Friday, June 08, 2007

Counselling Psychology Professional Doctorate Program Given the Greenlight

Entry for 8 June 2007:

For the past year, Ewan Gillon, at Glasgow Caledonian University, and Mick Cooper, at Strathclyde, have been putting together a doctoral course in Counselling Psychology. After I arrived last August, I was soon plugged into this process and have been going to meetings with Ewan, Mick and various other folks from GCU and Strathclyde (including Elke). We have spent many hours arguing the overall design of the course and the specific courses (“modules”) within it. I wrote the two research course modules and have made suggestions for the therapy modules in particular. It’s really Ewan’s baby, and Mick and I have often felt guilty that we weren’t able to do more to help Ewan. One of the trickiest bits has been trying to balance and integrate the multiple competing demands of the two collaborating universities with each other and with the requirements of the British Psychological Society. In particular, the BPS requirements appeared to be at odds with the existing models of research doctorates. BPS wants practice-oriented, professional training courses; the two universities are still wedded to the idea of apprentice-model professional doctorates focused predominantly on research.

What is exciting about the proposed course is that (a) it will be the first Counselling Psychology course in Scotland; (b) it will be the first Counselling Psychology course with a Person-Centred/Experiential approach as its basic model; (c) it offers real possibilities for integrating research and practice the kind of creative, innovative ways that I have been advocating for years.

Today, after all this preparation, the “Validation Event” for the proposed course occurred. The panel doing the evaluation consisted of a mixture of faculty from GCU (the largest representation), Strathclyde (1 person), and two external members (one of whom was John McLeod, the other an entertaining, experienced counselling psychologist from City University in London, Jacqui Farrants). Mick, Cynthia (a faculty member fro GCU) and I had dinner with the panel members last night. Ewan had been out sick with the flu for most of the week, presumably at least in part from the exhaustion of organizing this thing, so he didn’t come the dinner.

The event today was not without some drama: Would Ewan manage to get up out of his sick bed? And if he did, would he be able to speak in coherent sentences? Would the committee trash the course? Mick picked up indications that Ewan was framing the course incorrectly, which could have led to big problems, so last minute meetings took place hurriedly before we started this morning. The associate dean provided very helpful orienting information, which in my case was a very good thing, because I had no idea what to expect, aside from assuming that the process would not be entirely unlike an APA Accreditation Site Visit. And we were off.

The committee asked good, penetrating questions, beginning with the most important issue: What sort of program is this? This is of course what we had spent months arguing back and forth with each other. After much discussion, the committee steered us to an expanded Professional Doctorate-model program, which was much clearer than the waffled hybrid model we had been working with. In retrospect, it is clear that this is the tack that we should have been pursuing from the beginning, but we hadn’t really realized it was an option. We had understood the Professional Doctorate to be an apprentice-model research degree without significant taught components. Now we were given to understand that a better frame was an expanded Professional Doctorate degree with some taught elements (i.e., enough to satisfy BPS). Apparently, this is the magic formula for making the various adminstrations at both universities happy!

The rest of the morning was spent in a very high-level discussion of specific issues, in particular, of flow of students through different stages of the program and of the methods for evaluating student program. We found this discussion to be very valuable in helping us to progress our thinking to the next stage of the program development process.

Afterward, while the panel met with University administrators and deliberated, Ewan, Elke, Mick and I went to the staff refectory, where we decompressed and laid out the process for interviewing prospective students (not a moment too soon; the interviews start next week!). As is his wont, Mick tried to get Elke and me to go off and not stay for the feedback session, but we hung around long enough that it became silly not to stay. I knew from personal experience of APA site visits that this sort of feedback session can be extremely interesting and of course provides a sense of closure for the whole process.

In the end, of course, this turned out to be the case: The committee had in relatively little time produced a very clear, well-organized set of requirements and recommendations. They made various sensible suggestions. And they also commended us for our work and the quality of the course development team and for the enthusiasm and commitment we showed in our presentations today. We left in a good mood and with a large sense of accomplishment, tired but excited. There is still a lot of work to be done in order to put this course on the tracks for this coming academic year, but it is finally something that can be imagined and lived into in a very real way.

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