Choosing a Course: Things to Remember!

By Alan A. Mooney with acknowledgement to Ger Murphy

You don’t want to waste your time so this article is a follow-up to the training update in the last issue of Inside Out. Unless you are very familiar with the requirements of professional training there are some questions you need to clarify for yourself before you make your final decision about a course of training that suits you.

The first thing to know is that there are five major schools of psycho­therapy in Ireland and most of the professional training courses will come under one or other of their headings. These schools or styles of therapy are: Analytic; Behavioural; Family and Systems; Constructivist; and Humanistic & Integrative. You may want to get in touch with these different types of schools to clarify what style suits you and your future intentions.

Most professional training courses now expect you to have a third level degree in a compatible area like social science, psychology, medicine or an equivalent professional training like nursing. However, life experience may be considered as equivalent and it will usually be expected that you can show a fairly extensive commitment to your own personal development prior to embarking on a training course.

Unlike an academic training at a third level institution, a professional training in psychotherapy usually involves a large proportion of time de­voted to your own personal development. You will not only be required to complete the specified theory component of the course and pass exams, your graduation will, in most cases, include an assessment of your readiness to practise as a therapist as a result of your adequate personal development.

So, you will want to find out the balance between lecture, didactic teach­ing, seminar discussion and experiential learning. What is the balance between skills training and theoretical input? It is also a good idea to check the accreditation status of the course you choose. Has it got external recogni­tion by an accrediting body like the Irish Association for Humanistic & Inte­grative Psychotherapy etc.?

Will you be expected to see clients under supervision during the training and are such clients provided and/or assessed by the training course? It would also be useful to know what is the staff/student ratio and is the teach­ing done in large or small groups? Sometimes a course will state the number of hours commitment per week or year.

Does this number accurately reflect the time you will need to commit or do you need to find extra time for seeing clients or for your own personal therapy if such is required by the course?

A very important point to clarify is whether the course costs include all costs. Some courses include all costs while others expect trainees to pay for supervision and/or their own therapy separately.

Is personal therapy required? If individual therapy is required, is it offered by the course staff or by external therapists? How are professional boundaries maintained? For example if your therapist is also a part of the training and assessment team? How are therapists approved and what contact has the therapist with the course, e.g. will some form of assessment by the therapist, apart from a confirmation that you have been in therapy with them be required? Depending on the kind of course you choose, is Group therapy provided, will it be assessed?

Does the course make it clear how much written work, papers, essays, dissertation, etc., will be required from you? All courses will require you to read, research and study in your own time and you need to take into account your own time commitment to this work.

Finally, does the course of your choice adhere to a code of ethics? If it does you might like to see a copy to get an idea of the kind of issues that are important and does it have a complaints procedure in cases of dispute between staff and students? Does the course have an external monitor for such complaints?

Assuming you take these tips into account along with any other questions that may be particularly relevant to you, you should have a clear picture about what to expect when you consider psychotherapy as a profession for yourself. Copies of the Winter 1995 issue of Inside Out which carries an extensive review of courses are available on request at IR£2.00 from the address on the inside front cover of this issue.