Jim O’Donoghue is the Director of Dublin Counselling and Therapy Centre and former Director of Dundalk Counselling Centre.
The profession of psychotherapist/therapeutic counsellor in Ireland is slowly forming itself as a response to public need for help on the one hand and, on the other hand, as a vocational preference among those who wish to share, at a deeply personal level, in the healing journey of others.
To become professionally qualified is difficult unless one is already an honours graduate in Medicine, Psychology or Social Work. Even then the number of places on the Master in Medical Science (Psychotherapy) Degree in the Department of Psychiatry at University College Dublin is very limited. There are, of course, many people other than doctors, psychologists or social workers who wish to train as therapists and who seek admission to training courses at home and abroad. Teachers, psychiatric and general nurses, those working in other para-medical fields, judges, lawyers, priests, religious sisters and brothers, voluntary community workers, personnel managers, gardai and prison staff and, in general, those whose work involves close contact with the struggle of others, are recognising the need for adequate training in therapeutic counselling. This is evidenced by the numbers of people seeking places on the plethora of courses now advertised annually.
In the absence of a public watchdog, which could be provided by the Departments of Health and/or Education, the public need to be very careful indeed that any course which purports to offer training in psychotherapy/therapeutic counselling is, in fact, a professional course, directed by professionally qualified people and offering an acceptable qualification which entitles one to practice with safety. Not every course using the word ‘counselling’ in the course title is an adequate professional course and there are, understandably, angry people who have spent thousands of pounds in this country doing courses which they later recognise as being worthless.
Unfortunately there is as yet no professional body in Ireland for psychotherapy which offers a readily recognizable course accreditation. Undoubtedly this will come and let us hope that when it does it will be inclusive and open body not beset by professional imperialism or snobbery with which we are so familiar in many spheres of Irish life and which tends to cause splitting’ and a sense of exclusiveness. Such a body could publish a set of professional criteria which members of the public seeking training could use as a norm against which courses could be assessed.
At present the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a section for psychotherapists but this is limited to those who have qualified first of all in medicine. There is the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, a professional body of graduates, with post-graduate training in Guidance and Counselling, which offers affilliate membership to people who have completed training courses which it has previously approved. These can be courses run by private institutions or voluntary bodies and participants may be graduates or non-graduates.
The Irish Association for Counselling will accredit individuals who have satisfactory training in counselling. At present a group within that association is meeting to consider criteria for course accreditation. There is also the recently formed Irish Association for Alcohol and Addiction Counsellors and it too is examining the question of accreditation. Those interested in training specifically in Family Therapy have the Irish Family Therapy Network which also has a set of criteria for the registration of individual family therapists. There is the Irish Association for Accredited Jungian Analysts which also accredits Jungian Counsellors and Jungian Psychotherapists.
In choosing a course a prospective trainee might enquire whether the course is recognised for affiliate membership of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and whether previous graduates of the course have been accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling or one of the other accrediting bodies. A positive answer to such a question offers, at least, some recognition of the value of die course.
In seeking to evaluate the suitability of a course as a training for professional practice, another criterion which might be usefully applied is whether graduates of the course can gain Indemnity Insurance to cover charges of mal-practice. In a time of increasing litigation in such matters it is very important that all practising psychotherapists/counsellors have adequate indemnity cover. Courses which do not offer standards of training and qualification acceptable for Indemnity Insurance should be avoided.
Potential students should ‘shop around’ before deciding on a course because costs appear to vary greatly. In general, because any decent course will be the equivalent of a post-graduate university diploma, fees will be roughly the same as any such third-level course.
The British Association for Counselling has issued a useful brochure entitled “Recognition of Counsellor Training Courses”. This brochure sets out in some detail the stages and core elements which that association considers essential as a common focus in any course no matter what the orientation or tradition of therapy presented by a particular training programme.
In attempting to evaluate the professional standard of any particular course a number of criteria can be identified and these should be checked out before embarking on a course. Course brochures give a certain amount of information but it is wiser for the applicant to call to the institution offering the course and to interview the Course Director. Remember: “The one who pays the piper has a right to call the tune.”