The Guide to Professional Courses


The area of counselling and psychotherapy training in Ireland has grown enormously in recent years. There are many different kinds of courses and a plethora of claims and promises made about them. It can be very confusing for someone interested in training in the field who wants to find the best training for themselves and one which will yield the ultimate accreditation and professional acceptance they desire.

We set out to write this guide with the prospective student in mind. As professional psychotherapists and trainers in the area for the past 25 years we are well placed to understand both the needs of prospective students, the policies of the different professional bodies and the reality of what the various courses have to offer. We intend to update this guide on a regular basis and hope to publish a more comprehensive version of it in book form in the very near future.

Questions to ask yourself

Ask yourself the following questions: Why am I interested in counselling/ psychotherapy courses? Am I searching for a new career? Am I mostly interested in personal growth and development? Am I mainly interested in obtaining a degree at BA or MA level? Does accreditation with the main professional bodies and professional recognition after my training matter to me? At the end of my training do I want to feel trained and ready to practice as well as being in possession of a qualification?

Understanding the different courses

Courses fall into several categories. Some courses are designed as thorough professional trainings for prospective practitioners, with an emphasis on personal development, high standards and proper assessment systems in place. Obviously such courses and their graduates command wide respect from eg the medical profession, employers, other professionals.

On the other extreme, because of the great demand for academic qualifications in the psychology and counselling area, there are a number of courses which only provide the minimum of valuable or useful training, and each year turn out dozens of graduates at both BA and MA level.

These courses should be avoided unless you are interested in an academic qualification and nothing else. They do not command respect among employers or those who might eventually refer clients to graduates.

What about the professional bodies for Counselling and Psychotherapy?

Most people are aware that the area of counselling and Psychotherapy is not formally regulated by law in Ireland. There do exist however, some serious and well respected professional bodies which uphold high standards in the field. We recommend the following:

Irish Council for Psychotherapy

Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Irish Association for Psychotherapy in Primary Care

If you are serious about training and being trained properly the courses recognised by these professional bodies are the ones to consider. It should also be noted that these professional bodies are impartial when it comes to validating courses. They do not run the courses themselves and do not gain financially from the validation of courses.

Any organisation which both validates courses as a 'professional body' and runs those same courses for financial gain should be treated with suspicion.

What about HETAC?

There is a lot of confusion about the role of HETAC in the field of counselling and psychotherapy. HETAC is an organisation set up by statute. Its sole job is to validate awards made outside of the university sector ie in the private education sector. An award validated by HETAC at say BA level places that award on the same level as a university BA, no more and no less. There is a once-off validation process for the course and that is it. HETAC validation most certainly does not mean that the course or the College is validated in some special way by the Government.

Course organisers who claim their courses are run 'under the auspices of HETAC' or 'overseen by HETAC' in some unique way are quite simply peddling falsehoods for their own financial gain and attempting to mislead the public.

HETAC claims no special expertise in the counselling and psychotherapy field. Many of the other awards validated by HETAC are in the area of for example business/accounting courses, design courses and health and complementary medicine courses etc. You cannot appeal to or complain to HETAC if you are dissatisfied with your HETAC validated psychotherapy course. They do not oversee any course in that sense.

Are there entry standards to courses?

This is a very important issue. The courses which command wide respect in the community have to adhere to strict guidelines on entry. One of the most important of these guidelines is in relation to age at entry. In general, common sense suggests that counselling and psychotherapy is an older person's profession. International best practice, as outlined by the standards of eg the European Association for Psychotherapy and the European Association for Counselling indicate that professional course entrants should normally be over the age of 26.
Proper practice also requires that applicants should undergo an interview process. There are certain personality types which are quite unsuitable for the role of counsellor/psychotherapist so an impartial interview is essential.

Courses which allow entry by 17 and 18 year-olds straight from secondary school (and on the basis of Leaving Certificate results alone) should not be taken seriously as professional training courses. In Ireland entry to certain BA courses validated by HETAC is allowed via the CAO for school leavers. This is something of an anomaly. As mentioned above HETAC simply evaluates the academic content of courses. HETAC is not a professional body for counselling/psychotherapy and does not purport to determine professional standards for practitioners.

Questions on specific courses

If you have questions or need independent information or advice on any specific counselling/psychotherapy course(s) in Ireland you can contact us by using the form below. We will send you free of charge, independent reviews and evaluations on specific courses which we hope you will find helpful in making a course choice that is right for you.

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