Strathclyde under fire over suspension of postgraduate counselling courses

emer- counselling pic

By Émer O’Toole, Editor in Chief


Increased pressure has been placed on the University to reconsider plans to suspend postgraduate counselling courses.

Strathclyde’s Humanities & Social Sciences (HASS) faculty plans to suspend entry to Counselling Unit courses, including its Post Graduate Certificate, Post Graduate Diploma, and Masters (MSc) courses, from 2016/17.

An announcement, sent via email, was issued to staff and students on 20 November. It stated: “In response to the UK’s growing demand for improved support for mental health and well-being, the University is currently developing a new joint honours degree in Psychology and Counselling for 2017, with a new MSc planned thereafter.”

It is believed that the restructure is a financial decision, and will mean that future students will need to go through a four year, undergraduate degree course.

The move has been criticised as the proposed new joint degree will not qualify graduates as counselling practitioners, whereas the current Post Graduate Diploma does.

Len Northfield trained as a Counsellor at Strathclyde because of the “tremendous reputation the University has in the counselling world.”

“Terminating the graduate courses publicly calls into question the validity of the Person-Centred approach, potentially devalues existing qualifications and, at a time when the public profile of mental health and wellbeing is coming under ever increasing focus, is nothing short of perverse.”

Northfield pointed out that that the course takes in 90 Diploma students per year, all of whom have to find placement work in the community in order to learn how to practice as counsellors. This demand provides over of 9,000 hours of therapy per year, free of charge, to the wider community

He says it offers “access to vital therapeutic support to many people who otherwise may not have access to a counsellor.”

The decision also means that part-time members of staff will be made redundant by 2016 and questions have been raised about the future of mental health services in Scotland.

The tutors’ response said: “The tutors who deliver the postgraduate training are employed by the university as self-employed workers on temporary contracts. Our services to the university will be terminated when teaching on the current courses end.”

“Like our students, we were not consulted by the Faculty during the decision-making process and therefore have been unable to contribute by providing information to the Faculty about the impact that this decision will have on the provision of counselling services in Scotland or offering ideas about alternative solutions.”

Current Counselling and Psychotherapy students have criticised the decision and have set up an online petition and are planning a protest.

Lisa Berry, spokesperson for the protest, said the cuts could “have a devastating impact on the mental health of Scotland in the immediate future.”

“Counselling agencies, mental health organisations, charities, GP surgeries, hospitals, colleges and universities will be impacted by the change. Many of these organisations rely upon student counsellors to provide voluntary counselling services.”

“By insisting that the course be aimed at undergraduates and those recently graduated, the cuts may also impact on the much needed diversity of available counselling professionals.”

Current Post Graduate Diploma and Masters students will not be affected, however those wanting to progress into these courses in the future will be unable to.

HASS Faculty Manager, Lorna Dougall, has agreed to meet with current students to discuss the university’s plans on Thursday 3 December.

The Psychotherapists and Counsellors Union (PCU) has written to the Vice Chancellor of Strathclyde, urging him to reconsider what they describe as a “retrograde step.”

A statement released by the PCU Committee – Dr David Murphy, Kate O’Halloran and Professor Andrew Samuels – described the University’s decision as “unnecessary, unacceptable and carried out with negligible consultation.”

“There is a proven need for highly skilled and well qualified counsellors and psychotherapists, both locally to Glasgow and also in the region and in the UK. We are concerned about the impact on existing students and staff as well as on current and potential clients.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Strathclyde said: “The new joint degrees in psychology and counselling are being designed to widen access to counselling education and will give students greater access to leading experts in core areas including psychological sciences and health.”

A statement from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy said the suspension will “severely limit the opportunities for those wishing to undertake training in one of just three BACP-accredited courses in Scotland.”