Personal narratives may help people with learning disabilities who are victims of sexual abuse to overcome trauma


Previous studies have suggested that the use of personal narratives can be useful for victims of sexual abuse in the process of enabling them to overcome their trauma.

The authors of this small study in the Netherlands start with the view that it is possible for counsellors to help victims with learning disabilities to co-construct a personal narrative by taking an active part in conversations with counsellors.

The researchers used discourse and conversational analysis to look at four conversations between a counsellor and a woman with autism and mild learning disability.

They found that from these conversations, the woman was able to express inner emotions and understanding about sexual issues and other sensitive topics. It was also possible for her to express disagreement and lack of understanding.

They conclude that it may be possible, despite communication issues, for adults with a learning disability who have been the victims of sexual abuse to actively participate in conversations with counsellors to construct personal narratives..

They stress however that the counsellors’ duty in such situations is to prevent distressing effects within the interview.

Communicative empowerment of people with intellectual disability, van Nijnatten C & Heestermans M in Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability37, 2 , 100-111

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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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