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Recognising prior learning in psychotherapy training:

A critical appraisal

Author - Aine O’Reilly


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Professional training in psychotherapy: the context

Professional training in psychotherapy, in particular in the field of systemic psychotherapy, is undergoing considerable change. Movements towards the accreditation and regulation of psychotherapy training by regulatory bodies external to the systemic psychotherapy field – such as academic, statutory and European psychotherapy bodies – is, in the main, relatively recent and fits with movements within the profession to align pre- and post-qualification training with European and National Frameworks of Qualifications and to standardised entry requirements to, and standards for, the profession across Europe. The 2007 accreditation by the HETAC of the CWI Postgraduate Diploma and Masters in Science in Systemic Psychotherapy is an example of this move towards external regulation. Previously the practice and training of psychotherapy, and in particular systemic (family) psychotherapy, had tended to occur outside of the statutory regulatory systems for professional practice and training in Ireland, Europe and elsewhere (for Ireland see ICP; for UK see Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy 2009; for Canada see Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office 2005; for New Zealand see Ministry for Health 2007). Instead, standard setting and quality assurance have depended on a voluntary system of regulation introduced by non-statutory professional bodies such as the FTAI, and the European Family Therapy Association (EFTA).

The CWI accredited programmes are a development of a training programme run for over 20 years prior to academic accreditation by the Institute. This previous programme was accredited by the FTAI and recognised as fulfilling specified training criteria for the purposes of FTAI full membership. The CWI HETAC accredited programme differs from the previous programme provided by the Institute in significant ways; however there is also considerable continuity in the pre- and post-HETAC accreditation programmes.

In attempting to align itself with academic bodies in particular, psychotherapy training needs to take on broad processes and procedures from academia that are different to professional training. Achievement of academic accreditation requires the shaping of training discourses and practices by external systems of meaning and valuing that at times do not fit with the meaning-making and valuing of the theories of psychotherapy. RPL is a particular site of tension between the academic and the psychotherapeutic for a number of reasons. RPL procedures require a comparison of formal accredited training and non-formal, unaccredited training – and therefore make visible the differences. RPL measures non-formal psychotherapeutic training by the standards, values and procedures of formal academic training, determining what can be counted as learning and what cannot be counted. Process groups, personal development, critical self awareness are central to a profession that depends for its usefulness on relationships and process rather than end products, but these do not lend themselves automatically to academic assessment strategies. The inclusion of a social justice agenda in the ethics of systemic psychotherapy resulted from a long, and at times contentious, debate within the Irish community of family therapists (see O’Reilly 2005) and yet within an academic framework privileging this particular worldview is not always straightforward. Learners in psychotherapy training are also clinical practitioners and the ethical requirement of clinical practice, including self care and client-centred positioning, do not automatically fit within a learner-centred approach to education and training.

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