A Box of Chocolates at Dun Laoghaire

The European Association of Counselling Conference and AGM Developing the Counselling Profession in Europe, Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, November 3-5, 1995 – Anthony Wilson’s impressions

The conference, hosted by the Irish Association for Counselling and Therapy, was a mix of several plenary and twenty one concurrent workshop sessions. Delegates from twenty countries selected from the rich array before them. The conference programme described each workshop well, but as Forest Gump’s mama might have said it was like a box of chocolates, we never knew what we were going to get.

Windy Dryden gave the opening address and included the throwaway remark that at his parties psychotherapists would feel themselves superior to counsellors. I was to hear this message again when a workshop leader quipped that “the difference between a psychotherapist and a counsellor was about £20 an hour.” (Does the counselling profession project its collec­tive Shadow onto psychotherapy or do presenters feel audiences of counsel­lors expect this badinage?) No counselor had taught Windy his insights, he told us. He got them from books and the total cost was about £10. He asked, How much of your time would that buy? We also learned that Windy thought Carl Rogers was wrong and people did not need a relationship to help them to grow.

Next morning Niamh Breathnach and Nuala Ahern gave us encourage­ment and fighting talk speaking about counselling coming of age and of how we needed to get ourselves stuck into Brussels and Strasbourg before the medical profession and the psychologists got control of us. More Shadow material on offer there with potential homes for our father complexes!

Emmy van Deurzen Smith, former Chair of the UK Council for Psycho­therapy, spoke of the intense urgency for us to wake up to all we had to offer. Our understanding of human relationships and of the individual is very valuable in a Europe of change and unrest. She made a key observation that when professional bodies got together to decide training, standards and mutual recognition of qualifications they tended to raise the norm higher and higher to ludicrous levels. Thus they lost touch with the public and grass roots. We should try to accept equivalency not to harmonize, she emphasized. Speaking from the floor, a German delegate made a plea for less regulation of the profession in his country. I reflected on these sobering thoughts as we rushed to decide course content, accreditation and registration. It could result in a rigid system of artificially high standards that satisfy yesterday’s needs. We could be hoisted on our own petard.

The workshops offered covered a wide range. I liked the chocolates I got. My choices were good. Employee Assistance Programs and their effect on the growth of counselling professionalism, Supervision and the Assessment of Practical Skills. In a very helpful plenary session rapporteurs gave a sum­mary of all the workshops. Even more useful would have been a printed copy of the conference proceedings included in the delegate pack. This was an omission to an otherwise excellent and well-run conference.

Ireland was fairly well represented among the twenty countries at the conference, however I would have expected greater numbers since this important conference was so accessible to us. Next year it’s in Athens, Greece.