Postgraduate Certificate in Psychology: Providing a cutting-edge psychology education for aspiring H.Dip students.

As a third level college that has specialised in the field of counselling and psychotherapy for 20 years, the time has come for PCI College to expand its education provision into the wider field of psychology. Psychology has always been a popular subject and one that many counselling and psychotherapy graduates gravitate towards in order to broaden their qualifications. Of course, as a trainer of such graduates and as an institute that specialises in teaching mature students, it seems only natural that our immediate programmes be tailored to the needs and demands of students who have decided to change or enhance their career focus by gaining qualifications in psychology. Many students over the age of 23 wishing to begin studying psychology already have a degree qualification from another subject and so they are looking to convert their existing degree into one that meets the requirements of Ireland’s professional psychology body, the Psychological Society of Ireland. The easiest way to do this is to complete a NFQ Level 8 Higher Diploma in Psychology in one of the main universities such as UCD, TCD, UCC, or UCG where they would complete the final 2 years of the standard undergraduate degree. However, such is the demand for these courses that Higher Diplomas or H.Dips are highly competitive and although it is not an explicit requirement to gain admittance to these courses, typically those students with prior experience studying psychology (i.e., as a minor award or in night courses) are more successful in obtaining the extremely limited number of places.

With this in mind, PCI College will roll out a new postgraduate psychology certificate this coming October designed to give students a NFQ Level 8 introductory course in psychology specifically tailored to make students more competitive H.Dip candidates. Furthermore, as many H.Dip students are nervous about missing the first year of the undergraduate course they are being incorporated into (and in some cases frustrated that the undergraduate students who they will be directly competing with after graduation have had an extra year of introductory grounding in the subject), our course is intended to give aspiring H.Dip students a course that is equivalent in quality, content, and focus to a first year introductory course in any of the major universities. Thus, our graduates will be not only better placed to compete for a place on any of the H.Dip programmes but they will also be better able to compete with those undergraduates who otherwise would have an extra year of learning on them.
As a former co-ordinator of the Higher Diploma Programme in the UCD School of Psychology, I am keenly aware of the issues H.Dip students face in adapting to a new subject and of their concerns, ambitions, and capabilities. Thus, I feel well suited to designing a course that prepares students for such training and education. The modules included in our programme will be specifically tailored to students who have already honed intellectual and personal skills relevant to different subjects. Where possible, conceptual and practical links will be established between our psychology content and content typical to non-psychology subjects so that students will be allowed to build on what they already know rather than beginning from scratch. Finally, and most importantly, each of our modules will be designed, taught, and assessed to a strict NFQ Level 8 standard. The course outlines and learning outcomes for each module along with a complete description of our teaching, learning, and assessment strategies will be made available to anyone who wishes to verify the veracity of those claims.
Of course, if students are not concerned with developing as broad a knowledge base as the entire certificate course provides, they are free to complete any of the modules individually. On their own, the modules will give students a fairly rounded understanding of psychology because of the way in which we have decided to teach them (see more on this below). However, taken together they will give students a full and comprehensive introduction to psychology that will allow for immediate adaptation to the first year in a Higher Diploma course.
In addition to these broader goals, our most important concern when providing third level education in psychology is with offering a cutting edge programme that captures and imparts a modern understanding of psychology. However, such a task is perhaps more complicated in the world of today than it was in yesteryear. The natural evolution of the subject as well as more recent global economical/financial pressures has seen what once was a largely theoretically driven subject become much more applied in focus. Today’s psychology researchers want to know if the theory can work in practice and modern students want to know what type of application a psychology degree has. Therefore, psychology providers have increasingly begun looking to develop more and more applied modules that would be as important to the curriculum as the more traditional core modules on biological, cognitive, and social psychology are. In addition to all this, as we increasingly investigate the operation of the human mind in the real world we are becoming faced with the possibility that even the most basic psychological processes are affected by an unending series of dynamical forces. Such a possibility implies that unquantifiable experiential phenomena may be as important to psychology as the empirically demonstrable processes which psychology as a research science has grown around.
Thus, when it comes to the task of designing a programme in psychology, there are a number of issues that we must address. How do we make the curriculum more applied without sacrificing time which would be otherwise dedicated to more core theoretical subjects? How do we impart to students the experiential nature of psychology along with the empirical without damaging the scientific credentials of the subject? From the point of view of offering a modern scientific psychology course which addresses these issues, I have found that PCI College provides almost the perfect educational context. PCI College is an institution that has long approached psychology-related subject matter from a practical and applied perspective (albeit a narrower applied focus than a psychology course would require). Furthermore, as trainers of counsellors and psychotherapists, the academic staff at PCI are acutely aware of the intangible and experiential qualities of the human mind and have for far longer than more mainstream psychologists been attempting to develop a bridge between grounded findings/observations and the unpredictability of the mind in action. A counsellor or psychotherapist works with the mind in full dynamic flight and so cannot afford to distinguish between the theoretical and the real, or the empirical and the experiential. To such a practitioner they are one and the same.
