Counseling people with Intellectual Disability

History has not been kind to individuals with Intellectual Disability. More time and energy have been spent on controlling people with disabilities with medication, physical restraints, and restrictions over the years. Counseling has been often excluded as a viable option.

Today, there is a growing need for counseling among people with Co-occurring Intellectual Disability and Mental Disorders. There is emphasis on Employment, Friendships, Family Support, Mental Health Services , and addressing Discrimination. When there is social and emotional loneliness along with negative experiences surrounding them, there is higher risk of developing depression and other mental health issues among them. Mental health issues are practically growing among them day by day. Dual Diagnosis Research indicates that almost 50% of the total population of people with developmental disabilities are currently taking at least one psychotropic medication (Reiss). This population appears to be at greater risk of developing depression, anxiety and various mental health issues.

It is, therefore, clear that there is a need for counseling for people with Intellectual Disability. This has been ignored due to lack of education and experience within the counseling profession. There is also lack of training to professionals. Existing Techniques must be altered slightly. Currently, many therapists do not feel comfortable working with clients with DD. Sometimes an assumption is made that people with DD don’t have the cognitive skills to participate in counseling. Therapists can be effective with individuals with DD, but often need to approach therapy differently.

We got to this position due to Lack of Education + Lack of Exposure, both leading to FEAR

There is categorization of “Us” and “Them”. We have Special Olympics, Special Needs, and Special Education. So, “You must need a really, really special counselor to work with those special people”.

It is Not “Us”, and Not “Them”….”We” Education and Exposure lead to acceptance, understanding and appreciation.

Accurate diagnosis is also essential. Multiple methods must be used including self reports, observations, information from staff, family etc. Don’t jump into conclusions; always look for possibilities. The “Problem” often is not the behavioral challenge of the people with ID; that is a SYMPTOM of the problem. “If you see the problem as the problem, then that my friend is the problem!”

“For the first time in history, people with disabilities are attempting to take their place in society as fully contributing citizens. The danger is that society will respond with remediation and benevolence, rather than with equality and respect.”

The counseling profession truly has the power to promote social change….if it is willing to. …Are you?? If you are…educate yourself, expose yourself to new experiences and educate others.