Review of Libby Webber’s day training – HOW TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO YOUR THERAPY PRACTICE FOR DISABLED CLIENTS, 27th February 2016

Libby invited us to ask her anything we wanted to ask. I for one did not notice that I withheld questions, I had for her, and noticed my shyness around that. It was quite a start to the day to realise that yes, we can all and at any moment join the minority group labelled as disabled. Defining the concept of disability proved rather difficult. For legal and medical reasons, there has to be a definition though. The Equality Act 2010 is important to our work and needs to be understood. However, the day training consisted mainly in discovering the social construct of the concept of disability and the negativity that surrounds the theme and our sub-conscious and unconscious attempts to be with the theme. Impairment is not always visible or perceptible or not active every day for people. There is a spectrum of severity of impairment. And often “shortcomings” are not revealed because of the impact that makes to a social situation. On top of this, “able” people who engage with “disabled” people might receive a stigma and shame by association.

Libby offered a robust underpinning for her approach and the day. She discussed various models of disability:

  • The religious/moral model, that relates to punishment, evil, etc.
  • The medical model that comprises of diagnosis and the involvement of experts to research and treat perceived problems.
  • The tragedy model, that works on our conscience and people’s sense of needing to help financially and emotionally.
  • The social model, that engages concepts of equality, political and practical processes.
  • The bio-psychosocial model, where “disability is seen as a fluid and evolving experience for the individual” (Libby’s slides).

Apart from with this last model, the individual who is affected does not receive in-depth involvement.

A biographical disruption can occur in split seconds or over time. In any case, psychological and emotional processes will be set in motion by that new situation. To deal with the “affected” part will precede the psychological processes. We discovered that most people are constantly busy trying to “pass,” i.e., not revealing any shortcomings and attempting to fit the social norm. Having any impairment and trying to live up to social standards always carries a potential of self damage.

Libby’s objective clearly was an honest exploration of the theme with the aim to help us appreciate how we can alter our practice as counsellors and psychotherapists, how we can adapt our practicalities and therapy settings and most importantly engage with our gaps of knowledge, our judgements and assumptions.

We all agreed that a small group to work in was good but that the theme is important to all of us, very able or less able. The following reflections are made by David, Irene and Barbara who also attended. We thought a compilation of our impressions would give members who did not attend a fuller picture of the fantastically rich and deep day we experienced.

David Bradshaw writes:

A small group attended this workshop which enabled really open discussion and sharing of thoughts and feelings around the issue of disability or ‘differently abled’; Libby created the environment which enabled this by inviting us to share, ask and say the things that we felt we couldn’t if we were being politically correct.  Libby was a great facilitator and gently challenged us.  I came away from the day stimulated and with many things to reflect on rather than tired, which can happen at the end of training days.  A worthwhile day, a shame there weren’t more in attendance.

Irene Hunt reflects:

Almost every one of us who attended the training day had personal experience of living with a disability. Libby described the impact of a suddenly occurring disability as a ‘biographical disruption’. I was surprised at the number of words prefixed by ‘dis’ – nearly all with negative connotations. We agreed that ‘differently abled’ is a more helpful description than ‘disabled’. Each of us has different abilities and skills – some bodies work differently to others and each works to its own capability.

I enjoyed the day and came away with some useful information. It was a shame that more of the members were not there to benefit from what Libby offered but it did enable our cosy little group to be more interactive than we might otherwise have been.

Barbara Houston writes:

I arrived for this training day expecting a large number of attendees, and was surprised at there only being a dozen people. My question arose – why had not more members come? After all, there are over 300 HACP members. Was this because:

a.       Many members already have all the information?

b.      Members feel it does not affect them in their practice?

c.       Members are just not interested in these issues?

The topic of disability is wide ranging – physical, mental health and learning impairments in varying degrees, hidden or seen. Having a disability can have far reaching effects on individuals and the wider society financially, socially and emotionally.

How do we ensure we make our therapy practice accessible? Is my practice physically accessible? Is information about my practice accessible? Is the way I provide my service accessible? How well do I communicate how accessible my practice is? Do I understand the legal obligations I am under as a service provider?

As a group, we explored these complex issues. We gained an in-depth understanding and came out with the necessary knowledge and appreciation to be able to tailor our services to meet the diverse needs of potential clients of different abilities.

I came away feeling that it would be a good idea to have a focus group to look at how we can reach out to and inspire all HACP members to act upon these substantive issues.

If you would like to be involved in this pioneering focus, please contact me at [email protected]

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In conclusion, the day was tough in many ways but was held by Libby’s fantastic way of working, allowing our shadows to emerge and to be held safely.

Doris Prugel-Bennett, David Bradshaw, Irene Hunt, Barbara Houston