Frequently Asked Questions
Questions and answers about Re-evaluation Counseling—our theory, practices, and policies.
What is Re-evaluation Counseling or RC?
Re-evaluation Counseling (RC) is an international, grassroots peer-support network that exists to improve the lives of ordinary people. The heart of Re-evaluation Counseling is the voluntary exchange of active listening between willing participants. This peer counseling of each other is a private activity that, at its best, approximates deep conversations between close friends in pursuit of a better life and happiness. That’s one reason RC is often called “co-counseling.” The use of the words Re-evaluation Counseling, RC, and co-counseling all refer to the same practice and the same international community. Many people all around the world who want to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones, and who seek justice and a more equitable society, have found useful tools and support from RC.
What are RC’s core ideas?
RC has a hopeful perspective that it is possible for people to continuously grow, change, and be a part of building a better world for everyone. The core ideas outline RC’s understanding of the human condition: (1) that painful experiences and unresolved trauma from people’s past can interfere with having fulfilling lives in the present, (2) that societal oppressions like racism, sexism, and others, are a major source of many of these traumas, and (3) that it is possible for people to resolve the effects of these hurts by telling their stories without suppressing emotional release.
Can people really recover from hurts?
Yes. The RC Community’s experience has been that the effects of hurtful incidents can be healed if someone listens attentively and allows and encourages the person to share their experiences fully, including the grief, fear, and other painful emotions that are part of those experiences. Recovery happens by means of natural mental healing processes, whose outward signs are talking, crying, trembling, expressing anger, and laughing. Sharing experiences in a supportive network without holding back their emotions, allows the hurtful feelings to begin to dissipate, assisting people to be more thoughtful, joyful, and hopeful about their lives.
What is restimulation?
After we go through a painful experience, we cannot always quickly leave the distressed feelings from that experience behind us. Sometimes they stay with us for hours or days or even longer. Even after we seem to have gotten over such feelings, they can reappear suddenly. This can happen when they are “triggered” by a particular circumstance. For example, having to speak to a large group of people can bring up intense feelings of embarrassment from times, often long ago, when we were embarrassed in front of a group. This can happen around many different circumstances and feelings: embarrassment, fear, grief, irritation. These could come from many different kinds of earlier stressful circumstances, including times when one was targeted by racism, sexism, homophobia, and other oppressions. In Re-evaluation Counseling, this reappearance of these feelings is called restimulation. In RC, we have come to recognize that the reappearance of these old painful feelings can cloud our judgment about current situations.
Are the people using RC licensed counselors?
No. Re-evaluation Counseling is a peer-to-peer, listening exchange model that fosters well-being—like twelve-step programs, restorative justice, and support groups offered in a variety of settings. Many people benefit from grassroots opportunities to share and heal together, just as many benefit from more traditional professional counseling. Although some who use RC are also professional therapists, RC does not license those who learn its practice. Rather, it emphasizes that ordinary people can make a real difference in each other’s lives by taking time to actively listen to each other.
How do people practice co-counseling?
In RC, people listen to each other, usually in pairs, and take turns telling their full stories. People want to be respectfully heard and share our triumphs, hopes, and struggles, including how they have been hurt. Most co-counselors have a regular partner with whom they do a co-counseling session weekly. As co-counselors get to know each other they can be more open, and also show the grief, rage, fears, and embarrassment that are part of their painful experiences. People often reach out to each other when they need support. Co-counselors also participate in RC classes, where RC teachers communicate the theory and practice of RC. Classes, along with workshops on particular topics, often include demonstrations of how to counsel, short sessions, and small groups.
What is the difference between RC and the RC Community?
Re-evaluation Counseling is a practice in which people exchange active listening with each other to free themselves from the emotional damage caused by past hurtful experiences.
The Re-evaluation Counseling Community is made up of people who are committed to participate in and support RC Community activities and follow its Guidelines. It is a global network of local RC Communities, groups, classes, and peer counselors. The functioning of the RC Community is guided by Guidelines developed over the past fifty years and updated regularly.
Participating in some RC-based activities available inside or outside of the RC Community does not make one a member of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community. Membership is open to people who are willing to take responsibility for things going well in the RC community. People who like RC are welcome to begin the process of becoming a member of the RC Community by gaining enough theory, practice, and understanding to agree to follow our Guidelines.
