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Recognising prior learning in psychotherapy training:

A critical appraisal

Author - Aine O’Reilly


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In systemic psychotherapy, with its emphasis on contextual meaning-making and interconnections between contexts, we are particularly self-conscious about how our training and psychotherapeutic practices mirror each other. The grand masters of family therapy may be experts in their localised areas of knowledge, but this does not place them or their knowledges beyond challenge, by clients as much as by therapists or trainee therapists. Trainers are required to judge the learning of their learners – we are after all required to produce therapists who sit with clients – but the manner of judging – the standards, practices, textual resources and devices of our training (and judging) are open to challenge, and – through our theories – we are required to allow, facilitate, encourage and respond to such challenges. With non-formal training the possibility of responding to such challenges and changing training practice rested with CWI and its professional body. Within the more formalised structures of accredited training change is a much slower – and more constrained – process, and psychotherapy becomes embedded within an academic higher education discourse that can seem both alien and unwieldy.

Critical reflections: challenging the regulating of psychotherapy training

How to include the requirement for outcome measures for therapy and common training standards for psychotherapy within a systemic, social-constructionist, narrative therapeutic training and practice is an ongoing debate in the psychotherapy field (Boston 2000). However, psychotherapy is no stranger to the need to continue to operate in the face of discontinuity, contradiction and destabilising. Psychotherapy has tended, in this current postmodern phase, to find holding positions that allow us to continue to practice without neutralising a debate through premature stance taking (FTAI 2005). This requires a reflexive approach that is inclusive of disparate conflicting positions. Postmodern psychotherapy does not ‘decide between truth and fiction, but articulates both in a double reading or meaning, oppositions or duality is suspended but presented simultaneously’ (Larner 1994: 14).

Larner’s approach might suggest a holding of standards and outcomes questions with the ethical theoretical questions. But we do need to decide what course of action to take; in this case how open should we be to recognition processes? Should we take the stance (that seems rather frequent) of doing the minimum required and excluding those troublesome situations that do not fit easily within our safeguards from the net of possible applicants? Or should we address the difficulties raised and see if we can continue further down the path of seeing how possible recognition might be? Why for example is it not practice to determine eligibility for a full award as suggested by the NQAI (2005) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2008) through RPL when the principles are so similar – we need to test and assess, fairly and ethically, with due process and fair procedures. The questions facing us in the more troublesome of RPL situations are, it appears to me, no different to the troublesome questions we face with devising our programme assessments: how we include the assessment of oral traditions of apprenticeship and practical work; how we include ethical and professional standards of practice within training standards for psychotherapists; how we assess the cornerstones of psychotherapeutic practice such as self reflexivity, critical awareness, engagement in therapeutic relationships? However much we reflect on oppositions and duality, accountability for our practices requires more than holding disparate positions; it requires critical reflection and a position-taking on the implications of practice in this area.

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