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Niall Connolly wins 2012 Liam McCarthy Scholarship

On Friday 13th July, at our annual Diploma in Counselling & Psychotherapy conferring ceremony in St. Ann’s Church in Dawson St., Niall Connolly was formally awarded our inaugural Liam McCarthy Scholarship.

This scholarship, covering the college fees for the four-year Diploma & BSc in Counselling & Psychotherapy, was instituted in honour of one of our founders, now sadly deceased. The purpose of this annual scholarship competition is to help advance the further education of the award winner in obtaining a career in the field of counselling and psychotherapy, and to help raise awareness of the growing need for counselling and psychotherapy services throughout Ireland.
Liam McCarthy was a man who believed passionately in personal development, and he knew that 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, and he would have been delighted to see Niall getting this opportunity. Many deserving and impressive candidates applied for this year’s scholarship, and the task of choosing a winner from the short-list was an interesting one for myself and Josephine Murphy, our other founder, but of course a difficult one. In the end, Niall was the candidate who most impressed us with his commitment to personal development; his dedication to the Mental Health field; and his passion and drive to expand his knowledge and skills to a professional level within this field.  
In order to enter the competition, Niall was nominated by a professional from within the field of Mental Health and Counselling/Psychotherapy. He also submitted an essay on the topic “Why Ireland needs Counsellors and Psychotherapists more than it ever did” which we have now posted on our website below. 
We wish Niall all the best with his studies, which will no doubt be both rewarding and challenging, and we look forward to having the opportunity to support another deserving candidate next year.

Eoin Stephens

College President

Why Ireland needs Counsellors and Psychotherapists more than it ever did...

Does Ireland need to talk?  I think it does.  But who will listen?  In this essay I will outline my opinion that Ireland needs counsellors and psychotherapists more than it ever did because more than ever Ireland is facing a critical threat to its collective mental health and well being which may have a detrimental impact on its future prosperity.  I will show that this threat has been caused by the interaction of Ireland’s pre-existing traumas with its current trauma - austerity and why it is that counsellors and psychotherapists through the therapeutic process of talk therapy (rather than other forms of help), have the most appropriate expertise to help Ireland hope, cope and survive until a national recovery takes hold.  As part of my reasoning I will draw upon my own experience of counselling and psychotherapy as a client and my involvement as a Helpline volunteer for a mental health charity.
Long before the current trauma of austerity engulfed the nation a different form of human suffering existed, whose cry for help still reverberates throughout Ireland today.  If this cry could be voiced we would discover that Ireland’s heart has been weakened by relationship breakdown, child neglect, drug crime, the burden of carers.  Her mind has been shaken by depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, dementia.  Her body has been injured by alcohol abuse, addictions, domestic violence, self-harm.  And her soul has been tortured by clerical child sexual abuse, the marginalisation of travellers, immigrants and the homeless and the finality of suicide.
Compounding this suffering is the present burden of austerity.  An oppressive trauma of financial hardship intertwined with mass unemployment which evokes intense feelings of anxiety, anger, shame, fear and despair.  Whether the austerity measures include present or future cuts to social welfare, the health service, education, private or public sector employment, or increases in direct and indirect taxation, health levies, interest rates etc., most people are asking ; how will I pay the mortgage, the ESB bill?. Will I ever get a job?  Will I get that operation if I really need it, will my daughter?  Does Ireland belong to Europe now?  What will happen to my children?  Can I take anymore, can we..?
When the emotional and behavioural fallout from two or more co-existing traumas interact, the potential threat to mental health and well being sharply increases, which can have a detrimental impact on a person’s life and in Ireland’s case, a country’s.  I have observed evidence of this interaction for myself in my capacity as a helpline volunteer, where I have had the privilege to listen to the tremendous distress, suffering and disruption to callers’ lives the current situation in Ireland can cause (i.e. dealing with two simultaneous traumas such as domestic violence and mortgage arrears).
In general, when the effects of co-existing traumas combine, there is an immediate increase in pressure and stress and often a corresponding decrease in mental and physical energy.  If left unchecked any pre-existing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety such as low self esteem or fear of the future, may intensify dramatically until resiliency becomes dangerously compromised.  I believe this is a ticking time bomb in Ireland which is creating a form of existential disillusionment, resulting not only in people losing connection with the positive aspects of themselves and their country, but also with their desire and ability to hope, cope and survive.  
So where can people turn for help? Perhaps medication, psychiatry, social work or even spiritual or self help? These have important roles to play, but it is the individualised therapeutic process of talk therapy, intrinsic to counsellors and psychotherapists and the skills and attributes they possess which can help alleviate distress, protect mental health and there by assist people in embracing national recovery when it takes hold.
These skills and attributes embody intensive active listening, non-judgmental acceptance, empathic understanding and genuineness, which helps forge a connection based on trust and as the client’s distress becomes validated by the therapist, the build up of stress, pressure and shame is cathartically released.  It is this recognition and acceptance of suffering, along with identifying and nurturing hidden or discounted inner strengths and resources that form the building blocks of potential coping mechanisms which in turn regenerates resilience and hope.   
As evidence to support the inherent effectiveness of listening (in a non-clinical setting), I offer once more my helpline experience, and as to the effectiveness of counsellors and psychotherapists (in general), my own experience of counselling and psychotherapy as a client.  My helpline involvement has clearly demonstrated to me that listening compassionately and non-judgmentally does help release pain and suffering and can also help sufferers realise that they do not have to remain isolated in their misery, which is often the first step in discovering how to cope.  
Regarding psychotherapy, my initial presentation was in effect a microcosm of what is facing Ireland today.  The consequences of my pre-existing traumas interacting with the consequences of my financial impoverishment, generating a sense of existential despair which had a devastating impact on my mental health.  But being listened to by my non-judgmental counsellor, who unconditionally validated my suffering and accepted me for who I was, I discovered all was not lost.  By encouraging me to identify and utilise my own inner strengths, qualities and resources and to navigate my own course around my problems, ultimately she helped me reconnect with hope and discover how to cope more effectively while simultaneously embracing my personal pathway to recovery.  I believe such principles of resiliency hold the key to safeguarding Ireland’s future prosperity.  
In conclusion, the unprecedented threat posed to Ireland’s mental health, well being and future prosperity,  generated by the interaction of  current and pre-existing traumas and the specialised help this requires, is why Ireland needs counsellors and psychotherapists more than it ever did.  It is through the therapeutic process and person to person connection of talk therapy, that counsellors and psychotherapists are better suited than other forms of assistance, to help the people of Ireland hope, cope and survive the daunting challenges which lie before them.  But before any of this can happen Ireland first needs to find the courage to talk and when she is ready to do so, counsellors and psychotherapists will be ready to listen. 

Niall Connolly

Liam McCarthy Scholarship winner 2012




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