I recently wrote an essay about how self-judgment can take over my mind and cause me to question, “Who are you, JACKIE, to be a therapist?”
This especially comes up in my work with autistic clients.
I am a newly identified autistic individual. I found out in 2021. That was not long ago. I’ve been slowly and fervently (yes, the two can co-exist) processing what that means for me and my life.
I’ve been learning a LOT, understanding aspects of myself, re-narrating my past, and re-imagining the future. I’ve written many essays about it all:
There’s actually over 70, so I won’t list them all here. And yet, there is still A LOT I am figuring out. There is still a lot I am trying to understand. For example, I’m still trying to discern the difference between what I need to accept about my autistic mind and what I can actually change. I’m still trying to figure out strategies to work with the challenges of my autistic mind, such as when my mind takes detours.
When how much I’m still figuring out is right in front of my face, it can lead me to question, “Who are YOU to be working with autistic clients?”
When I learned I was autistic, I already had autistic therapy clients. As an art therapist specializing in highly intelligent women with overwhelming thoughts and emotions, my practice seemed to naturally attract them.
I did my best to provide a therapeutic experience to help them, but I didn’t fully understand autism. As I learned more about autism (through continuing education courses, working with an autistic coach, working with my therapist, and self-education with courses, books, essays, and more), I became a far more effective therapist with my autistic clients.
As I began to openly discuss being autistic, more therapists began referring late-identified autistic adults to me.
Despite this, there is a part of me that asks, “Who are you to provide therapy for autistics when you are still figuring out your own autistic self? Are you a fraud? Are you hypocritical? Will you harm? Will you be ineffective?”
It’s easy for fear to take over. Fear wants to protect me from pain. Fear wants to protect me from the unknown.
However, fear can also occlude some realities and truths that I forget:
I am a trained mental health counselor with many therapeutic skills
I am an effective art therapist with thousands of hours of experience guiding people through all sorts of events, mental states, and disorders (though good lord I hate the word disorder)
The value of therapy is in a neutral, caring outside perspective. I can provide that regardless of my own personal experience
I have a lifetime of experience masking as an autistic person. I know what it feels like to be autistic, and that is invaluable.
My experiences of navigating my late-identified autism helps me to viscerally understand what my clients are experiencing. It also helps me come to new ideas, resources, and techniques.
My late-identification means that I see autism with new eyes. I’m not entrenched in old ideas and harmful treatments (like seeing autism as something to “fix.”). I am able to scan the field of education and material for what is most effective and in-line with a neurodivergent, affirming perspective.
I am able to take all of my pre-existing skills as a therapist and select which ones will be beneficial and effective with my autistic clients.
So I can be an effective therapist even while I am still learning about my own autism. Even though I don’t have everything figured out about my autistic mind. I am still navigating.
AND, at the same time, this is what life is. Life for everyone, whether autistic or allistic, is a continual process of learning and figuring life out. It means I need to give myself some grace. Accept that I am doing my best as I am now.
If I stayed in self-judgment, I would be holding myself back from the world. I would stop offering services that I know are deeply needed. When I was newly identified, I could not find an autistic therapist. As autistics, it is incredibly difficult to find the help we need. To find people who understand autism to the depths that we experience it.
I want to be that therapist for others. So I set my self-judgments aside and show up.