Category Archives: Theses

Negotiating Disability in Everyday Life: The Experience of Psycho-Emotional Disablism (PhD thesis, 2008)

Reeve, D. (2008) Negotiating Disability in Everyday Life: The Experience of Psycho-Emotional Disablism, PhD Thesis, Lancaster: Lancaster University.


It has been recognised that disability studies has been excellent at theorising structural disablism which affects what people with impairments can do. However, disabling factors which affect people with impairments at the psycho-emotional level, have been relegated to the domain of personal trouble. Building on the ideas presented in Female Forms by Carol Thomas, this thesis has two strands: an empirical description of the complexity of psycho-emotional disablism and its effects on identity, coupled with an application of the work of Giorgio Agamben (Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life) to theorise this experience of psycho-emotional disablism.

At the centre of this qualitative study were ten disabled people who took part in a two-part narrative interview method and talked about their ‘experiences of disability’. The data was analysed in detail and revealed the complex interactions between structural disablism, psycho-emotional disablism, impairment effects as well as ‘disability identity’. I show how psycho-emotional disablism can be divided into two distinct forms: direct psycho-emotional disablism which can happen within interpersonal interactions between disabled people and others and indirect psycho-emotional disablism which can occur as a consequence of the experience of structural disablism. I also consider how the experience of psycho-emotional disablism affects the different ways that people with impairments  identify or not as disabled, and how this has a temporal and spatial aspect as well as being impacted by impairment effects.

Agamben’s work on homo sacer is used to explain the existential insecurity associated with the experience of psycho-emotional disablism. The concept of a ‘zone of indistinction’ is extended to introduce psychic and economic zones as well as the more common spatial zone of indistinction. I demonstrate how these zones can be found in examples of (in)direct psycho-emotional disablism and suggest that the impaired body is an example of bare life.

Negotiation of Disability and Impairment within Counselling Relationships: A Critical Evaluation from the Perspective of Clients with Spinal Cord Injuries (MA thesis, 2000)

Reeve, D. (2000) Negotiation of Disability and Impairment within Counselling Relationships: A Critical Evaluation from the Perspective of Clients with Spinal Cord Injuries, MA Thesis, Leeds: University of Leeds.


This empirical study explores the counselling experiences of clients with spinal cord injury (SCI) with particular reference to the ways in which issues about disability and impairment were discussed by both counsellor and client. The effects of the counsellor’s understanding of disability and impairment on the counselling outcome are also considered together with factors that would improve the quality of counselling for future clients. It builds on a study carried out five years ago which considered the counselling experiences of disabled clients from the perspective of the counsellor; one of the acknowledged omissions from this study was the voice of the disabled client. This research also draws on recent discussions within disability studies about the psycho-emotional dimensions of disability and the complex ways in which the experience of living with disability is intertwined with the experience of living with impairment.

Five participants were involved in the research who all had experience of counselling with one or more different counsellors or psychologists since injury. The research was carried out within the emancipatory research paradigm using qualitative methods. Interviews took place with each participant in which they discussed the ways that disability and impairment issues had been handled within past counselling relationships.

The ways in which these participants described their experiences of disability and impairment were rich and complex and revealed an interdependence not explained by a simple social/biological dualism separating disability from impairment. Participants discussed the emotional effects of incontinence highlighting an aspect of the ‘personal’ experience of impairment that has been neglected within the literature. The structural and emotional effects of disability were also discussed with counsellors and it was found that counsellors who did not understand disability as a social construct, failed to counsel effectively and often further oppressed their disabled clients. Participants also found it helpful if the counsellor themselves had knowledge of SCI and was able to pass on information and advice.

These observations have many implications for counselling practice. I suggest that counsellors working with disabled people need to work within the framework of the social model of disability to avoid further disabling their clients. I propose that in addition to making Disability Equality Training (DET) a mandatory part of all counselling courses, this DET must include reference to the psycho-emotional dimension of disability and the ways in which disabled people internalise the negative prejudices and attitudes held by the society they live in. I also argue that a new counselling approach might be more suitable for disabled people which recognises the multiple effects of disablism and offers a more directive counselling approach to empower disabled clients.

I evaluate my research practice and identify the lessons I have learnt from this research experience. Finally I discuss these problems in the light of recent attempts at participatory research within counselling research and propose that emancipatory research offers a new methodology for counselling research which is highly suitable for researching the counselling experiences of oppressed groups in society – areas which are absent within counselling research to date.