How Hearing Loss Impacts Daily Life and the Workplace
Hearing loss affects one in every six Australians, making it statistically the second most prevalent health condition in Australia. Despite this, the hard of hearing are often reserved about their condition. Many people with hearing loss choose to ignore or conceal it, which can pose a number of obstacles in interacting with others. These communication difficulties manifest in a number of ways, including creating barriers to socialising with groups and deciding to avoid attending public areas such as sports and recreation areas, restaurants, theatres and family gatherings. In addition, those with hearing loss often avoid meetings or telephone communication at work, making it hard to maintain and develop their professional capacity.
However, it is possible for those with hearing loss to address their condition and overcome the difficulties it can pose. The following is a series of case studies shared by some of Australia’s leading psychologists on the impact hearing loss can have on social interactions and how they have overcome those communication obstacles to thrive.
Life Coaching Melbourne: Identify Suitable Challenges at Work
Providing a range of coaching services over the past seventeen years, they have partnered with clients of various backgrounds, as well as gaining valued experience in Melbourne’s Job Services Department.
They have shared the case study of a client with 80% hearing loss, as an example of how it can impact communication in an individual’s professional life. Because the woman’s hearing loss meant that she lacked confidence in interacting with others, she felt that she was unable to pursue a more fulfilling career.
‘She said she really wanted to make a difference in others’ lives, but her current employment in an administration role didn’t give her that capacity,’ explains the woman’s life coach. ‘We agreed to continue with career-development coaching. As we did so, her own self-imposed limitation about her hearing came up. She believed that she would not be able to achieve her goal because of her hearing loss.’ When her life coach mapped out the steps towards a fulfilling role in training and development, it became clear that the client was using her hearing loss as an excuse whenever she felt challenged or feared failure. Therefore, she learned to see more of what was truly possible for her. ‘Her confidence boosted as we helped her let go of her fear and let go of the need to hide behind her hearing loss.’
Using this case study as an example, Life Coaching Melbourne recommends that those with hearing loss should identify suitable challenges in their professional lives in order to build self-confidence necessary to overcome any difficulties in communication.
Perth Mediation and Counselling Centre (PMCC): Communicating with a Counsellor
PMCC is a leading mediation service in Perth that specialises in family dispute resolution and counselling. PMCC therapists guide and support couples towards healthier and happier relationships and through separation and family breakdown..
They highlight the impact that communication difficulties from hearing loss have on relationships. ‘Partners commonly experience negative effects ranging from increased anxiety and stress due to increased communication-based conflict, depressed mood and loss of self-esteem as a result of the hearing impaired partner’s withdrawal of intimacy, to feelings of loneliness and isolation from restricted social activity because of their partner’s unwillingness to interact with family and friends.’ According to PMCC, marital breakdown statistics are higher when hearing loss is involved. What’s more, siblings of children with hearing loss can resent the extra time and attention given to the hearing impaired child, which can cause behavioural problems that disturb the family dynamic.
The counselling centre advises that it’s vital for those struggling with their hearing impairment to recognise that it is OK to seek support from a professional. Counselling can significantly improve quality of life and help individuals re-establish meaningful connections in their personal relationships. PMCC regularly assists people struggling with hearing loss to overcome the communication barriers affecting this area of their lives.
To have better conversations with counsellors, they advise you to ask your counsellor to sit closer to you and position themselves in a way that makes lip-reading easier. Always make sure to tell the counsellor when you are struggling to understand them and ask them to repeat what they said or to speak louder and/or slower. They also suggest finding a counsellor that is fluent in Auslan (Australian Sign Language).
ENT Wellbeing: The Impact of Hearing Loss on Couples
This Sydney-based practice provides treatment, support, advice and practical techniques, specialising in Speech Pathology. Their case study follows a man with moderate hearing loss living at home with his wife as an example of how hearing impairment can impact the quality of relationships. The hearing loss made communication difficult between himself, his wife and his friends, because he would often miss something they had said to him.
‘This means he missed out on an opportunity to interact with his loved ones. The gentleman reported that his hearing loss also caused miscommunication and made interactions more difficult, as well as increasing his feelings of isolation and frustration. This was especially evident in group situations where it is difficult to follow a group discussion and participate accordingly.’ As a result, his loved ones felt a growing sense of frustration, with his wife feeling as though her husband had selective hearing. This is because she did not fully understand the extent of his hearing loss and the impact of factors, such as background noise, on her husband’s hearing.
ENT Wellbeing advised the couple on the steps that can be taken to improve communication. These include regular use of hearing aids and facing each other directly when speaking in order to avoid distortion of the sound and to allow for lip-reading cues. ENT also recommend move closer to the hearing impaired person rather than raising your voice, adding gestures where possible and removing any background noise. These simple steps have proven to improve communication in a relationship where hearing loss is involved.
Reflection Psychology: Speak Openly to Acquaintances
A Melbourne-based practice set up by renowned psychologist Gary Rubin, the team of dedicated psychologists aim to provide the highest possible standard of mental health care in Australia. Reflection Psychology recognises that communication difficulties as a result of hearing loss have an impact on a variety of intersecting relationships. As an example, they shared the case study of a client whose hearing loss strained his relationships with his work colleagues, which in turn affected his personal relationships at home.
His psychologist reports that the client ‘felt completely ostracised in the workforce by colleagues of his. It turned out that they were uncertain how to respond comfortably to both his hearing loss and associated speech difficulties that they would more often avoid him completely as opposed to trying to engage with him.’ This caused the client to doubt his position in the company, as well as experience symptoms of anxiety and low mood. As result, his personal life became affected, as his wife and children were impacted by the fact that he was feeling more and more on edge.
In order to help him overcome his communication obstacles, Reflection Psychology suggested that he should speak openly to colleagues about his hearing loss; this would give them more comfort and knowledge in how to communicate with him. Directly confronting the source of unease allow those with hearing loss not to feel isolated from those around them.
Mullum Road Clinic: Getting the Whole Family on Board
The psychologists at this family-orientated clinic offer a range of specialities, with two members of their team having extensive experience in working with hearing loss prior to entering in into psychology. When working with someone with hearing loss, they focus on working with the whole family, not just the individual, to obtain get the best outcome, especially when the person is young.
Regardless of the nature of hearing loss it ‘has an enormous impact on the entire family unit,’ explain the psychologists. In a case where any family member has hearing loss, they advise that the entire family unit, including parents, partners, children and siblings, should also come in to process and discuss what this means for them, their child, parents or other siblings. This will result in the whole family gaining a better understanding of the implications of the hearing loss and allow them to find out what community resources and support services are available. Engaging in the therapy process will also allow the whole family to develop communication skills simultaneously.
The psychologists emphasise the importance of individual sessions with the person with hearing loss. This can help assist with common associated mental health issues such as anxiety and adjustment difficulties.
How does this relate to you?
Whether the difficulty is in professional life or personal relationships, the advice in these case studies prove that it is possible to overcome the communication obstacles that hearing loss can present. It is not necessary to suffer in silence; challenging yourself to build your confidence, letting those around you know about the extent of your hearing loss and directly discussing what they can do to communicate with you more effectively are all steps that can lead to better conversations