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Recognising prior learning in psychotherapy training:

A critical appraisal

Author - Aine O’Reilly


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Recognition of prior learning possibilities within the profession

These differences notwithstanding, RPL is of particular importance in the psychotherapeutic domain, where learning has tended not to be formally recognised. Psychotherapists whose training is non-formal, many of whom are registered as fit-to-practice with their professional body, do not have an academic qualification attached to their professional qualifications. This can impact on their progression through academic education, on their job prospects, and may impact on areas such as mobility and progression within the profession, particularly when statutory registration of psychotherapists is introduced.

RPL is a process that appears to be particularly useful in managing the transition of professions such as psychotherapy into the higher education net. The recognition of prior learning is a statutory requirement of HETAC and FETAC accredited programmes.

Recognition is a process by which prior learning is given a value. It is a means by which prior learning is formally identified, assessed and acknowledged. This makes it possible for an individual to build on learning achieved and be formally rewarded for it. The term ‘prior learning’ is learning that has taken place, but not necessarily been assessed or measured, prior to entering a programme or seeking an award. Prior learning may have been acquired through formal, non-formal, or informal routes.

(NQAI 2005: 2)

RPL facilitates a learner’s lifelong learning through providing possibilities for access, transfer and progression. The purpose of RPL according to the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) policy framework is

  • entry to a programme leading to an award
  • credit towards an award or exemption from some programme requirements
  • eligibility for a full award

(NQAI 2005: 2–3)

RPL’s facilitation of flexibility of learning pathways allows, on the face of it, continuity between non- formal learning and formal learning where standards can be demonstrated to be met. This process recognises and supports the interests of learners in obtaining formal recognition for prior learning. This is of particular importance where entry to the profession has tended to follow routes through professional training and work-based learning rather than academia.

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