Choosing a good quality foundation course – making an informed decision

Important questions
to ask of a foundation course

A foundation course is required for
entry to professional training courses. Institutes offering Professional
training courses are not  looking for an academic certificate course but one
that involves at least 50% (much more is preferable) personal development work
using groupwork and understanding of counselling and psychotherapy. They want to
know that you have experienced and grown from groupwork as recognised
professional training courses will involve group therapy. The following criteria
is used to assess if you are suitable for professional training:

Experience in personal development

the commonest reason for
not being accepted onto further professional training is an applicants lack of
personal develop

Sufficient self awareness, maturity
and stability

Ability to make use of and reflect
upon life experience

Capacity to cope with emotional and
intellectual demands of course

Potential to form a therapeutic
client/cllr relationship

Ability to receive feedback

Experience of counselling training:
foundation course

All the above are developed on a good
foundation course if sufficient personal development work by accredited
psychotherapists is involved, subject to individual variations. Further
questions to ask  are:

How many trainers are involved? there should be a minimum of two and preferably
of both sexes

What are the trainers qualifications and experience? The trainers involved in
the teaching component of a course should have qualifications in training or
education. The facilitators who run group therapy should have qualifications in
group work or group therapy.

Are the staff accredited therapists? At least two course staff should be
accredited therapists with either  MIACP or MIAHIP after their names. Be
aware that it is unethical (according to ethical codes) to use the term
‘associate’ (as in associate member of…….) as the is a category which anyone
(lay person, plumber etc!) can join regardless of who you are and should not be
stated in any advertising literature as it can deceive applicants into thinking
the person is an accredited member of an organisation when they are not. See
below for definition of accredited.

All the qualifications should be stated openly in any course information.
naturally all course staff should also sufficient experience in their given

Accredited means approved by the organisation, fully qualified, with a minimum
450 post graduate experience, abides by code of ethics, and has therefore been
scrutinised by a professional organisation (IACP, IAHIP) as competent to work as
a psychotherapist. Quite a difference from ‘associate’ category!

(the above also
applies to diploma and degree courses in
counselling and psychotherapy)

Models or approaches of
counsellors & psychotherapists – a very brief guide

Psychodrama: encourages live re enactment of traumatic experiences and desired

Gestalt: focused on full here and now awareness, encouraging self support and
self responsibility

Existential: philosophical
approach with no inherent techniques or skills. Focuses on how the person is
choosing to live their life. Encourages self responsibility and review of
personal perspectives, beliefs, wants, values, attitudes and needs.  

Cognitive behavioural: helps
person to develop more self supportive thought patterns and behaviours through
fairly directive and psycho educational approach

person centred: based on the
therapist being empathic, genuine and accepting. The client is viewed as the
expert on themselves

psychoanalytical, making links between present behaviour and past experiences

bodywork: therapist focuses
on the clients body directly in order to facilitate frozen experiences and
emotions therein.

What is Psychotherapy
and Counselling?

“Psychotherapy is the provision
by qualified practitioners of a formal and professional relationship within
which patients/clients can profitably explore difficult, and often painful,
emotions and experiences. These may include feelings of anxiety, depression,
trauma, or perhaps the loss of meaning of ones life. It is a process which seeks
to help the person gain an increased capacity for choice, through which the
individual becomes more autonomous and self determined”. UKCC

sychotherapy/counselling involves an
ethical relationship and is therapeutic, in part, because of this relationship.
Psychotherapy can also be described as a principled relationship; based on a
clear code of ethics and practice; being confidential, private and
non-judgemental. It involves a trusting relationship and
cannot proceed effectively without this trust present.

A psychotherapist gives a person time and attention; is patient, and respectful
of the individuals autonomy. The psychotherapist facilitates the relationship process in
a way that allows exploration and expression of feelings, thoughts, concerns and
intentions. As trust develops the person starts to consider aspects of their
life unapproached up to this point and begins to develop a different or deeper
understanding of the problem and themselves. The person often gains a greater
sense of self-value through the relationship and process. The psychotherapist
highlights the options that are revealing themselves which can lead to changes
taking place in the persons circumstances. Any choice of action is left for the
individual to choose. Personal autonomy is of fundamental importance in
psychotherapy and respected at all times; the person makes their own
decisions and decides if or when to put ideas into action.

People come to psychotherapists with a wide
range of issues: distress about a relationship; anxiety and panic attacks;
dissatisfaction with life; a loss of a sense of direction or purpose; unresolved
grief; low self esteem; depression; ; sexual abuse; addiction problems;
sexuality issues or to seek increased personal effectiveness in relationships or
general personal growth. Some psychotherapists or counsellors will specialise in particular areas
such as  addiction, bereavement, family therapy etc. Psychotherapy usually
takes place over several weeks, months or years.

“At its core counselling is a searching human relationship where the client and
the counsellor are committed to finding creative responses to the client’s
present difficulties and needs.” IACP (1995).


