Paul Stemman

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Counselling research

The relationship between a counsellor and the 'client' is always important. How communication and Deaf culture affect this relationship is a fascinating area of study.


Michelle Oldale, a counsellor who works with Deaf people, has done research in this area. The following is an abstract from her study.





Key Words: Deaf Culture, British Sign Language, Psychotherapy/Counselling, Supervision, Training Aims/Purpose/



To investigate whether the therapeutic relationship as conducted in British Sign Language (BSL) with Deaf clients is qualitatively different than the therapist’s relationship with hearing clients. “Therapeutic Relationship” is defined here as encompassing the wider field also of training and supervisory relationships as well as client-therapist. There is little prior research into the area although literature exists (eg Corker (1994) Leigh (1999)) proposing the uniqueness of the therapeutic relationship with Deaf people.



A phenomenological enquiry was undertaken. Interviews were carried out with therapists working with Deaf people. Steps were taken to ensure participant confidentiality whilst explaining that due to the small community of therapists working with Deaf people it is possible that identity may be deduced from material presented.


Research Question

What are the Impacts of Deaf Culture and British Sign Language on the Therapeutic Relationship from the Therapists Perspective?


Sub-questions encompassed the topics of Deaf Culture, BSL, Training and Supervision.




• BSL Draws the Deaf Community together as a shared language. The client’s perspective of where they place themselves within Deaf Culture is key.

• Despite cohesion therapists using BSL are in danger of becoming marginalised due to lack of culturally aware training and supervision. This has a knock on effect to lack to lack of appropriate provision for Deaf clients.

• Boundaries and confidentiality are of heightened importance due to the small size of the Deaf Community.

• There may be an increased affective response for both the client and therapist when working in signed language.



The paper provides qualitative evidence for the unique nature of the relationship using BSL suggested by previous authors. It raises important questions about access to the profession and services by culturally and linguistically diverse groups – particularly important in the light of the current regulation dialogue.



• As the hearing child of deaf parents the researcher acknowledges her prior involvement in Deaf Culture.

• Some interviews were not conducted in first or preferred language due to lack of interpreter resource.



If the results of the study are to be fully utilised they will be used as the basis for development of culturally inclusive training programmes. Further study in this area and into the suggestion that therapy in signed language may elicit increased affective responses is warranted.



Corker, M, 1994, Counselling – The Deaf Challenge, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Leigh, IW and Lewis, JW, 1999, Deaf Therapists and the Deaf Community: How the Twain Meet, in: Leigh, IW, (ed), Psychotherapy with Deaf Clients from Diverse Groups, Washington DC, Gallaudet University Press