If you’re autistic or neurodivergent and are seeking to begin psychotherapy, it can be challenging to find a therapist who understands the unique needs specific to the neurodiverse community. Fortunately, as the neurodiversity movement grows, and there becomes a greater acceptance of the neurodiversity perspective among clinical professionals, finding a neurodiversity-affirming therapist is more possible than ever.
What Makes a Good Therapist?
When you are choosing the right therapist, it can be hard to figure out what qualities make them a good fit for you. Some of the qualities you look for will depend on who you are, what you value, what your goals are, and how you like to work through things.
A good therapist will:
- Meet you where you are and help you learn more about yourself so you are able to better manage your concerns
- Respect you and how you choose to identify
- Be empowering, committed and challenge you to grow
- Show an interest in you as a person and will remember the details you share with them
- Help you feel like you are uncovering things about yourself and learning something new
- Help you to ensure you maintain healthy boundaries and uphold themselves to the same
What Does it Mean to Be Neurodiversity-Affirming?
A neurodiversity-affirming therapist approaches therapeutic work with the understanding that autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome (TS), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), dyspraxia, and certain other conditions aren’t problems to be cured or solved, but individual neurotypes with unique strengths, needs, and challenges.1,2 The neurodiversity movement shifts away from the idea that brains falling outside of “typical” are “disordered.”
A neurodiversity-affirming therapist will possess a basic understanding of different types of characteristics unique to each neurotype. For example, they would have knowledge that an autistic client might have special interests or sensory needs. A therapist informed in neurodiversity would also be well-versed in areas specific to the neurodiverse community and the nuances of the experience of neurodivergent individuals.
Why Finding the Right Therapist Is so Important
In therapy, “goodness of fit” is a key element in the healing process. It’s important to work with a therapist who understands your unique experience of the world. As neurodivergent clients, it is also helpful when your therapist is knowledgeable about concerns such as sensory issues, anxiety specific to the neurodivergent experience, and autistic burnout.
Where to Find a List of Neurodiversity-Affirmative Therapists
When seeking a therapist, start by asking the people you know if they have any referrals. Check to see whether they can refer you to that therapist’s website or provide other contact information. Often, primary care providers keep lists of mental health clinicians. You can also search through your health insurance to find a therapist who accepts your plan and specializes in specific areas (e.g., anxiety or depression).
An online directory also allows you to search and browse therapists, view their clinician profiles, and determine who might be a good fit. Additionally, you might consider checking with organizations that serve neurodiverse communities.
These organizations include:
- Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN)
- The Asperger/Autism Network (AANE)
- Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
4 Things to Look For In a Neurodiversity-Affirmative Therapist
When it comes to finding a neurodiversity-affirmative therapist, there are things to look for or consider, such as licensing, certifications, education, personality fit, availability, and cost.
Here are four things to look for in a neurodiversity-affirmative therapist:
1. Licensing, Certifications, & Education
Look for a therapist who is licensed to practice psychotherapy in your state. Different types of credentials include licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), licensed clinical psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), licensed mental health counselors (LMHC), and licensed professional counselors (LPC). Psychotherapists should have a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited university.
2. Personality Fit
Personality fit and comfortability with a therapist go a long way. When you feel like you can relate to your therapist, it makes the therapeutic process easier and more effective. You might search for someone of a particular gender or age range, or seek someone from a particular community (e.g., LGBTQ+ or someone from a particular religious background).
3. Scheduling & Availability
One of the challenges of finding a therapist is finding someone who has availability that works for you. When contacting a potential therapist, feel free to ask about their usual hours of availability. Let them know what times of day work best with your schedule (i.e., morning, afternoon, evening) or whether you require flexibility from week to week.
The most primary and practical concern of finding a therapist is cost. Sustained therapy is often essential, meaning that financial sustainability is an important consideration. Finding a therapist in-network with your insurance can make consistent long-term work a possibility. Also, check to see whether the therapist in question offers a sliding scale fee for therapy.
How to Review a Therapist’s Profile or Website
When reviewing a therapist’s profile or website, check whether they mention experience in the areas of autism, ADHD, neurodiversity, etc. Some therapists who are neurodivergent themselves might put their neurotypes in their profile. As the neurodiversity movement grows, more therapists are becoming open about their own identities.3 Be sure to make note of any pathologizing or outdated language.
What to Ask During a First Call
After selecting a series of potential therapists, it’s important to ask questions during your first phone call or visit about their experience and what you can expect.
Here are questions to ask potential therapists:
- Can you tell me a little bit about your experience working with autistic/ADHD/neurodivergent clients?
- How/where did you learn about autism/ADHD/neurodiversity?
- Are you autistic/ADHD/neurodivergent?
- What are some of the main approaches you use in therapy (e.g., psychodynamic therapy or CBT)?
- How long do clients generally stay with your practice?
- Have you ever worked with (your specific area of concern)?
- Do you offer remote sessions via phone or video?
- Do you accept my insurance/offer a sliding scale fee?
What to Consider During Your First Appointment
The first few sessions are a time to get to know each other. Although this process can take a while, things to consider during the first session are: Do you feel comfortable speaking and sharing with your therapist? Do they seem curious and receptive? Do they seem to have expertise or understanding in the areas you would like to explore?
After three or four sessions, you’ll probably have a sense of whether your therapist is the right fit for you. Your therapist should also have a sense by then if they feel like they can adequately help you. If the therapeutic relationship doesn’t feel like a match (see “20 Signs of a Bad Therapist”) after three or four sessions, it’s OK to let them know and seek someone different.
What to Do if You Can’t Find a Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapist
If it is difficult to find a neurodiverse-affirming therapist where you live, you may want to explore teletherapy. Because most therapists are licensed by state, teletherapy would provide access to a wider range of therapists. If it still remains difficult to find a neurodiversity-affirming therapist, consider the possibility of online or in-person support groups or peer support from other individuals in the neurodiverse community.4
Although it might be difficult to find a therapist who is knowledgeable and well-versed in the strengths and challenges of the neurodiverse community, it may still be possible to find a therapist who is open to learning about your neurodivergent identity from neurodivergent sources.
Remember that new providers are entering the field all the time, so if it is difficult to find the right therapist, continue to check with insurance panels, online directories, and referral networks. New therapists in private practice tend to have the most availability.5
If you feel like you would benefit from speaking with a neurodiversity-affirming therapist, you aren’t alone. Fortunately, as acceptance of the neurodiversity movement grows, there is also a greater acceptance of the neurodiversity perspective among clinical professionals. Ultimately, when seeking a neurodiverse-affirming therapist, seek out someone who is warm and receptive to learning about you as an individual.
For Further Reading
- Online Therapist Directory: Sort neurodiversity-affirming therapists by specialty, cost, availability and more. Watch intro videos and see articles written by the therapists you’re considering working with. When you’ve found a good match, book an online therapy appointment with them directly.
- 15 Best Books on Autism
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health