The relief when you find a neurodivergent counsellor

I have had a few different counsellors in my life. I'm approaching 60 now and found that, although some were good, they didn't really ever get to the route of my challenges. When I was diagnosed autistic in 2021 and then discovered my ADHD, dyspraxia, PDA and dyscalculia, I decided to go niche and be very open about my lived experience in order to help future clients as I began my journey as a neurodivergent therapist.

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When a new client gets in touch, it is because they are either neurodivergent or think they might be. I offer a free, twenty-minute phone consultation to ensure we are a good fit and that I am the best therapist to meet their needs.

One of the best things I love about being a neurodivergent counsellor is when a new client, on that initial phone call, expresses how happy they are to finally find someone who understands them and speaks the same language.

From 2016 - 2021 I was, in essence, a neurotypical counsellor. My work changed significantly when I came out as neurodivergent. 

I needed to understand myself first and why I had always felt different and misunderstood. Understanding me would help me understand my new clients so, for three years, I have extensively studied neurodiversity and how mental health is often so different – more intense, and more complex for people who have a different way of 'being'.

Podcasts, books, courses, audiobooks, and many research articles. It feels as though I have done a degree in learning over three years.

Now, at the time of writing, I have seen over a hundred neurodivergent clients. We talk about sensory differences, diet, co-occurring physical illnesses, relationship problems, work, family and much more.

We discuss the difference between autistic burnout and ADHD burnout. Many ADHD-affirming clients want to know why they get so overwhelmed and upset or angry when people don't agree with them or challenge them. Perhaps this is rejection sensitivity dysphoria. Many clients have not heard of this and when they learn about the traits associated with RSD, you can actually see the penny dropping.

Some clients blame their emotions, behaviour and failings on why they get angry or upset and then, through exploration. we may discover that it is their nervous system that is letting them down, not their behaviour, and we can explore that fascinating area of neuroscience.

We talk about masking and how exhausting it can be. People pleasing and being the peacemaker is a popular topic of conversation. So many clients are constantly giving and are very compassionate but feel an imbalance with little good attention coming their way.

Trauma is a big area of the work I do. Clients may have had adverse early life experiences or feel traumatised every day, just because they are autistic and live in a world where the environment is painful, people are mean or they are experiencing sensory overloads.

We talk about spoon theory, building emotional scaffolding, the double empathy problem and why their feelings often don't make sense which is called interoception or alexithymia.

Therapy with me is not passive. I will listen and validate and be a pattern-matching visual detective and then we get on with the task of setting goals, looking at specific techniques and I will offer to send a whole range of helpful resources. I am very curious and want to know everything a client is motivated to discuss in order to help make their lives better. I welcome clients who also want to offload too. They may not have anyone else they can do this with.

Sometimes my neurodivergent clients see me for up to six sessions and many I see for many months. Other clients may come back to me for refresher sessions and they are always welcome. Getting positive and grateful reviews is incredibly rewarding.

Neurodivergent counselling is different to how I worked before. I feel challenged and I'm constantly learning. When a client brings something I haven't come across before, I will go down a rabbit hole and learn all I can. I will take complex cases to my supervisor and always be curious.

I love working with the intersections of society and now see such a diverse mix of clients – it's fascinating and wonderful. Neurodivergent people need to feel validated. Often they have had a really rough time of it, feeling broken, abnormal and not good enough. Every one of my clients is more than good enough. I work hard to show them how.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Frome BA11 & Reigate RH2
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Written by Sally Nilsson, Integrative Counsellor/Coach. HG.Dip.P. MNCS (Accred)
Frome BA11 & Reigate RH2

I am Psychotherapist, Hypnotherapist and mentor, committed to breaking taboos on mental health and neurodiversity in our communities and promoting good emotional wellbeing. I am autistic and ADHD and work with neurodivergent clients in Frome, Somerset and online in Private Practice.

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