I have the privilege of having just returned from a four month Fulbright Scholar experience in Ireland. I continue to reflect upon and try to integrate the wonderful experiences, challenges and learning that took place for me as I taught at a college there and interacted with the helping professions in many settings and fields of practice.
One consistent new awareness for me is that we in the USA may take a lot for granted- not just our blessings as a nation, but individually in our profession as we have a support structure that helps in the work we do. Specifically- we have mandatory reporting laws and structures to deal with child and elder abuse and other forms of discrimination or mistreatment. I took that for granted. However, my stay in Ireland was full of revelations, one of which was the news that the government was just considering legislation and procedures for mandatory reporting and that such a process was still considered somewhat controversial. A cultural tendency toward privacy and "staying out of your neighbors business" plays a part as does years of blending of social services with religious institutions that sometimes placed privacy over reporting. The fallout from abuse within the Catholic church is still extremely painful and rampant in Ireland and ways to address it are still in infancy. A whole generation or more of the Irish have undergone what we would call physical abuse in the discipline they endured in school, not to mention the far too numerous and substantiated cases of clergy abusing children. Governmental reports have shed light, but not direction. As part of my work in Ireland I had the opportunity to lead a community arts group with some local women- who came to write and draw in an "open-studio" type setting. This was not a therapy project....but the women used it for therapy in their way- sharing poems and stories of their treatment in school and at home. It re-affirmed for me yet again that the arts are a wonderful healing portal for so many- and should be a part of both counseling and therapy (with appropriate training!) as well as the fabric of community life. It will take me a long time to integrate and apply many of my experiences in Ireland, but for now I will have a cuppa tea and relax, for that is also something I learned well in Ireland!
Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.