As a member of ADPTC's Diversity Committee, I would like to remind readers of the last newsletter article I submitted. In that article, I addressed the issue of training disability-related competencies. It is my strong opinion that ADPTC's members can be very proud of their commitment to developing professional competencies that are demonstrably inclusive of diversity-related issues. While our efforts to include diversity broadly are indeed laudable, I would like to once again draw our attention more specifically to the largest (and often overlooked) diversity group, individuals with disabilities. Approximately 20% of the U.S. population report having a disability (Harris, Hendershot and Stapleton, 2005).
There have been some recent workshops and symposia on the topic of disability issues that were well done and remarkably informative. Regrettably, the number of attendees to such program offerings has been relatively low and again the broader influence on the field is lost. How do we help to ensure the inclusion of disability-related competencies in the current focus by the profession to develop and promote clinical competencies? Building on the successes of other minority groups (e.g., ethnicity, LGBT), what approach might help to give voice to disability-issues in training of professional competencies?
A review of literature on the specific topic of training disability-related competence is sparse to say the least. Publications dealing with clinical competencies certainly address the importance of considering individual differences (e.g., Kaslow, 2004, Hatcher and Lassiter, 2007). However, the discussion is intentionally broad and general, which often results in a lack of specificity or usability to those whose responsibility it is to provide training. Similarly, while there are paragraphs and sometimes chapters with outstanding information on the topic of disability, they are typically imbedded within texts devoted to more specific topic areas (e.g., counseling techniques), which do not necessarily have a wide audience of readers. In fact, a survey of graduate students from clinical and counseling programs reported low levels of perceived competence among student clinicians with regards to providing services to individuals with physical disabilities (Allison, Crawford, Echemendia, Robinson and Knepp, 1994).
It is my strong opinion that while continuing to offer related workshops and symposia as well as publications on the topic of training competencies is important; the opportunity for the greatest impact is to provide training resources and recommendations that could be directly utilized by all graduate programs in psychology. Olkin (2002) reported the regrettable fact that the number of specific courses on disability offered in graduate programs has actually decreased from 24% in 1989 to 11% in 1990. Additionally, she pointed out that APA has identified less than 2% of its membership as individuals with disabilities, which suggests that there are relatively few persons with disabilities in training roles, and thus fewer opportunities for training programs to provide interaction with individuals with disabilities.
It is crucial that the field of psychology continue to increase its efforts toward viewing diversity issues broadly, including individual differences relating to disability, as part of graduate education and training opportunities. Consequently, as Chair-elect of APA's Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology (CDIP), I have made a commitment to focus on impacting training by developing resources for training disability-related clinical competencies and promoting awareness and knowledge of disability issues among psychology training programs.
I believe that focused and intentional training opportunities on disability issues, which include an honest appraisal of one's own experiences and feelings toward disabilities, is necessary to ensure that mental health service providers such as psychologists and students in training "do no harm" to their clients with disabilities (APA Ethics Code, 2002, p.3). Similarly, psychologists and students in training should utilize a model of training that allows attitudes, beliefs and emotional reactions toward clients with disabilities, which may adversely impact the therapeutic alliance, to be openly, safely and honestly discussed. Disability-related competence is a goal for all psychologists in order to ensure the inclusion and full potential of persons with disabilities.
Allison, K., Crawford, I., Echemendia, R., Robinson, L. and Knepp, D. (1994). Human diversity and professional competence. American Psychologist. Vol. 49, 792-796.
American Psychological Association (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, (12), 1060-1073.
Harris, B.H., Hendershot, G., & Stapleton, D.C. (2005, October). A Guide to Disability Statistics from the National Health Interview Survey. Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/edicollect/186/
Hatcher, R. L. & Lassiter, K. D. (2007). Initial training in professional psychology: The Practicum Competencies Outline. Training & Education in Professional Psychology, 1, 49-63.
Kaslow, N. (2004). Competencies in professional psychology. American Psychologist, 59, 774-781.
Olkin, R. (2002). Could you hold the door for me? Including disability in diversity. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 8 (2), 130-137.