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Mar 2014 by PCI College

Progress by Degrees - The Future of Counselling/Psychotherapy as a Graduate Profession

As calls increase for regulation of the profession, College President Eoin Stephens outlines PCI College's support for the professionalization of counselling and psychotherapy, including raising of the minimum qualification to Level 8 degree.

Counselling/Psychotherapy has been gradually moving, in Ireland as in many other countries, towards an identity as a distinct profession. Not everybody supports this move, and indeed there should still be a place for the use of counselling/therapeutic skills by a wide variety of other helping and educational professionals (nurses, teachers etc) within their own work contexts (what John McLeod calls "Embedded Counselling")

But the role of the Counsellor/Psychotherapist is distinct from that of the Psychiatrist, the Clinical Psychologist and the Social Worker, and we need to be able to take our place at the multidisciplinary table (literally, in the context of case conferences).

Most professions require a university degree as a basis for entry (along with a period of internship or the equivalent). However, this is still work in progress within the helping professions in Ireland; within the nursing profession the transition to a requirement for a Level 8 (Honours) Degree only took place in the early 2000’s. (
See the 1998 Report of the Commission on Nursing here)

PCI College, as a major provider of Counselling/Psychotherapy training and education, strongly supports this movement towards professionalization of our field, and has always had higher education as part of this vision. This was reflected in the 2004 name change from Personal Counselling Institute to PCI College, but it was always central to the vision of Liam McCarthy, who founded PCI along with Josephine Murphy. It was Liam who set up the collaboration between Middlesex University and PCI College in 2001 to provide an Honours BSc in Counselling & Psychotherapy, leading the way in typical Liam McCarthy fashion!

There were of course many motivations for Liam in taking this step. As I have said elsewhere
“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…”  But setting a new standard within the field was certainly one of the desired outcomes.

Again, not everyone in the field is completely happy about the fit between university education and Counselling/Psychotherapy training (I believe parallel discussions/concerns exist within the world of nurse education). Liz Ballinger, in her article “Insecurity of Tenure” (Therapy Today, Vol. 24, Issue 1, February 2013) proposes that “There are areas of potential fit between counsellor training and wider university cultures that suggest universities are appropriate settings for counselling training.” But she also looks at areas of concern expressed by those in the sector.

And, of course, one doesn’t currently need a degree to practice as a Counsellor/Psychotherapist (hence the 3-year Diploma within the 4-year PCI College degree, enabling students to begin working towards accreditation with the IACP). But there have been some relevant recent developments which show that the movement I am talking about here, while happening slowly, is definitely happening.


In August 2013, Quality & Qualifications Ireland (a new statutory body incorporating what was formerly HETAC), published Draft Awards Standards for Counselling & Psychotherapy.

According to QQI, this document “presents working draft awards standards for counselling and psychotherapy and is published for consultation purposes…” ..............“The Awards Standards for educational and training qualifications in Counselling and Psychotherapy are designed to be used by persons developing and reviewing specific programmes of education and training leading to major awards (at NFQ Levels 6 through 9 inclusively) in Counselling and Psychotherapy…"............“They provide a reference for benchmarking intended programme learning outcomes…”...................“The draft awards standards are standards for ‘intended programme learning outcomes’ rather than standards for assessing candidates for particular qualifications.”

So, while QQI are proposing educational standards for the field of Counselling/Psychotherapy education (particularly for the programmes they validate, but this will inevitably influence standards within all similar programmes), they are not specifying at what point in a student’s progression from Level 6 to Level 9 (Masters) the student would be deemed to have a professional qualification in the field. This decision they see as a matter for
CORU, the Health & Social Care Professionals Council, in discussion with the various accrediting bodies in the field (IACP, IAHIP, NAPCP etc).  However, they do make reference to a document produced by the Psychological Therapies Forum (a discussion forum for the main accrediting bodies) and presented to the then Minister for Health, John Moloney, in 2008.

As I have mentioned elsewhere
, this document included the following recommendations:

Baseline qualification and experience for registration as psychotherapist:
  • Minimum four years of training in specific psychotherapy modality at master’s level (1,400 hours)…
Baseline qualification and experience for registration as Counsellor:
  • Minimum 4 years training in specific counselling and psychotherapy modality Minimum 1250 hours…
  • Leading to a degree or recognised accredited equivalent in Counselling
This document seems to suggest that there is broad agreement about the need for a minimum degree-level qualification for practitioners in the Counselling/Psychotherapy field. However, it also seems to assume that there is some substantial and distinguishable difference between practising as a Counsellor and practising as a Psychotherapist, and that the former should require a Bachelor’s degree (Level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications), with the latter requiring a Master’s degree (Level 9).

