A four decade career in caring

Michelle Nic Phaidin


Michelle Nic Phaidin

Some people pursue their career but there are rare occasions when a career path is chosen for you. This testament defines one Glenfin man’s journey through life and explains why his name has become synonymous with counselling in the north-west.

Some people pursue their career but there are rare occasions when a career path is chosen for you. This testament defines one Glenfin man’s journey through life and explains why his name has become synonymous with counselling in the north-west.

Jim McGlynn sits quietly in a hotel foyer, his hands crossed together in front of him, his blue eyes glance subtly at people as they walk briskly into the Station House Hotel in Letterkenny. A giant of a man, his stature equates that of his heart as he recalls his nursing career and how it changed and evolved over four decades.

Jim McGlynn is a man who has worked within the psychiatric services in this county in one form or another for over three decades. He then worked for another decade in the National Counselling Service.

The Glenfin man applied for a nurse training post at St. Conal’s Hospital in Letterkenny in 1966 and was accepted. In 1970 he qualified as a psychiatric nurse. For the following decade he worked as a psychiatric nurse where he cared for patients. During that period, around seven hundred patients were being housed in the hospital. They were there for many different and varying reasons, but having suffered from mental illness, for many of them their biggest problem was institutionalisation.

A new approach to managing mental illness was then in its infancy, and Jim discovered a training programme in Dundee which enabled psychiatric nurses to qualified as cognitive behavioural therapists. He studied there and qualified in 1980.

When he returned from Scotland, with his colleagues Mary Clancy and the late Hugh McFadden, they opened a rehabilitation unit in St Conal’s

“The Chief Nursing Officer of St. Conal’s, Joe Gallagher, encouraged and facilitated this development,” Jim recalls.

Their ambition was to retrain people who had spent a long time in the hospital and to prepare them for re-integration into the community.

The task was to provide them with everyday living skills to enable them to cope with living outside the hospital. This required individual programmes drawn up to address the individuals needs, these programmes contained social skills training, budgeting and how to shop, household management and accessing social amenities, banks, General Practitioners and the such.

“It was very, intensive work for them and for us, but very rewarding. We opened ten hostels and many patients were able to return home or move to the hostels having spent years in hospital care. In 1986 the rehab unit closed as Community Care was then the priority of the psychiatric services,” he said.

This process continued and today St Conal’s has no psychiatric patients. A huge amount of work had been carried out in the team’s few years. The team had also managed to establish a national training programme to train nurses to become behavioural psychotherapists.

A new challenge then presented in relocating services from hospital to the community. Jim, being a fluent Irish speaker began working as a cognitive behaviour therapist in the north-west sector of the county, While in the Dungloe clinic, he worked closely with consultant psychiatrists, general practitioners, addiction service counsellors and community psychiatric nurses in the mental health services.

“I dealt with a broad range of mental illness, suicide prevention, depression, anorexia, behavioural disorders and also severe bereavement. While there I came across my first case of sexual abuse and I continued to carry a caseload of sexual abuse victims. These clients also suffered a broad range of mental health issues and I developed an interest in them and it was very satisfying gaining their trust as often I would be the only person to whom they could disclose their trauma. I met some very brave clients. The experience that I gained there was particularly relevant to the next stage of my career,” he said.

He came in to work one day and told one of his colleagues that he had read an advert in a national newspaper for a position with the National

Counselling Service (NCS). This was a new service set up in 2000 following the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern’s apology to the nation for the abuse suffered by children in the country’s institutions. The service was set up to take direct referrals from such clients and to provide them with counselling and support. It also provides counselling for clients who suffered familial abuse, and abuse by clergy, school teachers and others, and it supports families of victims of abuse. The Donegal service is based in Letterkenny with clinics in Buncrana, Dungloe and Donegal Town.

At fifty years of age Jim took on this new challenge and there he worked for the last decade of his career, He helped set up the national counselling service team in Letterkenny and their work continues to be particularly relevant today with recent disclosures.

“I really loved the job with the National Counselling Service. It was a great experience,” he said. He enjoyed working closely with a new dynamic team from varying backgrounds, such as, psychology and social work.

In looking back over his career Jim made the most of opportunities that presented for self development and he continued progressing his skills to meet the changing needs of his clients.

“Each stage of my career brought different rewards and personal satisfaction. My wife Tina was a great help, she always supported me and helped me make decisions,” he said.

Jim retired in recent years. He is often described by his peers “as a very intelligent and caring man who is excellent at his work.”