My Therapist is Blind. But Wait, How Does That Work? - Questions and Answers with a Blind Therapist
I am a blind therapist. Friends and family members are often curious about how I work successfully with clients when I cannot see them.
I wanted to take the time to explain how this actually works, and debunk some of the myths about blindness and therapy at the same time. Below is a list of the most common questions I am asked about how I do my job, and answers that I use when explaining my blindness to my clients, family, and friends.
Q: So can you see your client at all?
A: Sort of. Blindness can often be a confusing term because it could mean someone is totally blind, legally blind, or has some limited vision. My vision loss is due to a hereditary retinal condition that has eliminated all of my central vision. I have some remaining vision in my periphery, but the remaining vision is very limited and only allows me to see general shapes and light contrast. What this means for working with clients is that I can see a person’s general outline, but cannot see their face or any details about their clothing. The major limitation here is that I cannot see someone shaking their head to respond yes or no to a question. In these cases, I just ask clients to verbalize their response, and because I work primarily with adults this works out fine.
Q: How do you know what your clients are feeling if you cannot see their faces?
A: While a common myth exists that blind people have better hearing than sighted people, this is not true. The fact is blind people are better at using their hearing to gather information about their surroundings, while sighted people use their eyes to gather this information. There is a lot you can hear about a person’s emotions when you know what to listen for. Their voice may crack, their breathing may sound shaky, or their nose may start to run when they begin to cry. Their breathing and speech patterns may speed up slightly if they are feeling anxious. They may fidget a lot with their clothes or purse if they are feeling nervous. Or they may look away or down at their lap if they are feeling sad. This last piece is what is probably most surprising to my clients. Because I am very attuned to listening and sound, I can hear when they direct their voice away from me, away from their partner, or where each partner in a couple have chosen to sit on my couch through the sound of their voice or voices. This helps me to know when to redirect couples to talk directly to one another rather than me about a difficult problem; or know when a person may be feeling overwhelmed by what we are discussing in session.
Q: How do you know when the session is supposed to be over if you cannot see a clock?
A: This answer is pretty simple. I set a very quiet alarm on my phone that goes off several minutes before the session is supposed to end. The remaining time in the session flows toward a closing point, and typically ends right on time. I have gotten a feel for how to pace these last few minutes through practice across hundreds of sessions with clients over the last several years.
Q: Is your guide dog also trained as a therapy dog?
A: No. While my Seeing Eye dog is very cuddly and well-behaved, my German Shepherd’s only job is to guide. She helps me get to and from my office safely; and honestly, I think is bored during my sessions. She has had a tendency to groan loudly when clients complain excessively or if professor’s drone on and on in long lectures. Even though my guide is not trained as a therapy animal, all my clients enjoy having her in the room and find her entertaining when she is letting her voice be heard. I say “all my clients” because that is really the truth. If you are not a fan of dogs, I am probably not the best therapist for you.
Q: How do you keep notes and records for your clients?
A: Technology is a huge blessing. There are a ton of assistive technology devices and software out there to assist people who are blind or have low vision. I use a screen reader called JAWS, which allows me to access everything on my computer through text-to-speech technology. This allows me to contact clients, book appointments, log session notes, and conduct billing transactions just as any sighted person would.
It is important to note that I am very open about my blindness with my clients, and introduce the topic and my Seeing Eye dog at the start of every first session. I let clients know that they are welcome to ask me about my vision or my guide at any point in time, and let them know that I will not be offended if they are curious about something. Having a good match with your therapist is so important, and has a huge impact on the success of the therapy experience. It is my hope that through these conversations that I allow clients to feel comfortable in our sessions, and provide them with the space to learn more about me and the therapy process.
It has been my experience that my vision does not impede my work with clients as a therapist. In fact, it seems to help create a place where clients know they will not be judged. They also know that I understand what it is like to struggle with something in life, and that there are still ways to overcome difficult circumstances. Therapy is an experience of mutual growth. I enjoy learning from my clients on a daily basis about what life is like for them, their strengths, and challenges; and I hope that they feel they are able to learn from me as well.
Lauren Barron is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate in Katy, Texas. She specializes in working with engaged, newlywed, and married couples in Houston and the surrounding areas. If you would like to learn more about Lauren or book a session with her, visit our webpage at: