The Development of Humanistic Psychotherapy in Ireland

An Anecdotal History

By Susan Lindsay

In the beginning, seeds were planted …

A Quaker woman from the States, Lynn Shivers, visited Derby in England and introduced Sheila and Leo Smith to Co-Counselling. Sheila passed it on to Raymond Cadwell and Mary Paula Walsh, who organized the first Re-Evaluation Co-Counselling network in Ireland in about 1973. Prior to that, Mary Paula had been in a Teilhard de Chardin discussion group which had included Tom Mannion and Leslie Barber, then a Jesuit priest. Later Leslie was to run groups in Milltown (in what was the precursor to Tabor House) and to introduce many Religious to Humanistic Psychology. Tom Mannion, who was a banker, was to join Ray Cadwell and John O’Neill in developing the Dublin Growth Centre. John had recently returned to Ireland from New York, where he had experienced Humanistic therapy groups, and Ray was a management consultant who also ran T’ groups in the Trinity business school. John afterwards moved out of the project and retired to the Wicklow countryside with his wife, Mary Bryne. (Mary currently practises with Connect Associates and John recently published a magazine on the theme of human unity and runs groups under the name ‘Together’.) About this time too, Paddy Walley and Ivor Browne set up the Association for Human Growth and Development, to which they invited many people from abroad to run groups, including the Grubb Institute which ran groups here many times.

Prior to all of this, Jonathan Hanaghan led a group of analysts. Miceal O’Regan recalls, “Long before group therapy was fashionable, J.T. Hanaghan was running a group, often colloquially known as the Monkstown Group.” In many ways their work was the start of Humanistic Psychotherapy here because of their democratization of hierarchy (even though J.T. himself was hierarchical, if only because of his personal authority and stature).

For me personally, I suppose the seed was planted at school. Ruarc Gahan, headmaster of Sutton Park School, Dublin, was devoted to the educational philosophy of A.S. Neill, the founder of Summerhill and author of the book of the same name. Neill was also a disciple of Wilhelm Reich and there is a book published of their correspondence. So individual autonomy was fostered in my school, at least as an ideal.

About 1975, the Irish Association of Social Workers had elected a com­mittee for the Eastern Branch which included myself as a newly-fledged social worker. It was chaired by Barbara Kohnstamm, who worked with John Stokes for the Church of Ireland Social Services in Rathmines. (Barbara is currently Chairperson of the Family Therapy Network of Ireland and their representative on the Irish Council for Psychotherapy.)

In Rathmines, Barbara was visited by a Canadian, Len Goodman, who was essentially looking for some work. He had bought a sailing boat, intend­ing to sail across the Atlantic, but in getting the necessary repairs done, he had ‘missed the tide’ and now it was early autumn and he would have to wait until spring. In the event, he sold the boat and stayed on here for several years. In 1975 he agreed to run a day-long group and five evenings as an introductory training in group work for the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW). I remember asking naively if my husband, John, could also do it, because I’d read somewhere that one partner doing groups could put a strain on a marriage. That weekly group continued for about a year, with some changes in the group participants as new contracts were made. (John’s memory of it is that it may have run for as long as two years.)

Len had been born in England and emigrated to Canada at 16 years of age. He had served in the Canadian navy, he was a teacher, and he had been in groups with Fritz Perls – among other things. He also had quite a lot of experience with Bioenergetics; we used to joke that you’d know he’d been in the navy when we were bent over in the Bioenergetic crouch and groaning from the strain in our legs!

The IASW invited Fred LaBelle (a Canadian who had trained in family therapy with Virginia Satir) to come to Ireland to run two week-long work­shops in Family Therapy. Fred came for several summers to run workshops and those early years in Family Therapy here were extremely experiential and extremely humanistic. Virginia herself came a few times too, and we had some lovely experiences working with her. She was such an inspiration to so many. I still believe that Family Therapy spread so rapidly in Ireland because the early training was so much based on developing awareness and on personal experiential work. It had all the excitement that experiential work can engender – the attendant development of intimacies and the sense of breaking through personal limitations – and all the dodgy elements of those early days in humanistic psychology too: boundaries were often broken, leading both to excitement and heartache. More particularly, it put people in touch with the exciting possibilities that come from learning to trust feelings and develop from your own experience.

Somewhere in that year of 1975-6, Len Goodman and Barbara Kohnstamm got together with Ray Cadwell and Tom Mannion, and the Dublin Growth Centre expanded. They had their first summer week-long group in 1977 in Townly Hall near Drogheda. I was a trainee with them by then, undertaking an apprentice-style traineeship and co-leading one of the groups. There were 30 – 40 participants on that week and it was an amazing experience for many of us. I recall my first experience of meditation, spontan­eously arising out of a gestalt therapy exercise. And I remember facilitating someone in the group and having my first sense that intuitively I could really do this. Heady days of excitement! I learned such a lot that week, that took me years to integrate. It was the kind of experience we’ve probably all had at some time – when you reach a place in yourself that, later, it takes you years to reach again in such a way that the learning has become part of your life.

The Dublin Growth Centre ran summer groups for the next two years. The second year (1979), Raymond and I led it at Tigroney House in Avoca. Tom, Len and Barbara had left for different reasons, but all were to pursue their interest in the field further in other countries. The following year, the Dublin Growth Centre had ended and I ran a summer group in Kilkenny with Willie Stone, who had also been around the Centre. (Willie is now a therapist living in Limerick.) This time, the youngest participant was Ben Lindsay, aged nine months. A poignant memory of that week, which many have recalled to me, was of Ben stumbling across the floor and putting a tissue to my eyes when they were full of tears. I had been really touched by one of the participant’s stories, but Ben’s action touched us all and seemed amazing for such a young toddler.

I am writing here about the developments in Dublin, but of course there was another whole process of development going on in Cork. Alison Hunter remembers visiting Cork on the invitation of Frank Dorr and Eileen Lynch in her early days in Ireland. Alison had been visiting Benburb (Northern Ireland) since 1978, and was also invited to Dublin by Barry Ahern to run her first workshop in the South about 1979. Her background was in Clinical Theology and she had done training with the Westminster Pastoral Founda­tion and then with Frank Lake. She recollects meeting Jim O’Donoghue for the first time about then, who later became the Director of the Dundalk Counselling Centre and then founder of the Dublin Counselling and Therapy Centre, with his son, Paul. By spring of 1981, Alison had moved from England to live in Ireland because her work was in such demand here. The 4th December 1982 saw the birth of Amethyst – the first Humanistic Healing and Therapy Centre in Dublin, which moved to premises in Annacrivey Wood, Enniskerry, in August 1983.

The end of the seventies was important too for another beginning. Miceal O’Regan returned to Ireland and began a private practice as a therapist in the basement of the Benin Casa School, Blackrock. He offered a weekend on Psychosynthesis and Meditation. According to himself, he was almost be­mused by the amount of interest shown. By 1980, the Institute for Psycho-synthesis had premises at Pembroke Park and a pilot study was underway which ran for five years. Trainers agreed to come to Ireland from the London Institute of Psychosynthesis (of which Miceal was a Director) to train people here, on the basis that Miceal would take responsibility for the course after five years.

Reflecting on those early years after his return to Ireland, Miceal remembers how a group of priests who had trained abroad, used to meet for support. Among them were Cormac Gallagher and Brendan Staunton, Miceal himself and later, Tom McGrath. In a way, they were a bit of an embarrassment to the medical profession, who were unsure how to use them or how to refer to them. It was slow at the beginning and it is very interest­ing, looking back, to see how there was then a sudden blossoming of inter­est. Miceal also makes the point that, in a way, it was quite a privilege for them to have been free enough and sufficiently financed to be able to go abroad for such lengthy training. I suppose it was, but their investment has contributed a lot to the development of psychotherapy in Ireland.

1983 saw the birth of the Creative Counselling Centre – and my daughter. (Since we couldn’t decide which to do first, we decided it had better be both!) Una Maguire was at the birth of both, as founding partner of the Centre, and as friend and assistant midwife to John and me for Emma’s birth at home. Angela Walsh was the third founding partner – a family therapist who had played a large part in the early days of developing Family Therapy here, and had trained in the U.S. with Fred and Bunny Duhl. The first train­ing course in Humanistic Counselling and Psychotherapy started at the Creative Counselling Centre in our premises at Templeogue in September 1984.

Just a week or two after the course was advertised, the first psycho­analytic training was also advertised, to be run at St Vincent’s Hospital in Elm Park. This was an interesting coincidence for me, because I had once worked on the Unit, Prof. Noel Walsh having been willing to employ a social worker who was keen to include humanistic and family therapy in her work. Obviously a critical moment had arrived for the development of psychotherapy in Ireland.

The weaknesses and strengths of that first course at the CCC and my own, and others’, subsequent debates about the issues involved are still para­mount when I consider what Humanistic Psychology and Psychotherapy mean today. Every training (and practice) has to be looked at in the context of the time in which it was set. This involved obvious limitations, such as the fact that there were not many humanistic therapists around at that time. But it also offered opportunities, to be innovative and creative in finding solutions to difficulties.

Facilitated Training

Core to this course was the fact that it was a facilitated training, rather than a directed training. The group of twelve students were to be facilitated to design their own programme within certain parameters – namely, that it was to include theory, practice, weekly group therapy and weekend workshops. A particular memory of those times was my visit to Walthamstow in London, to meet John Rowan (AHP) to ask him to be a Consultant to the course, which he became. He was a generous source of information, and told me about the Rugby Conference and the importance of attending it – which I subsequently did for a few years, a first step in the process which led to the accreditation of a more developed course a few years later. In fact, it was one of the courses accredited early on by the then UKSCP.