The RC Community does not oversee RC theory-based activities outside of the RC Community unless they are projects of the RC Community. The process for becoming a project of the RC Community is stated in our Guidelines.
What about confidentiality?
RC holds confidentiality to be of paramount importance, stressing it in all activities, and regularly reminding each other about it. This applies to one-on-one sessions as well as any sessions that take place in a group setting. For most of us, trust is a key to creating a safe environment to express concerns about the hard times we go through in life.
Won’t I be traumatized by listening to other people’s trauma?
No. Rather than being “re-traumatized” by telling or listening to stories and feelings, the experience in RC is that it can be both liberating and inspiring to see how resilient humans are. While most people feel compassion for others and can be saddened to learn of their pain, Re-evaluation Counseling emphasizes the ability in everyone to heal permanently from past experiences so that people’s best selves, and not their hurts, determine the future. As people get to tell their experiences to a caring listener and release the accompanying emotional pain, they think and function better.
Is RC therapy?
No. RC is not therapy or psychotherapy. Therapy is typically defined as treatment or rehabilitation provided by a professional, often in the context of a medical model focused on treating various forms of mental health disorders. RC, in contrast, offers peer support focused on wellness, self-awareness, and connecting with others with shared identities and experiences. Peer listening can be a part of a process of healing from the effects of systemic oppressions such as racism and sexism.
Why does RC question the concept of “mental illness”?
The term “mental illness” is used to describe a wide range of behaviors. People with this label are hurting, not ill. The experience in RC suggests that these behaviors are the result of experiences of hurt, including oppression and other major hurts inflicted on people by society. Labeling people with specific “mental health diagnoses” can stigmatize them, and it often does not mean people will get the help they need.
There are real solutions to people’s emotional, learning, and behavior struggles. These solutions call for organizing for fundamental societal change and introducing tools to resolve personal hurts, such as paying thoughtful human attention to the people who have been harmed.
Why does RC question the use of psychiatric drugs?
RC supports each person in RC to make their own decision about whether or not to take psychiatric drugs. It takes bravery and determination to seek help with struggles, and lasting solutions can be difficult to find. RC offers a perspective that long-term solutions to people’s emotional, learning, and behavior struggles require fundamental social change, the ending of oppression, and paying thoughtful human attention to individuals where they have been harmed. Psychiatric drugs are often perceived as an “answer” because they may enable an adult or young person to function, stop “anti-social” behaviors, and/or conform to norms. However, they can also have the effect of numbing people’s feelings, suppressing the healthy expression of emotions, and silencing people’s struggles against racism, sexism, and other oppressions. People who were on psychiatric drugs and have now used co-counseling tools for years have observed that psychiatric drugs hide symptoms rather than promoting full recovery and fail to address how people are affected by hurts, including those from oppression. Our policies are written for people in RC; we understand that many people lack the resources necessary for them to stop using psychiatric drugs.
What does RC mean by “attack?”
Over decades in the development of the RC Community, we have occasionally decided to use commonly used words, but with a precise re-definition. One of these is the word “attack.” Here is how we have defined the word, as used within the RC Community:
When a someone is actively blaming someone for the way they feel and at the same time is trying to persuade others to join them in that behavior, we call it an attack. An attack is more than criticizing or showing upset at a person; it involves organizing against them. This can happen when there are real problems to be faced and also when a person is upset without there being a significant problem. Personal upsets can cloud our judgment on larger issues.
Our experience has been that pursuing an attack, whatever its actual basis, has not led to finding good solutions to problems and has unnecessarily divided people who could otherwise work as allies. So, we have developed other procedures for handling these situations.
How are mistakes addressed and corrected in RC?
RC uses a transformative justice understanding that people should not be left alone with or punished for their mistakes, but supported to learn, grow, and heal. Leadership requires taking risks, and no one should be expected to be perfect. At the same time, people need to recognize their mistakes, take responsibility for them, and do their best to repair any harm they caused.
