Dr Mhairi Thurston

Senior Lecturer

School School of Applied Sciences

Department Division of Health Sciences

Contact info

+44 (0)1382 30 8719

Biography

I'm a Senior Lecturer in Counselling at Abertay University, Dundee. I have been Programme Leader for the MSc Counselling, the Graduate Certificate in Counselling and the BSc Mental Health and Counselling courses. In addition, I'm a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In 2022, I was a member of the advisory board, which reviewed the QAA benchmark statement for Counselling and Psychotherapy in UK (2022).

 

I am an accredited, registered counsellor with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), which is a professional body, consisting of approximately 50,000 members. In 2011, I was appointed to the BACP Board of Governors.  In my third and final term of office, I became Chair of BACP Research Committee, which had delegated responsibility for developing, informing and monitoring BACP’s research strategy, overseeing their research procedures, policies and plans, and approving and reviewing research projects.

 

My research interest is the social and emotional impact of acquired sight loss. Additionally, I am interested in wider issues surrounding disability, equality and inclusion. I am Abertay University’s Lead Voice for Disability. I was the Chair of the VISIONUK Mental Health Group from 2010 to 2016 and I am a current committee member of the Vision Impairment Charity Partnership Mental Health Committee.

 

I have produced high quality research, winning the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy New Researcher Prize 2009 and delivering invited keynote speeches and papers at a variety of national conferences. My research has also featured on BBC News and in the national press.

 

I contributed to the Patient Rights Act (Scotland) 2011, regarding the accessibility of health information for blind and partially sighted patients. I developed a research -informed model of counselling for people whose lives have been affected by sight loss. Following this, I collaborated with RNIB to design a course which trains qualified counsellors to work with clients with sight loss. The course gives qualified counsellors the opportunity to become accredited as a sight loss counsellor. My work on this became an Impact Case Study for Unit 3A of REF 2021

 

I am a member of Cross -Party Advisory Group on Vision Impairment at Scottish Parliament and I was a member of the Scottish Vision Strategy Advisory Board from 2010 - 2016.

I was associate editor for the International Journal of Disability, Development and Education and a member of the editorial board of Disability and Society. I am also an occasional reviewer for The British Journal of Visual impairment, the International Journal of Educational Research and Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. I have a guide dog called Meadow.

 

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I am teach across a range of counselling modules on the MSc Counselling.

Interests

The Social and Emotional Effects of Sight loss

Nearly 2,000,000 people in the UK are blind or partially sighted and, with an ageing demographic, the prevalence of acquired sight loss is rising. There is growing recognition of the need to provide accessible healthcare and emotional support services for blind and partially sighted people. My research at Abertay University contributes to this objective.

In 2009, I won the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy New Researcher prize for my work on the emotional impact of sight loss.  This study investigated the impact of acquired sight loss in four core areas (mood, self-concept, social connectedness and loss). The work indicated that participants experienced reduced mental health and decreased social functioning as a result of sight loss. It also showed that participants shared common socio-emotional issues during transition from sight to blindness, relating to diagnosis, coping with deterioration of sight, experiencing loss, experiencing changed perceptions of self in relation to society, experiencing others in a changed way and experiencing rehabilitation. I designed a model to illustrate the transition people make when they acquire sight loss.

I further examined this issue (Thurston, 2010) and considered the need for psychological support amongst individuals in this position. I reported negative perceptions of counselling among participants and a lack of counselling opportunities in relation to their sight loss. In a discussion of the implications of this work I noted the need for counselling after diagnosis of visual impairment, and the specific challenges facing those who deliver counselling to visually impaired clients. I presented the findings of this work at a conference, attended by the Health Minister for Scotland, as part of a successful campaign to secure funding for the expansion of R.N.I.B. (Scotland) Eye Clinic Liaison Services throughout Scotland.

