Catherine O’Dea Talks to Mary de Courcy


At the moment I don’t work in any particular area of psychotherapy. I have always worked with what came in through the door with the exception of active addiction and adolescents. In the summer there is going to be an ending of my work in Ireland. We’re all getting there together, my clients and me. I’m ending and they’re ending and there is a definite connection there. As one client put it, ‘I’d better hurry up as I don’t want to go to anyone else!’ I don’t think I’m ending for good but I’m finishing here. I am moving to England next year where I hope to start up a very small practice as a member of IAHIP, all by myself, the overseas branch!

I have been working as a counsellor for about 15 years if you count post-social work training. Before I actually started my psychotherapy training, I had worked as a counsellor from 1989. At that time people were working in the field of psychotherapy having had social work training. Many people began their connection with psychotherapy from social work and/or from co-counselling training. I trained as a social worker but I never worked as a social worker partly because I decided working with children in care or community care was not for me. Two of my social work placement supervisors were trained as psychotherapists, Tony Walshe and Vincent Humphries. Tony Walshe, worked in St James’s Hospital and had done constructivist training. Vincent Humphries was a social worker in St Michael’s House and had been trained in Gestalt therapy by Marvin and Netta Kaplan. So those influences led me away from social work.

Then I did training with the Creative Counselling Centre. I’ve been working as a psychotherapist since 1992 in private practice though for the first three years I was also part time as a staff psychotherapist in the ICCP. My work is with individuals, not couples, groups or training, but I have always known that this is where I was supposed to be. However, I wonder sometimes if there isn’t a time limit to this kind of work, particularly with quite distressed, long term clients and I’m going to have to think quite carefully what and how much I take on in the future. It’s remarkable how things change when you’re ready. For the first couple of years in practice, the build up of clients was slow and then somehow I was established with lots of long term work. When I started to wind down at first, I was turning people away unless I had a feeling they might be able to use just a year and now I get practically no referrals at all!

One of my passions is getting out of this house and getting out of this room. I’ve been in this room for thirteen years! One of the reasons I went on IAHIP committees was to get myself out. It’s a very isolating profession and I needed to meet colleagues and be involved. I also work as a volunteer in the garden Airfield house, in Dundrum. It’s a beautiful place and I’m learning to garden which doesn’t come naturally to me. No green fingers in my family but I have experimented and some things have worked which amazes me. Another passion is my interest in graveyards. A friend and I find little known burial grounds in the countryside and look at carvings. It’s just for our own interest. Graveyards are such rich and ancient places, peaceful, spiritual, if you like and not at all unsettling. It brings you in touch with collected peoples down through the centuries. We are interested in the grave slabs, the carvings, interesting bits of information about the people and the quirky spellings of the letterings. You can’t get upset at children’s graves, but you find unexpectedly beautiful carvings and very sophisticated gravestones.

I think I’m moving away from psychotherapy. Yes, it feels as though I’ve been there, done that, given what was in me in that way. I’m occupied at the moment with these two things, winding down the practice, letting go of the practice, letting go of the house, letting go of the country, trying to experience things as they come. It’s about letting go of a long time. It’s a good chunk of your adult ego. It’s about saying au revoir but not goodbye because I’ll be over and back. I’ll always be an Irish trained psychotherapist with my heart half here as I feel that I belong in both countries. Uncomfortable and confusing at times but, if you look at it the right way, what riches!

I wonder will I always be a psychotherapist in the way I relate to people. Our profession can get in the way of our relationships. As a psychotherapist you have carte blanche to see things around people, changes in energy, things that don’t match, that’s your job. I’d like to connect with people in a different way and not always be condemned to seeing things unbidden and picking up atmospheres and ‘stuff’. Can we move away from that place of seeing? I’m not sure. And yet the way of working is such an integral part of how we are in the world. However, I’d like to go on being open to receiving and learning from whomsoever I meet.

You ask me have I kept my sense of humour and the short answer is I have because I’ve always used it. One of my clients told me I taught him how to laugh. What a privilege! Sometimes in a difficult situation I can say things with a bit of gentle humour in the wonderings, and it seems to help my clients. I have some funny cards in my room some of which clients have given to me over the years. One of my current favourites is of a little figure seated on a bench with his back to the viewer. Its caption reads, “I think I’ll just sit here and wait ‘til life gets easier”. Probably another influence on my way of being is that I was raised a Quaker. George Fox who founded the Society of Friends in 1652 said that we should ‘walk cheerfully through the world answering that of God in every man.’

I have been serving on IAHIP committees since 1995. But even before that I was involved to the extent of going to AGMs and as students we were encouraged to go to the early meetings when the association was bring formed. Now my involvement will be over next March. I have never regretted this involvement as, though it has been hard and perplexing at times, it has also been interesting stimulating and enjoyable. I have served on the ethics committee the longest and in two separate stints and I feel I am a bit to close to it to see it properly. And particularly when you are working on documents your vision tends to narrow down. I took part in the work done on the original complaints document. That has since been rewritten in the light of experience. Every time you write a sentence something will come up to make it change. Every idea breeds ten more. You get to be a bit like the caricature of a civil servant in a dusty office.

Now with the vision of hindsight, I can see that it might be better to serve on committees for short stints and not, as many of us tend to do, get sucked in to going from one committee to the next. Committee fatigue sets in and we disappear, often for good. If we came and went, others would come in and so the feeling of belonging, that a lot of us had a decade ago when IAHIP was small, could be extended. Then perhaps we might no longer have the response I often received when encouraging people to come to the AGM and put themselves forward for committees. ‘ We can’t. You all know each other,’ they would say. I felt slightly sad but wanted to say, ‘Hang on a minute, we all had to stand up and speak about ourselves and it wasn’t easy.’

Catherine O Dea, BA, CQSW, MIAHIP, MIACP is a psychotherapist and supervisor and has served on various IAHIP committees and as membership secretary.