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EAP Publication - 15


3RD ED, l06pp.

by Harvey Jackins (1978), Rational Is. Publ., P.O. Box 2081, Main Office Station, Seattle, WA 98111, U.S.A.



Human intelligence is the ability to construct a new, unique, accurate response to each new, unique experience. Failure to generate such response is experienced as irrational thoughts and behaviours. The cause is to be found in past distresses from which the individual has not fully recovered.

These ideas, which comprise the basic theory of Re-evaluation Counseling, had their origin in the early 50's. Test them against your own experience, for to be of value they must make sense to you. If they make you uncomfortable, however, do not reject them straight away, for as you will see, such feelings may prove to be evidence of your own internalized distress and, what is more important, experiencing such feelings can comprise an important first step in the recovery process.

Those who have applied these ideas have found that they have become less vulnerable to the problems of the world and more capable of solving such problems. The theory behind these ideas will now be described.


Non-living matter's response to the environment is passive. All organisms, on the other hand, exhibit an active response and, to some extent, impose their organization on their surroundings, e.g., through their feeding and reproduction. Unlike humans, however, they are able to respond using only a limited range of pre-set patterns of behaviour (instincts). These have greater survival value for the species than for the individual - witness the codfish in which, on average, only two of the 14 million baby codfish survive to become parents.

Only humans have the ability to create brand new, unique responses to each new, unique situation. This ability to behave flexibly, creatively and in accurate response to the changing environment is the true measure of our intelligence.


In the absence of brain damage each of us starts out in life with more capacity to function intelligently than any adult alive today. We start with a "genius-sized" capacity to think flexibly - to create new, successful responses to new situations (Fig. 1).

The exercise of this intelligence (during a positive experience) involves the following five stages.

1. Information is received from the environment via our senses (Fig. 2).

This is immediately compared with information already on file (our past experiences) in our memory.

3. Differences and similarities are noted. In this way the information is understood.

4. Successful past responses to similar situations are used as a basis for responding accurately to the present situation. These responses are unique because they take into account differences between past and present situations.

The information that is associated with the new situation and response is filed away in the memory for future recall.

This process is conducted both on aware and unaware levels.


In addition to being intelligent, humans naturally feel zestful (not depressed, anxious or irritable), and feel affection to other humans, with whom they enjoy communicating and co-operating. If this is not your dominant experience then something must have gone wrong.

What goes wrong is that we get hurt - first early in life, and then repeatedly thereafter. The problem is that while we are hurting, physically or emotionally our flexible human intelligence stops functioning. That we all already know this intuitively is evidenced by our use of phrases such as "scared out of my wits", "out of my mind with pain", "so mad I couldn't concentrate", "feel in a fog", and "so upset I can't think straight". Each of these phrases is a description of a particular case of a general phenomenon -the inability to think intelligently while distressed. In contrast to this, what we need to experience is "presence of mind".

Information received while distressed may be pictured as jamming the system, and repetition of the distress as forming a "scar" or "lump" that contains all of the feelings and images associated with the distress (Fig. 3, 4, 5). Unlike information associated with positive experiences, which can be recalled as separate "bits", that associated with negative experiences can be recalled only as one undifferentiated "lump" that is dominated by the feelings of hurt.

Although it is possible to rapidly recover from such distress (the process will be described later), for various reasons (which will also be described) this rarely occurs. This results firstly in a quantitative loss of intelligence - an overall lowering of our capacity to think flexibly and relate accurately to our environment. Although this is not noticed during our youth, it does become increasingly evident later in life as we experience "losing our grip on things", or "not having what it takes any more".

The second effect is that when confronted by a new experience that is generally similar to the distress experience we automatically respond to it as if it were the original distress - just as if we had been "programmed". In this state the person is likely to say things that are not pertinent, do things that don't work, fail to cope with the situation and endure terrible feelings that have nothing to do with the present. All of us have experienced this, although when we exhibit such behaviour ourselves it tends to involve us so completely that it is difficult for us to observe objectively what is going on, and so we can't understand it. We are, however, much more aware of its occurrence in others, but still we fail to understand its roots and tend to deal with it by labelling such individuals as stupid, difficult or incompetent.

This problem tends to get worse because while in this automatic state any new information entering the system is mis-stored in the same way as that associated with the original distress experience. As the "lumps" of mis-stored information get larger (Fig. 6) the individual becomes more and more prone to being re-stimulated - more predisposed to be upset by more things, more often, more deeply and for longer periods of time - and more likely to exhibit inflexible, inappropriate patterned behaviours.

Within our culture, such patterns are established in children through their exposure to adults, primarily their parents, who themselves are victims of such patterns. We usually recognize this situation as an unavoidable part of the process of growing up. In fact it is avoidable, but only if adults can shed their patterns before having children.

Within our culture the so-called "successful" adult is probably operating on about 10% of his/her potential intelligence and capacity for joyful existence (Fig. 7). The other 90% is overlaid by the type of rigid patterns of behaviour and feeling discussed above. Most of these are latent and only "play" when the individual is re-stimulated, i.e., when s/he is exposed to situations that subconsciously "remind" him/her of the original distress experience. A few patterns, however, due to the amount of exposure and response to particular distresses, have become chronic and play all the time. In this sense, we live within a portable prison, able to be rational, flexible and intelligent only when such behaviour does not contradict our chronic pattern(s) (Fig. 8).

