Disability and Psychotherapy Practice

Artman, L. K., & Daniels, J. A. (2010). Disability and psychotherapy practice: Cultural competence and practical tips. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41(5), 442-448.

In recent years there has been an increased focus on multicultural counseling and situations in which counselors or psychotherapists may lack the cultural competencies necessary to work with diverse clients.  Yet, there has been relatively little attention given to the experiences and concerns of people with disabilities (PWDs).  This is so despite the fact that PWDs are the largest minority in the United States.  Artman and Daniels (2010) have provided an overview of the current state of disability issues in psychotherapy practice, as well as tips for cultural competence with PWDs.  The authors attributed the neglect of disability issues in psychology in part to reliance on a medical model which emphasizes the individual’s physical condition or impairment, rather than a social model, which emphasizes environmental and attitudinal factors that impact the experiences of PWDs.  As a result, disability-related issues in psychology have typically been isolated within the sub-discipline of rehabilitation psychology. The authors suggested that due to the invisibility of PWDs in psychology research, training, and practice, psychotherapists may be unaware that they need specific training to work competently with PWDs.  Specific areas in need of awareness, knowledge, and skills development may include non-biased language and terminology (for example, “person who uses a wheelchair”  rather than “wheelchair bound”), social interaction and disability etiquette (such as whether and how to provide assistance), common misperceptions (such as the assumption that disability is the focus of the client’s concerns), and strategies for dealing with therapists’ own reactions or discomfort.  In terms of psychotherapy practice, Artman and Daniels also raised questions about the appropriateness of some commonly used diagnostic tests for PWDs and ask psychotherapists to be aware of the accessibility of buildings and offices, client and research recruitment materials, consent forms and other written materials, and available transportation to appointments. The authors provided a variety of accessibility and advocacy resources in the appendix of their article.

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For valuable resources on the topic of disability and psychotherapy see Ken Pope’s website, Accessibility & Disability Information & Resources in Psychology Training & Practice.