In 2010, I undertook contract research work for Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland (RNIB Scotland). The work identified major deficits in access to health information for blind and partially sighted persons in Scotland (Thurston & Thurston, 2010) and highlighted an intrinsic threat to patient confidentiality for blind and partially sighted people.

I was invited to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee, in conjunction with Royal National Institute for the Deaf, considering the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011. As a result of the evidence that was presented, the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 includes specific reference to the requirement that health information is provided in an accessible format. My work on accessible health information for blind and partially sighted people was reported by the BBC news and was given national press coverage.  Following this, I provided consultative advice to RNIB Scotland as they advised Greater Glasgow Health Board on  a new policy for providing accessible health services to blind and partially sighted persons. In March 2012, I presented my work on Accessible Health Information to Government Ministers and Senior Managers from NHS Trusts throughout Scotland at the Scottish Vision Strategy Conference 2012. In 2013 I presented the findings of this work to Government Ministers and Senior Managers from NHS Trusts throughout Scotland at the Scottish Vision Strategy Conference. I also chaired the Emotional Support strand at the UK Vision Strategy conference in London 2014 and was invited to talk about my research at the Vision UK 2015 conference.

In order to improve emotional support services for blind and partially sighted people in the UK, the nature and extent of existing service provision needed to be understood. To this end I was involved in design of a scoping survey (Pybis et al, 2016). This national survey found that there was a deficit of specialist counselling services for blind and partially sighted people in UK. It also identified the need for  quality standards in training and service delivery.

Through my research, I developed counselling interventions for people with sight loss by examining client defined helpful aspects of therapy through systematic case study research. My doctoral thesis centred upon developing and delivering effective emotional support and counselling for adults with sight loss in the United Kingdom. Most recently I have collaborated with RNIB and VISION UK  to develop an accreditation package for counsellors who want to work with clients who have sight loss. This aligns with the university's strategic intent of using knowledge and expertise to solve real-world problems.

I continue to attempt to influence government policy and health practice. I am a member of the Scottish Government's Cross Party Advisory Group on Vision Impairment and Iwas a member of the Scottish Vision Strategy Advisory Group. I was the Chair of Vision 2020UK Counselling and Emotional Support Services Group (CESS)from 2010-2017. CESS was one of the standing committees of Vision 2020UK and provided strategic national direction in the field of the delivery of emotional support for blind and partially sighted people. The steering committee consisted of heads of services and key figures from the four nations and had a membership of around 230 stakeholders. I am a member of the Sight Loss Mental Health Committee and a Partnership Board member for the Need to Talk project (Interreg funded collaboration between RNIB and Fighting Blindness). More recently I have been appointed to the Lay Advisory Group for the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

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More Information

Funding

Funding

Co-creating Performance and Play: Supporting community cohesion and well-being through mixed-media co-production in a post-Covid 19 society (RLinks 2) De Polo, S., Love, L., Bozdog, M. & Thurston, M.

How inclusive is Abertay’s on-line learning environment? A student perspective (£1990) Smith, K. & Thurston, M. ATLEF 3 2016

Improving psychological support for patients in the Macula Clinic , Ninewells Hospital, Dundee (£tbc) Thurston, M., Smith, K., Lumsdaine, S., McLeod, J. and Johnstone, P. 

Esteem

External appointments

I have been a member of the Scottish Executive, Cross Party Advisory Group on Vision Impairment since 2010. This group meets four times a year at Scottish Parliament and brings vision impairment issues to the attention of the Scottish Executiive.

I was a member of Scottish Vision Strategy Advisory Group from 2010-2016. I contributed to the strategic direction of policy, practice and research within the field of vision impairment in Scotland

I was a Governor of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy from 2011-2020. I contribute to the strategic direction of this professional body (membership circa 50 000) and ratified major corporate decisions.

