by Anne O’Connor, MIAHIP
Mary Paula Walsh died peacefully, but unexpectedly, on 17th April 2017.
Mary Paula was a creative visionary with a passionate and pioneering spirit, a wonderful and a very large circle of dear friends. She worked tirelessly in the development of positive and creative attitudes to illness, death and bereavement in Ireland. With a very broad and deep philosophical perspective on life and death, she was also an inspirational psychotherapist and teacher to all her students and colleagues.
As many of you know, she was a greatly respected and very well-known Irish psychotherapist, who, together with her beloved partner Kay Conroy, founded Turning Point™ Counselling Services in 1986 in Dublin. Together they became Co-Founders and Directors of Turning Point™ Institute (TPI) in 2001, offering a highly creative and experiential MSc programme in integrative counselling and psychotherapy, which was initially validated by Dublin City University, and more recently, by University College Cork.
In TPI, the humanistic, integrative approach takes a holistic view of the person as a relational being, recognising all aspects of the person, including mind, body, spirit and emotions. This approach also acknowledges that we all live and operate within a particular social and cultural context, a perspective that informed all of Mary Paula’s philosophy of life, especially in the area of social justice, where she worked both nationally and internationally.
At its AGM on March 4th 2017, IAHIP made Mary Paula an Honorary Member in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the development of counselling and psychotherapy services and to the training and education of therapists. Since the late 1970s, Mary Paula was innovative and active in this area, throughout Ireland and abroad. In the 1980s she became a leader in Re-evaluation Co-Counselling; and in collaboration with others, founded the Bereavement Counselling Service in Dublin. She it was who invited Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to Ireland in 1984, and Mary Paula became a core member of Kübler-Ross’s training team. Over many long years, Mary Paula has also contributed greatly to the development of IAHIP (and EAP and EAIP).
In Inside Out in 1992, IAHIP published Mary Paula’s article entitled ‘Some thoughts on the Art of Living – and Dying – by a Psychotherapist,’ reprinted now in this current issue, which demonstrates her searing honesty and insights about life and death; she followed that with two books, Living after a death, a guidebook for the journey of bereavement in 1995, and later, Helping your child through bereavement.
An interview with Mary Paula appeared in The Irish Times on 1st December 2015, in which she described, with characteristic courage and simplicity, her challenging health experience which started before Christmas in 2012. She was to discover that she had very suddenly contracted a severe and very painful condition called Spondylolisthesis, which affected the vertebrae of her spine and which meant that she had to have life-threatening surgery as quickly as possible and spend a long time in rehabilitation. Very gradually, she began to recover a little. But then, she required further surgery in 2015, and thereafter she could not walk unaided. In this interview, Mary Paula states the following:
Serious illness is about letting go…my loss of independence was thrust upon me quite suddenly and unexpectedly…I think it helped me to accept my plight, as I had little choice…that propelled me into contemplating my death very seriously in a way I never had before, even though I thought I had.
Actually, it’s very liberating. I feel as if I’ve been let out of prison with that feeling of letting go fear and restraint.
I can at last begin to truly accept deep down in my being, what really is, what death involves and let all that fear and apprehension go, leaving me with enormous energy, freed up for living, in whatever way it is going to be possible for me – who knows?
This wonderful, warm, courageous, vivacious, generous, colourful and profoundly empathic, loving, compassionate and intellectual woman was to suffer finally with cancer over the last six months of her life, until, with her beloved Kay and a few of her closest friends and family beside her, her spirit was finally and peacefully liberated from this earthly life on Easter Monday, 17th April last.
It has been a great joy and a privilege to know Mary Paula. As we honour and celebrate her life, legacy and countless achievements, Mary Paula’s spirit, her gracious love, and inspirational creativity, will live forever in our hearts.
We send our sincere sympathies to her lifetime partner, Kay, with love and respect.