Obituary for the Irish Times (April 30, 1941-April 17, 2017)
“I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder, as an architect of peace.”
Psychotherapist Mary Paula Walsh, who died on April 17th, 2017, chose these words from a Diane Ackerman poem to guide students on the Turning Point Institute MSc in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, a course that she devised with her partner in life and work, Kay Conroy.
An authoritative and compassionate voice in psychotherapy and bereavement counselling, she was never afraid to challenge orthodoxy. She encouraged her friends and clients to find their own personal truths eschewing dogma whilst embracing ritual.
She was the only child of Patrick Walsh – a Catholic from Northern Ireland who went on to found one of the Republic's first banks, the Land Bank – and his wife, Doreen [née Harding], an artist originally brought up in the Church of Ireland faith in Dublin who converted to Catholicism.
Growing up in the White House in Templeogue, Mary Paula Walsh cherished this mixed religious background and witnessed social gatherings where culture, the arts and politics were discussed passionately. Her father's death from a heart attack while on a hunting expedition when she was 10 years old had a lasting impact on her – and in many ways led to the career path she later chose.
Following her second level education in the Sacred Heart convent in Leeson Street, Dublin, Walsh studied medicine for three years at University College Dublin. She left her studies and worked in Córas Tráchtála [the Irish Trade Board, now Enterprise Ireland] for some years whilst pursuing personal interests in Celtic archeology and spirituality, graphic art, humanism and social justice. These interests led to her returning to University College Dublin to study social work – which became her springboard into psychotherapy and bereavement counselling.
In the 1980s, when death was shrouded in religious ceremony but rarely explored psychologically, Walsh founded the free bereavement counselling service in St Anne's Church, Dawson Street, Dublin with Delma Sweeney. She worked for a time in the Eastern Health Board and did a masters degree in psychotherapy.
In 1986, Walsh and Kay Conroy founded the Turning Point Counselling Services which had since evolved to include psychotherapy training through the Turning Point Institute. Walsh also wrote two books on bereavement – Living After A Death and Helping Your Child Through Bereavement – both of which have given people the freedom to explore grief in all its complexity.
In her later life, she had chronic back pain – and was then diagnosed with spondylolisthesis. In December, 2015, she was interviewed in The Irish Times about the surgeries she had for this condition and her time spent in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. Even during this time of severe pain and disability, she was insightful. She said: "Serious illness is about letting go … my loss of independence was thrust upon me quite suddenly and unexpectedly … that propelled me into contemplating my death very seriously, in a way I never had before. Actually, it's very liberating. I can at last begin to truly accept deep down in my being what really is … leaving me with enormous energy freed up for living." When in the Blackrock Clinic for her first spinal surgery, she rekindled her college days' friendship with Father Gerry Byrne, now a chaplain at the Blackrock Clinic and their conversations helped sustain her through difficult times to come.
As she struggled with her physical disability, she continued her involvement with the Turning Point Institute and Counselling Services. She also got great pleasure from moving from the White House to the newly built adjacent home, Beech Grove. Sadly, her time there with Kay was cut short when her body succumbed to cancer in late 2016. She spent her last week in the intensive care unit of St James's Hospital and died peacefully but unexpectedly on April 17th, 2017.
She is survived by her partner, Kay Conroy.