Meanwhile, in Cork…Frank Dorr, in conversation

with Mary Montaut


The development of Humanistic Psychotherapy in Cork really began with a Health Education Programme for Post-Primary Schools in 1974 which in­volved experiential learning exercises and this spread from the children on to involve the teachers as well. By 1976, this programme was being funded by the Health Education Bureau and also by Ogra Chorcai (Cork Youth Association) and it included a workshop by Brendan Connolly and Rory Corcoran, who were both educational psychologists. The programme was for in-service training for teachers and involved groups which ran for twenty to twenty-five weeks. And as this developed, the programme went on to include residential weekends as well.

A further stimulus to the Humanistic style of the programme came when Fiona Devlin was appointed in 1978. She was an occupational therapist, and Frank originally met her in one of Ivor Browne’s “Tavistock-style” work­shops, which were seven- or ten-day workshops run on the Bion model by Ivor and Gareth O’Connor. At this time too, Brendan Connolly was setting up his Awareness Therapy training independently. Then Donal Lenihan, who was Chaplain at UCC at this time, began retreats for staff which also came under the umbrella of the Social and Health Education Programme and Ogra Chorcai and which were really more like experiential groups. Within a year, both Fiona Devlin and Eileen Lynch had become involved in the project.

Fiona Devlin and Eileen Lynch developed the Programme further by inviting people from abroad to run workshops. Frank recalls the excitement of groups run by John Heron and James Kilty on six-category intervention and by Adrienne Houry whose “Expression Corporelle” workshops made use of mime and gestalt techniques. At these workshops, he met Geraldine Grindley and Geoffrey Corry, who now runs peace and reconciliation workshops. Another early and very important contributor was Alison Hunter. Frank remembers first meeting her at a workshop in Armagh, and subsequently he himself went to work with Frank Lake (Alison’s trainer) in Nottingham, and brought Alison to Cork to run workshops in the early 1980s.

From about 1981, Nicola Quinn had been running workshops on Co-Counselling in Cork, and independently a group of people whom Frank remembers as “mainly ex-pats” had established a Co-Counselling network in West Cork as well. There were also week-long workshops run by Paul Rebillot (who still visits Ireland from Esselin), whose “multimedia” approach integrates elements of gestalt, Jungian myths and holotropic (Grof) breathing. Another influential visitor was Anne Dixon, whose groups on sexuality and Assertiveness inspired Fiona and Eileen to include Assertiveness training on their programmes right up until the present time.

By this time, Frank himself was a Tutor on the Programme and he had become enthusiastic about Bioenergetics. He invited Patrick Nolan to come back to Cork and run workshops, and Patrick also became a staff member of the Health Education Programme. Another early associate was William Stone, who now practises psychotherapy in Limerick. However, around 1985 there was what Frank describes as “a painful divorce” from Ogra Chorcai and Fiona left the programme. Then in 1986, a new organization was formed, the Cork Social and Health Education Project, which was staffed by Health Board members on secondment. It was still largely school-based, and so its management committee included representatives of parents’ and church organizations. In the summer of 1986, Frank was appointed the Director of the Project.

Until this time, although there were a great many Humanistic workshops going on in Ireland, there was no real training available. Frank had frequently invited Joan O’Leary to Ireland to run gestalt workshops, and towards the end of 1985, Fiona and he persuaded Joan to set up a training course, under the aegis of the Social and Health Education Project in Cork, with a link in Limerick too. And so the following year, Joan and Hank O’Mahoney set up their first gestalt training in Ireland.

Speaking with philosophical resignation, Frank describes how there was a backlash in the mid-eighties against the use of experiential methods in schools. His response was to open up the Project to public health staff and nurses and to cease to be part of the teachers’ in-service training. The course has expanded gradually from one to three years of mainly experiential group work. Frank emphasises that this is not a training in psychotherapy as such; it is concerned, as it was from the beginning, with Personal Develop­ment. It keeps its vital links with the community, running groups all over Cork for members of the public. For example, many women’s groups are involved. There is a really active network in place in Cork, perhaps because Cork is small enough for the people involved to really know each other. Many people who came on the courses then went on to a full training. Indeed, various training courses have been set up recently by people who were involved in the early days. Frank mentions Donal Healy and Clare Murray, who were originally teachers who joined the project course about 1979, and who now run their own training course at the Flatstone Institute.

And so, the seeds of Humanistic Psychotherapy which were sown in Cork at about the same time as those sown in Dublin, have taken root and developed their own characteristic qualities in the different climate of the South. Frank sees the Project as still mainly concerned with Personal Development, and making a substantial contribution to the social development of Cork itself. As he puts it, “Cork is small enough (compared with Dublin) to have a Network where we all know each other.”