2020 Liam McCarthy Scholarship Winner

Congratulations to Sarah Jane Cleary


sarah jane cleary Liam Mc Carthy  pci scholarship winnerWe are delighted to announce the winner of this year's Liam McCarthy Scholarship as Sarah Jane Cleary from Kilkenny.


Sarah has had an interest in pursuing a career in Counselling & Psychotherapy for some time and was delighted to be presented with this  amazing opportunity to fulfil her dreams through receiving  a scholarship onto our Bachelor of Science (hons) Degree programme.  The Scholarship is awarded in memory of Liam McCarthy, who together with Josephine Murphy founded PCI College in 1991. Sarah is excited to begin her educational journey towards becoming a university graduate and ultimately a contributor to the profession of counselling and psychotherapy.


She came across the Scholarship while doing the Certificate in Counselling & psychotherapy course, and in her application letter, Sarah stated




I remember when I first learned about Liam McCarthy and his generous scholarship during my first class at PCI. It left me feeling overwhelmed inside; his passion for giving others a second chance at college was so inspiring and made me feel like my needs mattered.”



Sarah is extremely grateful to PCI College for affording her this opportunity.  Her motivation comes very much from a desire to be a positive contributor to the treatment of mental illness, particularly within the hospital environment, as she believes it is critical that people feel safe and supported during times of crisis. Sarah is eager to complete the BSc programme so that she can play her part in helping other to feel safe, cared for, listened to, and understood.

Sarah will be formally awarded the Scholarship during a video call with our BSc Programme Leader Gael Kilduff, which will be posted online by the end of June. The award is given in honour of Liam McCarthy, who passionately believed in the power of personal development and that continuing, adult education could be a central element in the development process for many people. One of his visions was to open third level education to a wider pool of mature students, who might not have otherwise being able to earn a degree. Liam was also passionate about the importance of maintaining high academic standards, which is evident in the degree he designed, and which has remained a high priority for PCI College and our collaborative partner, Middlesex University. Our BSc programme is characterised by an integrative approach to counselling & psychotherapy training, introducing students to all the main therapeutic approaches , as well as to important topics such as Loss & Grief, Sexuality, the impact of trauma, systemic thinking and mood disorders. The BSc (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy degree is accredited by the IACP.


Please read Sarah’s essay below. 




“Unprecedented economic and social changes over recent years has affected the way that we manage our lives and the difficult issues that we face”.

From your opinion, what are the potential benefits of counselling to the individual, the family and to society at large in effectively dealing with the challenges of modern times.”


Times have never felt so uncertain. We are living in an increasingly fast-paced world with new types of stressors to face daily. Sometimes it can feel like every day there is something new to worry about, whether its economic downpour one month, mass fires in Australian the next, to a sudden global pandemic. Not even Mystic Meg could predict what is going to happen next. Right now, change is the only constant we can rely on. In this age of uncertainty, counselling and psychotherapy can provide a supportive framework to which we deal with arising challenges.


Ireland has faced enormous social and economic changes in the last five years. What was once a Catholic lead country is now becoming a nation with increasing separation of church and state. We celebrated same-sex marriage and gave women the rights over their bodily autonomy. Shamefully spilling one's secrets in exchange for 'ten hail marys' to the local priest, or numbing our sorrows at the local pub, were once the most common sources of therapy. Today the availabilities to seek counselling are ever-expanding, ranging from online services to low unemployment rates, counselling has never been so accessible. A therapists office has become a safe haven, a place where anyone can unload their worries and woes, a place where a non-judging ear can be a shoulder to cry on.


One change I have noticed is an increase in our pressure to produce. Our ability to continually create has become a measure of our self-worth, being labelled lazy or a hindrance if were nothing but perfect. The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how important it can be to rest, to "Do nothing". I remember once feeling like I didn't have much to offer society because I didn' go to college or have many hobbies. A therapist highlighted to me the skills and talents which I was completely oblivious too. This insight helped me to build and grow my self-esteem. With some love and patience, the word "useless" was no longer a daily visitor in my thoughts.


The pressure for perfection in our physical appearance has also become increasingly demanding. At what cost does our body need to be tended to more than our soul? Social media platforms like Instagram have been promoting unrealistic beauty standards through distorting filters as well as a constant stream of falsely advertised products. Counselling can offer reassurance and hope to those growing up in a hard to navigate reality. To those struggling with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, shopping and social media addictions, a therapist can slowly help break down these illusions and aid in the process of building an authentic sense of self. Therapies such as CBT and addiction counselling can compassionately help recognise any unhealthy patterns shown and help replace them with new healthier ways of being. In a time where so many are striving to be anyone but themselves, appreciation for our unique imperfections is needed.


Family dynamics and home life have also dealt with the face of challenge and change. Families are facing new ways of living, new ways of communicating and new ways of dealing with difficulties. Some teenagers are facing confusion around their sexuality and gender, many too scared to tell their parents. Some parents may feel unequipped to deal with these transitions, they may feel confused or unexperienced, or maybe they cannot bear to say goodbye to a daughter and instead welcome in a son. Children and teens are not the only ones still living at home. With the unrealistic housing rent, prices have resulted in a tremendous increase of millennials still living at home. Open honest communication between families is critical. To quote Virginia Satir "Communication is to relationships what breath is to life". Counselling offers a professional non-bias mediator to help a family, marriage or relationship further develop their communication skills to one another. To help create a household filled with more understanding, intimacy and appreciation for everyone's individual needs. A counsellor can offer guidance and support to help each family member to recognise their boundaries, unresolved issues and traumas and begin to build back trust and harmony.


Our society has had its fair share of uphill battles too. Climate change, unemployment, and the housing crisis are just a few of the modern challenges we face. With the unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic currently happening, fear and stress are affecting us all. Many are challenged with the face of death—the death of a loved one, a job, a business, or a relationship. Bereavement requires a lot of patience and compassion towards the self, but sometimes it can seem too much to handle on our own. As a nation, we're slowly breaking the stigma of mental illness and emotional stress, but still remains a habit of suppressing our grief, guilt, and sadness. We tend to feel like we have to be strong like we have to push anything emotional deep down in the shadows. Have we collectively shamed the ability to be vulnerable and honour our emotions? Does asking for help or taking the time out to be with our feelings have to be a sign of weakness? If we break our leg, we go to a surgeon and allow him to put it back together, we take the time out to rest and allow it to heal. As a society, we need to remember to do that for our mental health, to feel our emotions and allow healing for our soul.


Counselling can help expand our minds and open our hearts; it can create more unity within our society. The skills we learn in therapy will impact the way we view and treat each other. Creating empathy for those we once deemed as too different from us. Allowing compassion and growth for new perspectives to emerge.


Seeking a counsellor can offer support, no matter how big or small the issue may seem. Whether its a crisis or simply just wanting someone to listen wholly. A therapist offers unconditional compassion and zero judgement. Speaking about our problems and learning to recognise and release our emotions is not only cathartic but vital for our holistic health and wellbeing.


Life is always going to be challenging, and we could not appreciate the good without having experienced the bad. The dazzling dance of opposites will always be present, within us and around us. In an ever-changing world, counselling can offer us security, safety and support. It can allow us to grow, to express and to release.


It can be a grounding guide towards healing and a pathway home to our true self.


Sarah Jane Cleary



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