As the proud media partner of the virtual LoveAbilities Festival, that’s happening this 15-19 October, we are bringing you this series of interviews with presenters so that you get to know them better and their workshops.
We got to talk with Michelle Donald, who will be moderating the panel discussion on “Dating with Disabilities”, to find out more about how she became an Accredited Psychosexual Therapist; a senior member of the College Of Sex and Relationship Therapists (COSRT) after experiencing a spinal injury.
Her expertise is in the areas of sexual dysfunction related to spinal cord injury (SCI) and the relationship issues may bring with it. Michelle believes it is necessary to address the issue of how important sexuality is after a SCI, knowing that this aspect is often neglected, with the focus being on physical issues.
Q: Why do you think that after a spinal cord injury, people tend to neglect sexuality and intimacy?
Initially, people are getting their lives back together, learning new skills – thinking about the effects on relationships and family, changes of roles in the family due to money, managing where they now might live, dealing with grief, how they will now move about, managing their bowels and bladder-spasms as well as the role of the caregivers.
There is so much to think about, so sometimes, sexuality and intimacy are the first things on someone’s mind and sometimes the very last.
After the initial information about the physical function, that is sometimes given in the spinal rehab centres, it often takes people up to 3 years to start to open up about how they feel about their intimate lives.
Q: Are there any unique challenges about the dating lives of those with disabilities?
It depends on their level of injury and their mental state. Those that need higher levels of care, it is often more difficult to meet people.
Q: Could you share a little bit about your journey to becoming a Psychosexual Therapist?
I was paralysed in 1996 as a result of a motorbike accident, which left me paralysed from my waist at T12. At that time, no one was asking mainly women the questions about sex so I wanted to fill that gap and I went to uni!
My client group consists of both individuals and couples looking for help with various sexual dysfunctions affecting their relationships. I work with both able and disabled clients but have developed a particular expertise with sexual and relationship issues that a SCI may bring with it.
Q: What are you hoping participants learn from the panel discussion (Dating with Disabilities)?
To accept themselves first just like anyone else.
Q: Any advice for those who are living with disabilities and are currently going through personal struggles regarding dating?
To join in as much as possible. We have to be out there to be noticed, for our own confidence to grow and for ourselves to accept ourselves. We need to enable conversations with others.
Q: How can someone who is not disabled, but dating someone who is, better understand their partner?
Communication – as with anyone else.
My partner said, “A whole load of patience” as not only am I a girl but I’m a princess in a wheelchair – it takes me ages to go to the loo, to get ready to go out. We build this into our routine and talk!
If you’re interested to attend Michelle’s or other presenters’ workshops, please go to www.loveabilities.org to get your festival pass!
Images: Michelle Donald