Who am I? I’m Benjamin, I’m gay and I’m disabled
I dedicate this article to my Mother, Betty Moran, without whom I would not have become the person I am today; I would not be a psychotherapist, a professional and would not be the balanced individual I believe I am. She showed me it was alright to be disabled, as well as different.
My life experience has been varied and complex. My parents parted when I was 11. This meant I had to face life in a single-parent family, although I was still being pulled apart by the reasons that led to the break-up. One of the major reasons being my sister’s death, as we had been very close siblings. My positive relationship with my sister was one that has always given me the ability to form lasting attachments. Her death was a significant event and highly change-making. I have within me an inner child that I have found nurturing and help making in my work.
I have learned to be strong in adversity and to face challenges in the last number of years. My work is a part of my life where, on a weekly basis, great changes happen. My world is a private place, like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘Secret Garden’. This metaphor is taken partly due to the fact that when I walk into my flat in the evening, I feel warm inside.
It becomes a special, happy place space where I can rest, much in the same way that Mary (in ‘The Secret Garden’) discovers an abandoned walled garden. While she is attempting to bring it back to life, she comes upon her cousin Colin, who is hysterical. Through the process of working in the garden, they both achieve their healthy goals. This parallels to my ability to be together and to be alone with people and with partners.
Over the years, I have completed numerous courses and have specialised in a range of fields. In 1990, I had the opportunity to study Scandinavian Art History at the University of Oslo, developing a great interest for the expressionistic elements of 20th-century art from the region.
An artist whose works were most emotive to me as an individual were the paintings by the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Using vivid colours and a Taoist-like yin and yang representation of swans in my favourite triptych by her, I was exposed to a form of art in which equilibrium and wholeness were presented in a calming way. Having the ability to synthesise opposites of both colour and subject, I took from af Klint a therapeutic interpretation, where internal or external conflicts can be tranquilised if one finds common ground and reconciliation.
After my stay in Oslo, I then enrolled on the History of Art course at Trinity College, Dublin. Tracing art’s emergence from archaic palaeolithic cave paintings to the monolithic large canvasses of modern minimalist artists, I was thrust into an aesthetic world in which the varied use of form and content evoked different affective yet subjective responses.
Discovering the therapeutic wonders that art can enhance within individuals after having delved into its theoretical realm, I embarked upon training within the field of art therapy. Studying at Burton Hall and Saint Brendan’s, Dublin, alongside Saint Alban’s School of Art, Hertfordshire, I was taught the pedagogical tools for applying the therapeutic wonders of art that I had discovered first-hand as benefitting myself upon other people.
In addition to art therapy, I studied a Masters in Drama and Theatre at Birkbeck alongside completing an intermediate course for dance music therapy at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance. Performance and dance both allow the body a means of diverging from normal flows and routines.
Whereas acting allows one to literally exit their body by entering someone else’s shoes, dance enables a form of bodily expression outside the regular tempo of life. In addition to having practised the therapeutic benefits of Five Rhythms and other new-age forms of dance, I have also worked with clients through dance to open up new creative singularities within their therapeutic journey.
Back in 1994, I visited an organisation called iCare, based in Islington, to ascertain the feasibility of becoming one of their therapists. The interview was carried out by a therapist that was completely visually impaired. It was following this meeting that I decided that, if I worked really hard, I could get to the level she had reached.
So, I kept training, working and, today, here I am as a fully certified and registered relational psychotherapist. However, the road has been mostly uphill. At times, it has been extremely difficult for my body to keep up with my professional demands.
A number of years ago, my mother (a medical professional in her own right) played a very important role in my achieving the connection between mind and body. It was probably more difficult for her, due to her own self-awareness process not having really started. At that time, I was much more ill, periodically being unable to move, or do much anything else for myself.
Now that she is no longer with us, as a disabled psychotherapist, the support of my clinical supervisor, friends and personal assistants is very important in achieving the connection between body and mind. In working with disability, the professional tasks that I carry out are poignant from the view of both transference and counter-transference.
I believe that my clients are aware that there is something special and different about me.
It could be the way I walk or the way I sit. Fortunately, the vast majority of them see this as a positive transferencial gift to them, although they may ask themselves, unconsciously, if I am able enough to contain them. This challenge may come through in clients’ dreams, or in material related to other people in their lives.
Openness in my personal life stems from years of personal growth and hard work and by learning how to become more of a part of myself and less of what I thought I wanted to be. This has affected how I react within my relationships, both with other gay men, my friends, and my family.
Academically, I have found the last 20 years to be experientially mind blowing! I have enjoyed my work considerably in porn and substance addiction, sex therapy, LGBT+ counselling and, of course, working with disabled clients. I have always liked Tennessee Williams’ play ‘Talk to Me like the Rain and Let Me Listen’ as talking in a relationship is imperative, and is a reason why I became a therapist.
It is important for me to be open and proud of my disability, so as to convey the concept that, though “disability” may have the component “dis” in it, I concentrate more on the “ability” aspect of the word. In my practice, I am increasingly aware that, as I grow my practice, my clients grow in the knowledge of my disability. Each client, to varying extents, has their own knowledge of my difference and how important that is for the therapeutic space.