The fact that the programme was facilitated rather than directed meant that the process of development the group would move through was highly important. It also raised critical issues about assessment. If one was facilita­tor – and the prime facilitator for most of the time – could one also be the major assessor? (And did I want to be? No!) An humanistic education pro­cess suggested that students should have maximum autonomy and respons­ibility for their own programme and progress. This is still true, and Rogers’ writings and research support this view.

Should the students, then, assess themselves? If so, should the facilitator/trainer hold a veto on what was decided? After all, if you run a training course, you have a responsibility to ensure a proper standard is reached. It was decided a veto would not serve. Power without responsibility wouldn’t work. If the students were to assess themselves, then they needed to know that they themselves were fully responsible for the outcome – they couldn’t rely on some ‘parent’ or other authority saving them from themselves. Sub­consciously as well as consciously, it had to be clear they couldn’t leave someone else to carry the can. The standard and thereby recognition, set for the course, would be set by themselves. Where did that leave the respons­ibility of the trainer? The trainer took responsibility for running the course this way, for the design of the process and for the facilitation. In some ways it was an exercise in faith. An exciting project – I’d like to do it again some­time (perhaps with already graduated students) drawing on what has been learned both then and on the next course, when there was more emphasis on peer and staff feedback and the difficulties of consensus decision making. More account would also need to be taken of the levels of transference chall­enge that are posed by not having a ‘parenting’ trainer and training. This is the very issue that psychoanalytic groups, opposed to the whole certifica­tion/accreditation process, pose now: maybe we shouldn’t have accredi­tation from any external person /persons, but challenge ourselves to take full responsibility for our actions in practising; and our clients, by requiring them to take full responsibility for the choice they make in working with us.

But what about the unequal power? I hear you argue, What about abuses of trust?

Real issues, I reply. I have worked hard for accreditation processes, but something else that is valuable could be lost, and should not be denied, because it is very central to ourselves as humanistic therapists. It needs to be kept in our awareness. Ultimately – whoever accredits us with certificates – self-assessment will be of paramount importance. In the end, what we should be talking about is the question of what is ‘good enough’ assessment and most likely to be effective in a given situation.

The Maturing Plant

In the 1970s, the first seeds of Humanistic Therapy in Ireland were growing. The 1980s saw the emerging plant as therapists developed practices and the first formal training courses. The 1990s have been more about nurturing the plant. The focus has been on consolidating what has been learned and really putting psychotherapy on the map here.

Once people run training courses, they begin to realise a responsibility they have to the students so trained to participate in discussions which will enable their training to be recognised. Also as therapy is becoming widely practised, there is a growing awareness of how it can be poorly practised too and how clients need guidelines as to what they can reasonably expect from therapists.

In 1970 or even 1980, the terms ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ were not in the general vocabulary of the Irish people. If you said you were a counsellor, people wrote down ‘councillor’. You didn’t even try psycho­therapist! In the early 1990s, ‘counsellor’ entered the vocabulary and by the end of the century, ‘psychotherapy’ will also be in mainstream consciousness – it almost is now.

The 1990s have seen the establishment of the Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy. I will never forget being at the first AGM and looking around at all the people – about 80 – and wondering to myself where they’d all come from. The late 1970s in particular were fairly lonely territory for therapists, and I was very much on my own as one humanistic psychotherapist who didn’t know many others in Ireland for a few years. In contrast, it was an amazing – and very encouraging – differ­ence to suddenly discover myself as one among so many.

Working with others, members of the IAHIP have assisted the develop­ment of the Irish Council for Psychotherapy, particularly Ger Murphy, the present Chairperson, who was also one of the founders of the first journal for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy in Ireland, Inside Out. Ger trained in psychotherapy in the Minster Centre in London, but he had also been around earlier for some of the Fred LaBelle workshops. He joined the Creative Counselling Centre in 1986 and was involved with the training from then on.

With the development of Accreditation Criteria, Complaints Procedure and a Code of Ethics, it could be said that Humanistic Psychotherapy has arrived in the mainstream. The IAHIP is part, at national level, of the ICP and through that will be represented at European level, both with the European Association for Psychotherapy and at meetings in Brussels.

“Remember Your Roots”

Arriving has its own attendant dangers. Increasing structures give support and challenge us to practise to a high standard. Trying to discern what is important now, I received the image of a tree – its message: “Remember your roots.” Humanistic Psychology is rooted in phenomenological reality.

Experiencing our lived realities and sharing the truth of who we are is fundamental. It is critical we don’t lose ourselves by colluding with the myths of what we believe we ‘should’ be or aspire to become. We have come so far by trusting the path that unfolded before us. As Joseph Campbell is reputed to have said, “If you can see the path ahead, the only thing you can be sure of is that it is not your path.” We must stay true to our experience and continue to explore new territories. It is essential that we continue to speak our truth and to listen to the truth of others, for it is, ultimately, only the truth that will continue to set us free.

Susan Lindsay is a member of Connect Associates and a practising psychotherapist