I was Chair of Vision 2020UK Counselling and Emotional Support Services Group (membership 225) from 2010-2017 I was  responsible for leading and setting the strategic direction of policy and research within the group

I have been a member of the editorial board of Disability and Society since 2011. I review research papers and provide feedback to authors and to the editor

I was appointed to the governance team of RNIB Scotland between 2014 - 2016. I contributed to the strategic direction of policy and practice within this charity.

I was external examiner for the counselling courses at York St John University 2014-2018.

In Oct 2014, RNIB invited me to become a member of the Project Board for the Early Intervention and Rehabilitation in Eye Care Services project (EIRECS). EIRECS is a three-year project, funded by Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund (Department of Health), which aims to ensure that every person experiencing sight loss benefits from early access to a nationally agreed eye care pathway, promoting independence, choice and control.  Working with Rehabilitation workers and Local Authorities, EIRECS aims to strengthen the workforce through training and learning networks to support integrated health and social care provision. By creating a sustainable model to provide practical support, EIRECS will connect blind and partially sighted people to services and commissioners to improve health and care outcomes.


In 2015, I was a member of a small steering group reviewing Vision Impairment Registration in Scotland, led by Professor Carrie MacEwan.

From 2015-2020 , I was Associate Editor of The International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. (Routledge)

From 2017-2020  I was external examiner for Glasgow Caledonia Counselling Skills Certificate

From 2018 - 2020 I was Chair of the Research Committee of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

In 2019 I became a member of VISIONUK Mental Health committee. This group is part of the VISIONUK organisation.

In 2019 I became a member of the "Need to Talk" Partnership Board.

In 2020- current  I became a member of Pluralistic Research Network

 

In 2021- current- I became a member of Lay Advisory Group for Royal College of Ophthalmologists

 

In 2021- Current – I became a Lay Member of the NOD Cataract Audit Project

 

In 2021 – current – I established and Chair the Sight loss Research Network, which brings together charities and academic researchers.

 

In 2022, I was a member of the Advisory Group for the revision of the QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for Counselling and Psychotherapy  

 

I am an occasional reviewer for both International Journal of Educational Research and Counselling and Psychotherapy Research.

I  peer review external academic grant proposals for ESRC and Local Authority funders

Media

BBC Scotland News interview – Visually Impaired people have difficulty with NHS 30th Sept 2010

STV News - Interview: Launch of RNIB campaign “What would you lose?” September 2009

BBC Radio Scotland - Interview: Launch of RNIB campaign “What would you lose?” September 2009

Awards

British Associaton for Counselling and Psychotherapy - New Researcher Award 2009

2019 - Vision UK John Thompson Award for Excellence in Services, Support and Care  (Highly Commended) for my work on Counselling for Sight Loss Accreditation Course

2022 - National Finalist in RNIB 'See Differently' Awards - Campaigner of the year. 

 

Knowledge Exchange

I am regularly involved in knowledge exchange activities and consultancies with sight loss charities, health boards, and service providers for blind and partially sighted people. 

28th-29th June 2018 - Sight Loss accreditation Course run in London, in collaboration with RNIB and Vision UK.

Consultant for Retina UK Discover Well Being Course (2022) https://retinauk.org.uk/wellbeing/

Creative collaborator for Silver Salt Films (Independent film and TV production company) “Blind Ambition” film proposal (2023)

 

Outreach

Outreach

Thurston, M (2018)  The Psychological impact of sight loss. Retina Public Engagement Day, Fighting Blindness. Dublin 6th Oct 2018

Thurston, M (2019) Sight loss and Mental Health. Workshop for Low Vision students at Glasgow Caledonian University. 11th Jan 2019

Thurston, M (2019) Mental health and sight loss.Training Day for Scottish War blinded. Linburn Centre. Edinburgh. 28th March 2019

Meet the rest of the team

Ms Julia McLeod

Ms Julia McLeod

Division of Health Sciences | Lecturer

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Dr Andrew Spiers

Dr Andrew Spiers

Division of Health Sciences | Reader

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