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Recognising prior learning in psychotherapy training:

A critical appraisal

Author - Aine O’Reilly



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Clanwilliam Institute (CWI) has been one of the leading centres of systemic (family) therapy and practice in Ireland since its establishment in 1982. It provides a variety of services including marital and family therapy, mediation, organisational consultation and professional training for systemic practitioners. In 2007 CWI received accreditation with the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) for its Postgraduate Diploma and Masters in Science in Systemic Psychotherapy training programmes which are placed at level 9 on the National Framework of Qualifications. These HETAC accredited programmes are a development of training programmes run for over 20 years prior to academic accreditation. Prior to 2007, CWI training, similar to a substantial portion of psychotherapy training in Ireland, depended on a voluntary system of recognition by non-statutory professional bodies, in this case the Family Therapy Association of Ireland (FTAI). However moves towards the professionalising and statutory regulation of the profession, spurred by concerns about client protection and professional recognition, are leading increasingly to alignment with national and European academic and professional standards (Psychological Therapies Forum 2008). Currently all psychotherapy training in Ireland that comes under the umbrella of the Irish Council for Psychotherapy (ICP) is working towards European standards established by the European Association of Psychotherapy (EAP), the European psychotherapeutic organisation with consultative status at the Council of Europe. The CWI was the first training provider in Ireland to be accredited under European compliant regulations.

This somewhat rapid transition from non-formal training to accredited, regulated training is a site of great potential for psychotherapy training. Accreditation provides significant possibilities for evolution of systemic psychotherapy training informed by the wealth of knowledge of European psychotherapy and academia. However, the space between psychotherapy and academia can be a site of tension and discord. Academic perspectives on training are embedded in construction of knowledge and learning that at times do not fit comfortably with the philosophy, theory, ethos and practices of psychotherapy. The project of achieving formal accreditation for the sector allowed for a negotiation and movement towards some common position – a dialogue between the academic and the psychotherapeutic. However that common position is neither fixed nor stable. It is a provisional positioning, always subject to challenge, re-negotiation and change. This paper argues that the tension in the space between the academic and the psychotherapeutic, in particular as it plays out in the practice of RPL, can be seen in terms of its potential: that it provides a space for critical reflections on educational practices that can be useful for both academic and psychotherapeutic knowledges and practices.

This assumes that RPL is a particular site of tension – and therefore of possibility – between the academic and the professional. On the one hand RPL offers considerable potential for moving psychotherapy training towards academic recognition without excluding those who have invested so much of themselves in psychotherapeutic-related learning prior to accreditation of training programmes. It allows those who have the knowledge skills and competence gained in non-formal learning settings to be recognised and credited with this learning. Furthermore its safeguards and its procedural requirements are intended to ensure that this happens while also maintaining standards – surely the best of both worlds for a profession on the cusp of statutory registration! On the other hand its process of comparison between formal and non-formal learning throws into sharp relief the differences in what counts as learning in psychotherapeutic and academic learning. How this site of difference is managed is crucial to how psychotherapy moves forward.

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