For one individual, it may be more important that I am European, before the fact that I am disabled. Whereas for another person, the similarities of sexual orientation may bond us, with any disability being ignored in the shadow of this bond and this simply being an added attachment. It is important to realise that one can be simultaneously disabled and a therapist, whilst remaining balanced.
Due to my personal life experience and the involvement in my work, I believe I am capable of dealing with the issues surrounding traumatic events and experiences. Thus, I feel I am very able to sustain the demanding pressures of training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. These issues are many and the following are the main highlights for me:
- specific case studies
- rape and sexual abuse
- my own personal past
- bereavement and trauma
I worked with SURVIVORS UK as an assessor from January 1996 until 2004, after which I returned to counselling.
In the aftermath of the Admiral Duncan terrorist attack in Soho, I spared my time to offer PTSD counselling to the victims and relatives of those deceased from the bombing. Never before had I witnessed so much collective trauma. Over 20 years on from the attack, I believe that Soho is much less prone to such incidents of homophobia-driven attacks.
From 2003 onwards, I studied at the Bowlby Centre, training in attachment-based psychodynamic psychotherapy. Attachment therapy, although in no way more superior than other forms of therapy, places relational connections at the heart of the study, honing in on issues such as grief and loss. Since studying at the Bowlby Centre, I am now a specialist within the field, having practised attachment therapy for almost 20 years.
Working within psychotherapy - a field in which there is a severe lack of writings focussed on disabilities, especially from the perspective of a disabled person - means that the disabled practitioner needs to heavily rely on their own subjective intuition and experience when analysing disabled clients. For ‘able-bodied’ psychotherapists, the absence of disability rights discourse and case studies within the field can result in the therapist falling into a prejudicial hole.
As Esther Ingram writes in her essay The (Physically) Wounded Healer: The Impact of a Physical Disability on Training and Development as a Counselling Psychologist: A Case Study, “the historic lack of presence of people with physical disabilities in psychological research and in counselling psychology, has led to a generalised unacceptable superficiality of (mis)understanding of the phenomenology of physical disability.”
Without much of a concrete theoretical reference point, it can be challenging for disabled psychotherapists to relate to theory predominantly centred around the ‘able’ body. Moreover, it makes it more challenging for the analysis of clients with disabilities.
Whilst practising, my support mechanisms of family, supervisor and personal assistants are so important. Equally fundamental, is the acceptance of diversity within the client group, as well as within society, which are both factors of the relational space. Society is made up of the short and the tall, the bright and dim, the calm and volatile, together with the able-bodied and the disabled. My place in society concerns me not at all until such time as someone threatens it by deeming it necessary to specifically define it.
Also, as a disabled therapist, I find a particular connection to living as a disabled person in London and, as a gay man, this is often a challenging experience. The process for me of working clinically as a disabled therapist periodically involves acquiring compact disc texts and downloads from British and American audio libraries. When audiobooks are not available, I must have the textbooks, or relevant chapters, recorded by a personal assistant.
Society has the tendency to present disabled people as having defective bodies. For able-bodied clients, this stigma can unconsciously enter the therapy room. Disabled psychotherapists have the ability to both expose ‘able-bodied’ clients to different perspectives, whilst allowing disabled clients to have someone to relate more closely to.
Ashley Mohesky, a psychotherapist living with cerebral palsy puts it succinctly: “even though I will not be able to completely relate to every client since everyone is different, I foresee a lot of commonalities between clients and me, which can potentially bridge the gap between mental health services for people with disabilities.”
These amanuenses, who come and go on an approximate average six-monthly basis, do not effectively develop the attachment to the clinical material, but do, nevertheless, maintain strict confidentiality, in accordance with their employment contracts. Of course, I cannot read and am unable to take notes, highlight and underline texts. Feedback into a Dictaphone is equally time-consuming, as well as impossible in the long-term if one wants to use such Dictaphone notes in future written client notes, there being no practical way to find the page reference, which is necessary for making a point.
In dictation, I must painstakingly go through the text, sentence by sentence, with a personal assistant reading back and forward, in order to create clinical note material, all of which can end up costing hundreds of pounds. This experience can be incredibly frustrating, as I cannot read the device screen and, naturally, the personal assistant does not know what I want to say. Even if the individual did know, professional boundaries do not allow them to interpret my own thoughts back to me, due to confidentiality and the professional role of an amanuensis.
I usually employ one principal personal assistant to deal with all my clinical work and client book-keeping. However, there are occasions where such a competent person has not been available. At these times, it is quite impossible to describe how tense this lack of professional support can be. Even in such periods, I never really feel like leaving my profession, as I love what I do.
Sometimes, I feel that I give an unrealistic impression of how easy it is to my colleagues, as I am afraid that if I really showed the true picture, I would be pitied. By using my Home Group, continuing with clinical supervision as well as working more closely with professional therapy organisations, I believe my disability is a positive and continual learning tool, now and in the future.
- Fisher, M. (2015). Working With Disability. Therapy Today.
- Ingham, E. (2018). The (Physically) Wounded Healer: The Impact of a Physical Disability on Training and Development as a Counselling Psychologist: A Case Study. The European Journal of Counselling Psychology, 7(1).
- Mohesky, A. (2021, January 13). Why we need mental health professionals with disabilities.
- The Mighty. https://themighty.com/2020/06/therapists-with-disabilities/
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