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CBT & Neurodiversity – A Path to Thriving

If you are neurodiverse and considering therapy, you may be wondering whether Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can really be effective for you? Can this type of therapy actually help you and your individual needs and ways of processing things? This blog delves into the unique challenges neurodiversity may raise and how CBT can be crafted to be your personalised support system.

Navigating neurodiversity: Understanding unique challenges

Not everyone processes life in the same way. In fact, 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent – processing, learning, and responding differently. As a neurodiverse person, conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or sensory issues might present challenges for you in a predominantly neurotypical world. Tackling these challenges can sometimes take a toll on your mental health. If this is the case, you’re not alone – studies show 2 out of 3 people with ADHD also struggle with their mental health, and a staggering 94% autistic people experience symptoms of anxiety.

How neurodiversity affects mental health

Navigating neurotypical expectations in education, employment, and relationships can be challenging and result in struggles with your mental health, particularly increased anxiety. Sometimes stigma surrounding neurodiversity can impact your self-esteem and make you more socially withdrawn. If you have sensory processing differences, these can become a significant source of stress and anxiety. While these may be some the challenges you are facing, the good news is that there is help available.

How CBT can address challenges of Neurodiversity: A personalised approach

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) recognises that one size does not fit all. Its adaptability means that its therapeutic approach is as unique as you are.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Personalised approach. CBT is tailored to your unique needs, strengths, and challenges. Using your initial appointment as an opportunity for discovery, you and your therapist will be able to discuss what you would like sessions to focus on and how best to achieve this.
  • Sensory integration. Understanding and adapting to your sensory needs is essential. Having sessions online has enabled this to be much more streamlined as you can have your session wherever you feel most comfortable. Having an established space, usually at home, where lighting, noise, and sensory stimulation has already been considered takes a lot of the anxiety away that can sometimes arise from travelling to and being in a new environment.
  • Social skills development. Navigating social interactions can be tricky and stressful. CBT can give you the tools needed to develop social skill and improve communication, build relationships, and reduce feeling isolated.
  • Executive functioning support. Many neurodiverse people struggle with planning, organising, motivation, and time management. CBT can help you by using visual schedules and task breakdowns which will help you gain the most benefit from therapy as well as your other daily activities.

Does CBT actually work for neurodiverse people?

Research evidence shows that CBT does work for neurodiverse people. Not only can it help any symptoms of depression or anxiety, but CBT can also improve your work performance, your relationships, and your overall wellbeing.

How CBT can help manage anxiety

Cognitive restructuring – a powerful tool for change

By reshaping the way you think, CBT can help you to identify and replace unhelpful and negative thought patterns with more balanced and realistic ones. This is a powerful tool that empowers you to approach situations with a more positive mindset.

Identifying triggers

Understanding what triggers your anxiety is a crucial step in managing anxiety. In CBT, you will work collaboratively with your therapist to identify triggers, whether they’re related to social situations, work, or personal experiences. This awareness helps to focus strategies for managing and overcoming anxiety.

Exposure therapy – facing fears, step by step

You and your therapist will work together to build a step-by-step plan, gradually exposing you to anxiety triggers in a safe and controlled way. This gradual process is designed to help you become desensitised to triggers, which will make them less anxiety-provoking over time. By taking small, manageable steps, you will be able to confront and overcome your fears.

Building coping skills

Anxiety management includes developing coping skills. CBT provides you with practical strategies to deal with anxiety in the moment – breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, and ground exercises. These tools become your allies in navigating anxious moments and regaining a sense of control.

How CBT can help manage depression and low mood

Identifying and challenging negative thought and behaviour patterns

A significant part of CBT for depression involves identifying thought and behaviour patterns that can contribute to low mood. With your therapist, you will recognise and explore these patterns, shedding light on how they may be influencing your emotions. Challenging and reframing these encourages a shift toward a more balanced and positive outlook.

Behavioural activation

Low mood can often lead to withdrawal from activities you used to enjoy. Behavioural activation is a technique used in CBT to gradually reintroduce and engage in those things you previously found rewarding. Gradually adding these things back into your life helps build resilience and adaptability, as well as a sense of fulfilment and happiness.

Finding the right CBT therapist

Finding a therapist who has had specific training on adapting CBT for neurodiverse people is extremely important. At CBT Networks, our therapists have both the training and clinical experience in doing just that. Your therapist is committed to understating your cognitive, sensory, and processing style as well as goals for therapy so that they can tailor their approach to maximise the benefits of therapy.

If you would like to find out whether CBT could help you, our consultant psychologist, Dr Sian Thrasher, offers a free 15-minute telephone consultation specifically for you to discuss CBT and treatment options.

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