An individual view on
what is required for an effective counselling and psychotherapy relationship

People that visit
therapists (clients) are unique individuals with unique problems, circumstance
and strengths. Accordingly, in offering the client the best ‘treatment’ response
as a psychotherapist the challenge for the practitioner is to be able to offer
an individualised approach based on the unique individual needs of the client.
That last sentence is important. The therapist should not limit the client by
working from a fixed singular approach which tries to fit the client into it!
rather than the therapists adapting and forming a ‘fit’ with the clients way of
operating in the world. A
common mistake in inexperienced therapists and others is to offer the client an
approach based on the therapists own belief system or belief system introjected
from their training (often offering only one theoretical approach), rather than
focusing on what is best for the client based on research, training and
experience in a no of models and what grounded personal
experience (work and life) has taught the therapist. Thus the therapists ideally draws on a no of approaches
depending on what is most likely to help the client. By this I do not mean
eclectic (pick and mix!) rather meaning integration of approaches studied and
experienced by the therapist. Thus an approach not based on only belief and
preference rather on substantial training, experience, reading, personal
development work, reflection, discussion, openness to, etc. Therapists also need
to focus on the whole person being prepared to not only help the client through
the ‘talking cure’ but also focusing, on the clients physical self – their body,
movement etc. The therapist needs to have had sufficient training and experience
to be able to do this, of course. In a broader sense effective therapy involves
a balance of support and confrontation (confronting the client with what is
outside their awareness but influencing  their problem situation) with the
level of each dependent on the individual needs of the client. Through my
supervisory work it is clear that the greatest challenge for many trainee and
inexperienced therapists is to be open, direct and honest with clients and
themselves. A challenge many also rise to meet in the process of supervision. In
conclusion, therapists, to be effective, need to be flexible,
creative, innovative and fluid in their approach and belief systems.


What to look for when choosing a Counsellor or Psychotherapist

You may get in touch with a counsellor or psychotherapist through contacting
GCS, through your G.P., or by recommendation. You are paying for a service so
don’t feel obliged to continue with someone who you do not feel comfortable
with. You may find someone with an excellent reputation with whom you feel no
rapport or another who is warm and friendly but unhelpful. A good therapist
should receive you with respect, warmth, acceptance and an open mind. You may
want to ask if the therapist has experience and training with your particular
problem. Effective therapy involves a balance of support and challenge. Good
practice involves checking out your expectations and wants at the start of the
work and periodically. The therapist should also give you
information/explain/discuss such things as the limits of confidentiality and
cancellation policy.

Don’t put up with a therapist who does not adhere to personal boundaries. The
therapeutic hour is yours: a therapist who is frequently late, takes phone
calls, leaves early or is frequently distracted is not abiding by the boundaries
of the therapy. Self-disclosure by the therapist can be useful at times, if used
skilfully and sparingly, however it is not helpful for the therapist to talk too
much about themselves or their own lives. It is also inappropriate, unethical
and unprofessional for a therapist to have a sexual relationship with a client.
and similarly to have any other relationship with you presides being your
counsellor. Such behaviour should be reported to their professional
organisation. Other dual relationships that are bad practice include one
therapist seeing both individuals separately in a close relationship. Other
examples of bad practice would include distractions in or outside the room,
seeing you in the therapists bedroom! Essentially any consistent disruption to
your privacy and confidentiality is bad practice. The therapist should make it
clear if they are still in training and not advertise inaccurate information.

A therapist should regularly review with you how the therapy is progressing.
Always take note of any uncomfortable feelings you experience and share these
with your therapist in the first instance. At present there is no legal
restraint to stop anybody putting up a sign and calling themselves a counsellor
or psychotherapist. Always check the persons credentials with the appropriate
body below. Unless they are in training or working towards accreditation status
(in which case they must inform you of this in advertising material and in their
first contact with you) they will be registered with one of these organisations.
Accredited means fully qualified, experienced, abides by a code of ethics and
have regular supervision. For a listing of accredited therapists contact one of
the professional bodies in Ireland listed below. An accredited therapist will
have accredited membership (not associate membership-anyone, including your
hairdresser, can have associate membership!). An accredited member can and will
have one or more of the following after their name: MICP, MIACP, MIAHIP, MIFPP. 
It is unethical for a therapist to advertise themselves as having associate
membership as this can mislead the naive public into thinking they have a full
membership when they don’t. It should not be used in any advertising literature
and is contra to our code of ethics and practice.  


Sands, A .
for therapy: Psychotherapy from a clients point of view

Irish Council for Psychotherapy

for contact
details of psychotherapists (IAHIP, IFPP, FTAI).

IACP (Counselling), Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 8
Cumberland St., Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. Tel: 01 2300061. Web site:

IFPP (analytical), Irish Forum for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Tel: 01 4513076

FTAI (family therapy), Tel: 01 2722105

PSI (psychologist), Isolde Blau, Psychological Society of Ireland, CX house,
Corn exchange pl., Poolbeg St., D.2