Mary Arthurs, Chair of IAHIP, Talks to Mary de Courcy

I’m now coming to the end of my two-year stint as chair of IAHIP.  It has been an interesting time. I never had any particular ambitions to be the chair of the organization, but Sheila Killoran Gannon, who was the previous chair, approached me and dropped the seed in. I’m quite an organized person in my thinking and work and that certainly has helped me cope with the demands of the role.  I didn’t expect the position to be as political or as demanding as it turned out to be.  I have learnt a lot about the development of the profession while in this office.  It’s been very positive and very good for me and my personal development. The job carries huge responsibility and, while this can be difficult at times, it is also an honour to have been entrusted with that responsibility.

My involvement with IAHIP began about ten or more years ago.  I was on the executive, as the Governing Body was then called, in the early days.   Barbara Fitzgerald was chair at the time.  I do remember the very first meeting, the birth of IAHIP.  It was in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.  It was a very exciting time.  A great many of the established therapists of the time were there.   Most people would have been members of Irish Association of Counsellors, but it was seen that there was a need for a psychotherapy focused organisation, one that would embrace the many strands in psychotherapy.

I never imagined that we could get so embroiled in bureaucracy as we now find ourselves.  Byelaws, issues of ethics and complaints, insurance and legalities, and reams documents take up an enormous amount of our time on the Governing Body and its various committees.  We naively thought back then that once a document was in place, once a decision was made, the rest would follow automatically. But the administrative work of the organisation has grown exponentially. While I don’t think we’ve lost our core values, I sometimes think that it would be lovely to be able to wind back a bit and focus more on other aspects of our profession.

Ideally IAHIP should be offering seminars, perhaps once a month, on a variety of topics that are of interest and concern to the membership. When we have set up workshops in the past, they have been generally poorly supported. Possibly this is because of uncertain planning. Ideally IAHIP would support these monthly gatherings, running at a loss if we have to, but with the aim of gathering our membership together. A yearly timetable could be set out, offering workshops on clinical issues at different venues around the country.  With the information gathered from the Database questionnaire, the Governing Body has identified the need to establish another working group, one that will draw on the skills of the members to offer workshops and seminars on a regular basis to the membership. I think this would be a very exciting programme and one that members could get a lot out of. I’m impressed by the way the Jungian analysts run their seminars. They get good people in, often internationally acclaimed practitioners. I understand that Patrick Casement is coming in June. They also invite other less well-known but equally interesting practitioners to speak. If IAHIP did not have such high levels of administration, it would be possible to put more energy into providing seminars and workshops for our membership.  I often wonder if we’re over-managed. The weight of administration in IAHIP is something that needs to be addressed.

Something else that needs to be addressed is the relationship between IAHIP and ICP.  ICP serves us well in liaising with Department of Health and Children in relation to statutory registration for psychotherapists and liaising with European organisations. We in IAHIP are the largest single contributor to the ICP budget.  We give €51,000 at present. While the voluntary nature of IAHIP is being stretched to the limit we are at the same time paying out almost 40% of our membership subscriptions to the ICP. This is one of the issues that I wanted to discuss when I requested a meeting with the Chair of the ICP in February 2005. The ICP did organize a Chair’s Day in January of this year and it was a very useful meeting. I am pleased that out of that meeting it was decided that communication, or perhaps lack of communication, between ICP and the sections needs to be addressed. It was also agreed that an annual Chair’s day would go some way towards addressing this issue. These are all moves in the right direction.

The Standing Conference on Psychotherapy, which was the ‘parent’ of ICP, was a collegiate, buzzing, energetic group. There were people from all the different modalities involved and there was a great energy amongst its members. I believe that we need to review our relationship with ICP with a view to creating a more dynamic interaction between ICP and its constituent members, both at the level of constituent organisations and ordinary members who after all, pay the bills.

I understand that ICP also has plans to run a conference and is actively looking at appointing a member to deal with media. These developments are long overdue. There are newspaper responses to topical issues from counsellors and psychologists, but very seldom from psychotherapists. We’re so silent about our work.  In the past we were seen as being on the margins. But that has changed and the general public recognizes and accepts the value of psychotherapy. Yet we seldom speak publicly on the kind of issues that concern people. A PR person could respond to, for instance, the fact that psychotherapy does not work effectively in the six sessions often allowed by many organisations for their employees, or the fact that court reports are often not appropriate to a psychotherapeutic relationship. We need someone to be the public face of psychotherapy and I think that this is a role that the ICP could usefully take on board.

So if I were starting again as chair, and if my time hadn’t been taken up so much with administrative and related issues, I would love to have been able to plan workshops and seminars for IAHIP and encourage connections and communications amongst our members. There’s so much happening out there, but the committees of IAHIP get caught up in legal concerns and business administration.  Yet we must not lose sight of the most important side of ourselves and our profession, which is our clinical work, our relationship with our clients, and, of course, our relationships as colleagues and friends.

The position of chair of IAHIP has evolved into what is, in effect, a part-time position.  There are meetings weekly, and sometimes more often.  There are endless decisions to be made and large amounts of paper work to be dealt with.  It has eaten into my social life and certainly into my own headspace.  I’m glad that I’ve done it but it’s a once in a lifetime position and it’s time to move on now.

My two children are grown up now.  My daughter is studying medicine in Aberdeen and my son is working.  So Hugh and myself are back to living in the house without them. This has come about sooner than I had thought, but it gives us time to decide what we might like to do and to consider what pattern we would like our lives to take. It is ten years since we set up our centre and we have a busy practice.  I finished my training in 1991 and have worked in practice, completed a degree and an M.Phil since then.

Stepping down from the chair of IAHIP will free up quite a bit of my time. I’d like to take up Italian again and perhaps to try my hand at creative writing. I’d like to write though it’s quite a cognitive notion rather than something that’s welling up in me. I just haven’t had the space to take time to write. So that might be fun. I think it will take a while to free up that headspace, time away from IAHIP matters.  I love Italian though it’s a most impractical language because it’s hardly spoken outside Italy. But I love the way it’s spoken, the gestures and that it’s not difficult to pronounce. I get quite embarrassed about my French pronunciation but with Italian I’m fine, it’s just wonderful!

At present I’m looking forward to my own travels. On March 5th I travel to India. I’m not going to visit my guru or my swami! This is something that’s arisen because of a friend, Brenda, who is travelling round the world. She’s been travelling since November – this is her second world trip.  She’s in Australia right now and we’ll meet in India in March.  I’ll have three weeks there and I’m really excited about this. I was fifty last April and I wondered when I was going to get the chance to do something mad. This is it, the wild card! We’ve nothing planned except the flights, nothing sensible like accommodation, so a great adventure.  Perhaps that’s what it’s about – my transitional space!