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by Lyric Rivera

Feb 22, 2024

Working with Queer and NeuroDivergent Individuals: Inclusive Care Tips for Mental Health Professionals

Tips for mental health professionals to be affirming of 2SLGBTQ+ and NeuroDivergent people

Affirming both Queer and NeuroDivergent individuals in mental health care is crucial for our mental well-being as well as our recovery from the traumas we experience in a world that is often hostile to us.   

Traditional mental health approaches often pathologize or stigmatize both NeuroDivergent and Queer People, leading to our continued marginalization and erasure, discouraging many of us from seeking mental health (and other kinds of healthcare).  

While great harm can be done by providers who fail to adequately support, affirm, and encourage those they serve, affirming care can be lifesaving.  

Supportive and affirming care recognizes and values our individual human differences. Validating and affirming care facilitates trust and self-empowerment, enabling a safe and inclusive therapeutic environment and improving treatment outcomes. Additionally, it challenges systemic barriers and biases within healthcare, advancing social justice and equity (for all people).  

Being a genuinely supportive and affirming therapist (ally to any community) requires ongoing education, self-reflection, and collaboration with community members and leaders to address those populations’ unique needs and experiences.   

By embracing diversity and intersectionality, mental healthcare can shift from mere tolerance to accepting and affirming all identities, enhancing the overall quality of care and humanizing the healing process.  

Recognizing and respecting intersectionality is crucial in therapy when working with Queer and neurodivergent individuals. Intersectionality acknowledges that a person’s identity is shaped by multiple factors such as (but not limited to) race, gender, sexuality, brain type, and more and that these intersecting identities (and the experiences and traumas related to being marginalized by our society) can and often does impact a person’s individual mental health as well as our experiences in therapy.  

Without intersectionality, therapists may overlook the unique challenges and marginalizations that Queer and NeuroDivergent individuals face, leading to ineffective (or even HARMFUL) treatment. For example, a therapist who assumes that all queer individuals share the same experiences may fail to address the specific struggles of a Queer Person with disabilities or one who comes from a different cultural background.  

A therapist who understands intersectionality and the unique intersections of those they serve can help their clients to feel seen and validated, creating a safe and inclusive therapeutic environment. In addition, by respecting intersectionality, therapists can tailor their approaches to address each individual’s nuanced needs and experiences, fostering a healthier therapeutic relationship.  

Moreover, recognizing and understanding intersectionality encourages therapists to consider how systems of oppression interact and overlap, intersecting and impacting the mental health of those with multiple marginalized identities.  

By acknowledging the intersections of racism, ableism, homophobia, necrophobia, and other forms of discrimination, therapists can better understand how these systems contribute to mental health concerns and develop strategies to address them. This approach empowers Queer and NeuroDivergent individuals to navigate their identities and experiences in a safe, supportive, and affirming therapeutic environment.  

Creating a Safe and Inclusive Environment

Creating a welcoming physical space for Queer and NeuroDivergent clients requires thoughtful consideration. A good starting point would be to use gender-neutral decor and language, as well as calm and soothing colors and soothing environments (free of smells, bright lights, or loud music) to promote inclusivity for both Queer and NeuroDivergent People (who may be sensitive to bright colors and busy, noisy, or busy environments).   

Comfortable and adaptive seating options can also help clients feel at ease. To accommodate diverse sensory needs, consider minimizing stimuli and offering tools like fidget toys, weighted blankets, pillows, and other sensory gear (such as earplugs or noise-canceling headphones).  

Accessibility is also crucial, ensuring that the space is easily navigable for all clients. For some individuals, private spaces may be necessary to express themselves freely without judgment (if they are uncomfortable sharing in a group setting).  

Displaying inclusive and diverse artwork and materials can also signal your allyship to various communities, helping to create a sense of belonging.  

Remember, every individual is distinct, so it’s essential to ask clients about their preferences and requirements to tailor the space to best support them.  

