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Mental Health Services for the Deaf:

Cite this article:
Mitchell, Gina. (2010, Sept. 17). Accessing Mental Health Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Lifeprint Library. ASL University. Retrieved 17, Sept. 2010: <>.



Gina Mitchell

Accessing Mental Health Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing


Individuals with hearing disabilities are a diverse group. In America, there are approximately 11,000,000 persons who are either Deaf or hard of hearing (Mitchell, 2006). A major segment of this population defines themselves as Deaf. This is a tight-knit group whose primary source of communication and identity is through the use of American Sign Language (Andrews, Leigh, & Weiner, 2003). Many have severe to profound hearing deficits and when defined accordingly in the United States there are approximately 1,000,000 Deaf persons above the age of 5 years old (Mitchell, 2006).

In contrast to the Deaf population, there are also the those persons who refer to themselves as the hard of hearing. They can communicate through lip-reading as well as through both speech and written communication. Such individuals may have had hearing loss late in life, or use a hearing aid or a cochlear implant (Vernon & College, 2006).

Historically, individuals with hearing disabilities lacked access to appropriate mental health treatment before the 1960's (Vernon & Leigh, 2007). As a result, they were often placed with hearing individuals and employees who had no way of communicating effectively with them. Such circumstances led to ineffective treatment and overall misdiagnosis. This short paper will explore both past and as well as current mental health services for those individuals seeking mental health treatment.

Psychological Services for the Death and Hard of Hearing- A Historical Perspective

The groundwork for early research in psychology and deafness exhibited some interesting findings. Early studies showed that when the verbal IQ scores of Deaf children were compared to IQ scores of children with no hearing deficits, the IQ scores of the children with hearing deficits often fell in the impaired range. However, results eventually showed that it was language deprivation as a consequence of deafness that was being measured rather than a true verbal IQ (Drever & Collins, 1928). As a result psychologist began to focus on performance IQ and created test batteries that were more effective in evaluating the IQ's of Deaf persons. Such batteries are still used today and include the Raven Progressive Matrices and the Chicago Non-Verbal Examination created in the early 1940's (Vernon, 1970).

In the 1950's few mental health facilities offered staff who had been trained in sign language and could communicate effectively with individuals who were Deaf (Vernon & Daigle-King, 1999). Research has shown that patients with hearing disabilities remained hospitalized for a longer period of time and received more serious diagnosis than individuals without hearing impairments in both the United States and in Europe (Basiler, 1964).

During the decades between the 1970's and the 1990's several important legislative items were passed that gave individuals with disabilities, including those who were Deaf rights which they had not had beforehand. They include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Education for All Handicapped Act (1975) and the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (Geer, 2003). This work along with the Gallaudet University's Law Center for the Deaf outlined a legal framework in which to lobby for equality and accessibility for many different services including education, communication and employment. Current Mental Health Services Available to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Today when compared to several decades ago mental health services for the Deaf and hard of hearing have improved tremendously. An example of this can be seen in the work done by Gallaudet University, a school dedicated to working with deaf and hard of hearing persons. The school has created programs in school counseling and has implemented a clinical psychology Ph.D program accredited by the America Psychological Association (APA) for those interested in working with this population (Vernon, 1995).

Although many advances have been made regarding the availability of psychological services for the Deaf have been made, this continues to be an area of needed growth. A recent study indicated that as many as 8096 children with hearing disabilities are educated in traditional programs around the country (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2006). Such programs differ in level of experience in providing services to these children and their families. For example, psychologist and mental health therapist who do not know sign language and are not educated on deaf culture. Such gaps in knowledge can have serious consequences leading to either under diagnosis or misdiagnosis of those seeking services.

Severe ethical and legal problems can arise when psychologist does not know sign language and little to knowledge about working with the Deaf culture (Raifman & Vernon, 1996). Psychologists have an ethical obligation to adhere to a high standard of care when working with all individuals with disabilities, including the deaf culture. Nationally, there a only a small number of residential facilities available for those individuals with hearing impairments requiring inpatient treatment.

Despite the above mentioned problems in mental health services to persons with hearing disabilities, there has been improvement over the last few decades. The APA has taken an increased interest in deafness, specifically via the leadership of those psychologist involved in the deaf culture. With such efforts it is hopeful that the area of psychology will continue to grow and expand in order to better meet the needs of individuals with hearing impairments that maybe seeking mental health services.


Andrews, J, F., Leigh, I.W. & Weiner, M. T. (2003). Deaf people: Evolving perspectives from psychology, education, and sociology. New York: Pearson Education.

Basiler, T. (1964). Surdophrenis: The Psychiatric consequences of congenital or early acquired deafness: Some theoretical and clinical consideration. Ada Psychiatrica Scandinavica. Supplementum, 180, 362-374.

Drever, J., & Collins, M. (1928). Performance test of intelligence. Edinbourgh: Oliver & Boyd. Gallaudet Research Institute, (2006). Regional and national summary report of data from the 2005-2006. Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth. Washington, DC.

Gallaudet Research Institute.  (2006). Reagional and national summary report of data from 2005-2006.  Annual Survey of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University.

Geer, S. S. (2003). When equal means unequal and other legal conundrums for the Deaf community. In Lucus (Ed). Language and the law in deaf communities (pp. 82-167). Washington D.C. Gallaudet University Press.

Mitchell, R. E. (2006) How many Deaf people are there in the Unites States? Estimates form the survey of income and program participation. Journal of Deafness and Deaf education, 11, 112-119.

Raifman, L. J. & Vernon, M. (1996). Important implications for psychologist of the American with Disabilities Act. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 27, 372-374.

Vernon, M. (1970). The psychological examination. The hard of hearing child (pp.217-231). New York: Grune & Stratton.

Vernon, M.(1995). A historical Perspective of psychology and deafness. Journal of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation of the Deaf, 1, 1-12.

Vernon, M.,& College, M. (2006). The APA and Deafness. The American Psychologist , 9, 816- 824.

Vernon, M.& Daigle-King, B. (1999). Historical overview of impatient care of mental patients who are Deaf. American Annuals of the Deaf, 144, 51-61.

Vernon, M. & Leigh, (2007). Mental health services for people who are deaf. American Annuals of the Deaf. 152, 374-378.



Also see: Unique Considerations for the Deaf Needing Mental Health Care


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