While we are able to accept that our latent distress patterns are "problems", we tend to defend our chronic pattern(s) as being "the way we are". In reality, however, they are never inherent, and always acquired. They affect us totally, and may be recognized in our posture, facial expression, forms of speech, behaviour, attitudes and beliefs.

While "permissive" counseling is usually adequate for dealing with latent patterns it has no affect on those that are chronic. Furthermore, neither latent nor chronic behavioural patterns can be corrected by such methods as punishment, reproach, shaming, ostracism, isolation, condemnation or enforcement.


People do not have to become hurt and irrational. Children can be protected from distress and helped to recover from it if it occurs. Small gains made in this direction during one generation make it possible to achieve greater gains during the next. Understanding these ideas will not make you immune from feeling upset at other adults and children but, by knowing what is going on, you will be able to resist inappropriate old patterns of behaviour and experiment with these more appropriate behaviours. For example, when, after a hurt children spontaneously begin to discharge, (by crying, shaking, laughing or storming),you will allow them to do so, recognizing these behaviours as necessary for recovery, and resisting your conditioned urge to make them stop.


As indicated above, the process of damage and loss caused by distress experiences can be reversed and the lost intelligence and abilities can be recovered. One problem is that certain aspects of the recovery process (e.g., crying) may be so re-stimulating to us, because of our own internalized distress, that we cannot stand it and will do everything in our power to stop it or argue against it, thereby avoiding the feeling of discomfort associated with the original hurt. You may experience this when considering the following example.

Let us suppose that a small child becomes separated from his/her parent for 10 to 15 minutes in a department store or on a crowded downtown street. If the parent is not re-stimulated by the situation, she/he will give the child his/her arms, eyes, aware attention and concern, but will not try to stop the discharge (recovery process) by distractive talking or jiggling, etc. Without hesitation the child will spontaneously turn his/her attention to the parent and begin to cry. Allowed to do so s/he will cry - probably for a long time -especially if every time s/he slows down and looks at his/her parent s/he finds him/her still attentive and caring, but not interfering or distractive. Eventually, however, the process will stop, and the child will exhibit obvious happiness and alertness. It will be as if a great cloud had been lifted. During these moments, the information that had been mis-stored becomes available for re-examination (Fig. 9). The situation is re-evaluated and the information stored correctly, thereby becoming available for appropriate future recall.

Other common childhood experiences, with their associated methods of discharge include the following: fright- trembling, screaming, and perspiring from a cold skin; frustration - "tantrums", violent physical movements, angry noises and perspiring from a warm skin; embarrassment - initial repeated narration of the embarrassing experience followed by attempts to joke about it and intense laughter.

It is our nature to turn to another person and discharge like this after every hurt. The reason that this rarely happens is because most people are re-stimulated by the discharge process, and so they automatically, without recognizing the value of the process, do everything they can to stop it. Either kindly or cruelly, each of us was probably made to turn off our healing process whenever it started to operate. These patterns of interfering with another person's discharge of their distress (in the absence of exposure to the recovery process) are passed on from one generation to the next. In fact, they are so widespread that they are accepted as a "normal" part of our culture. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ideas presented here may be resisted and be regarded as revolutionary. At the same time, however, the deeply felt need for someone to really listen to us, and the scarcity of this facility, is universally accepted.

Fortunately, in the absence of brain damage, the recovery process remains available, even if it has never been used. Its outward manifestation are crying, trembling, laughing, raging, yawning and interested non-repetitive talking. Allowed to discharge in these ways all adults can, no matter how long their distress has been carried, recover their intelligence and zest.

By working in pairs, the aware counselor can help the client to discharge his/her hurts and, usually quite quickly, the client will have recovered enough awareness to be able to reverse roles - hence the term co-counseling -each having an opportunity to "take turns". These skills are usually learned by joining a "Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Class", which generally meets once a week over an 8 to 16 week period. During such classes the theory is presented, demonstrations are given and opportunities are provided for everyone to learn the skills required to be an effective client and counselor.

Those who become involved in co-counseling experience such a positive change in their lives, and such a bonding to others in co-counseling, that they tend to regard themselves as part of a new world-wide community - inhabitants of a "rational island" of humans. Through the spread of co-counseling it becomes possible to envisage a world devoid of petty antagonisms, misunderstandings, war, prejudice and maldistribution of resources to satisfy basic needs.

Today, co-counseling classes are available in most regions of the world. The "community" includes hundreds of thousands of individuals. There are separate publications for special interest groups, including college and university teachers, the young, old, handicapped, Francophones, Asian-Americans, American Indians, Jews, and many others. The book on which this summary is based is available in over ten languages. Those who wish to obtain further information, or to obtain the name and address of teachers of co-counseling in their area, should write Harvey Jackins, 719 Second Avenue North, Seattle, Washington 98109, U.S.A.

1I have found that I have little time to do the reading I would like to do. Many others have told me that they face the same problem. Several years ago I decided to write summaries of some of the books that I value because of their positive influence on my life. Each summary is approved by the author of the book before making it available to others. It has been my experience that such summaries are able to reach many people who, for one reason or another, are unwilling to read the entire books (although they often read them after reading the summary). I recommend this practice to you, and would ask that when you prepare summaries of those books that are important to you that you send me a copy so that I may benefit from your experiences and may share your summaries with my colleagues. Write me at Macdonald College of McGill University, 21111 Lakeshore, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, CANADA H9X 3V9.

Copyright 1983 Ecological Agriculture Projects

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