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Recognising prior learning in psychotherapy training:

A critical appraisal

Author - Aine O’Reilly


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Regulating psychotherapy

As the profession of psychotherapy moves, though by no means inevitably, towards national and international harmonisation of training and standards it finds itself increasingly embedded in other ‘regimes of truth’ – academic, legal, governmental. There are further webs of constructions of what is to be counted and what is not to be counted. These constructions render some aspects of psychotherapy training and learning as ‘visible’ – those that come within standards – and others as unseen, i.e. unaccountable. We become, some argue, the embodiment of that which we have fought against in the therapeutic context; experts who measure the outcome of psychotherapeutic training by standards of social norms. There is an argument to be made for standing outside of these regulatory frameworks of academia and statutory regulation. Let us shape our own profession by our own standards, the argument goes. We focus on valuing the non-measurable, the obscured, the not-yet said and that is what our training should do. Furthermore, our move towards academic and social recognition is about establishing our professional turf, achieving status and associated salaries and not so much about services to clients. And this is, I think, an argument worthy of consideration.

Accrediting psychotherapy training: a critical perspective

In the context of RPL the standards reflected in our accredited programme are set at national and international level. The standards for unaccredited experiential learning are set broadly by the profession and in particular by training providers. Similar to situations where outcomes measures for therapy are set externally and not in conversation with clients, the process of localised challenge and resistance is more difficult. Accredited training programmes look for outcomes of learning; psychotherapeutic theories (and frequently therapeutic conversations with clients, learners, colleagues) challenge us to explore much less measurable aspects of being; quality of therapeutic relationship, critical self-reflexivity; ethical positioning; being with others. In training the challenge is to find ways to value and judge these qualities in ways that fit within the National Framework while at the same time knowing that to measure and categorise is also to construct and impart a value (a particular quality of therapeutic relationship is ‘good’ another is not, irrespective of what the client might think). In the CWI we have, through a process of academic accreditation, found a holding position that allows for a temporary – but always tentative, uneasy and continually revised – fit between the academic and the psychotherapeutic – and perhaps also between the role of the therapist as story facilitator and the role of the psychotherapy trainer as assessor. With RPL the starkness of the contrast becomes more visible. There is no opportunity for evolution of the meaning of ‘goodness’ in therapy in terms of standards through negotiation, debate and critical reflection on the relationship between framework of valuing learning; instead there is a judgement of a psychotherapeutic way of being and knowing in terms of the framework and standards of academic framework of knowing. In RPL, that which is not measured is not counted as having value. In the psychotherapeutic, to measure is to classify, give value and impose meaning from a position of expertise. And, as Harris (2000) points out the dominant discourse of RPL and national standards tends to be managerialism/human capitalism:

An alternative reading of the social functions of RPL [is] that rather than being a mechanism to tackle exclusive practices, RPL is more likely to be a further selective practice to secure the entry of ‘suitable’ human capital into the labour market to meet economic need. The candidates who are likely to succeed are those who hold the capital and habitus of the field.

(Harris 2000: 30–31)

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