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Recognising prior learning in psychotherapy training:

A critical appraisal

Author - Aine O’Reilly


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The construction of an RPL policy needs to satisfy these many varied requirements, and therefore the framework presented for consultation needs to be consistent, rigorous, and inclusive of many positions. To be acceptable to the various stakeholders, the grounding documents need essentially, to argue its case, methodically, systematically, meticulously, exhaustively. This is both a benefit – the process will be required to be thorough before being accepted – and a difficulty. This intense governance is necessary to ensure maintenance of standards; its aim is to make visible RPL procedures and to ensure accountability for RPL outcomes. It provides, on the face of it, a general framework that is open to considerable challenge and improvement by stakeholders, in particular in terms of its procedural compliance to good practice. However – to use a psychotherapeutic analogy – the manner in which the story of RPL is told shapes and constrains the challenges it invites. To tell the story of RPL as process and procedure is to invite challenge and critique to those processes and procedures; it is not to invite a critical reflective challenge on the construction and meaning of RPL, or an exploration of how the practice of RPL plays out in the lives of applicants to the process. In this sense RPL could be seen as a totalising strategy; a process of recognition that obscures the dilemmas within its operation. To tell the story differently is perhaps to invite different challenges and different reflections.

RPL: multiple narratives

The narrative of recognition of professional learning can be told in many ways. Within CWI a consultation document for stakeholders is required that outlines procedures and policies and places these within a framework of professional and academic narratives, including CWI theoretical and ethical narratives. Information for applicants and assessors is also required; these documents describe what is done by whom and how this links to wider Institute policy and ethos. This process of document construction, consultation and revision is intended to produce a finished product that is acceptable to stakeholders as thorough, fair and compliant with regulations and can be utilised by learners and the CWI in the process of recognition.

Such a process does not lend itself easily to critical reflections. And yet, presenting policy and procedural development without a critical reflection on the meaning of a project is I think problematic. While there are indeed many procedural difficulties, there are also ideological, ethical and political questions that a focus on procedure can obscure. This account provides another possible narrative alongside the narrative of policy construction that – at least provisionally, temporarily and marginally – allows for a place of critique. Without such a critique the development of RPL can be seen in terms of goodness of construction and the wider ideological and ethical questions obscured; or indeed the ideological and ethical questions can become so problematic that procedural constraints are devised to allow applications for RPL only in certain relatively straightforward situations. In either case, the inclusive potential of RPL can be lost. This is particularly possible with RPL where there are choices that are involved in how far along the track of providing options for RPL applicants a training provider can go. This is an area that a training provider can chose – up to a point – not to develop, and in particular, where a provider can chose not to be innovative. And yet if we are serious about the potential of RPL to foster difference and inclusivity in the community of learners, and to promote new understandings of what might be counted as learning within the community of educators, then, surely, it is innovation and development that is required.

Perhaps also not engaging critically with some of the issues RPL raises is to sidestep questions that are not solely embedded within the RPL arena. Within the CWI RPL process a comparison of current accredited formal and previous informal training – as is required by RPL process – makes visible differences between these trainings, and the question in the RPL process is what is missing from non-formal learning. This is a sufficient step for the RPL process, but not for a critical engagement with the ethics, theory and practice of psychotherapy training. Such an engagement requires that we ask: What does formal learning leave out? What could we include before that is not included in formal learning? In what way does compliance with national standards and procedural requirements shape our training? Does this shaping fit or not fit for the profession? Do these changes work towards the benefit or detriment of clients? These ethical practice questions suggest that the problematic areas of RPL (in addition to the dominant questions of quality and maintaining standards of awards) are embedded within a wider context than RPL. For the psychotherapies they raise the problematic nature of formal accreditation of psychotherapy training where national and European standards may not reflect the ethos, values, ethics and beliefs of the profession.

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