Counselling – The Deaf Challenge


Counselling is becoming increasingly common these days. Counsellors are readily accessible for individuals and groups who wish to sort through their issues or learn more about mental health. However, for Deaf people finding the right counsellor can prove to be a challenge due to language barriers. Counsellors also often lack an understanding of the Deaf worldview and issues surrounding Deaf people. This makes in necessary to have qualified counsellors who ‘get’ Deaf people and Deaf culture. It is even better to have experienced counsellors who are Deaf themselves. In Melbourne, there are 2 Deaf counsellors. One of them narrates her journey on how she became a qualified counsellor, the challenges she has encountered in her career as a Deaf person, and significant achievements in her role.

 Karli profile 1 2010

Karli is one of two qualified Deaf counsellors in Melbourne. Karli has been working in the counselling field for over 13 years and has gained experience working in the field in America, England and Australia. Her experiences studying and living in America, and working as a counsellor in different contexts has helped her emerge into the person she is today.

Journey to becoming a qualified counsellor

When Karli was in Year 9, it was during one of her classes that she discovered an interest in counselling. Her teacher had given her a problem-solving situation to solve in class and she had worked it out quickly.  When she completed school, she did an apprenticeship for 4 years. It was uncommon for Deaf people to go to university straight after graduating from high school during her time. Whilst doing her apprenticeship, she also got involved in theatre as she had a strong liking for it.

When Karli was around 21 years old, Karli faced boy-girl relationship issues which led to much internal frustration in her. After talking through the issue with a CODA interpreter who suggested that she see a counsellor. After 10 sessions with the psychologist, Karli realised that she had sorted out her issues. There was a huge improvement in her emotional wellbeing. The psychologist she had seen was a hearing person who did not know Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Due to language differences, Karli had to communicate with her using speech and speech-reading which worked out quite well as the psychologist had gotten used to her ‘deaf’ voice. At that time, NABS did not provide interpreters for Deaf people to access counselling services. There and then, it hit Karli that Deaf people had limited access to a signing counsellor and the thought came to her to pursue a degree in counselling.

Karli went to Gallaudet University in Washington D. C. where she pursued a degree majoring in counselling and theatre. Karli describes her experience at the Deaf university as life-changing: “I was like a shell observing the world around me fascinated by being surrounded by so many Deaf people communicating in American Sign Language (ASL). They were intelligent, strong and confident Deaf role-models. The options that Deaf people had over there were diverse.”  Upon completion of her degree, Karli obtained a scholarship to undertake a Masters in Mental Health and Counselling.

Barriers as a Deaf counsellor

Upon her move back to Melbourne, Karli faced some challenges. Establishing trust in her credibility as a Deaf counsellor in the Deaf community was a barrier that she had to work through. As the Australian Deaf community is small, some Deaf people were skeptical as to whether they could trust a Deaf counsellor. This led to challenges in finding work opportunities. There are plenty of Deaf counsellors in America and England and the counselling field within the Deaf community is an established field in those two countries. However, it wasn’t the case in Australia. It was like starting from rock bottom. As word spread about Karli’s counselling services within the Deaf community, more Deaf people started to access her counselling services.

Accessing professional development to build on her counselling practice was another challenge for Karli due to lack of funding and access to Auslan interpreters. The introduction of the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) three years ago by the government, has opened doors for her to access professional learning sessions.

Milestones in her career

Karli has worked successfully with Deaf children in schools, assisting them to work through their issues at school and at home. She also has a number of Deaf adult clients coming to her to discuss their issues. Years ago, John Pierce Centre employed her as a family support coordinator, where she provided community and counselling services to Deaf people. She has conducted several workshops on topics such as anger management, health, and empathy. Karli is also a yoga teacher where she conducts yoga sessions for Deaf people. She has her own Yoga DVD which is available for purchase.

Karli has established her own website on her counselling and yoga services.

To learn more about Karli and her work, feel free visit her site –


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