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Focus on Training

Una Maguire, a Director of the Creative Counselling 
Centre, Dun Laoghaire, spoke to Mary Montaut about 
the development of their training courses.

The course we set up seven or eight years ago has evolved. We set out with a holis
tic, student-centred idea of training, so there was a process of building a curriculum by
 students and staff together which had its difficulties. We were challenged very strongly 
about doing it that way, with students saying to us: You are the people with the experi
ence and the expertise – what on earth are you doing, asking us what we want to study 
and which skills we want to develop and so on? We stuck to our guns, particularly that 
first time, not drawing sharp dividing lines between therapy, skills development and
 theory. We had very permeable membranes between them, not only in terms of talking 
some theory when it was group therapy time for instance, but also by having the same
 staff there for the theory and the skills development and the therapy group.

Initially we did not require trainees to be in individual therapy. We hoped that the 
therapy which we considered to be absolutely essential in terms of the preparation of
 the person to be a therapist, would be sufficiently provided for in the weekly therapy 
group. The first change was to bring in individual therapy as a requirement for the
 course. Because the whole field was developing very slowly and we did not think that
 people would have enough money or that there would be enough humanistic therapists,
 we did not require more than fortnightly sessions. Again, that has changed and we now
 require therapy once a week for the three years of the course. In other words, trainees
 must be on the receiving end of therapy of the kind that they are going to be offering 
people – that was the guideline which emerged. We were helped in focusing on this and
 other issues through our lengthy and valuable assessment to become an accredited training under the United Kingdom Standing Conference for Psychotherapy who accredited 
our training in May 1990.

Another thing that has evolved is the length of the course. The first three times we 
ran this course, it was a two-year programme. Now it is three years, and that makes a
 whole lot of sense, because we were finding that at the end of the two years, a number
 of people did not want to go on to practice. People coming to the end of the course could 
have done with more time – they have since got it for themselves in various ways, but it
 seemed a shame that it was not provided on the course itself. We have also evolved in 
that the emphasis is not as much on the group as it was in the beginning. Even though
 people start the course at the same time, this doesn’t at all mean that they have to finish
 at the same time – it is open-ended and to that extent more flexible. We hope too that
 this will take away any sense of failure – you know, if someone comes to the end of the 
course and that they may not be ready yet then there is no need to have a stigma attached.

The drawbacks of such a holistic system, such a democratic system if you like, became 
clearer as time went on. So the focus of power on the course has also evolved. In the 
early days, we were very idealistic in wanting the focus of power to be with the adult students, the trainees individually, as well as staff. We held to that model for three courses, 
but gradually, we realised that that kind of power-sharing left itself open to influence 
which are the stuff of therapy – projections, transferences and so on, were all coming 
into play. And so we decided that the focus of power needs to be much more clearly
 established with the staff. This does not mean that we cut out dialogue, or that our hope 
wouldn’t be that we would have mutual agreement on recommendations, decisions and
 so on. We would very much work towards that, giving students opportunities for self-
assessment and feedback to each other and to staff, as well as hearing from the staff 
throughout the course. We have also set up a kind of tutor system where a particular
 member of staff has a special relationship with about four of the students, in an attempt 
to keep our fingers on the pulse a bit more closely.

Firm Boundaries

Then the holistic aspects of our original philosophy have also evolved, in that we have
 come to realise the value of having more definite divisions for separating between the 
different aspects of the course. For example, we won’t be group therapists to the people
 we are supervising. Sometimes we would have outside facilitators for the group therapy.
 All the individual therapists are outside, not only of the course, but outside the Centre. 
So those kinds of boundaries are becoming more firm and strict. There has been some
 debate about the gains and losses. When the boundaries were most strict, the staff lost 
out on knowledge of the students and therefore, in a sense, the focus of power had to 
remain with the students as much as with the staff. We hope that we have got the bal
ance right now: the group therapists are staff members, and at any one time a staff
 member does not have a training and therapy role with a student.

After the first two courses that we ran, we thought that the time was ripe to say: look,
 we want to have people on the course who really know what they are taking on board, 
who have been at the receiving end of therapy, who maybe haw been practising in a voluntary capacity or in the job that they are engaged in and who have some knowledge of
 the language of therapy and that we do not want people to be coming onto this profes
sional training course only as a means of exploring their career options. So we set up an 
Introductory Course for that purpose, and that seems to mean that the people who are
 coming onto the course are staying right through. We are also very clear that it is for 
mature students – not for somebody straight out of college for example. We think that
 people should in general be at least around thirty when they arc finishing training.

While we started with a focus primarily on Humanistic Psychotherapy theory and 
practice, we have since enlarged our focus also to integrate the newer analytic perspec
tives, amongst others. A development which I personally would like to see would be the
 spiritual side. So far, we have given attention on the course to the mind, the emotions
 and the body and the spirit has got rather less explicit attention. I should like to see it 
have a more up-front place, with somebody like Ken Wilbur featuring more in the 
theory, and somebody like Stan Grof featuring more in the practice. We would have the
 same approach to the spiritual side of things, in other words a client-centred facilitative 
one. The assumption would be that this is a real dimension of the human being. Other
 partners within the Creative Counselling Centre lay special emphasis on other theoretical streams and this ensures a lively development of our programme.

Another development I would like to see would be towards individually tailored
 courses. As more staff become available, either from inside the Centre or guest staff,
 there could be options for people to pick up alongside a core inner structure. That is
 something I find exciting as a possible development.

As a humanistic and integrative group of practitioners, we pay attention not only to 
the growth models of the therapy, but also to clinical ones, although we do not operate
 from a medical model. As part of the training we expect trainees to see 2/3 clients on a
 weekly basis. We would also like to see trainees having placements or experience in hos
pitals, halfway houses or rehabilitation communities. Psychotherapy is not only about
 working with the worried well, very definitely not, and yet the clinical end so far has 
been hospital based and medically approached. I would hope that the apparently imper
meable membrane between psychiatry and psychotherapy would start to leak both

While the course is focused on developing as good practitioners as possible within 
the flexible three-year span, we nonetheless accept that it is the person of the therapist 
that is therapeutic in the long run, as has been shown in research. The main tool of therapy is the person. All the way through our practice as trainers, it is respect for the person  of the client which informs our thinking and doing. Sometimes students wonder if you
 need  to be a saint to be a therapist – this is one of the criticisms levelled at Rogers, for
 instance. Dare I say that I think the answer might be: something like that!

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