Counsellors that work with persons with disabilities and their families need to understand the experience and process of disability. Well intentioned counselling professionals are subject to the effect of societal and historical beliefs pertaining to disability and may inadvertently perceive people with disabilities as diseased, broken, and in need of fixing without an understanding of this perspective.
Of particular importance is the awareness and consideration of terminology used to describe and refer to traditionally-marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities. Outdated or inaccurate words can encourage and promote, even if unintentional, poor and negative perceptions and feelings about persons with disabilities; some of which include the words “invalid, suffering, afflicted, victim, handicapped, crippled, and wheelchair-bound (Titchkosky, 2001, p. 127).
In addition, counsellors have a professional responsibility to be cognizant of their own word-choice and use of terms when referring to persons with disabilities and its potential impact. More specifically, they need to be mindful of whether they view the person as an individual who has the same rights, needs, and desires as anyone else or if they perceive him as incapable, weak, less than, suffering, pitiful, handicapped, or physically/mentally challenged and so forth (Smart, 2009; Titchkosky, 2001).
Common barriers referred to through personal accounts and the rehabilitation literature stress the fact that many individuals, regardless of disability type, face attitudinal, architectural, environmental, medical, employment, access, and personal barriers. Throughout this process, counsellors who do not regularly work with individuals with disabilities first need to become aware of the fact that such barriers are a reality, even if they cannot visually see or understand them.
Counselling Tips for Counselling Professionals
Counsellors who are mindful of these tips will increase their chances of developing an effective therapeutic relationship and understanding of persons with disabilities.
· Being mindful that the expressed negative experiences related to disability are real
· Considering the effects that labels may have on your clients (Smart, 2009)
· Treating persons with disabilities as human beings rather than as their disability
· Building awareness of your own attitudes and biases which may affect the counselling relationship
· Being aware of how persons with disabilities describe themselves
· Respecting the fact the persons with disabilities know their own bodies and experiences
· Getting the necessary training and supervision needed to effectively counsel persons with disabilities
· Paying attention to the abilities and strengths of persons with disabilities and incorporating them into the counselling relationship
· Recognizing that most persons with disabilities do not live their life “focusing” on their disability and limitations
· Identifying counselling topics which make you uncomfortable (i.e., sexuality and disability) so you can address these
· Being willing to have an open mind to the shared experiences within the counselling relationship
Counselors who employ this information and these recommendations as a part of their therapeutic relationships, open themselves up to the possibility of learning about the experience and “voice” of disability. Such efforts have the potential to benefit persons with disabilities, the counseling professional, and the therapeutic relationship.