Faith Jones, Jenny Hamilton, Niko Kargas

Accessibility and affirmation in counselling: An exploration into neurodivergent clients' experiences

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

AbstractNeurodivergence is having ‘a mind that functions in ways which diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal”’ (Walker, 2021, p. 33; Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities). The neurodiversity paradigm reframes the medical model of neurodivergence within the social context of disability (den Houting, 2018 [Autism, 23, 171]; Dwyer, 2022 [Human Development, 66, 73]). Research converges counselling and neurodiversity in a disorder‐specific context, for example, the wide range of barriers of access to counselling that autistic individuals face (Hallett & Kerr, 2020 [You need support, validation, good coping skills. You need and deserve acceptance]). More recent literature points towards the need for a flexible, clear approach to neurodivergence‐informed counselling (Bolton, 2023b [Three ideas in person‐centered, neurodivergent‐affirming therapy]; Chapman & Botha, 2022 [Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 65, 310]; Pantazakos, 2023 [Counselling and Psychotherapy Research]). This research aimed to explore whether lived experiences of neurodivergent individuals within counselling were accessible, validating and affirming, in particular, regarding reasonable adjustments, communication and environment. An inductive, qualitative approach was adopted. Five individuals participated in semi‐structured interviews, which were analysed following a six‐phase approach to thematic analysis. Six main themes were found: (1) Feelings of frustration and confusion at language used in counselling; (2) Feelings of clarity and validation in language; (3) Feelings of overwhelm due to uncertainty and masking; (4) Feeling understood, heard and able to self‐advocate; (5) The need for a safe, secure sensory environment and accommodations made; and (6) General accessibility and practicalities. Recommendations for practice include amending the counselling contracting process and sensitivity to the communication and sensory needs of each individual client. Further research may wish to explore specific details of the present, and other emergent, neurodiversity research in more detail.

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