IACP Position Paper

In September 2013 the IACP published a position paper on "Statutory Regulation and the Difference between Counselling & Psychotherapy".

In summary, the position paper clarifies the following (italics added):
  1. IACP, as an Association, does not differentiate between Counselling and Psychotherapy.
  2. IACP, as an Association, sees no proficiency difference between Counselling and Psychotherapy.
  3. IACP recommends that Counselling and Psychotherapy should be regulated, by the State, with the same baseline academic and practice qualifications.
  4. Level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) should serve as the baseline academic qualification for both Counselling and Psychotherapy.
  5. There are other important considerations for the profession, as a whole, to work on relating to Statutory Regulation and the difference between Counselling and Psychotherapy.
This position is supported by PCI College, and I have written a letter to the Editorial Committee of Éisteach, the journal of the IACP, to state this support.

While we fully support (as I am emphasising in this article) the need for degree qualification within our profession, we see no basis for introducing Postgraduate qualification at this stage (usually reserved for specialisation and advancement within a profession), nor for making the distinction between Counselling and Psychotherapy in this way. We believe in treating “Counselling & Psychotherapy” as one unitary area, as is widespread (though not universal) practice in the field.

The IACP Website describes the situation this way:
Counselling and psychotherapy are terms that overlap heavily and are often used interchangeably. They incorporate the giving of attention and respect in a confidential relationship.

The BACP website offers this definition:
Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their wellbeing.

BACP also comment that:

The proposal to differentiate between counselling and psychotherapy is out of step with research and other developments in the field of the psychological therapies…Click here for full details

And finally:

BACP's position has consistently been that there is no difference between counselling and psychotherapy. In terms of role, value and effectiveness, we believe that each occupational area has equal value. Many of our members use these terms interchangeably depending on the environment they are working in. Indeed,
BACP's research committee which comprises international scholars of counselling and psychotherapy were unable to differentiate between the two on the basis of evidence.

Part of the difficulty here is that there is no widely agreed definition or even any consistent usage of the terms “Counselling” & “Psychotherapy”. While the term “Psychotherapy” is used by some only in relation to the Psychodynamic family of approaches, the fact that this is not the only well-established usage can be seen in the names of such large and influential bodies as the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapy and the Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy.

Marcella Finnerty (Director of the Institute of Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy) points out that “The debate about whether there are any notable differences between psychotherapy and counselling has been ongoing for many decades and opinions differ, each side making justifiable claims for holding their particular viewpoint. Just as with the term counselling there is little unanimity in defining what is meant by the term psychotherapy” (Eisteach, the Journal of the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, Spring 2005, p. 8).

In a similar vein, Colin Feltham and Ian Horton, in the
Third Edition of their influential Sage Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy (2012, p. 3), state that “No single, consensually agreed definition  of either counselling or psychotherapy exists in spite of many attempts across the decades in Britain, North America and elsewhere to arrive at one”.

Certainly, the PCI College/Middlesex University BSc in Counselling & Psychotherapy programme is designed with a broad, eclectic and integrative view of Counselling and Psychotherapy in mind. We support and look forward to the consistency of qualification standards that Statutory Regulation of our profession will bring, and believe that our students and graduates are in a good position to avail of this consistency when it finally comes.

Eoin Stephens, MA (Counselling), Dip, Couns., B.A. (Psychology), MIACP, MACI
College President, PCI College

Eoin Stephens is one of Ireland's leading therapists and trainers, and has worked in the area of mental health and therapy for more than 25 years.  He is the current President of PCI College, Director of the Centre for Sexual Addictions and was the winner of the 2010 Carl Berkeley Award presented by the IACP.  He is a former Vice-Chairperson of the IACP and the ACI.

In support of the IACP's position, PCI College is currently offering a special reduced fee for students who wish to upgrade their academic qualification to Level 8 with the BSc (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy Upgrade Programme.  Click here for more details.

(This article was first published in the Winter 2013 edition of 'Reflections', PCI College Alumni magazine)

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