Monthly Archives: July 2004

Psycho-emotional dimensions of disability within relationships between professionals and disabled people (paper, 2004)

Reeve, D. (2004) ‘Psycho-emotional dimensions of disability within relationships between professionals and disabled people’, paper presented at Disability Studies: Putting Theory Into Practice, Lancaster University, 26-28 July.


For many disabled people, the effects of impairment mean that health and welfare professionals are involved in their lives on a regular basis. Existing literature drawing on the experiences of disabled people has illustrated the extent to which these professional-disabled people relationships, with their inherently unequal power balance, can be characterised by behaviour which is dismissive, patronising and prejudiced. This paper explores the psycho-emotional dimensions of disability – a form of social oppression which operates along emotional pathways – as revealed through an analysis of the experiential accounts of people with physical impairments talking about their relationships with a range of professionals.

In this paper, I use these narrative accounts to provide some examples of the psycho-emotional dimensions of disability and discuss the emotional and practical consequences these have on the daily lives of disabled people. I will illustrate the way in which this source of psycho-emotional disablism is often intertwined with impairment effects and psycho-emotional dimensions of impairment – it can also continue to exert an influence on someone’s emotional well-being long after the professional relationship has ended. I will also give examples of acts of resistance within these relationships which restored a degree of control and power to the disabled person.

Finally, I will show how the long-lasting effects of psycho-emotional disablism can disrupt subsequent relationships with professionals, even when no active disablism is present. Thus a well-meaning professional may interpret the reaction of a disabled person as pathological when in fact it is the result of past experiences of being patronised or devalued. It is vital that professionals in the health and welfare fields are aware of the psycho-emotional dimensions of disability and how they impact on self-esteem and self-worth, if they are to work effectively with disabled people.