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Your Guide to Neurodivergent-Affirming Counselling

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

ADHD therapy

Affirming Therapy for ADHD, Autism, and More

Neurodivergent is a term created by Kassiane Asasumasu, a biracial, multiply neurodivergent activist. While Neurodivergence was initially most widely used to describe people living with neuro-developmental conditions such as ADHD and autism, its meaning has been expanded to describe anyone with different ways of thinking and behaving, including people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, and PTSD. The term is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive. A neurodivergent-affirming stance values how each person self-identifies and is less invested in DSM diagnoses as a source of meaning. If you are someone who self-identifies as neurodivergent, an affirming counsellor will offer unconditional positive regard, and trust the wisdom that you bring from your own experience.

The idea of neurodivergence is grounded in the social model of disability. In a social model of disability, disabilities are not located inside individual people or bodies, but are instead the result of barriers in the environment. So a person with ADHD doesn’t have problems with executive functioning, they live in an environment that asks them to do tasks requiring a level of executive functioning that is not universal. If the environment provided support for these tasks, there would be no reason to label a person with ADHD as having a disorder- they would just be a unique brain in a world of unique brains. Similarly, a mobility impairment is not a problem with a person - it’s a problem with a world that assumes everyone can climb stairs or move in the same ways. The reality is that there’s a lot more diversity in ability than the world is designed for.

Neurodivergent-Affirming Counselling

Neurodivergent affirming counselling also builds on the social model of disability. Neurodivergent affirming counsellors work from the idea that just because you are experiencing brain differences (associated with conditions like, ADHD, autism, BPD, and many others) it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Neurodivergent affirming counselling is a type of therapy that acknowledges and supports the unique experiences, perspectives, and needs of individuals who are neurodivergent.

The aim of neurodivergent affirming counselling is to create a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental environment where neurodivergent people can explore their challenges, strengths, and goals with a therapist who understands and values their differences. This approach recognizes that neurodivergent individuals have different ways of processing information, communicating, and interacting with the world around them. Therefore, it emphasizes the need for flexibility, accommodation, and respect for individual differences in the therapeutic process.

How Neurodivergent Affirming Counselling is Different:

  1. Understanding of Neurodivergent Experience: Traditional therapy often assumes a neurotypical perspective and may pathologize neurodivergent experiences. In contrast, neurodivergent affirming therapy acknowledges the diversity of human experience and recognizes that neurodivergent individuals have unique strengths, perspectives, and needs.

  2. Strengths-Based Approach: Traditional therapy may focus on addressing perceived deficits or weaknesses in neurodivergent individuals, whereas neurodivergent affirming therapy adopts a strengths-based approach. This approach recognizes and celebrates the unique strengths, talents, and capabilities of neurodivergent people. Neurodivergent affirming counsellors don’t evaluate people based on how close or far they are from norms.

  3. Adapted Therapy Techniques: Traditional therapy techniques may not be well-suited for neurodivergent individuals. Neurodivergent affirming therapy adapts therapy techniques to meet the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals. For example, it may incorporate sensory-friendly interventions, adjust communication styles, and allow for more flexibility in session structure. When I work with autistic clients, for example, I will ask how comfortable they are naming their feelings or imagining things in their mind's eye (both common practices in therapy) and if they state discomfort with either one, we’ll find alternative ways of working.

  4. Understanding of Social Dynamics: Neurodivergent affirming therapy recognizes the exclusion, discrimination, and ableism that neurodivergent individuals may face in social settings and relationships. It seeks to empower neurodivergent individuals to navigate social dynamics on their own terms, rather than attempting to change them to fit into neurotypical social norms. Neurodivergent affirming therapists are aware of the importance of an intersectional approach, and strive to understand how your experience is shaped by all of the different parts of your identity simultaneously.

  5. Advocacy and Support: Neurodivergent affirming therapy recognizes the systemic barriers and discrimination that neurodivergent individuals may face, including issues around diagnosis and self-identification. It seeks to advocate for and support the needs of neurodivergent individuals, including navigating systems, accessing resources, and promoting social justice.

