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Significant therapy events with clients with intellectual disabilities

Wills, Sarah; Robbins, Lorna; Ward, Tony; Christopher, Gary


Sarah Wills

Lorna Robbins

Tony Ward
Associate Professor in Counselling & Psychotherapy


© 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited. Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore significant events in psychotherapy with clients with intellectual disabilities (IDs). Design/methodology/approach: Four therapy dyads, each consisting of one client and one therapist, were recruited. Following the brief structured recall procedure (Elliott and Shapiro, 1988), semi-structured interviews focused on helpful events in psychotherapy, using video of particular sessions as a stimulus to help prompt recall of that session. Findings: Using interpretative phenomenological analysis, five super-ordinate themes were identified: “The Uniqueness of the Therapeutic Relationship”; “Using adaptations to Express Emotions”; “Client Behaviour/Therapist Behaviour”; “Hope and Paternalism”; and “Meaning-Making”. The results provide additional evidence that significant therapy events occur for clients with IDs. Furthermore, the research enabled insights to be gained about the process of therapy for this client group and for exploration of therapeutic factors that may be involved in facilitating a significant therapy event. Research limitations/implications: This study highlights the need for therapists to work in such a way as to facilitate significant events in therapy. Whilst this study was a necessary first step, owing to the non-existence of research in this area, the sample size and qualitative design may limit any wider generalisation of the findings. Originality/value: Significant events have not previously been explored in psychotherapy with clients with IDs. This research could therefore make an important contribution to our understanding of the process of psychotherapy for this client group.


Wills, S., Ward, T., & Christopher, G. (2018). Significant therapy events with clients with intellectual disabilities. Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, 12(5-6), 173-183.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 21, 2018
Online Publication Date Nov 5, 2018
Publication Date Nov 5, 2018
Journal Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities
Print ISSN 2044-1282
Electronic ISSN 2044-1290
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 5-6
Pages 173-183
Keywords mental health, intellectual disabilities, significant therapy events, psychological therapy, interpretative phenomenological analysis, qualitative
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the author's accepted manuscript. The final published version is available here:


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