‘Your task is to stay in the Here-and-Now’, said Hazel, my counselling tutor all those years ago. It was the second day of my Certificate course, and as soon as she said it my heart almost skipped a beat, I sat up in my chair and my eyebrows immediately shot up.

She was assigning us a ‘self-awareness exercise’ and told our group of 8 that for the next 2 hours she would say nothing unless we wandered from the task.

What a set-up! I’d never heard anything like this before, and was intrigued to know what would happen.

At the start, indeed, not much happened. People looked around the room, sometimes with nervous glances, and sometimes with a short-lived attempt at small-talk, which fizzled out pretty soon as we remembered ‘the task’.

Then for the next 2 hours there was no boring moment, no clock-watching, and nobody in this group of strangers asking

  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been in Leeds?
  • Have you ever been to Canada?

The group was still conversational, with questions, comments and reactions, but always at the back or front of people’s minds was the question ‘how am I feeling right now?…’ and ‘how are you feeling right now?’

It was pretty intense, and very refreshing, gradually producing the kind of honesty that I’d never normally get in a group of people whom I have never met before. After 2 hours, I felt I knew people much more than if I’d asked them those open questions you get taught on listening skills workshops: ‘What makes you happy…? What do you regret… ? What are you looking forward to…?’

Those questions are fine, but the tendency is for the conversation to remain as a ‘narrative about’ rather than an ‘experiencing of’. The Here-and-Now format heightens experience rather than information, so that after 2 hours in Hazels’ group I felt like I had been round the block instead of sitting in a lecture.

A year later I turned up at a co-counselling (Note the ‘co-’: this is very different to ‘counselling’.) residential near Pickering. One of the guys said, ‘let’s have a Here-and-Now group this afternoon’. Wowzah! This was for me, no question about that. And ever since that moment, this type of thing has been a regular thing in my life, helping me enquire within, notice my feelings, and always ready to take my time and wonder what’s going on for those around me, if I feel such a need.

You can try this type of group yourself, soon, if you are up for it: go to http://www.meetup.com/here-and-now-group-leeds/