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.