In this section we’ll outline how to find the right therapist to manage anxiety and other difficulties which autistic people may experience. As mentioned in the previous section there are a number of forms and settings therapy can take place. This section will expand on what forms of therapy are available, deciding which type is the best fit for you and what to expect in your first session.
If I feel that I would benefit from therapy where can I go for help?
There are many people in your life who are there to support you. If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health speak to a trusted adult whether that be a parent, another family member, a teacher in school or even a guidance counsellor. These people might suggest that you try talk therapy to help you manage your anxieties and worries. If you feel like you would benefit from therapy, a great first step would be to visit your doctor or your GP. The GP is the gatekeeper of everything health-related including your physical, emotional and psychological health. The GP might be able to recommend a therapist locally or will be able to let you know where you can find therapist suitable for treating anxiety in autistic clients. The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (or the IACP) has a search function on their website that you can use to search for counsellors or therapists in your area.
What different types of therapy are there?
There are a wide variety of therapy options available and it might take a while for you to find what style of therapy is the best fit for you. Choosing a style of therapy depends on what it is you are looking for support with. There are some descriptions of a number of styles of therapy below.
Counselling and Psychotherapy: These are the most common forms of talk therapy and often therapists use a combination of counselling and psychotherapy techniques in their therapy sessions. Both counselling and psychotherapy aim to help a person understand their feelings and to feel better equipped to deal with challenges they might face. These forms of therapy are useful for people who are experiencing anxiety and general worries or are going through loss or grief.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on examining how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact. CBT helps you reevaluate the way you think in order to change how you feel and behave. CBT would be helpful for someone who might be struggling with OCD or more serious forms of mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): Is a form of CBT focused on changing an individual’s behaviour patterns. DBT is usually used as a treatment for those suffering from depression, suicidal ideation or self-harming behaviours.
Mindfulness-Based Interventions: Mindfulness-Based Interventions focus the individual’s mind and body on the present, for example different kinds of meditation or breathing exercises. This style of interventions has been found to reduce physical pain, stress levels and mental health concerns.
Equine Therapy: Equine therapy involves activities incorporating horses and other animals in order to work towards feeling more physically and mentally well. Horses provide feedback for the therapist and the client about how they are feeling and the progress they are making, for example, if the client feels anxious, the horse too will reflect those anxious feelings.
Drama Therapy: Drama therapy is an active form of therapy which uses elements of drama and/or theatre to achieve therapeutic goals. For example, drama therapy might involved role-play which is helpful for understanding social settings.
That is only a couple of types of therapies, there are so many types of therapies to choose from and it may take some trial and error before you find the type that you prefer. It’s important to remember there may be some trial and error before you find the best therapist to treat your anxiety. Try to keep the following things in mind.
What should I look for in a potential therapist?
One of the most important things to look for in a potential therapist is that they have undergone some training around the area of autism, this is giving you the best chance that the therapist understands your needs. Although being autistic does not mean you necessarily need therapy, sometimes when you are autistic you can deal with some additional anxieties or challenges and therapy can be a useful way of coping with these anxieties. You should also look for a therapist that provides the type of therapy you feel is most suitable for you. There are a number of types of therapies listed above but there are also many more to choose from.
On the IACP website homepage you can find a therapist based on a “keyword search” like “anxiety” or “depression”. If you like, you could search for “autism” here and see if there is anyone in your area with experience in the area. Do not worry if nobody in your area comes up: alternatively on the IACP homepage you can find a therapist based on your location and you could narrow down this search by adding a “Therapeutic Service” you require. The therapeutic service is the area you are looking for support with.
The most important factor you need from a therapist is someone you can connect with and feel comfortable with. It may take a couple of sessions before you begin to feel comfortable talking with your therapist, it does take time to build a trusting relationship. Gender isn’t something that is overly important when it comes to finding a therapist, you could go to someone of the same or the opposite gender as you. Most importantly, you need to feel like you can trust your therapist but this might take some time.
What questions should I ask a therapist before starting my therapy?
Asking a potential therapist a couple of questions before you start with them can help you feel more at ease about the experience.
Here are a number of suggestions of potential questions you could ask your therapist before you start your therapy with them.
- What is your understanding of autism?
- Have you had any specific training on autism?
- Have you worked with autistic clients before?
- How often will the therapy sessions take place?
- Where does the therapy take place? Could you send me any photographs of the room that we will be in?
You do not need to ask all of these questions but if you are concerned about any of the above areas a therapist will be more than happy to give you some more information about any of your worries. Most importantly, it would be useful for you to establish what understanding your therapist has of autism so that you can ensure you are giving yourself the best chance of finding a therapist that understands your needs.
What should I expect from my first therapy session?
Once you find the right therapist you might feel quite nervous or even experience anxiety before attending your first therapy session. Don’t worry; these feelings are completely normal. Remember that your therapist probably feels apprehensive about your first session too. Beginning therapy can be nerve wracking because it is the beginning of a process but this process will be helpful and healing for you.
Your therapist will get to know you very well, you might even tell them things that you wouldn’t tell anyone else! Establishing a relationship with your therapist will take time, just take things slowly, move at your own pace. A therapist will not judge you no matter what you say during your therapy sessions. Whether you discuss parts of your present or past or hopes for your future you will never be judged for what you say to your therapist.
Your first session with your therapist will be spent getting to know one another. Your therapist will ask you about yourself and your interest. They may also ask you why you decided to attend therapy and you can give them some general information about your anxieties or worries. You should discuss your goals in relation to the therapy with your therapist, that is, what you are hoping the therapy will help you with. It is a good idea to let your therapist know what kind of things usually help you feel more relaxed or things that you enjoy such as your special interest or stim toys you might use to help you feel calm. Therapy sessions typically last between 50 and 60 minutes and initially you would schedule a session once a week. Your therapist might decide later that you should space your sessions out more leaving two weeks between sessions or even move to monthly sessions.
Be sure to tell your therapist if there is anything in the environment that is uncomfortable for you whether it be the temperature of the room, an overbearing scented candle or if the lights are too bright. You are entitled to ask for a glass of water or use the bathroom if you need to and feel free to ask the therapist if you can walk around the room if that will make you feel at ease.
Bear in mind that you are never obliged to go back to your therapist. You might not feel you get on with your therapist and that is okay. After your first session you might feel like it wasn’t very beneficial to you, remember therapy is a process and this was only the first step. Try and go for a second session with that therapist and after that, if you still feel the same, maybe you could try a different therapist or a different style of therapy.