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Working Lives Eibhlin Donlon’s got an ear for the IrishBy Harry Keaney

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

As a psychotherapist, Eibhlin Donlon spends her time listening to other people’s problems. In her work with the Aisling Irish Community Center, on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, most of those she hears from are Irish, aged in their mid-20s to mid-30s.

"The Aisling Irish Center uses my psychotherapy services as a resource when it feels more professional counseling is needed," Donlon explained. "In some ways, the Aisling Irish Center is a gatekeeper to refer people to appropriate professional services."

Donlon accepts that Irish people are often reluctant to seek advice from professionals such as psychologists, therapists, social workers and such. But the County Longford native says she understands this.

"I try to bring a practical approach, which works better with the Irish in my experience," she said. "The key to our profession is to listen. Much of our training is how to listen. It’s an art. But the job does not end with listening. It’s kind of a first step."

In her work with the Aisling Center, which she visits Wednesday evenings from about 5- 9, most of the problems she encounters arise from difficulties in relationships.

" ‘Relationships’ is an umbrella term because in relationship problems you might find depression, lack of self-esteem, alcoholism and, sometimes, it can also vary according to gender," she said. "There are more self-esteem in relationship problems in women. In men, you see more anger-management problems, and alcoholism."

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However, she said that it’s often a crisis in a relationship that "brings people in the door."

"One of the problems that caught my eye in the past two years was with married couples and it was with the conflict and tension between partners over future goals and where to settle," she said. "Women often want to return to Ireland and the fellows are still connected to their perceived freedoms here and the economic opportunities."

Donlon studied this subject in such depth that she was recently conferred with a doctorate in social welfare from Adelphi University, her research dissertation having been "Biculturalism and Life Satisfaction in Recent Documented and Undocumented Irish Immigrants."

"I began to think this was an interesting thing to explore," she said. "Some of the literature talks about how enhancing biculturalism is, but that’s not what I saw with the Irish; they are pretty conflicted about it."

Donlon herself harbors no conflicts about her move to the U.S. The eldest of three children, she attended the Convent of Mercy in Longford and then decided to study social science in University College, Dublin. "I knew I wanted to be a social worker," she said. "My mother was a public health nurse and she functioned like the community social worker."

In 1983, she graduated from UCD with a BA degree in social science.

For the subsequent two years, Donlon was a Bunratty Castle singer. "I did those two years and I could be there yet, singing the same songs. For me, I was far too goal-oriented to stay at that," she said.

She arrived in the U.S. in 1985, when she was 20.

"I had a goal to come over here for further education," she added. "I wasn’t one of those who felt pushed out. There was no master’s degree in social work available in Ireland at the time, so I came over here and went to Hunter College."

In 1991, in a restaurant in Larchmont, N.Y., Donlon met CBS news editor Paul Farry, whose father, Al, had emigrated from Ballymote, Co. Sligo, in the 1950s.

Paul and Eibhlin were married in Longford in 1993. They have a son, Connor, aged 2.

As well as being a clinical consultant to the Aisling Irish Community Center, Donlon operates a private practice from her home in New City, in Rockland County. She also teaches, part time, at SUNY’s Empire State College and is a consultant for Leake & Watts Services, an early intervention agency for children.

In addition, she is on the boards of the directors of both the Aisling center and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center.

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