Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 1-1-2016


Worldwide Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Lori Koelsch

Committee Member

Jessie Goicoechea

Committee Member

Russ Walsh


autoethnography, blind therapists, clinical psychology, deaf therapists, disability studies, interpretive phenomenological analysis


This dissertation explores the phenomenological experience of d/Deaf or blind psychotherapists who work with nondisabled clients, seeking to understand the perceived impact of disability on the therapeutic relationship. There is an abundance of research on nondisabled therapists treating disabled clients but only a handful of studies qualitatively considering the disabled therapist’s understanding of practicing in a largely ableist world. Six deaf and eight blind therapists were interviewed for this dissertation. Results were qualitatively analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA). Results were also interpreted through a critical disability studies framework with an eye toward challenging the ableism embedded within traditional research practices (cripping them, in the language of disability studies). An autoethnographic analysis was incorporated with respect to the researcher’s own experience practicing as a deaf therapist, and a member check was utilized with select participants to get feedback on the results.

The range of explicit and implicit themes that emerge from the researcher’s analyses include the systemic challenges that deaf and blind therapists face in the work setting; the impact of self-disclosure on patient reactions to disability; the nuanced ways the therapist’s disability influenced the alliance, transference, and countertransference; and the therapists’ own complicated relationships to their disabilities. Participant stories about working with well-meaning but ill-informed supervisors also highlighted the lack of instruction in disability studies and larger systems of oppression in graduate training programs and continuing education courses. Interpreted through a critical disability studies framework, these results crip normative beliefs about disability (as something one must “overcome”) and problematize traditional qualitative research practices.

Conversations occurring at the intersections of psychology and gender and psychology and race have shed much insight into marginalizations occurring within the therapy space. Though disability issues are coming to the forefront, psychology has yet to take on board the critical insights of disability studies. If psychology wants to contribute to disability studies, the field as a whole needs to move away from the medical and even sociopolitical models of disability in order to take seriously the lived experiences of disabled people on their own diverse terms. In arguing that ableism must be removed as the norm, this project offers some suggestive glimmers of what it might mean to challenge normative beliefs about disability within psychology and qualitative research practices.