I want to contribute to our world in meaningful ways. It’s one of the things that drew me to being an art therapist.
When I graduated from my masters training, I chose to start an art therapy private practice because I wasn’t satisfied with the job options available to me. The pay was too low, and if I wanted to make a living, I would have to see a high number of clients (you can read more about the crappy mental health industry standards here).
Therapy is hard emotional labor. I knew I couldn’t see 6, 7, or 8 clients a day, five days a week.
I never imagined starting my own private practice, but it seemed like the logical way to go if I wanted to earn money without being exhausted. I was proud of myself for setting a limit of no more than five clients a day.
Within six months, my practice was full. I was seeing five clients a day, five days a week. I quickly realized it was too much. Even though I was seeing less clients than the industry standard, it was still too much for me.
As an autistic individual, I have a unique relationship with energy. One social interaction with another human greatly impacts my energy levels. My brain and body need time to recover. My body needs time to reset and restore. My mind likes space to wander, think about what occurred, explore tangential thoughts, and process/integrate it all.
If you add to that the unique demands of being a therapist, even more energy is required of me when I meet with a client.
This means that being a therapist poses unique challenges for me (yes, there are ways that being autistic makes me an exceptional therapist, but I’ll save that for another essay). I am emotionally and mentally tired after seeing 2-3 clients.
It was initially hard for me to admit. I thought I was doing a great job by just seeing 5 clients. However, I recognized that if I wanted to honor my energetic capacity, I needed to see no more than three clients a day.
I then did the hard work of restructuring my business to honor my energetic capacity. It felt weird at first, and there were a lot of limiting beliefs I needed to work through. I was so used to taking care of others and catering to what they needed. It was a big shift to cater to what I needed and take care of me.
Instead of meeting with clients whenever they wanted, I created the ideal schedule that honored my energetic capacities. I decided to set aside the mornings for myself. Morning is when my mind is most creatively alive and it wants to process all of its thoughts. So I now have my mornings free for journaling and writing essays like this one.
I then go into my art therapy studio in the afternoon to see 2-3 clients. I space them apart, so I have 30 minutes between all clients. Most therapists only have a short 10 minute break between clients. I threw out hustle culture’s notion of “maximizing” time by jamming clients in back to back, and honored that my mind needs 30 minutes.
After I conclude with my clients for the day, I make sure to have no social commitments. I need significant stretches of time where there is no incoming information and my mind can just rest. When there is nothing I have to think about, plan for, or anticipate. This means time where I am alone with no plans. Where I can do some art, take a bath, do a puzzle, or whatever feels right in the moment.
I see clients Monday-Thursday, and I reserve Fridays for other things I need to get done with my business or personal errands. I ensure that Saturday or Sunday is a “No Plans Day,” meaning there is nothing on my schedule. This allows my brain the true space it needs to rest and not be in a constant mode of thinking.
Now that I operate by this schedule, my life is far better. I feel more rested, grounded, energized, and creatively inspired than I ever have. I’ve also experienced more personal growth in this period than most other stretches of my life.
This was all because I honored my autistic brain. I couldn’t do that before because I didn’t know I was autistic. I thought there was something wrong with me for being so drained, mentally and physically. In such a drained state, I experienced far more emotional ups and downs. I thought something about me was broken and I needed to figure out how to fix it.
Learning I was autistic freed me from the endless cycle of trying to fix myself and mold myself into the neurotypical norm. I stopped trying to change how my brain works, and began to structure my life to support my brain.
One of the biggest ways I can do that is to honor my energetic capacities. Yes, I am capable of pushing past my limits and “getting shit done,” but at what cost? I want to live a life that I actually enjoy, and I’ve found that through honoring my energetic capacities.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter. If you would like to explore your autistic identity with an autistic therapist, you can learn more about my therapy services here.