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A critical realist analysis of coaching as a disability accommodation

Doyle, N. (2018). A critical realist analysis of coaching as a disability accommodation. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Although dyslexia affects 5-8% of the workforce, this developmental disorder is insufficiently researched in adult populations from a psychological perspective. Dyslexia confers legal protections and employers must provide ‘reasonable adjustments’, accommodations that protect employment and improve work performance. Using Critical Realist Evaluation principles, I conducted a multi-disciplinary literature review of the biopsychosocial and macro-legislative context for dyslexia in adults which highlighted the need for intervention evaluation. The following expansive research question was formed: Given a legislative context in which the dyslexic adult is considered disabled, and a social context which confers increased vulnerability to occupational and social exclusion, (1) what types of intervention exist to mediate such risk, (2) on which psychological mechanisms do they aim to operate, (3) and to what extent do interventions achieve a successful outcome?

Original survey data (N = 271) supported practitioner assertions that coaching is a widely adopted accommodation intervention and that the focus therein for adults is developing cognitive, behavioural and emotional skills, rather than solely literacy. A narrative systematic review was conducted to extract relevant psychological mechanisms and intervention protocols. The synthesis suggested ‘Working Memory’ and ‘Self-Efficacy’ as viable psychological mechanisms that can be successfully targeted by coaching. Intervention protocols compliant with Social Cognitive Learning Theory (SCLT) and Goal Setting Theory (GST) produced consistently effective results.

Two quasi-experimental field studies using double-blind controls tested these propositions: (study 1) SCLT and GST compliant coaching would improve Working Memory and Self-Efficacy for dyslexic adults, which would be correlated with improvements in work performance (N=67) and; (study 2) coachees’ metacognitive development and / or emotion management were intervening variables (N=52) mediating this impact. Between-groups comparisons reported some improvements to these measures, including the maintenance after the coaching was complete, though correlations between measures were rarely significant. A consistent improvement from the control groups indicated a potentially active element to the testing process and weakened the between-groups findings. As such, a novel data analytic technique was created which elicited overall improvement value (Meta-Impact) and separated smaller, potential practice effects, resulting in a significant difference between the intervention and control groups.

Coaching was, theoretically and when applied, able to improve the experience of dyslexic adults upon cognitive, behavioural psycho-social and emotional domains of experience, though in likelihood the experience will be personalised and limited to one or two domains, rather than all. In conclusion, I challenge the medical model approach to dyslexia, and specifically the targeting of working memory deficit as a proxy for broader, contextual outcomes. I suggest that a multi-domain based intervention might produce outcomes that are more ecologically valid. This thesis potentially supports the premise of coaching as a disability accommodation, though further research is required to evaluate the longer term effects of coaching on contextual outcomes such as job sustainability and career progression outcomes. I further argue that any disability accommodation, including coaching, must mediate between the meso and individual level in order to be ethically and legislatively compliant and to increase occupational inclusion for this heretofore marginalised group.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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