Pioneer of the counseling movement in Ireland

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Ursula O’Farrell
Birth: May 24, 1934
Died: January 6, 2022

Ursula O’Farrell, author, lecturer and pioneer of the counseling movement in Ireland has died. Born in Limerick, O’Farrell (née Cussen) co-founded the Irish Association of Counseling (now the Irish Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy) in 1981 at a time when counseling was not recognized as a profession and people did not fully understand its benefits.

When O’Farrell began working as a counselor in private practice in Sandymount, Dublin in the early 1980s, there was still a huge stigma attached to the idea of ​​seeking psychological support for personal issues. At that time, counseling was mainly provided by voluntary addiction or family agencies or marriage counseling services linked to Christian churches. There were no nationally recognized standards, training, or professional bodies to be accredited with.

I loved every busy minute… When I started talking about myself as a councilor, several people asked me if I was an elected county councilor

O’Farrell became an influential figure in counseling in Ireland, establishing and running the first Irish Counseling Association (IAC) course in counseling skills in 1984 with counselor Celia Homan of the Hanly Center for Addiction in Dún Laoghaire. She has also worked hard to set high standards in counseling while supporting her fellow counselors in their practice.

His first book, First Steps in Counseling (first published by Veritas in 1988 and now in its fourth edition) was sensitive to Irish people’s experiences of guilt and inhibition and became the foundational text for counseling courses in Ireland in the over the next 35 years. Farrell also played a pivotal role in publishing the IAC’s Guide to Counseling and Therapy (1991), which was the first comprehensive directory of counselors and therapists in Ireland.

His book, Considering Counselling: The Person Centered Approach (Veritas, 1998) introduced Irish audiences to the work of American humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. Courage to Change: The Counseling Process (Veritas, 1999) sought to make counseling more accessible, and she wrote: “Counseling takes courage from both the counselor and the client. The client is invited to share her dreams, explore her relationships, and engage in change – of self, attitude and response. The counselor is challenged to sit in the chaos and pain, to accept the uncertainty, and to create safety and acceptance from this stranger”.

Ursula O’Farrell wrote Families in Focus: Finding Solutions to Difficult Problems with Sarah Mc Loughlin (right). Photography: Cyril Byrne

Known for her tireless work with families and volunteer groups seeking to resolve their difficulties, O’Farrell co-authored (with Sarah McLoughlin) Families in Focus: Finding Solutions to Difficult Problems (Veritas, 2007). In 2011 she received the Carl Berkeley Memorial Award, an annual award which honors those who have made an outstanding contribution to the development of counseling and psychotherapy in Ireland.

Throughout her long career, she has been both a trainer and a practicing counsellor. She taught the Extra-Mural Counseling Skills Program for Adult Education, which was first available at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and then throughout Ireland. Mary Ryan, the current director of this program at Adult Education Maynooth, described O’Farrell as a “leader in the transformative impact of counseling and therapy in Ireland. She was generous, passionate, knowledgeable and wise and we benefited from her clarity, humor, intelligence and deep commitment to equality, social justice and spirituality.” O’Farrell has also worked as a counseling tutor at Liberties College, Dublin and as a tutor and supervisor at the Tivoli Institute in Dún Laoghaire.

Born one of seven children to Robert and Kathleen Cussen, barristers in Newcastle West, Co Limerick, Ursula attended Laurel Hill School in Limerick and graduated with a degree in economics from University College Dublin in 1956.

She met her future husband, Myles Farrell – who later became a well-known journalist and trade unionist – while they were studying at UCD. The couple married in Rome in 1959 and lived first in Ballsbridge, later in Sandymount, where they raised their nine children – including two sets of twins – Denis, Donald, Elizabeth Ann, Monica, Gabriel, Ursula , Inez, Joseph and Michael. In the 1960s, Ursula and Myles ran a study group from their home in which they provided advice and encouragement to ambitious young men and women seeking to leave jobs in which they were dissatisfied.

When Myles died in 1975, she held her young family together, supporting and encouraging them to make their own choices in life and always welcoming her friends into the family home.

In 1979 O’Farrell moved to Booterstown and in 1980 she returned to UCD to study for a two-year degree in psychology while beginning work in the counseling industry. At the time, she said, “I was a rookie counsellor… It was exciting, I loved every busy minute… but it was also terrifying. When I started talking about myself as a councillor, several people asked me if I was an elected regional councillor”.

O’Farrell continued to work as a counselor in private practice until the early eighties. In 2011 she compiled and published Looking Towards the Past: Topical Talks of the 1960s, based on a selection of 30 five-minute RTÉ radio broadcasts by her late husband, Myles O’Farrell.

She spent time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, offering nothing but words of wisdom when asked for her advice. A practicing Catholic throughout her long life, she was however frustrated with the lack of equality for women in the Catholic Church. She has also traveled extensively visiting India, China, Russia, Armenia, Turkey, Jordan, Australia, Canada and many European countries.

O’Farrell spent the last two years of her life living with her daughter Ursula and her family in Sandymount. She passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by her family, on January 6, Nollaig na mBan, a day she marked every year with her family and friends.

Ursula O’Farrell (née Cussen) is survived by her children, Denis, Donal, Lizann, Monica, Gabriel, Ursula, Inez, Joseph and Michael, her siblings, Pan, Cliodhna, Bobby, John and Ruth, 19 little ones -children and three grandchildren. Her husband, Myles Farrell, predeceased her in 1975 and her sister, Lorna, died in infancy.

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