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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Preparing for counselling : developing and testing an affective awareness training program for the mentally disabled Sproul, Grace Yuen-Yee Tse


This thesis starts with the observation that if mentally disabled individuals are to establish a place for themselves in the community and successfully cope with the accompanying stress, they must, within their own range of capabilities, (1) learn to recognize their emotions, and (2) learn to express these emotions in socially acceptable ways. The thesis then attempts to explore whether this is a realizable goal. A review of the literature reveals that, in spite of its importance to the mainstreaming process, the emotional development of mentally handicapped individuals has received scant attention toy psychologists, special educators, or counsellors. Some of the reasons for this are explored including an examination of the prevalent "cognitive deterministic" viewpoint which assumes that emotional awareness presupposes higher levels of cognitive development than the mentally handicapped are commonly capable of demonstrating. The thesis notes the recent view of researchers in special education and psychotherapy that appropriate behavioral expression of feelings by the mentally handicapped must develop out of awareness of feelings; it cannot come about through efforts to manipulate manifest behavior alone. Perhaps more importantly, it is argued that affective development takes place in tandem with cognitive abilities, not necessarily as a consequence of them. Based on evidence that affective awareness training for mentally handicapped individuals can and should be pursued along with cognitive and life skills training, the thesis focuses on taking up the challenge of developing and field testing "An Affective Awareness Training Program for the Mentally Disabled." A Gestalt approach to developing awareness of oneself and one's environment was utilized as the theoretical basis for preparing the 46 lessons which make up the content of the "Affective Awareness Training Program." The researcher adapted freely from the work of others to create a unique instructional program designed especially to meet the needs and abilities of Trainable Mentally Retarded (TMR) students. The effectiveness of this program in teaching recognition of, and improving ability to empathize with, expressions of the five primary emotions of joy, sadness, fear, anger, and surprise, was then tested by the researcher using 12 TMR subjects living in an institution (six in the control group, six in the treatment or experimental group). The test instrument for measuring changes in pre-treatment, post-treatment, and retention level performance, was a series of 15 specially prepared video vignettes. Each vignette focused on one emotion and there were three different vignettes portraying each emotion. The thesis concludes that the experimental group, who participated in the affective awareness training program, changed significantly in their ability to recognize and empathize with expressions of the five primary emotions.

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