By incorporating these elements, therapists can create safe and welcoming environments that honor the unique experiences and needs of Queer and NeuroDivergent clients.  

When creating intake forms and doing initial assessments, therapists who want to respect the intersectionality of their NeuroDivergent and Queer clients must take steps to ensure inclusivity.   

Include a question about cultural identity and how it may impact their therapy experiences.  

Use gender-neutral language and provide options beyond male/female (such as other or prefer not to disclose). You may choose to leave gender off your form entirely.  

Do include a question about pronouns and ask about sexual orientation and gender identity (but be sure to clarify that it is optional AND that you support clients of all identities). 

Provide a space for clients to share the name they would like yout to refer to them by in therapy (incase it differs from their legal name required for insurance and billing).  

Avoid stigmatizing language when referring to Queer and NeuroDivergent People (such as disorder, symptoms, and calling cis/het/or any one group of people the “normal” state, or othering those who are marginalized) and make an effort to use neuro-affirming languages, such as NeuroType, brain-type, or brain difference.  

Ask about communication needs, such as accommodations for hearing, AAC users, or visually impaired clients. Make the form accessible electronically and in print, using clear and straightforward language. If clients have motor control or reading/text processing difficulties, you may want to help your client (by reading the form to them) or helping them physically fill out the form (if they are unable to read, write, or type).   

Allow clients to skip questions that feel unsafe or uncomfortable to them, and (most importantly) make sure your office staff is trained in inclusive practices to create a welcoming environment for those with invisible differences.  

By taking these steps, therapists can create a safe and inclusive space for all clients from the beginning of their experience.  

Queer and Neuro-Affirming Language and Communication  

Using a client’s correct name and pronouns is crucial for therapy to establish trust, respect, and an emotionally safe therapeutic environment because it acknowledges and validates the client’s identity, which is practically essential for transgender individuals and those who are gender nonconforming (and are often invalidated in other settings).  

Misgendering or using the wrong name can be hurtful and perpetuate feelings of mistrust, erasure, and invalidation. By actively utilizing the client’s correct name and pronouns, therapists demonstrate a commitment to understanding and honoring that client’s identity, fostering a solid therapeutic relationship, and promoting a positive and inclusive experience.  

When working with NeuroDivergent and Queer clients, therapists must avoid making assumptions (and using binary language) if they want their environments to be welcoming and inclusive to everyone.  

Assumptions can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and invalidate clients’ experiences, while binary language can neglect the complexity and fluidity of people’s identities.  

Instead of assuming, therapists should strive for nuanced understandings and use open-ended language to respect their clients’ individuality and diversity, allowing clients to feel seen, heard, and valued in their authenticity.  

It is also essential for therapists to understand communication, sensory, emotional, and other differences common in NeuroDivergent People, including practical support for clients with diverse needs.  

By recognizing and valuing individual differences, therapists can adapt their approaches to better meet clients’ unique processing styles, foster trust and rapport, and help clients develop increased self-awareness and self-advocacy skills. This understanding also enables therapists to identify and challenge ableism and other biases, promoting a culture of acceptance and empowerment.  

By embracing Neuro-Inclusivity and being Neuro-Affirming, therapists can co-create personalized and empowering therapeutic experiences that honor each client’s strengths and challenges.  

Always Be Learning – We NEVER Know Everything 

Recognizing the limits of one’s own knowledge and experience is crucial for therapists because it enables them to acknowledge where they may need additional training, consultation, or referral. This humility and self-awareness help therapists avoid overstepping their expertise, potentially harming clients, or perpetuating biases.  

When acknowledging the limits of their knowledge, therapists can prioritize their clients’ well-being, ensure culturally sensitive and evidence-based practice, and promote a collaborative and respectful therapeutic relationship.   

By prioritizing ongoing learning and continuing education in these areas, therapists can provide higher quality care to both NeuroDivergent and Queer, as well as NeuroQueer (NeuroDivergent and Queer) clients. 

Neurodivergent, Neurodiversity

by Lyric Rivera

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