Why Choose a Neurodivergent Affirming Counsellor?

Choosing a neurodivergent affirming counsellor can be helpful for several reasons. A neurodivergent affirming counsellor has specialized knowledge and experience in working with neurodivergent individuals. They can understand and validate your experiences, struggles, and strengths in a way that a regular counsellor may not. This can be especially important if you have felt misunderstood, dismissed, or pathologized by mental health professionals in the past.

A neurodivergent affirming counsellor can provide accommodations and adjustments to therapy that meet your specific needs and preferences. For example, they may use visual aids, sensory supports, or alternative communication methods to facilitate understanding and engagement. They can also be more flexible in their approach to therapy, allowing for individual differences in communication, processing, and learning styles.

A neurodivergent affirming counsellor can empower you to advocate for yourself, access resources, and navigate systems that may not be designed for neurodivergent needs. They can help you build self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-advocacy skills that can be useful beyond the therapy room.

A neurodivergent affirming counsellor can create a safe and accepting space where you can be yourself without fear of judgement or rejection. They can help you navigate stigma, discrimination, and social challenges related to neurodivergence, and support you in developing a positive sense of identity and belonging.

There are many reasons that clients seek out neurodivergent-affirming counselling. Some clients are seeking a diagnosis, and others are newly diagnosed and want to explore what that means, or examine the past through a new lens. Some clients come to counselling looking for practical strategies to manage living with different brains in a world that assumes are all brains are the same, while other clients need a safe space to process their present or past life experiences as neurodivergent people. We promise not to ask if you've tried setting alarms in your phone. Neurodivergent people seek out counselling for all the same reasons as neurotypical people, but also have some additional needs and concerns in counselling that are best addressed in a neurodivergent-affirming setting.

Why Seek Out a Neurodivergent Affirming Counsellor?

  1. Support for sensory needs: Neurodivergent people may have heightened sensory sensitivity or difficulty processing sensory information. Counseling can help you to learn coping strategies and sensory regulation techniques to manage sensory overload and improve their quality of life, as well as ways of advocating for your sensory needs in social and work situations. Therapy can help you develop resilience, coping skills, and self-care strategies to navigate these challenges and improve your well-being.

  2. Life transitions: Neurodivergent people may struggle with transitions and changes in routine associated with transitions such as starting a new job, moving to a new place, the beginning or end of relationships, or entering a new phase of life. Many neurodivergent people find extra support helpful during times of change. Counselling can help you navigate these transitions, manage anxiety and uncertainty, and plan for the future.

  3. Resisting Social Exclusion: Neurodivergent people may have experienced trauma, abuse, or social exclusion, which can have long-lasting effects on their mental health and well-being. Counselling can help you to process your experiences, contain trauma symptoms, and heal from the effects of trauma. Your therapist may also to support you to find and nurture relationships where you do feel valued for who you are.

  4. Self-discovery and self-acceptance: Neurodivergent people may want to explore their neurodivergent identity, understand themselves better, and develop a positive sense of self - particularly if they have received messages from family, partners, or society that they are different or inadequate. Many people reach out because they're feeling directionless and need support with finding a way forward. Therapy can help you to explore your strengths, values, and goals, and build a positive self-concept.

  5. Relationships: Neurodivergent people may struggle with communication, conflict resolution, or boundary setting in their relationships or families. Therapy can provide support, guidance, and skill-building to improve relationships and create a more supportive and connected family environment.

  6. System navigation: Neurodivergent people may face barriers to accessing services and resources because of barriers in these environments. Therapy can provide guidance, advocacy, and support to help you navigate systems and access the resources you need to thrive.

Neurodivergent Counselling in Vancouver

If any of these resonate with you, or feel like areas where you could benefit from extra support, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can get in touch by email, or book a free fifteen minute consultation in our online calendar.

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