Come as You Are: Counseling with a Neurodivergent Affirming Approach
February 2, 2023
“My job as a therapist is to be a supportive person across the screen from the client; to hold space for their lived experiences, and offer them support that meets their needs.”
For neurodivergent individuals, it can be challenging to find a therapist who really gets them.
The term neurodiversity refers to the diversity of cognitive functioning in people. Everyone’s brain develops and functions differently, meaning each person has different skills, abilities, and needs.
Someone who is neurodivergent behaves, thinks, and learns differently compared to those who are neurotypical. This can include autistic people, ADHDers, as well as those with OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and many other conditions.
Mental health professionals who practice neurodivergent affirming therapy work to understand the unique challenges that neurodivergent individuals may face, and foster their innate strengths. They strive to validate neurodivergent people’s experiences, and encourage them to embrace their differences.
Julie White, MA is an LGBTQ+ and Neurodiversity Affirming Therapist. They are trans/non-binary and use they/them pronouns. They are also neurodivergent.
As a Neurodiversity Affirming Therapist, they strive to help neurodivergent people accept, love, and celebrate their unique life experiences. They validate all parts of their client’s identity, and practice awareness of it as they build a relationship with the client, and intervene with client centered therapy.
They also offer individual therapy for neurotypical people.
Julie strives to safely guide clients through the continuous journey of self-discovery. They will help individuals learn how to unmask, accept, and express their identity in an authentic and meaningful way.
I sat down with Julie to learn more about their background in the field and their therapeutic approach.
What inspired you to become a therapist?
I’ve personally struggled with mental health for my whole life.
I studied psychology in undergrad, but I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in professionally.
Eventually, I realized that I’ve basically been acting as a therapist to family members and friends for my whole life. I’ve always been an active listener, supportive communicator, and I always validate how people feel.
I applied to American International College for my Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology. I wanted to learn how to ethically practice psychotherapy, and create better boundaries in my life.
I interned at a Bridge Program for middle and high school students. I worked directly with the school adjustment counselor to support students with diagnosed learning disabilities, behavioral challenges, and mental health challenges.
I also worked with the school psychologist to support students with autism spectrum disorder.
I understood the additional support, and different accommodations to make when working with neurodivergent people.
In my clinical work with HBH, I constantly draw on my past experiences. I value being an intersectional provider, and being able to support a diverse caseload.
How would you describe your therapeutic approach and neurodiversity affirming practices?
A lot of mainstream thinking about therapy is based on the default pathologizing of mental, developmental, and cognitive disability. That means, looking at an individual’s behaviors as “abnormal,” and therefore deciding that something is wrong with them.
The neurodiversity movement is a social justice movement shifting away from pathologizing people who learn, think, or process information differently. The movement emphasizes that being neurodivergent also comes with a unique set of strengths to foster.
Being a neurodivergent affirming provider means that I view being neurodivergent as a positive characteristic of an individual. I validate all parts of the individual’s identity and practice awareness of it as I intervene with therapy.
I believe that therapy is a space to embrace our differences. The whole process of therapy is about unmasking more of who we are, learning, growing, accepting, and embracing who we are.
I work with individuals who hold marginalized and intersecting identities: including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), LGBTQ+ individuals, and disabled individuals.
What are your specialities?
- Anxiety, Panic, and Phobias
- Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s Counseling
- Bipolar Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Personality Disorder
- Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADD/ADHD)
- LGBTQ+ situations
- Eating Disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating)
- Academic/Occupational/Work Issues/Career
I’m also very passionate about working with clients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It’s a very stigmatized mental health condition, and I’m passionate about destigmatizing all forms of mental health conditions. As someone who’s worked with many individuals with BPD, they are no different than anyone on my caseload.
How do you build a supportive relationship with your clients?
Many neurodivergent people come to therapy because they’ve faced extreme pressure from society to conform to neurotypical standards.
My job as a therapist is to support clients whole heartedly as they embark on their exploration and acceptance of self.
I do a lot of motivational interviewing with clients, asking them open-ended questions. Open-ended questions can, however, be particularly difficult for people with autism spectrum disorder. I’ll ask them more specific questions.
What’s a unique quality about your therapeutic style?
Unlike other therapists, I’m a very open-book, while maintaining awareness of the ethics of self disclosure. If a client is non-binary and neurodivergent, I’ll disclose that I am too. I like to keep these parts of my identity open, to show clients that I’m not just supporting their differences, but I’m living with and embracing them as well.
I really just love bringing my whole self to my practice when it’s appropriate and received positively by the client.
What treatment modalities do you like to use?
DBT is a form of therapy to help individuals empower themselves through self acceptance and skill building. It focuses on acceptance and mindfulness to help individuals build an integrated and authentic sense of self.
Nonetheless, DBT skills aren’t always accessible or straight-forward for neurodivergent people. I utilize the “Neurodivergent Friendly Workbook of DBT Skills,” written by Sonny Jane Wise. Wise is a non-binary, disabled, and neurodivergent advocate, author, and public speaker.
Sonny’s workbook reframes DBT to be neurodivergent affirming, and incorporates sensory strategies, managing meltdowns, stimming, and other techniques. It also includes many different worksheets and tools, which I find extremely helpful.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT is an action-oriented form of therapy. It can help clients accept their deeper feelings, and form value-based decisions.
Still, there are parts of ACT that aren’t always accessible or straight-forward for neurodivergent people.
I utilize a lot of work by Dr. Russ Harris. Harris is an internationally recognized ACT therapist and bestselling author of the ACT book, “The Happiness Trap.” The book teaches providers how to effectively utilize ACT with neurodivergent clients. The purpose is to help clients navigate difficult thoughts and feelings, and make value-based decisions.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I relate to my clients so much.
Clients don’t realize that they often help you feel better about yourself. When you’re talking to someone, and relating to their lived experiences, it makes you feel so supported.
What is your favorite part about working remotely in Massachusetts?
I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with clients remotely. It’s necessary for me to show up as my full self with clients.
Working from home meets the needs of my disabilities and neurodivergence, and accommodates my differences.
I’m also from Massachusetts, so I relate to clients who come from similar backgrounds and cultures.
If you or your loved one is seeking a neurodivergent affirming therapist, we are here to connect you with the right provider.
We serve the entire Massachusetts community, with our offices in Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, and Wilbraham Massachusetts. We also offer online tele-therapy services throughout the state to accommodate your schedule and preferences.
Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 to begin your mental health journey!