Mental Health

Why Being Autistic Makes me a Good Therapist | by Lula Maude | Nov, 2021

An autistic therapist might seem like an oxymoron; therapists are supposed to be skilled at picking up subtle social cues, and one of the symptoms of autism is a deficit in social communication. However, I am both a successful therapist and autistic, and so am living proof that it is possible. In fact, many of my autistic traits are exceptionally helpful in my work as a therapist.

Hyper awareness of social cues

As a child, I struggled considerably with social cues, but thanks to years of careful observation and honing my ability to mask, I think I am often more observant of social cues than the average person. I have to be very conscious of how others are acting in order to interact, as it does not come naturally to me, but sometimes this helps me be more able to notice subtle changes in my clients’ behavior.

Clear rules

I often am unsure in conversations how much I am expected to share about myself and how long the conversation should last. When I am working as a therapist, the rules are very clear. I am not supposed to talk about myself unless I have thought out in advance how my disclosure will be helpful to my client. The session is always 45 minutes. The goal is always to talk about the client’s emotions, and I frame the way I approach each session with the specific types of therapy that I am trained in.

Special interests

My special interests over the past several years have included several aspects of mental health. I went through periods where I was hyper focused on learning everything I could about bipolar disorder, suicidality, eating disorders, neurodiversity, personality disorders, and postpartum mood issues. I now feel very confident when working with clients who identify with one of those issues, and have a lot of information that can be helpful to clients.

Being alone

Being a therapist is surprisingly isolating. I never work on teams, other than speaking one-on-one with a client’s medication prescriber. When I do look for feedback, it is from my supervisor, who I see weekly, also one-on-one. A lot of time is spent behind closed doors. Of course, I spend time with people all day, but most of my clients are people I know quite well, and I am not required to share anything about myself with them. More outgoing colleagues have told me that they burn out because they feel too lonely, but I love that aspect of my job.

Seeing patterns

Therapy is all about identifying patterns in peoples’ lives. Sometimes these patterns are relatively abstract; for example, a client may have panic attacks when trapped in an elevator, which relates back to an abusive relationship where he or she felt trapped. My brain hones in on patterns and makes these connections quickly.

Imagination and thinking outside the box

As a child, I would escape from the chaos of the world around me into fiction. I think this has helped me learn to put myself into others’ shoes and be more willing to validate emotions instead of jumping straight to problem-solving. I am good at being creative with guidance I give, and at coming up with ideas that push my clients to broaden their perspective.

Masking

My job as a therapist is not to be myself; it is to act the way my client needs me to act in order to get better. Years of masking has made me skilled at mirroring the affect and mannerism of whoever I am speaking with. This is not to say that I am not being genuine; masking is a part of who I am in some way, seeing as it is how I have gotten through life thus far.

Lived mental health experience

Finally, and unfortunately, being an autistic female diagnosed in adulthood has meant that I have struggled considerably with mental health issues since a fairly young age. The upside of this is that I can empathize with a lot of the emotions my clients bring up. I recognize that experiencing adversity is challenging, frustrating, sad, and lonely, but also that these experiences make us more empathic, kinder, and more able to accept those who are different from us. I hope to communicate this to every client I work with.


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