So, whereas many mainstream university-based psychology courses have traditionally separated theoretical subjects from applied subjects and hoped that students would make the connections between the two implicitly, we have decided to bring them together from the very beginning by making those connections explicitly clear. Moreover, whereas many university psychology courses artificially break the field down into a number of isolated subjects (e.g., developmental, biological, abnormal, cognitive) and make little attempt to explicitly draw the natural connections between them, we have decided to provide a more dynamical education in the field by adopting a unified perspective wherein the various subjects are tied together frequently with conceptual, empirical, and practical examples.
Therefore, we aim to provide a series of modules which individually reflect the natural relationship between theory and practice and when taken together give one a comprehensive sense of how the core areas of psychology work together. For example, we will offer modules in cognition and sport performance where the principles of purely cognitive theories will be explored in a practical context of human performance, in particular the context of sport performance. Those hoping to study only cognition should not be put off by the inclusion of sport psychology as the latter will act as a natural laboratory for cognitive theory where “cognition in action” can be demonstrated to the learner. Similarly, those hoping to study only sport psychology should see the cognitive component of the course as critically important in understanding the mechanisms and processes of an athlete’s mind. A sport psychology course that does not offer such a substantial cognitive component is not providing its students with a grounded knowledge of an athlete’s cognition. The same reasoning will apply to Social and Criminal Psychology, Biological & Neuropsychology, Personality & Abnormal Psychology, and Health & Wellbeing Psychology, where the second half of each module’s lecture schedule will be dedicated to the applied and practical concerns of the subject been taught. In the last remaining module, Introduction to Psychology: A Unified Perspective, those core areas will be considered together but in a way that ties them together conceptually and practically.
Of course, teaching psychology in the modern world requires an appreciation of other more subtly relevant issues too, issues which may bear even more relevance to a college that teaches mature students. Psychology is a modern discipline which is studied and practised electronically and digitally. Though most modern mature students are familiar with e-learning, browsing, and social networking technologies, we understand that some may have been away from study for some time. Either way, there is always something new to adapt to as e-learning is a relatively new and continually developing phenomenon and psychology has and will continue to be a partner in such development. In addition to e-learning, technology plays a key role in how we as psychologists work as researchers and professionals. There is little in the way of empirical research that does not rely at least partly on computers and the internet. The vast majority of experiments are run, ordered, regulated, and measured digitally as a matter of necessity (e.g., in order to obtain timings which are reliable to the millisecond). Similarly, more qualitative research would use computers at the very least to recruit participants and at most to disseminate electronic surveys and catalogue and analyse the results. The practice of psychology too has been technologised in that sports psychologists are now capturing athletic performance digitally in frame by frame re-presentation while counsellors and psychotherapists are conducting therapeutic sessions via Skype. Our psychology courses will be taught with all this in mind so that the digital aspect to our teaching will be treated as an educating experience in and of itself and instruction in the use of relevant technologies will be imparted to our students.
Also necessary in teaching psychology in the modern world is a commitment towards an academic and professional awareness that is informed by recent major criticisms of psychology and issues of practice. We maintain that a science of psychology can only exist under constant self-scrutiny and we will explicitly train our psychology students to do just that. Dynamical psychology theories are at the forefront of psychological research and so we believe that psychological constructs should, where possible, be discussed in such terms not only to give one a deeper cutting-edge appreciation of the construct but also to help explain how the teacher and learner are part of the same educational dynamic.
Lastly, we feel especially committed to use our small class sizes to foster, encourage, and sustain discussion and discussion-orientated assessments. To make the students partners in the teaching process and to encourage creative and outside-the-box thinking. Not only will this result in more rounded psychology graduates but we expect it will help develop a more comprehensive understanding of the issues touched on above.
In summation, I have endeavoured to be as clear as possible regarding the type of psychology programme we will initially offer and the ethos which will guide it and subsequent programmes. We aim to provide an education in psychology that strikes a healthy balance between theoretical and applied issues. One that gives the students a realistic notion of how the mind works in the real world, and more generally one that is defined by our commitment to excellence. For those who are interested in changing their career focus to psychology, I hope to see as many of you as possible next October.

Dr. Derek Dorris
Head of Psychology


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