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Lessons Learnt From A Week In A Learning Disability Team. A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.

Lessons Learnt From A Week In A Learning Disability Team. A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.

Back in early September 2023, I did a week’s work experience with the NHS Kent Community Health Trust’s learning disability week and I learnt a lot. Also, whilst I didn’t work with the psychology team during the week, I still worked with a lot of other teams and I learnt a lot about people with learning disabilities. Therefore, in this clinical psychology podcast episode, I’ll explain my lessons learnt from a week in a learning disability team so you can benefit from my work experience too. If you enjoy learning about learning disabilities, psychology in the real world and clinical psychology, you’ll enjoy today’s episode.

This episode has been sponsored by Developmental Psychology: A Guide To Developmental and Child Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at

Why Did I Want To Work With Learning Disabilities For A Week?

There were quite a few different reasons why I wanted to do work experience with people with learning disabilities. The first reason was because as we all know, you cannot get a job these days without work experience and you cannot get work experience without a job. Therefore, I wanted to try finding some work experience so I could add it to my CV over time.

Another reason why I wanted to work with learning disabilities was because I want to one day do the Clinical Psychology Doctorate and for that you need years of experience with your four main clinical populations. These clinical populations are children and adolescents, working-aged adults, elderly adults and people with learning disabilities (these are people of any age).

As well as personally, my bread and butter so to speak isn’t people with learning disabilities, so to some extent I did want to get this clinical population out of the way.

Those were the two main reasons why I wanted this work experience.

In addition, I have since learnt that this worked out perfectly for me in a sense because it doesn’t matter I didn’t work with the psychology team. Since I’ve been looking at several job descriptions this week and I’ve found that working with a Multi-disciplinary team is highly important, I did that a lot during my work experience, and experience working in the NHS is always needed.

Even though I will subtly mention that I learnt a lot about the health and social care sector too. I am amazed some places are still legally allowed to operate and there are some real horror stories about that I can’t repeat here. But you certainly learn a lot if you’re willing to listen.

Overall, this work experience helped to start ticking a lot of boxes that I might need for my future career. Something that will only be added to at the end of the month when I do some more specialised and psychology-based work experience up North.

What Did I Do During Learning Disability Work Experience?

Now I’ll take you through what I generally did each week.

Learning Disability Nursing Team

On the Monday, I was with the Nursing Team and this is a team of nurses that deal with all sorts of things related to learning disabilities. They can get blood for blood tests, they can sort out anything medical and they are just nurses in general.

I sat in with them for their Monday meeting and this was good to see them share horror stories, share what their workload is and them to plan their week. This allowed me to see how teams within the NHS function and how caseload is shared out. Then I got to hear how they travel together if needed depending on the location and they come up with plans about how to deal with certain clients and certain staff members at different locations.

Then in the afternoon, I went out with one woman that was the only nurse in Kent trained to get blood from people with learning disabilities. Since blood tests can be extremely scary and distressing for people with learning disabilities. They can have an immense fear of needles, a fear of the rubber band-type thing called Tourniquets that they need to wear to control the blood flow. As well as there can be a fear around the numbing gel that is used on the injection site.

Therefore, the nurse and myself travelled to this assisted-living farm, which was another subtle theme of the week that I’ll mention later on. Then we met with a young woman who needed to have a blood test done and we continued her desensitisation towards blood tests. This involved helping her to get used to the numbing agent because she was concerned what that would feel like, so we put a bit on her arm early on so an hour later that small patch of skin started to go numb. This helped her to understand that the numbing gel wasn’t scary and that her arm wasn’t going to fall off.

In the meantime, the woman practised having the Tourniquets on her arm and the nurse and the young woman practised breathing exercises, so she could relax when her blood was being taken.

One interesting thing about working with people with learning disabilities, and I think this does separate it from a lot of NHS work including psychologists, is that none of this is timed. For example, if anyone in the UK is familiar with IAPT (Improving Access To Psychological Therapies) then a psychologist is basically meant to do 8 one-hour sessions of therapy a day, no excuses and no extra time for paperwork. This is a very strict way of working.

However, when it comes to working with people with learning disabilities because you never really know what the client is going to be like that day, you cannot have a time limit on the work. Which is good I think because it was good to work with the client at their own rate of working and making progress.

Finally, after about an hour of working on the breathing exercises and talking next steps for the client about what they wanted to achieve in the future, there was a conversation I thought was really useful. One of the client’s main concerns was about if they were testing her blood for cancer because she was deadly afraid of having cancer. The nurse didn’t know exactly what was being tested for but as the nurse said, if she can help relax the client by finding out a little piece of information then she would do it. It’s just another helpful reminder that everyone in health and social care wants to do everything they can to support the amazing clients we work with.

Occupational Therapy Team

I’ll talk about Tuesday in a moment but Tuesday and Wednesday were on Teams all day, and on Wednesday I was attending a lot of Teams meetings with the Occupational Therapy Team. I did like Wednesday because in clinical psychology, we constantly hear about Occupational Therapy and we know that they work within mental health settings. Yet we never hear how they relate to mental health and what they actually are.

Before this work experience, I thought they were to do with job therapy because that’s what the word Occupational means to me. Instead to simplify the explanation, Occupational Therapy is all about working with a client to break down a task enough so they can do more of it themselves. For example, even though on Thursday I was with the Speech and Language Team, there was a lot of overlap here as we were watching a woman who understood a lot of words but couldn’t always follow instructions.