The process in the Re-evaluation Counseling Community for resolving mistakes is rooted in our perspective that people are good and can change. This process is stated in our Guidelines, starting from the principle that all leaders are expected to take responsibility for their actions. “When any of us makes a mistake, it is important to correct it by apologizing for the mistake to the people involved and resolving any negative effects.” The suggested process for resolving the mistake includes using RC tools to get at the underlying hurts that caused the mistake, developing an accurate picture of the situation, thinking of the ways the situation can be resolved, encouraging and facilitating communication between the affected parties, and involving leadership as needed until resolution is achieved.
This process addresses mistakes within the RC Community. RC does not and should not have control over the lives and actions of RC members outside of the RC Community.
Are young people a part of RC?
Yes. Almost all young people have come to RC through a parent’s involvement. Beginning in their teens, young people are welcome to participate fully in the RC Community. They can (if they choose) learn the two-way listening tools of RC and practice them in classes with other young people, with the option of eventually attending RC events for all ages.
Why are topics that cause discomfort sometimes raised with young people?
It is natural to want the best for young people and to want to protect them from harm. However, young people are hurt every day by painful experiences resulting from racism, sexism, classism, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. These are all topics that can make people, including young people, uncomfortable. Most adults, including parents, struggle to have age-appropriate and important conversations with children about issues that can and do hurt them. People sometimes wish these problems didn’t exist, or that young people weren’t affected by them. Taking young people’s experiences and voices seriously requires making space for young people to speak out and be heard on these and other difficult topics, even if these conversations are uncomfortable.
Why haven’t I heard of RC before now?
Some of what is most valuable in life is learned directly from relationships with each other. RC is primarily communicated person-to-person, through word of mouth. We do not try to “sell” RC. RC has no marketing department or budget. RC doesn’t advertise. People take what is useful for them from RC into their lives and work and share the ideas with their family members, friends, and co-workers as appropriate. RC maintains several easily available websites to provide further information about our ideas and work.
Websites for RC and its ongoing projects:
Is Re-evaluation Counseling a cult?
No. Everyone objects to being taken advantage of or seeing others manipulated by a cult. Boston media have recently published several articles with inaccurate allegations about the practice of Re-evaluation Counseling. They have repeatedly echoed a description of RC as a “cult” or as being “cult-like.” RC does not ask for unquestioning adherence or insist on particular beliefs. It does not require donations or tithing or make any financial demands on people to gain access to what has been developed other than a reasonable fee when people take classes. RC does not attempt to separate people from their families and friends; instead, RC values the deepening of those relationships.
There is nothing secretive about RC. Information about the RC Community has been available in printed form for more than fifty years and there are several websites that openly show the work of RC. People who participate make individual decisions about sharing their RC experiences with others and are welcomed and encouraged to do so.
People in RC work together to develop their understanding of various social issues and sometimes write what are called “draft” policies, since thinking continues to evolve. But no one in RC is required to agree with these draft policies—the intent is to encourage thinking, not restrain it.
Is RC part of Scientology?
No. RC has no affiliation with Scientology. The founder of RC associated briefly with L. Ron Hubbard (who later founded Scientology) and others interested in “human growth” in the early 1950s. However, because of differences in their thinking and philosophies, collaboration became unworkable, and the connection was ended by our organization a year or two later. RC has had no contact with Hubbard or Scientology (previously called Dianetics) for the last sixty plus years.
How is Re-evaluation Counseling used to fight oppression?
Many people oppose oppression and want to take steps to end it. RC starts from the assumption that all forms of societal oppression are wrong, that nobody deserves to be oppressed, and that it is possible to completely eliminate all forms of oppression. In RC, people participate in the equal exchange of listening time to tell their stories, to heal the emotional damage and confusions caused by oppression, and to decide for themselves how they will fight against oppression as an individual and as a member of any groups they are part of or directly support.
How is RC useful to social and racial justice groups?
Many progressive movements are derailed by divisions among people and divide-and-conquer strategies. The targeting and blaming of oppressed groups for society’s systemic ills along with the unworkability of “call-out culture” undermine unity. One of the best ways to find or re-establish unity is to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”—to listen deeply to others’ experiences, especially people whose life experiences are very different. RC listening tools can effectively foster unity and advance progressive goals by improving communication and overcoming divisions caused by oppression. Ending systemic oppressions, such as racism, sexism, classism, and LGBTQ+ oppression, and their effects on our minds and relationships, is a key goal of the RC community. Many people engaged in social justice movements have been attracted to RC because of the progressive, humanist, self-help philosophy, and the fact that RC aims to be accessible to anyone through low-cost or no-cost programs.
