Cognitive behavioural therapy from the perspective of clients with mild intellectual disabilities: a qualitative investigation of process issues


Dr Carol Pert, Berryknowes Resource Centre, 14 Hallrule Drive, Cardonald, Glasgow G52 2HH, UK (e-mail:


Background  Clinicians working with clients who have mild intellectual disabilities (IDs) have shown growing enthusiasm for using a cognitive behavioural approach, amid increasing evidence of good treatment outcomes for this client group. However, very little is known about the views and experiences of clients with IDs who have undergone cognitive behavioural therapy. This study aims to explore the perspective of these clients.

Methods  Fifteen participants with borderline to mild IDs and problems of anxiety, depression and anger were interviewed regarding their experience of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Two semi-structured interviews were carried out in the first phase of therapy between session four and session nine. An interpretive phenomenological approach was taken to seek out themes from participants' own personal accounts.

Results  Participants valued the opportunity to talk about problems with their therapist and benefitted from therapeutic relationships characterised by warmth, empathy and validation. Participants identified areas of positive change; however, many thought that this may be short lived or not maintained beyond discharge.

Conclusions  The supportive aspects of therapeutic relationships were particularly important to participants undergoing CBT. The clinical implications are considered.