms are sweaty, and my shoulders held tight. I feel like I might explode. Words come spewing out of my mouth louder and sharper than I seem to be able to control. I am throwing my feelings and needs like daggers into my friend/lover’s face.

But I’m using Nonviolent Communication! Or am I? Although I am using the NVC process, I am more than angry. I am triggered, and a bit irrational. I want respect, support, love; the list goes on and on. I am intent on relieving my pain by giving some to my friend and lover. I want to show him his inadequacies. In this moment, I am not interested in connecting at the heart; I could care less about his needs. I am in too much pain myself. I would prefer he NOT come from free choice (an NVC intention). In this moment, I want to blame, change, and control.

I experienced the above incident years ago. Should I get this triggered again, I hope to: 1. Take a deep breath. 2. Ask for a specific time later to discuss the issue. 3. Promptly call one of my co-counseling partners to make a date for a session.

Both NVC and co-counseling are tools which can move us toward peace, joy, connection, and love. However, they can be ineffective or misused if our intentions and boundaries are not clear.

Shadow sides I experienced in co-counseling include:

1. THE CLIENT NOT TAKING CHARGE OF THEIR SESSION. I have been given advice and had releases interrupted during my sessions. I have had counselors recommend actions that were not helpful. I am now aware that I am in charge of my session, and it is my responsibility to make it clear what I want from my counselor.

2. NOT HAVING CLEAR BOUNDARIES. The interns at La’akea take the beginning co-counseling class. Yesterday one of the interns had a practice session with another student. He had not completed the class about boundaries. He became triggered by what the other student, now his client, said. Instead of telling his client he was not able to be present for the session, he pretended to be present, when he wanted to scream and run away. He was in need of a session after the session. I have been asked to give touch in ways that were not comfortable for me in sessions. I have learned to establish clear boundaries and let clients know when I am unable to be lovingly present.

3. NOT BELIEVING THE CLIENT HAS THE ANSWERS. The client’s distress is exactly that, the client’s. It is easy to confuse this and blame the triggering stimulus, or the person who functioned as the trigger. Counseling with those closely involved in the client’s distress or the stimulus can be dicey and difficult to keep clear. We prefer counseling with those outside of our community. This involves coordination, time, effort, and fossil fuels since transportation is often involved.

4. NOT BEING VULNERABLE. To be completely open and vulnerable in a session I need to trust that my counselor will keep everything I say confidential. If this trust were broken pain and harm could ensue.

5. RELEASING DISTRESS BUT NOT GETTING TO THE ROOTS. We can continue to release distress until the cows come home but until we identify the roots of the issue and heal our core patterns, our time is wasted. People can get caught in rehearsing the same complaint over and over, without getting to the cause and reprogramming of the original hurts.

In closing, the benefit I gain from co-counseling that does not occur in a “shrink on a couch” counseling session is the healing I receive when I give loving presence to another person. I learn from the other’s distress and healing process. I am attracted to counselors whose path to healing is in alignment with and helpful to mine.

One Reply to “Shadow Sides of NVC and Co-Counseling”


I have seldom seen articles with so much that is both thoughtful, and from the heart (and touching readers’ hearts) in so few words. Thank you for this piece. I will save the link to it.


“”If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”” -The Dalai Lama

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