A qualitative exploration of the place of psychotherapy in the Irish primary school setting from the perspective of the psychotherapist

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Finlay, Catherine
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BA (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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In an Irish Education system, children generally begin school from the ages of four to six years old. With children spending such a large amount of time within this setting, the focus of this study is to explore the place of psychotherapy in the Irish primary education setting, from the perspective of the psychotherapists working in this area. The literature explored the Irish provision services available in Ireland. Due to limited research in this area, concerning the Irish context, the researcher also investigated the provision of services available internationally. The overall aims of this study are to explore what has and has not worked, in terms of preventative or reactive measures around stress, behavioural, and emotional problems. How the psychotherapist in this setting deals with a heavy workload, taking the principal, teachers, and parents into account, whilst keeping the children central to the work. Further aims included an exploration of any struggles or limitations of working in a system already established and assessing the impact of funding, policies, and the influence it may or may not have on their work. Qualitative methods of research were used in this study, as it provided flexibility for exploring values, beliefs, understandings, perceptions, and meaning. The data was obtained and compiled through a series of one-to-one semi structured interviews, with the use of open-ended questions. Four participants were recruited who fit the criteria of being a psychotherapist who have experience working within the primary school setting. Thematic analysis and the use of hermeneutic empathy were required to expand the field of understanding, and to open up the conversation around the needs of children in the Irish Primary school setting. Three themes were explored in the semi-structured interviews which have resulted in core topics for analysis and conceptualisation by the researcher: Assessment and Needs of children, Framework/orientation and Challenges. Sub themes also emerged during this research inclusive of Funding, Working for organisations with different goals, Disclosure and reporting, Keeping the child central to the work whilst taking the Teacher, principal and parents into account and lastly Confidentiality. This research goes on to discuss the findings in relation to the literature. These results suggest that the needs for psychotherapy in the Irish primary setting are high. The researcher is aware that there are limitations within this study and some of the findings may be said to be subjective rather than irrefutable. Areas for further exploration which emerged were in relation to supplementary resources due to the increasing demands on psychotherapists and teachers in meeting the needs of children within the Irish primary school setting. A further exploration of the training teachers receives in relation to the psychological and emotional needs of children. Further research of school polices in line with children’s first guidelines and any possible conflict of interest with the requirements of the needs within the therapeutic space, may also benefit from further research.