Eimir McGrath on a Seminar by Dr Alan Corbett, Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square, Dublin 1, 30 November 2013—hosted by Disability Psychotherapy Ireland


Psychotherapy for people with intellectual disabilities is an area of clinical practice that sadly is often overlooked. Specialist training is very difficult to access in Ireland, so the one-day seminar, Sitting at the Edge of Intelligence, was an extremely valuable opportunity to hear expert in the field, Dr Alan Corbett, speak of the key issues that need to be considered when working therapeutically with people with intellectual disabilities.

Dr Corbett is a pioneer in the field of intellectual disability with over two decades of clinical practice experience. He was previously Director of Respond, the UK’s foremost clinic for learning disabled survivors and perpetrators of sexual crime. He was also National Clinical Director of the CARI (Children at Risk in Ireland) Foundation and Clinical Director of ICAP, an organisation providing psychotherapeutic support to the Irish community in the UK. He currently works in private practice and is a consultant psychotherapist, lecturer, researcher and author.

The seminar covered the fundamental concepts and issues regarding disability psychotherapy. Notions of intelligence were explored, questioning the still-too-prevalent misconception that people with disabilities are limited in their capacity to engage in a therapeutic alliance. In examining the relationship within therapy, the rich diversity of communication that does not rely on verbal ability was discussed, especially transference and countertransference, and how this can be a means of communicating the inherent difficulties of living with a disability. Valerie Sinason’s seminal work, and the work of Anne Alvarez, were referenced regarding trauma, disability, and potential levels of therapeutic engagement. (Sinason 2010, Alvarez 2012).

The issues that arise when considering assessment and consent for engaging in therapy were addressed, including the need for supports to ensure that the therapeutic process can be successfully undertaken. This led to discussion regarding the difficulties that can be encountered when working therapeutically within a system that may not be supportive of the work.

Dr Corbett is a very accomplished lecturer and facilitator who shared his expertise through the presentation of structured material that was clearly illustrated by his use of case studies from his own clinical practice. This was interspersed with space for interaction and dialogue between all participants that sparked a lively engagement. Overall, the seminar was really well paced, with a good balance of theory and practical information that held everyone’s attention and invited participation, providing a very informative and stimulating day.

The seminar was extremely well attended and many participants expressed the need for more training days focusing on psychotherapy for people with intellectual disabilities. In response to this, Disability Psychotherapy Ireland (DPI) organised a Spring Series of Clinical Seminars to provide space for clinicians to meet and discuss aspects of clinical work, as well as relevant clinical papers. This was very quickly fully subscribed and an Autumn Series is now being planned, along with another day-long seminar in November which will be co-facilitated by Dr Corbett and Anne Alvarez, internationally renowned consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist.

Forthcoming seminars and for anyone who has an interest in psychotherapy for people with intellectual disabilities, please contact

Eimir McGrath is an accredited psychotherapist, play therapist, supervisor and trainer who specialises in attachment, trauma, and disability issues, as well as lecturing in psychotherapy, play therapy, disability studies, and dance.


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