I remember coming into therapy for the first time and my partial hearing loss was never discussed. I felt ashamed by the hearing loss and didn't have the courage to bring up my shame. I would have welcomed any questions or comments but that didn't happen. I was curious what my therapist thought about a client with these intersecting identities. I was worried the old assumption that hearing loss meant an intellectual disability was present would interfere with therapy. I don't have an intellectual disability but I knew the assumption existed in society. I had so many curiosities.
If the therapist had the courage to ask, I would have tapped into a deep personal experience:
I am hard-of-hearing and I don't sign ASL. I grew up speaking English. I had a medical professional who told me I wouldn't speak when I was little and that influenced my life (see how bringing up differences can tap into meaningful experiences?).
See, I understand the desire to not offend or be kind. But by ignoring the issue, you're telling me that you're not willing to talk about it. I have to be the one to bring it up and that's challenging as it puts the burden on me to make you feel better.
What I hope to do by writing this is to encourage therapists to ask about the oppressions they see. If a client is hard-of-hearing, please bring it up. It's like a breath of fresh air when people mention it. It doesn't mean I am always comfortable with questions people ask, but in talking about it, I know people come from the best places and that they are curious. In addition, I know I have the freedom to talk about it. So many oppressions are stigmatized and so I have no way of knowing how a therapist feels about my challenge.
I encourage you to take the risk and ask your client about the challenges they may have that you don't deal with. Every hard-of-hearing client is different, but one thing we share is a wish for people to engage with us and not avoid the topic of our challenge. We may not feel comfortable at first, but it normalizes the experience of two human beings talking therapeutically.
As a therapist myself, I check my assumptions but I know I have blind spots. I encourage you to look at assumptions you might be making in general and examine them and where they might be coming from. I do this consistently and it's a part of my journey to become better at my work.
Being gay has had challenges of its own, but being both gay and hard-of-hearing is quite a unique situation. I performed a comedic one-person show about this topic and it was so energizing to have fun with this. We each have our own challenges, and when we see different types, we can get nervous. So, I understand the hesitation to approach this. But it can reveal so much and be beneficial for you and the client.
In my work with the LGBTQ community and hard-of-hearing individuals and families impacted by hard-of-hearing family members, I'm continually inspired by the positive changes people continue to make through therapy. I have to check my assumptions with each person as even having a similar issue can be a different experience for each person.
I appreciate you listening and being open to this way of thinking. If you have any questions, you can always contact me at (323) 819-0747 or email at [email protected]
Patrick Tully is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (#105566) in private practice in Los Angeles, California and is under licensed supervision. His office is located in the Westside area of Los Angeles, California and he also offers encrypted video therapy to anyone in California.Patrick specializes in working with various physical challenges such as partial hearing loss, tinnitus, and the LGBTQ community.