Choosing a Training Course

Jim O’Donoghue

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

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.

Course Accreditation

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

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 

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.

Indemnity Insurance

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.

Course Cost

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.

Course Structure

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

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.”