Interview: Sheila Killoran Gannon talks to Mary de Courcy

I’m coming to the end of my first year as chair and I’m really appreciating
 how the organisation is run and and level of sophistication that it has arrived 
at now. While there are so many strands that have yet to be developed, we need to remember that much has already been achieved. There’s refining
 work as well as developing work to be done.

I wondered in taking on the job whether it would be too much. The position 
of chair had seemed to me to be rather formidable although I had been on 
the Governing Body for two years. But what surprises me about the job as
 chair is not how easy it is, because it’s not an easy position, but how possible
 it is, given the structures of IAHIP. They seem to be so supportive. And so
 while it is a large responsibility, it hasn’t as yet, proved too much or too
 onerous. The structures are there. They’re democratic enough. So it seems 
that in working things through, the responsibility seems to be shared. That’s 
welcoming to experience. And I think that this is the experience of people
 working on various sub-committees. I’ve appreciated even more the amount
 of voluntary effort. There are up to 50 people working voluntarily on 
various committees. The amount of energy and commitment and dedication
is amazing! It is rewarding to see the membership increase and to see the 
wheels of the association moving through the year.

My involvement on the Governing Body of IAHIP began at an energising
 and interesting AGM which was held in Limerick. I travelled down with a
 friend with no intention of getting involved. Within the atmosphere and the 
energy of that meeting, I found myself saying yes, I would go forward to the 
Governing Body. It was during one of the buzz breaks. And I didn’t regret 
it at all.

Prior to that involvement, I had a strong commitment to Éisteach, the IACP
 quarterly journal. I found this editorial board really enjoyable and a terrific
 committee to be on. Éisteach was important to me, not that I’m terribly 
good at writing but I enjoy the creative aspect of bringing an issue to
 fruition. I was always afraid of extending myself too much because I can get
 very enthusiastic about things.

So in saying that I would go on the Governing body, I really was saying that
 I was leaving Éisteach. It took about two years for that to happen. That s a
 measure of how enjoyable that committee was. It was a very difficult 
committee to leave. So that it was only when I became chair of IAHIP that
 I resigned from Éisteach.

You ask about training. Prior to training. I had been teaching at primary and
 secondary level for twenty-three years. I took early retirement. I heard about
 the Creative Counselling Centre in Dun Laoghaire. I applied for a place on
 their foundation year. I was not offered a place because I had no counselling 
experience. I think being refused challenged me. So I took an extra-mural 
course in counselling. Having been a year on that I reapplied to Creative
 Counselling. I think they were impressed with my tenacity. So I was
 accepted. My initial impression was that it was strange… bean bags instead 
of chairs! I was very traditionally in the mode of teacher. I thoroughly 
enjoyed that year and I was then accepted onto the professional course.

I remember that while I was doing the training, I wanted to be very careful
 not to let the other parts of my life go. I think we can seem to be unreachable 
by others if we forget or lose that part of our identity which is non-therapist. 
I do think that the friendships you make with people you train with or are in
 a group with, hold a special quality in terms of what you know about each
 because of what has been shared. And this can influence your subsequent
 conversations.

Regarding the distinction between counselling and psychotherapy, I think 
that a lot more people have access to counselling and there are many levels
 at which people can avail of it. I think that needs to happen in psychotherapy
 as well. It’s difficult for doctors and psychiatrists to appreciate the
 psychotherapeutic processes that we believe in: the existence of the
 unconscious and the processes of transference. I think these are concepts
 which are quite alien to their training. I’m not surprised that there is
 slowness in the acceptance of psychotherapy. I think also that 
psychotherapists need to develop a language to speak to other mental health
professionals in a way that they will understand.

That brings me back to the IAHIP. When I mentioned the voluntary 
commitment in the IAHIP, I think it’s important to keep it so that our
 professional body doesn’t become over-professionalised. In other words 
that we are managing and making decisions for ourselves in a way that is
 congruent. As we grow, we are going to have to employ more people in
 administration. I would however not like to see the level of voluntary 
contributions disappear. I think voluntary commitment by people who are 
practicing means that people who are on committees and making decisions
 have all come from their positions as professional practitioners. Their
 commitment suggests their concern about the future of psychotherapy
 about protecting its values and wanting to expand it. But I would like the
 balance of power in the organisation to rest with those who give their time
 voluntarily rather than in the hands of paid executive officers.

An aspiration which hopefully we on the Governing Body will put into 
effect this year, is the setting up of an outreach programme to training 
organisations, so that we would have a representative of IAHIP designated 
to inform trainees about the benefits of student membership. There is
 another development which I would like to see happening. I would like to
 see an academic panel set up which might award a biennial prize for
 research or for dissertations or articles. Reward is a very crucial part of our
 lives.

The revival of Inside Out is a welcome achievement and I want to 
congratulate the Editorial Board for taking this initiative. I wish you all
 many years of productivity.