Reeve, D. and Halacre, M. (2016) ‘Mind the gap: Exploring the creative intersections of disability studies and counselling’, paper presented at 2016 Lancaster Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 6-8 September.
It has long been recognised that disability as a diversity issue is still largely absent from counselling theory, practice and training (McLeod, 2013). Similarly, disability studies has been reticent to engage with the psychological ramifications of living in a disabling world. One of the difficulties of bridging these two disciplines is that of bringing a social model view of disability to bear on what is often viewed as an individualised, personal experience of the world. This is particularly relevant when disabled clients bring issues to therapy which are a complex muddle of individual (impairment) and social (disability) effects. The relative absence of disability within counselling training means that counsellors are often ill-equipped to understand the complexity of these issues and their impact on the disabled person. Hence counselling may be at best ineffective, or at worst, yet another disabling experience for the client.
This intertwining of individual and social aspects of disability and impairment causes a theoretical challenge for counselling and disability studies theory alike, a tension which needs to be resolved if disabled people are to have access to effective counselling.
In this paper, we explore the potential of using Thomas’ extended social relational definition of disablism (2007) as a way of reducing the gap between these two disciplines – through a collaboration between an experienced counsellor who has worked with many disabled clients and a disability studies theorist with a life-long interest in this area. We consider the following questions:
- How useful is the concept of psycho-emotional disablism for helping counsellors better understand the lived experience of disablism within contemporary UK society?
- How does a counsellor support their client to make effective changes in the face of intertwined disabling barriers and impairment/impairment effects?
- What challenges does this raise for disability studies and counselling practice alike?