Tag Archives: psycho-emotional disablism

Mind the gap: Exploring the creative intersections of disability studies and counselling (paper with Mèl Halacre, 2016)

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?

Disgust, self-disgust and disability: A disability studies perspective (chapter, 2015)

Reeve, D. (2015) ‘Disgust, self-disgust and disability: A disability studies perspective’, in P. Powell, P. Overton and J. Simpson (eds) The Revolting Self: Perspectives on the Psychological and Clinical Implications of Self-directed Disgust, London: Karnac Books, pp. 53-74.


There has been little written within disability studies about the role of self-disgust in the lives of disabled people. Drawing on both psychological and sociological approaches, this chapter will look at the assumptions and realities of self-disgust in the lives of those whose ‘impaired’ bodies and minds cause them to be labelled as disabled, and therefore in the eyes of some, to be viewed as deviant and disgusting.

Within contemporary Western society, disability is viewed as a negative identifier of difference; cultural messages and images reinforce the inherent undesirability of impairment and there few positive representations of disabled people. Therefore it is to be expected that many disabled people end up internalising these cultural myths and prejudices about disability, believing that they are somehow of lesser value than non-disabled people. This phenomenon of internalised oppression will be discussed with reference to some of the psychoanalytic ideas developed as part of a contextual psychology of disablism (Watermeyer, 2013) to discuss the relevance of self-disgust when considering the different ways that disabled people manage and challenge internalised oppression.

In addition this chapter will consider the experiences of disabled people who live with incontinence, an impairment which directly challenges the modernist project that demands bodies which are contained, clean and free from contamination. It will be shown that rather than simply feeling self-disgust towards bodies which truly are unruly and leaky, over time these disabled people develop alternative ways of being which provide more positive and healthy relationships between body and psyche than might otherwise be expected.

Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress (chapter, 2015)

Reeve, D. (2015) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people experiencing mental distress’, in H. Spandler, J. Anderson and B. Sapey (eds) Madness, Distress and the Politics of Disablement, Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 99-112.


The traditional social model of disability focuses on the public, structural barriers faced by disabled people and has been criticised as having little relevance for those people experiencing mental distress. However this group of disabled people do experience psycho-emotional disablism in the form of disablist hate crime and prejudiced attitudes from others. Using this as a starting point, this chapter adopts an extended social relational definition of disablism (Thomas, 2007) to show the interconnections between mental distress, disablism and impairment and considers how they are mediated by structural disablism, psycho-emotional disablism, and the psycho-emotional effects of impairment. A three-fold model is proposed which recognises: mental distress as a diverse way of ‘being’ rather than pathology; the disabling consequences of living with prejudice and stigma; the ‘stickiness’ of impairment within accounts of living with mental distress; and the experience of people living with mental distress and other forms of impairment.

This is an updated version of 2012 chapter. My ideas are further developed, linking together psycho-emotional disablism, structural disablism and impairment in the lives of people experiencing mental distress.

From geek to theory chick … a life of many parts (paper, 2015)

Reeve, D. (2015) ‘From geek to theory chick … a life of many parts’, paper presented at International Women’s Day, Cardinal Newman College, Preston, 6 March.

This talk was given to a group of sixth-form students on International Women’s Day. I talked about my life and the different things I had done. I showed how all my diverse life experiences – from scientist to computer scientist to social scientist – all fitted into my understandings of myself and disability.

Part of the problem or part of the solution? How far do ‘reasonable adjustments’ guarantee ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’? (chapter, 2014)

Reeve, D. (2014) ‘Part of the problem or part of the solution? How far do ‘reasonable adjustments’ guarantee ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’?’, in K. Soldatic, H. Morgan and A. Roulstone (eds) Disability, Spaces and Places of Policy Exclusion, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 99-114.

This chapter looks at ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the environment and shows how they can cause indirect psycho-emotional disablism.

DISsing the social GGRRAAACCEEESSS (paper with Victoria Jones, 2014)

Jones, V. and Reeve, D. (2014) ‘DISsing the social GGRRAAACCEEESSS’, paper presented at AFT Annual Conference: IRREVERENCE – (Dis)respect, freedoms, loyalty, ethics & survival, Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, 18-20 September.


The “Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS” developed by John Burnham and Alison Roper-Hall (Burnham 1992, 1993, 2011, Roper-Hall 1998, 2008) highlight the social factors that can influence both practitioners and clients. In this mnemonic disability and impairment effects are represented by ‘ability’.

Drawing on the field of Disability Studies and the social construction of disability this workshop will facilitate an exploration of the consequences of the omission of the ‘dis’ of disability. It will be proposed that ‘ability’ serves to deny the psycho-emotional dimensions of both disability and impairment effects that can influence the way disability, identities and roles are constructed by disabled and non-disabled therapists and clients.

Participants will apply the visible-invisible and voiced-unvoiced framework (Burnham, 2012), to disability and impairment and be invited to join a conversation exploring the utility of these ideas in practice and training.


Psycho-emotional disablism and internalised oppression (chapter, 2014)

Reeve, D. (2014) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism and internalised oppression’, in J. Swain, S. French, C. Barnes and C. Thomas (eds) Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments, 3rd Edition, London: Sage, pp. 92-98.

This book chapter provides a useful summary of psycho-emotional disablism and the connection with internalised oppression.

Reformulating psychological difficulties in people with Parkinson’s disease: The potential of a social relational approach to disablism (article with Jane Simpson and Helen McMillan, 2013)

Simpson, J., McMillan, H. and Reeve, D. (2013) ‘Reformulating psychological difficulties in people with Parkinson’s disease: The potential of a social relational approach to disablism’, Parkinson’s Disease. [Online article]. Available from <http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/608562>.


Research investigating the psychological difficulties experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) is dominated by individualistic neurobiological and psychological perspectives. Therefore, this opinion paper draws on a reformulation of the social model of disability, Thomas’ (1999) and (2007) social relational approach to disablism, to offer an alternative way of conceptualising psychological difficulties experienced by people with PD. This opinion paper explores the ways in which socially imposed restrictions and stigma may contribute to psychological difficulties by usingThomas’ (2007) concept of psychoemotional disablism. By using the lens of psychoemotional disablism, this paper demonstrates that people with PD can be exposed to stigmatising attitudes and interactions which could contribute to restrictions, feelings of shame, and psychological difficulties such as depression. Accordingly, it is argued that further attention to the link between psychological difficulties and social dimensions of disablism in PD is needed in both research arenas and clinical practice to broaden understandings and interventions for people with PD.


Cyborgs, cripples and iCrip: Reflections on the contribution of Haraway to disability studies (chapter, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘Cyborgs, cripples and iCrip: Reflections on the contribution of Haraway to disability studies’, in D. Goodley, B. Hughes and L. J. Davis (eds) Disability and Social Theory: New Developments and Directions, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 91-111.

This chapter was requested by one of the book editors who wanted to see how I would use the work of Haraway when applied to disability. I use cyborg theory to look at embodiment and to illustrate the way in which impaired cyborgs, are potentially able to unsettle the binary divisions between normal/abnormal, non-disabled/disabled as exemplified by iCrip.