Geraldine O’Neill (BA Hons 2017)

I have just completed a BA Hons. Degree with IICP and am looking forward to graduating with such a prestigious award. It was a wonderful experience made all the more unique, in part, due to the exceptional and supportive learning environment, lectures and staff at IICP.

I completed a Diploma (Integrative Counselling & Psychotherapy) with IICP in 2008 but had observed since that time that most organisations advertising Counselling and Psychotherapy positions required a minimum Level 8 Honours Degree for consideration. I started to feel my counselling career was incomplete and from a personal perspective desired immensely to achieve such a merit for myself.

In truth, I spent a considerable period of time last year deliberating over the course – transitioning between “talking myself into it, only to talk myself out again” each time weighing up what I perceived to be the “pro’s and cons”. I was concerned with work (employment) commitments, and continued to convince myself on many occasions that “I simply would not have the time to juggle academic study, work and life commitments all at once”. Notwithstanding this I was apprehensive with respect to my “ability” to complete a Bachelors Degree in accordance with my own and the college’s high standards.

A month prior to the course commencement date, “after nearly driving myself insane” I emailed Dr. Marcella Finnerty (Senior lecturer during my Diploma studies).

I explained to Marcella my reasons for wanting to obtain the degree but also spoke of my fears; 54 year old, having a lengthily gap period (approx. 10 years) in which I was not involved in any academic study, and moreover my perceived “Everest stumbling block” – academic ability to complete the course. I was concerned with getting “bogged down” in assignments, managing workload and whether or not I was academically adept for the step-up between Diploma and Degree standard. I was excited by, but scared of such a challenge.

Within a few hours I received a heart-warming and encouraging reply from Dr. Finnerty. I was impressed that all my concerns were considered and addressed. I have often found, with cases such as this, that replies typically state – “go ahead, you will be fine”. However, Marcella put me at ease with her honesty, writing; “It always depends on your own personal circumstances as to whether you are able for any academic course, hence only you can decide.”

Marcella signed off the email with – “I have every faith that you possess the academic ability and resilience required to complete the programme”. That was the push I so desperately needed to overcome my insecurities, and straight away completed the application process and arranged an interview. I was very fortunate to secure a place on the programme two weeks prior to the commencement date.

I found the course invaluable to both my personal-life and professional career, gaining a phenomenal amount of knowledge that to-date and no doubt in future I will implement to good practice.

I was blessed with my class peers, albeit we were at very different stages of our careers, everyone was there for one-another. Over the year a unique sense of comradery, friendship and support system blossomed.

When I started the course I was thrilled to see two of my past lecturers were still faculty – Dermot & David. Both David and Dermot (along with all academic staff) regularly stressed that if at any time we required assistance, guidance, reassurance or to address concerns we could speak to them – “they were there for the best interest of the student – to allow them glean as much as possible from their academic study.” Appointments with lecturers were also available at IICP – provided privacy and full attention of lecturer if required. Overall I found that their true ethos concerned the provision of superior learning to shape present and future mental health professionals and to help in whatever way possible, always in a calm and reassuring manner.

Marcella’s words of encouragement and my family’s support as well as lecturers and peers grounded me at times of stress (of which there were a few!). Marcella’s use of the word “resilience” kept me focused and gave me a confidence boost whenever I needed it.

I cannot emphasise enough how much I have gained from completion of BA Hons Degree. The relevance of each module to my professional career is vast, alongside my confidence, competency and capability growth. I always enjoyed the learning environment and albeit assignments were on going the structure of the course was excellent.

Upon reflection my most daunting module at the outset was Research (Dissertation) module. At the time it confused me that the submission date was July 2017 but we started the module in Sept 2016, however today I understand why.

I took notes diligently each week in class, not always understanding them. However, during the compiling of my research these notes were so precious and served as a “Bible” explaining each step meticulously.

I often used the following metaphor to describe my experience of Research Dissertation (having limited previous experience and knowledge base regarding research);

“It is like being presented with the most beautiful iced cake and being tasked with making it. However, you are not a baker. You can see all your ingredients and each week the baking and icing instructions are explained to you in minute detail – each step is followed until you create your own masterpiece.”

My Research Dissertation lecturer was Dr. Marguerite Woods – the kindest, most patient, obliging and empowering lady, it has truly been my honour to work with. Nothing ever seemed too much for her, no matter how many questions I asked she went above and beyond her duty to guide me in the right direction, always with a smile.

Henceforth, my Dissertation is definitely the piece of work I am most proud of – when I collected the bound document last week I experienced a whirlwind of emotions.

My advice to those thinking of embarking on the BA Hons Degree programme it is a high pressured year that yields a rewarding achievement (personal and professional). There are numerous unique aspects to IICP; high standards, renowned and recognised college and degree course, academic and office staff always available to assist with any query or concern, and an institution that has adapted to the changing face of our profession in the past number of years. I appreciated the intimate class size as well as the exceptional, passionate and accomplished lecturing staff (that truly go the extra mile to assist in any way they can). At this juncture I feel it poignant to mention how obliging and caring our Dean of Academia (Triona Kearns) was – always available to the student cohort. Our class time always seemed to encompass a light-hearted “fun” element to it – which served to augment the learning process. Self-care was provided and practiced each week and you always knew “help was just a touch away.”

Also for those of who, like myself, are not as cognisant as we would like to be with IT there is a fantastic and supportive technical team (managed by Andrew) always available to assist and explain how certain portals (e.g. Moodle – assignment submission) operate.

I would like to wish Dr. Marcella Finnerty and the management and staff of IICP continued success in the years ahead. I wish any potential student entering the college the very best of luck and I would finally like to thank the entire “crew” for their kindness, patience, help and availability during my time at IICP. It was a marvellous year made possible by your continued commitment.


Geraldine Michelle O’ Neill, August 2017