Conference Review: Irish Council for Psychotherapy National Conference Dublin Castle. 7th, 8th June 2007 Healing the Hurt: Psychotherapeutic Perspectives in Clinical Practice

Reviewed by Sheila Killoran-Gannon

The sun shone for this conference. Temperatures were in mid 20’s on the 7th and 8th of June when over 250 people attended the ICP Conference in Dublin Castle. The opening evening began on a promising note in terms of numbers for the organising committee. A pre-conference meeting for training organisations chaired by Brion Sweeney [Chair of ICP] was well attended and stimulated lively discussion on the issues currently faced by trainers. The opening address of the Conference was delivered by Dan Neville TD who has a particular interest in, and knowledge of, the area of suicide and its prevention. His address is available on the ICP Website www.psychotherapy-ireland.com  I would like to give you a taste of his speech.

“There is an urgent need for greater psychotherapy in the Mental Health area. The Irish College of Psychiatry has reported to the Joint Committee of Health and Children, of which I am a member, that 80% of psychiatric consultants do not have access to a psychotherapist, 70% to a family therapist and 33% to an occupational therapist. A senior consultant in the public service informed the Oireachtas Committee that he has 480 patients with a staff compliment of one community nurse, one social worker, 2 junior doctors who are changed every 6 months and one third of a psychologist. Mental illness requires more time per patient than such a regime permits”

The wine and music reception which followed this address, entitled “ The Neglect of Psychotherapeutic Intervention in the Treatment of Mental Illness and Bereavement, Suicide and Suicide Prevention”, allowed participants to further discuss Mr. Neville’s remarks and created a forum for socialising and networking. In fact the energetic buzz and hum of greetings, conversation and debate characterised the wine receptions, the coffee breaks and the lunch break which punctuated the Conference.

Lord John Alderdice proved an inspired choice of speaker to deliver the first Keynote Address on Friday morning. He is a psychotherapist and a politician and as such he delivered an astute reflection on the status of psychological services in this country and in Britain. His delivery included an analysis of the mental health of young men from the two divides in Northern Ireland in light of post-peace-process and disarmament. While the political leaders of this society are now shaking hands and sharing government the incidence of suicide amongst young males has increased dramatically in recent times. Lord Alderdice suggested that healing the trauma of the years of the Troubles will take time. The processing of the trauma of war can take generations to achieve. John Alderdice is an excellent speaker and he surprised and delighted this writer with his uncannily accurate rendering of Ian Paisley in full flow. This thoroughly stimulating and wide-ranging address was followed by a presentation given by Professor Alan Carr on the research project which was commissioned by ICP. This proved to be an inspiring presentation by virtue, not only of the actual evidence revealed by the research i.e. proving that psychotherapy intervention actually does work, but also due to the enthusiasm and personal charisma of Professor Carr.

At this stage it was 11am and thus, time for the first coffee break.  Between coffee and lunch three concurrent workshops were presented by Dr. Angela Joyce, a Psychoanalyst from the Anna Freud Centre, London, Dr. Imelda McCarthy, UCD and Dr. Jim Sheehan of MMH and UCD and Dr Kate Gillespie, Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist. The topics addressed Infant Mental Health, Systemic Family Psychotherapy and A Cognitive Model for Trauma in Northern Ireland. (See www.psychotherapy-ireland.com for a summary of Dr. Gillespie’s presentation.)

Twelve 30-minute presentations and two 60-minute workshops made up the programme for the afternoon so that an individual could at most, attend four of the sessions on offer or the two workshops, or a combination of both. The presentation topics covered three streams: Clinical Innovations and Practices in Psychotherapy, Training and Supervision in Psychotherapy, Professional and Ethical Issues in Psychotherapy.

Brian Keenan delivered the final Keynote Address. It was entitled “Captivity and Freedom: Climbing out of the Chaos. How Brian Keenan overcame his own particular trauma during his long captivity.” In spite of the fatigue which a day of conference-participating can bring, Brian held his audience enthralled for almost an hour.

Colm O’Doherty, who facilitated an Orientation Exercise at the very start of the day, now presented a Closing Reflection. This was followed by the closing address given by Dr. Brion Sweeney. Brion did not attempt to hide his pride and pleasure in what had been a successful conference. He was gracious in his thanks and appreciation to all involved in the organisation of the event.

A wine reception with music in the background was then available for the conference attendees.  Brian Keenan stayed around to mix and mingle with those who were eager to have a word with him. Again the atmosphere was good, people satisfied with the day, wanting to comment, criticise, analyse. Introductions were made…networking happened… plans, promises made to meet again…to keep in touch-

Perhaps this conference establishes a precedent for an annual or biennial conference. While much credit must go to ICP and to the individual members of the organising committee, success always depends on the commitment of the participants. This experience has demonstrated that there is a need for, maybe even a hunger for, a forum where psychotherapists coming from all five sections, want to meet, to debate, to listen, to learn, to network.