Adjustment to Disability


    • Are you newly blind or disabled?
    • Have you always been a person who is blind or disabled?
    • Do you wonder why God allows you to suffer more than others?
    • Do you have a lot of negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness about your disability?
    • Do you have a sense of positivity, but feel confused and unhappy because your life has changed so much?


While disability is something that affects all of us at some point in our lives, the concept of adjustment to disability that was formulated by mental health professionals who specialized in working with people who experienced disability, many of whom were also rehabilitation counselors, lacked personal knowledge of disability. So, they quickly adopted the belief that adjustment to a long-term or permanent disability is essentially the same as the stages of grief and loss of a loved one, but simplified it into four basic phases, which include: denial; shock; anger and depression; and adjustment and acceptance. Even with the caveats that these “stages” are not expected to be orderly, people go through them at different paces, and that changes in self-image may be pretty extreme, they do not tend to admit that adjustment to disability can be a life-long process, whether you are born with your disability or are one of the estimated eighty percent of people who experience disabilities who acquired their disability after birth.


Many people never even have the chance to “adjust” to their disability from a psychological or an emotional perspective because they are immediately put in “survival mode” and it rarely stops once it starts. Their level of independence has changed dramatically and they find themselves constantly fighting for their rights, whether it’s to continue being a parent to their child by being present and sharing custody, receiving their disability income, managing their medical care, or accessing reasonable accommodations if they try to rehabilitate or become employed. The level of independence the person has and the support that they receive from family, friends, and social service organizations, can be dramatically different than another person who has the same type of disability and this can affect their outlook.

My approach to adjustment to disability counseling can help you manage “survival mode” so that it doesn’t consume you. Staying just in “survival mode” can actually make your physical and mental health worse; even distracting a person to the point where they no longer know what they need to do to prepare because they are too focused on “putting out fires” in the present. In session, we will make it a priority to help you determine what you need to do to handle the basic things related to survivability, such as applying for and maintaining necessary disability related benefits so that you can manage your health, housing, and other affairs. Additionally, we will we will work through the beliefs that you have developed about yourself and the unconscious conflicts that are at the core of these beliefs as they relate to your disability. Depending upon your unique and specific goals, I will personalize your treatment so that you can learn how to see your situation differently and decide how you can do your best within your limitations. As you develop an understanding of your unconscious, we can also talk about ways to, in a sense, “make friends” with it, so that you are no longer just trying to “manage” or “control” your symptoms as they come up. Adjustment to disability can be a lifelong process because our minds and bodies change as we grow older, experience life, and as the world changes. However, there is hope and you can be prepared if you start the process of adjustment to disability now.


I used to be invincible. Now I’m blind or disabled. I cannot do anything.

This is a common belief that people who are experiencing blindness or disability experience when they develop a life-changing severe disability that limits one or more major life activities, typically their independence like driving, work, or normal activities around the house such as bathing, cooking, and cleaning as some examples. It can be devastating to have your life altered in such a way and it affects more than the person who experiences the new limitation(s), such as their family, friends, and others. That’s why it’s so important to support each other during this critical time and to not allow this false belief to deter you from asking for help from a professional like me who can offer you hope and healing. There are many things that you would be surprised that you are likely capable of doing, but you may need to do them differently now as a result of the loss of your eyesight or a new disability. Sometimes, we do need to accept that we are not able to do things that we did before, but we often learn that we can do things that we couldn’t do before our disability if we keep an open mind and heart. Hope is possible, even in times of suffering, if you are interested.

I think I’m supposed to be grateful because I survived, but I don’t know why God makes me suffer.

This is a complex dilemma that many people who experience disabilities find themselves in when they survive a threat to their life. Sure, you have you are alive, but your life is no longer the same and it is forever changed. The Catholic (Christian) faith gives us perfect examples of suffering and how to handle it, including the answer as to “why”. God has his reasons that are beyond our comprehension, but the simplest answer is that He never does anything unless it is in love because God is love. That’s a hard thing to comprehend when we are suffering. How could God inflict suffering upon us, in love? Sometimes parents have to tell their children “No” and even teach them things that are contrary to what the world says is “ok”. The child feels deprived and a number of emotions consume them, which often turn into anger because of a lack of understanding of why their parent would allow them to suffer even though their parent is showing them love. The same is true for God, except He is infinite and, in his wisdom, can see much further as to how something like a disability can help protect us, purify us, and even help others. If you are suffering, it’s time to seek help from someone who understands. You don’t need to concern yourself with what you think you “should” be doing or feeling. Adjustment to disability can be particularly challenging for a Catholic (Christian) because of what we hear in Church and from others who compare us to others who may seem to be handling their suffering better. My approach for someone like you, would be to discuss the benefits of spiritual counseling for people who are conflicted about God’s will in their suffering, while still addressing the unique and specific needs that come up for a person who is struggling with adjustment to disability.

If adjustment to disability is life-long, how can counseling help me?

My approach to adjustment to disability counseling is to help you differentiate between “survival mode” and what it will take to help you experience healing as a result of the psychological and emotional conflicts that will come up as part of being a person who experiences a disability or blindness. Negative beliefs about self, discrimination issues, other factors like the survivability factor are important and all-important factors will need your attention as you navigate through life as a person with a disability. Life will change and you will need to adapt to the changes too. The better prepared that you are to handle change, from a psychological perspective; the less likely that you are to remain in “survival mode” where you are only “putting out fires” because problems keep coming up.


If you have any further questions about disability counseling with Catholic therapist, Gianna Elms, LCSW or would like to schedule an appointment to begin treatment, I offer prorated consultations based on my hourly rate with a minimum charge of $35 before 6:00pm and $40 after 6:00pm for a 15-minute consultation Monday-Saturday. (Hourly and prorated rates are based on Arizona time.) Take the first step to schedule a consultation today.


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