An investigation into the abilities of adults with learning disabilities to differentiate and connect thoughts, feelings and behaviour
There is increasing evidence to support the use of cognitive behavioural therapy with
adults, for a wide range of psychological disorders. However, the use of cognitive
behaviour therapy with adults with learning disabilities is still being questioned as it
is thought that they may lack the skills necessary to engage in this treatment method.
The current research examines the presence of core cognitive behaviour therapy skills
in a non-clinical population of 59 adults with learning disabilities with an IQ of 50-72
points. It examines the abilities of adults with learning disabilities to complete three
different types of tasks; a) the ability to identify emotions from facial expressions,
using Makaton Symbols; b) the ability to distinguish thoughts from feelings and
behaviours and the effect of providing visual cues to assist with this task; and c) the
ability to link thoughts to feelings and thoughts to behaviours in the context of prior
The results indicated that adults with learning disabilities were able to demonstrate
these skills, though not always at the more complex level. Visual cues did not
improve performance on the distinguishing thoughts, feelings and behaviour task.
Level of intelligence was only related to the distinguishing thoughts, feelings and
behaviour task, however level of receptive vocabulary was highly related to all three
types of task.
It is therefore suggested that cognitive behavioural therapy may be an appropriate
form of treatment for adults with learning disabilities, once training has been given on
these types of skills and consideration has been taken to level of language ability.
The findings are discussed with reference to a range of theoretical and clinical
implications and further research has been proposed.