In this situation, it would be Occupational Therapy’s job to come in and assess the woman to see if there was a way to make the task, of cooking sausage rolls in this case, any easy for the woman. It might be breaking down the instructions even more, it could be using a different way of communicating (even though that’s Speech and Language’s job too) and just helping the client to be as independent as possible.

Independence is the real purpose and drive of Occupational Therapy.

Speech and Language Team

There wasn’t a great of amount of things that happened on the Tuesday, or nothing that memorable but I know I learnt a lot about the Speech and Language Team. Which I was always going to be interested in considering I had to go through extensive Speech and language therapy as a child because I was effectively mute.

In addition, it was really good to learn about how the Speech and Language Team didn’t only deal with talking and communication issues for people with learning disabilities. They did feeding and drinking difficulties too. That was something I had heard mention a few times but I couldn’t understand why this was Speech and Language’s job, because it was eating, not communication.

A while later during one of my conversations with one of the Clinical Leads for the team, they explained to me the Speech and Language Team is perfectly suited for these difficulties because they all use the same muscles and mechanisms. If someone is having eating and swallowing difficulties above the lungs then it is Speech and Language’s job to help the client.

If it is a bit of food that falls into the lungs or something similar, it is a medical job because that food could start rotting inside the lungs.

That would cause a ton of problems if it happened.

Furthermore, a non-learning disability Speech and Language Team might have 80% of their caseload focusing on communication and 20% eating difficulties. Yet when it comes to learning disabilities, it is reversed. Due to people with learning disabilities might have bad posture, developmental difficulties and other factors caused by their learning disabilities that prevents them from swallowing and drinking normally. One solution might be for the Speech and Language Team to remind the staff to sit the client upwards more when eating and drinking. Especially if their posture makes them leant to one side.

Then on the Thursday, I already explained the afternoon visit when me and one of the Speech and Language therapists went out to an assisted-living farm (a different one this time) to assess a woman for her communication needs whilst she was making sausage rolls.

However, in the morning, we went to an assisted-living “house” or apartment complex might be a better term to talk to a man that had had some communication aids designed for him. And this was really fascinating to see how the assessments worked with the therapist’s booklet and there was one test I really liked.

What happens is you read the client a very short story and for podcasting ease I will really cut it down. So you might say “Harry was watching a video with his grandson and Harry jumped at a scary moment,” Then to the client you would ask a simple question like “Was Harry alone?”

And this time the client said “yes,”.

I found this really interesting because I had just watched the man point to tons of objects and say what they were, but he couldn’t follow a “simple” story. It was an interesting and useful test.

That’s a brief summary of the Speech and Language Team, even though I will admit I probably learnt the most from these people. Then again, Speech and Language therapy has a large overlap with psychology in my opinion, I’ve listened to enough about it during my Developmental Psychology and Applied Psychology lectures over the years.

Learning Disability Physiotherapy Team

This was another useful day of learning even though I will probably never use this information directly in my career. For a bit of background information, physiotherapy in learning disabilities is a critical area because people with severe (and to a lesser extent the other forms of learning disabilities) need a lot of physio work because they can be immobile, they don’t walk upright so this can weak the bone density in their ankles and they can develop bad posture which has knock-on effects for muscles and bones.

I am not a physiotherapist so that is the end of my explanation on the background.

There were two visits involved in the day because the guy I was with had clinical supervision for an hour in-between.

Anyway, the first visit was to a local college which I had been meaning to visit for ages as part of my university Outreach work. It’s a nice college and we went there to continue some walking work with someone who had recently gotten a new walking frame.

For this visit, we helped the client get into the walking frame, helped them test it out so they could walk on their own and then I watched a whole bunch of interactions. All I’ll say about this was something I really understood about people who work with people with learning disabilities is how extremely, extremely patient and compassionate they are.

I do not have the patience or the compassion needed for this clinical population, but I do for other ones. I don’t think this makes me a bad person because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and it only makes me admire people who want to work with learning disabilities even more. They’re incredible because I couldn’t do it.

Afterwards, in the afternoon, we went to a Hydrotherapy session which was a lot of fun because I learnt a lot there about the human body and different members of Physio team.

There are a lot of benefits to hydrotherapy for learning disabilities including:

· Improved range of motion in joints

· Increased aerobic capacity

· Decreased muscle spasticity and tone

· Reduced residual lung capacity

· Improved circulation

· Improved mental and physical health and wellbeing

· Reduced pain when exercising

· Reduced restricted movement

Also, it allows them to build up their gross and fine motor skills. For instance, their balance, strength, coordination and grip.

Sources are provided at the end of the blog post.

As a result, it was useful to get into the hydrotherapy pool (a big heated swimming pool to be honest) and listen and learn and even get to hold and do an exercise with one of the clients. The exercise I did with the woman was a type of swinging to help open up the side of her body that was constantly bent because of her posture. Also, it helped to loosen up the spine too.

Clinical Psychology Conclusion

Overall, whilst I didn’t get to work with the psychology team at all that week, I still had a brilliant and fascinating week where I did manage to learn a lot about the NHS, different teams and people with learning disabilities. I know this information and this experience will help me in the future and it actually helps me to appreciate the other teams even more because I know, like psychology, they are just trying to do their best to help and improve the lives of people with learning disabilities, in a healthcare system that can be tricky to work in for sure.

And I look forward to gaining more experience over time but this one was a great placement to get started with.

I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.

If you want to learn more, please check out:

Developmental Psychology: A Guide To Developmental and Child Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at

Have a great day.

Clinical Psychology References

Benefits of hydrotherapy for children with complex needs - Which School? for Special Needs (

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