Social justice workers, including leaders, sometimes face periods of burnout and discouragement. RC has offered them a place to look at and talk about their experiences and regain their hope and confidence. Our key practice—the equal exchange of active listening time between peers—has played a useful role in many organizations, academic institutions, government agencies, youth development and adult education programs, and corporations addressing racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, the destruction of Native peoples, and other forms of societal oppression.
What is RC’s position on LGBTQ+ liberation?
Justice and respect for all people is essential to creating a more humane world. RC takes a firm stance against the oppression of LGBTQ+ people. We stand against the brutal treatment of transgender and non-binary people, and for a world where all people are respected and valued. People have the right to think and make decisions for themselves, and RC encourages everyone to do that—questioning all of our own individual assumptions, especially around issues of oppression and liberation. RC is committed to supporting people who identify as LGBTQ+ to use the tools of active listening to heal from the effects of this and other oppressions and supporting others to become more effective allies against the oppression.
How can people of color heal from the effects of racism and internalized racism?
People of color need safe places to talk openly about the effects of racism and efforts to end it. Many people of color use RC tools to free themselves from the emotional damage caused by racism and other oppressions. By telling the stories of how racism has affected their lives, what has happened to them and their people, people of color can heal from the pain inflicted by racism. They take turns listening to each other share their experiences fully, not holding back their emotions. As a result, the painful feelings begin to dissipate and people feel more powerful to continue to address racism, whether individually, in institutions or systematically in society.
In 1999 the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities decided that the elimination of racism was a central piece of its work. RC has pursued this ever since. Examples of RC’s efforts in this area can be found at United to End Racism.
How can white people heal from the effects of racism?
Humans long for a world where everyone can flourish. No one wants their own well-being to come at the expense of others. White people can actively eliminate the effects of racism from their thinking and behavior and fight alongside people of color against white supremacy, white domination and control in regard to individual, institutional, and systemic racism. RC creates the conditions for white people to heal from damage done to them by the racism in our society—including how it divides white people from each other. This happens by telling stories of how white people witnessed and acquired racist thinking and behavior, without having to hide the emotional effect of this. White people support each other in a confidential environment. This exchange of active listening with other white people is based on a hopeful perspective that sees good in every human being and envisions what we all would be like in the absence of racism.
In 1999 the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities decided that the elimination of racism was a central piece of its work. RC has pursued this ever since. Examples of RC’s efforts in this area can be found at United to End Racism.
Do people who participate in RC join other organizations to promote a particular agenda?
People who have learned the tools of RC participate in all kinds of organizations that interest them. This is similar to those who attend active listening, anti-racism, or restorative justice training. Like others who work or volunteer in various organizations, people familiar with RC are there to contribute to the organization’s effectiveness in meeting its goals, not to recruit the particular organization, or staff or members to RC.
Are there studies showing that Re-evaluation Counseling is effective?
There are a few empirical studies published in scholarly journals that suggest peer support programs based on RC are effective. The RC Communities have not conducted experimental studies of our methods. Instead, we have prioritized making our tools accessible to people interested in using them, and to considering how the tools might be applied toward issues like eliminating racism and tackling climate change. As a completely volunteer, self-funded organization, we have had to prioritize where we put our resources and we have not wanted to position RC participants as “research subjects.”
The primary ideas of RC–such as the idea that hurtful circumstances can cause emotional distress and a supportive listener can aid in emotional processing—are widely understood and accepted, forming the basis of many therapeutic as well as peer support models. Ideas that distinguish RC from some other models, for example, a focus on sharing without suppressing emotion and the idea that individual healing is needed for ending systemic oppression, are evidence-based.
A number of academics who have participated in RC have written about the RC framework and process in peer-reviewed journals, using empirical evidence to support RC concepts, as well as contributing to scholarly understanding in their respective fields. Several have focused empirical studies on RC-based programs, with positive findings.
Although most grassroots movements and community support models have not been tested by empirical research, there is growing interest in such evaluation. We are holding focus groups and meeting with an advisory board of scholars and practitioners to consider future studies of RC or RC concepts.