Therapists working with people with learning disabilities should allow time for reflection and consideration of alternative interpretations


The authors of this study used a cognitive-emotive interview with 19 subjects with learning disabilities and 19 matched subjects without a learning disability.

The authors set out to compare how people with and without learning disabilities talked about events, beliefs and emotions in dialogues which covered real-life, specific emotive events and as part of a structured task designed to assess understanding of cognitive mediation.

In addition to taking part in the interviews, all the participants also completed a cognitive mediation task and an assessment of their intellectual and verbal ability.

They found from analysis of between-group differences that those participants with learning disabilities scored significantly lower than those without disabilities on the cognitive-emotive interview and the cognitive mediation task. They also found that those with learning disabilities generated fewer beliefs and were also less likely to provide alternative perspectives on events.

The authors conclude that the participants with learning disabilities did have more difficulties in talking about events, beliefs and emotions. They suggest that this means that in therapeutic contexts they are therefore likely to require help to “reflect on events and consider alternative interpretations, which take into account individual and environmental factors.”

Talking about real-life events: an investigation into the ability of people with intellectual disabilities to make links between their beliefs and emotions within dialogue, Hebblethwaite, A., et al in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 24: 543–553

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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