I’m a senior lecturer in Counselling with over twenty five years’ experience in education. I’m a Registered, Accredited Counsellor with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
In 2011, I was appointed to the BACP Board of Governors. In 2018, I became Chair of the Research Governance Committee for BACP. From 2010 to 2017, I was Chair of VISION2020UK’s Counselling and Emotional Support Services Committee (CESS).
My particular research interest is the social and emotional effects of acquired sight loss. Additionally, I am interested in wider issues surrounding disability, equality and inclusion. My initial research into the emotional impact of sight loss won the BACP New Researcher Prize in 2009. I have since delivered invited keynote speeches and papers at a number of national conferences.
My research has featured on BBC News and in the national press. In 2010, I presented the findings of my research to the Health Minister for Scotland, as part of a successful bid to help secure funding for RNIB’s expansion of their Eye Clinic Liaison Service throughout Scotland.
I contributed to the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011, regarding the accessibility of health information for blind and partially sighted patients.
I am strongly committed to making a difference to policy and practice in the field of counselling and vision impairment. I am a member of Cross Party Advisory Group on Vision Impairment at Scottish Parliament and I was on the Scottish Vision Strategy Advisory Board from 2010 – 2016. I was also involved in the Scottish Government’s review of Certification and registration in 2017, which was led by Professor Carrie McEwan.
I am a member of the editorial board for Disability and Society and an associate editor for the International Journal of Disability, Development and Education.
I have a guide dog called Meadow.
I am teach across a range of counselling modules on undergraduate and post graduate programmes. I am currently Programme Leader for MSc Counselling. I have also been Programme Leader for the Graduate Certificate in Counselling Skills and the BSc Mental Health and Counselling.
I am module leader for the following:
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 2015 .
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 VisionUk Mental Health Committee and a Partnership Board member for the Need to Talk project (Interreg funded collaboration between RNIB and Fighting Blindness)
Date: June 2012
Applicants: Mhairi Thurston (PI), John McLeod (University of Abertay Dundee), Julia McLeod (University of Abertay Dundee) Amanda Hawkins (RNIB UK) Allen Thurston (Durham University)
Title: Counselling for sight loss: the development of a practice model through systematic case study research
Funder: RNIB / private funder
Amount £250 000
Date: April 2011
Applicants: Andy Hill (BACP) Mhairi Thurston (University of Abertay), Allen Thurston (University of Durham), Mick Cooper (University of Strathclyde), Jo Pybis (BACP)
Title: A randomised control trial to evaluate the effectiveness of counselling for sightloss.
Funder: Guide Dogs for the Blind
Amount: £160 000
Date: March 2011
Applicants: Mhairi Thurston (University of Abertay), Allen Thurston (University of Durham),
Title: Vision impaired pupils’ perceptions of mainstream education, inclusion and support
Funder: RNIB Scotland
Amount: £1 400
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 have been a Governor of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy since 2011. I contribute to the strategic direction of this professional body (membership circa 50 000) and ratify 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.
In May 2015, I became an Associate Editor of The International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. (Routledge)
In 2017 I became external examiner for Glasgow Caledonia Counselling Skills Certificate
In 2019 I became Chair of the Research Governance committee or 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.
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
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
British Associaton for Counselling and Psychotherapy - New Researcher Award 2009
Nominated for the Vision UK John Thompson Award for Excellence in Services, Support and Care for my work on Counselling for Sight Loss Accreditation Course
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.
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