Time is a key factor in effective counselling practice with people with intellectual disability. The standard time allowed for practice – to engage, build rapport, create safety, assess and define individual and therapeutic goals – may not be sufficient for many people with intellectual disability. Many agencies struggle to deal with high demands for service and limited staff capacity, however, flexibility in service delivery is highly beneficial (if not essential) for this client group (Brown & Hooper, 2009).

Longer sessions are not necessarily required or advised for clients with intellectual disability, because prolonged concentration can be tiring for many clients. Instead, shorter sessions on a more frequent basis might be helpful.

It is important that counsellors do not expect clients with intellectual disability to develop or move forward at the same rate as other clients. Many people with intellectual disability need more time in counselling sessions to:

  • Understand the nature of the task 
  • Comprehend the questions being put to them 
  • Think about the questions 
  • Try to retrieve the relevant information from memory 
  • Put the information into words 
  • Say the words (or communicate in a way that suits them if they cannot speak) (Milne & Bull, 2006). 

Good practice suggests that counsellors should allow double the time they normally would for the duration of therapy (Brown & Hooper, 2009). In other words, if a counsellor would typically plan to see a person for 6 sessions, they should allow 12 sessions if the client has an intellectual disability. In addition, while adjusting and tailoring materials and activities to suit the client is always part of good clinical practice, it may be more important for clients with intellectual disability.

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The National Disability Insurance Agency will open three Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) grant rounds, during August and September. Before these rounds are opened, a free 30-minute on-demand webinar is available to support organisations to get their ILC grant pitch right. The...
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Peak organisation for community services organisations supporting people with a disability. www.nds.org.au
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