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Congratulations to Margaret Whyte

We are delighted to announce the winner of this year's Liam McCarthy Scholarship as Margaret Whyte.

Margaret will be formally awarded the Scholarship during our Diploma Students Graduation Ceremony which takes place this year on the 12th of July in St. Ann's Church, Dublin.
The award itself is a tribute to a man who believed passionately in personal development, and he knew that continuing, adult education could be a central element in that development for many people. One of his visions was to open up third level education to a wider pool of mature students, who might not have otherwise seen themselves as getting a degree. Liam was also known for maintaining high academic standards, and he set that standard by his own example. He also believed in providing students with a broad education in what is after all a very broad field. The degree he designed, and which Middlesex University validated, is therefore characterised by an integrative approach to counselling & psychotherapy training, introducing students to all the main schools, as well as to important topics such as Abnormal Psychology, Loss & Grief, Substance Addictions. Moreover, the Diploma in Counselling & Psychotherapy which is awarded after Year 3, fully meets the training requirements of the IACP.

Congratulations Margaret. We wish you the best of luck in your studies!

“Counsellors and Psychotherapists have a key role to play in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues.” 

One would be forgiven for assuming that in the year 2013, in a country as developed as Ireland, that the stigma surrounding mental health issues has diminished. Unfortunately this is far from the case. When you consider the era in which we now find ourselves in, an era of computers, gadgets, recession and reclusion, one would hazard an intelligent assumption that the stigma – the “hush hush” – around mental health would be minimal, however this is not the case. Yes, it is improving - yet mental health issues can still be a touchy subject for many of the general population. The fallout from the IT generation can be one of isolation. Modern inventions such as Facebook and Twitter have caused many to become lost in the infinity of cyberspace. Casualties of immense proportion, yet when one seeks help for issues of the mind they are often met with raised eyebrows and a cautious step back from their nearest and dearest. 

Take the fragile and seemingly futile and misunderstood areas of paedophilia, addiction and eating disorders. We are all so quick to condemn those people (stereotypically middle aged males) who find themselves hopelessly attracted to youngsters. Yet who among us takes the time to dig deeper, look further, listen harder? What if this man was abused constantly and consistently as a child? What if this man only knew how to express that hurt, tormented little boy inside by acting out in this manner? Who hears him? While the majority are busy chastising him, who takes a minute to consider him? Deep down or not so deep down we may not agree with his behaviour, yet what if we consider this as an anguished soul’s shriek for help? A scream from that traumatised child that lives inside many a man behind prison’s lonely bars. While he lives in his shame and disgust the public point fingers of blame and distrust. Then he is labelled and placed on lists, engraving upon him the assumption and misconception that he’s a sicko with no hope of recovery, no chance of a better life, no atonement for his acts.

Consider the stigma around addiction - judging and labelling those who find themselves at the mercy of addiction with words like junkies, alkies and druggies. Yet anyone who knows anything about addiction knows it works on the survival part of the brain. The person underneath is trapped, a victim, a puppet on a string. Who takes the time to hear their side? Perhaps drugs and alcohol have helped such individuals forget about a life which was so steeped in neglect, abuse and abandonment that getting out of their heads and forgetting the pain that had become their worlds was preferable. How are we to know how we would act, react or behave having been faced with the same set of circumstances? Yet they are looked down upon like second-class citizens and a waste of space.

Or what about the 6-stone 19-year-old whom people tut at and talk about, slander and slate on her apparent quest for thinness? Who considers the possibility that the girl’s self-worth is so low that she feels unworthy of caring for herself on the most basic primal level, that of nourishment. Each and every one of us has our own coping mechanisms. Those inflicted with eating disorders and other such self-harming behaviours have destructive ones which need compassion teamed with careful treatment, as opposed to condemnation and criticism. 

One would hope the general public would have a built-in compassion mechanism, and perhaps someday they will, but today is not that day. Even simple campaigns to highlight how necessary good mental health is to our everyday life have proved beneficial but more can be done. I believe we, as members of the caring profession, have an obligation to educate and inform the general public on the seemingly shadier side of human health. The side that’s kept in the dark yet has a chance to recover in the light. I hold fast to the belief that everyone deserves a chance at a brighter, better quality of life with less judgement and more understanding.  

I feel at this point it is important to recognise that counsellors and psychotherapists do reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues in a less obvious way. Consider the Ripple Effect of showing our clients the Core Conditions of Unconditional Positive Regard, Empathy and Congruence - our clients take these home and into their everyday lives. Systemic therapists such as Michael Hardiman tell us that, at a conservative estimate, for every client the counsellor or psychotherapist works with twenty lives are affected.  That’s four hundred lives for every twenty individuals seeking our skills. That is quite impressive and is not to be overlooked. 

Having said all that, at times I wonder if our brains got the flu or lost weight would we take better care of them. The public need information and education. In my opinion, to ask if counsellors and psychotherapists have a role in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues is like asking if dentists have a role in informing us on how to better care for our teeth. Of course we have. We have a duty of care to do so. We owe it to our clients to do so. We are the privileged professionals who get to sit with these individuals, hear their sides, hear them out in the hope of helping them through their challenges. We may be the only ones in the whole wide world who get to meet the shadow parts of our fellow human beings. Not only are we granted the pleasure of meeting the whole person, we also accept them. That’s a gift, that’s a privilege, that’s an honour. That’s worth standing up for and speaking up for.

Margaret Whyte

Liam McCarthy Scholarship Winner 2013


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