Many autistic people find it useful to go to counselling. Counselling can help you with things like coping strategies for dealing with difficult situations, relaxation techniques and relationship issues. Find out what counselling involves, how to find a counsellor and about different counselling approaches. If you are a counsellor, you could get listed in our Autism Services Directory.
What does counselling involve?
Counselling involves going to talk with someone at an agreed time and place, usually once a week though it may be more or less often depending on your needs. The sessions usually last from 50 minutes to an hour. What you and the counsellor talk about will depend on what issues you want to address, and on the approaches that the counsellor is trained in.
The counsellor should not repeat to anyone else anything that you say to them. However, there may be some specific situations where confidentiality can’t be maintained – where the counsellor has to tell someone else something you’ve said, especially if you are not an adult. You can ask the counsellor what their rules on confidentiality are.
Your first session
When you arrange to meet a counsellor for the first time, ask if you can have time to find out a bit more about them. This will give you a chance to think about whether you want to have more counselling sessions with them. You may or may not be charged for a session like this. Find out more about what to ask.
Not all counsellors have experience of working with autistic people, but if they are willing learn about autism, they may still prove to be a good counsellor for you. You could send them some information about autism, or specifically Asperger syndrome or demand avoidance if that’s relevant to you, or take it along with you to your first session.
When they start to see a counsellor, some people find that they feel worse for a short while. If you have started to have counselling and you feel this way, it is worth talking this over with your counsellor.
Finding a counsellor or psychotherapist
There are a number of ways you can get counselling.
Through your GP
You can go to your GP, tell them about your diagnosis and your difficulties (eg anxiety and depression) and how these difficulties affect your daily life. Ask them to refer you on to a counsellor who may be able to help. Some counsellors can provide counselling over the telephone or via email.
Through a local organisation
Your employer, school, university or college may be able to arrange counselling for you, and counselling might be provided by local voluntary and charitable organisations. Mind may be able to signpost you to local sources of support.
Arranging it privately
If you are able to pay for a counsellor yourself, you can contact one directly. Ask them about the time, place, cost and duration of meetings, and any charges for cancelled appointments and holidays.
Someone can call themselves a counsellor without having any experience or training, so check what experience and qualifications counsellors have, and ask if they are a member of a professional organisation such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
Counsellors and psychotherapists use a range of approaches. The one your counsellor uses will depend on their training and what you want to get out of the sessions.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
There is good evidence that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can reduce the symptoms of anxiety in some autistic people.
Counsellors trained in cognitive and behavioural therapy believe that if a person changes the way that they think about themselves, other people, what has happened in the past, or will happen in the future, then they will be able to function better in daily life.
Like many people, some autistic people may think in a way that hinders their ability to cope with everyday situations. These unhelpful thinking styles are sometimes called cognitive distortions.
- All-or-nothing thinking (eg I must be OK all of the time without exception)
- Polarised thinking (eg people are either my best friend or my worst enemy)
- Fatalistic thinking (eg things will be bad whatever I do)
- Inaccurate attributions (eg my problems are always someone else's fault)
- Discounting of evidence, if it does not confirm beliefs about yourself.
Dougal Julian Hare, 1997
Some people may have more of an innate disposition to this way of thinking, or experiences in the past may have contributed to how they think and feel about things.
A counsellor using CBT can help you to understand how these thoughts do not help you control your moods or your behaviour, but add to the difficulties that you are experiencing. This type of counselling will help you to think about how your thoughts affect your emotions and actions.
Find out more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Solution-focused brief therapy
Solution-focused brief therapy focuses on solutions for the future and aims to be concise, clear and practical. Veronica Bliss, a counsellor, has written a book and article about this approach and how it may be able to help people with Asperger syndrome.
Some counsellors take a psychoanalytical approach which looks at the person’s unconscious and past. This type of therapy tries to increase the client’s awareness of self and influence over relationships. Autistic people may find this approach quite challenging.
Find out about other approaches to counselling and psychotherapy.
If you are a counsellor
Please email us to be listed in our Autism Services Directory if you are a counsellor with an understanding of, training in, or experience in autism. You must also meet one of the following criteria:
Find out more about autism training.
Finding the right therapist
Find counsellors with autism experience
Mental health and autism
Mind - mental health charity
Samaritans - charity that helps people talk through their concerns, worries and troubles
CALM - charity for the prevention of male suicide
Papyrus - charity for the prevention of young suicide
The guide to good mental health on the autism spectrum, Jeanette Purkis, Emma Goodall and Jane Nugent 2016
Last reviewed 25 October 2016