Ireland and the Irish culture may be somewhat familiar in the United States because of St. Patrick's Day, which many Americans celebrate; but there is much more to know about this small European island. The narrative of Irish life, as told for more than a century, has been largely a story of poverty and colonization with a consequent fatalism and emotional repression. As a result, many Irish people were encouraged to seek a better future at home and abroad. More recently, the hand of modernism in Ireland has resulted in massive changes in Irish attitudes toward sex, religion, emotional expression, and authority. These themes, especially the more recent ones, are important for counseling.
The still unfolding story of Irish counseling will be told in this article. Specifically, we will present the history of counseling in the Republic of Ireland. We will also explore the development of counseling and its current status, including common practices, counselor training, and credentialing.
The island of Ireland is divided into two political entities. The Republic occupies most of the island, with a population of 4.5 million people. It occupies approximately the same number of square miles as the state of West Virginia in the United States (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 2011). The Republic comprises 26 counties (some of which are subdivided into smaller administrative units, also called counties). The six counties of Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom. Both the Republic and the United Kingdom are members of the European Union. For convenience, we will use the word Ireland to refer to the Republic of Ireland because counseling in the Republic is the focus of this article.
In Ireland, the services provided by counselors (spelled counsellors in Ireland) and psychotherapists are seen as distinct from the services provided by psychologists. Psychologists, unlike counselors, are eligible for insurance reimbursement on some insurance plans. Regarding the distinction between counseling and psychotherapy, it seems fair to say that the public makes no such distinction. The same body that accredits counselors accredits many psychotherapists. In this article, we use the term counseling to refer to counseling and to psychotherapy.
Irish history has many dimensions, but the narrative that stands out is the one of conquest and colonization. Like many countries, Ireland has experienced a tumultuous history of invasion, assimilation, and rebellion. In the Irish narrative, independence was lost with the arrival of the Normans in 1169 and regained in 1922 following the War of Independence (Curtis, 1990). For the next 50 years, the Republic of Ireland was a largely isolated, Catholic, agricultural democracy characterized by poverty and emigration (Curtis, 1990). The makeup of the country began to change in the 1960s when a program of free trade and industrialization triggered the beginnings of a modern industrial society. Also in that decade, television and other influences increased Ireland's connection with the outside world, particularly with the cultures of Britain and the United States. The conservative Catholic clergy and others greeted that modernization with chagrin.
Catholicism provided a complete guide to behavior and thinking for most of the Irish people until the 1960s. The influence of religion provides one explanation for why counseling had barely been heard of until the 1970s and 1980s. Moreover, the Irish Catholic Church was resistant to any intrusions into family life, especially in the area of sexuality. It would not be accurate to say that the Catholic Church actively prevented the development of counseling prior to the 1960s. It had no need to do so; no space existed in which counseling as it is known today could take root and flourish (Chamberlain, 1983).
Through the 1960s, mental health services were provided in heavily stigmatized, overcrowded, and poorly resourced mental hospitals (Scheper-Hughes, 2001). …