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Feb 2016 by PCI College

More than a Degree of Change

Niall Connolly was the winner of the first Liam McCarthy Scholarship in 2012. He reflects on his experiences of the course as he nears the end of his fourth year and how the Scholarship has allowed him to realise his full potential.

As my time on the BSc (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy programme draws to a close, I have been given this unexpected yet rewarding opportunity to reflect upon my experiences as a PCI College student.  Of course I could never begin to take stock in this fashion let alone have the chance to document it without having been fortunate enough to receive the first Liam McCarthy Scholarship in 2012.

Principally drawn to the counselling profession by a long standing conviction to convert my own struggles with anxiety and depression into something meaningful for the benefit of others, and while facing the perils of long term unemployment, the potential of the Liam McCarthy Scholarship provided a ray of hope at least and was a tantalising fantasy at most.  To be called to interview was the pinnacle of my expectations.  To actually win the scholarship seemed otherworldly.

It took most of first year for the magnitude of my success to sink in. Even though lecturers and staff went out of their ways to welcome me and ease my transition into college life throughout this period, I began to feel a weight of expectation.  Perhaps I was experiencing a self- imposed pressure.  On the one hand I was acutely aware that full tuition fees for the entirety of my degree were being covered by PCI.  On the other I was wrestling with a profound realisation that this may be the only chance I get to change my life.  Therefore I need to make the most of this opportunity.  Letting down family and friends, tutors and class mates as well as myself and of course the college who placed their faith in me was inconceivable.  Fortunately I have learned to manage this expectation and to use it to my motivational advantage.

Progressing into second and third year I became keenly aware of the emphasis the college places on personal and professional development.  Experiential work including large and small group exercises alongside personal development presentations provided many opportunities to express myself in unusual ways thus nudging the reluctant part of myself out of its comfort zone.  Of course this could not have happened without the participation and support of my fellow students in the Dublin City Centre Weekend Group.  Rarely have I witnessed or experienced at first hand such an innate mix of intelligence, wisdom and wit, frustration, distraction and exasperation, warmth, openness, loving kindness and generosity of spirit. And this was just during the check-ins.  Similar to many blended families we may have had our differences but my class mates have helped shape the person I am today by the simple act of sharing their personal perspectives on our common humanity.  For this I shall always be grateful.

However, coming through the process from scholarship recipient to the verge of graduation has not been straightforward.  Facing personal challenges outside of PCI including losing friends and family members placed a significant strain on my college work.  For an extended period I felt detached and somewhat lost as I struggled to write and complete assignments on time.  I began to wonder if I can I survive as a student?  Have I come this far only to fall once more?  However it is a testament to the support offered by PCI College staff, in particular the resilient efforts of my core tutor Jean Notaro who helped me weather this emotional storm and get back on track.

On a lighter note, I feel it would be remiss of me not to draw to the reader’s attention a possible disadvantage of being a PCI College student.  I may or may not be in denial, this is up to the reader to decide.  But I get the distinct impression I am in the throes of a stationary addiction.  I cannot seem to pass an office supply shop these days without picking up at least a six pack of highlighter markers or a box of pens or a shiny plastic folder or two. I never seem to have enough and it is costing me a small fortune.  If the aforementioned reader recognises I may require help for my addiction and would like to offer their services, thank you for your consideration but you will have to join the queue.

If I could put my finger on what the Liam McCarthy Scholarship and my time as a PCI College student has given me is that I now have the confidence to value any contribution I may make in life as a professional and as an individual.  Prior to my college experiences I could only hope I could make a difference.  Now I know I can.  However modest this difference proves to be I am no longer afraid to own it and in turn to own who I am as a human being, my strengths as well as my limitations.  For without being true to myself I cannot be true to others including my clients.

Finally, as this article and my time as a PCI Student draws to a conclusion where do I go from here?  To help answer this question I reviewed a copy of my original scholarship application in 2012.  In essence I wrote about my deep desire to attain an undergraduate degree, to eventually secure a Master’s qualification and most importantly to use my PCI College education to work in the field as a professional counsellor and psychotherapist. Almost four years on my passion and commitment remains yet is only made possible by the kindness and generosity of PCI College President Eoin Stephens and Josephine Murphy co-founder of the college alongside the late Liam McCarthy.  To each of you I wish to extend my deepest gratitude for giving me this exceptional opportunity not only to fulfill my potential as a counsellor and psychotherapist but also to fulfill the potential of my life.


Niall Connolly (January 2016)

BSc (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy Year 4,

PCI College Dublin City Centre


The Liam McCarthy Scholarship 2016 competition is now open for applications, with a closing date of Friday 11th March. If you are eligible to apply for the BSc (Honours) degree in Counselling & Psychotherapy and would like to win a scholarship to have your full four years tuition paid, you can enter now. 


Applicants must submit a completed application form together with a 500 word endorsement and a 100 word essay entitled "The internet provides both risks and benefits for people with mental health problems - Discuss"   Full details and the application form are available here on our website:  http://www.pcicollege.ie/liammccarthyscholarship


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