#Autisticwomen and Psychotherapy – when your Asperger’s is treated as something else

Some people use the wrong tools for the situation
Some people use the wrong tools for the situation

I wrote yesterday about seeing a psychotherapist, who was nice enough and very well-intentioned, but was not at all up-to-speed on the latest research about Asperger’s Syndrome or the autistic spectrum as a whole. She had some personal familiarity with people she believed were (or were not) on the spectrum, and she combined that with the dearth of female-phenotype-specific knowledge, to interpret my issues as something very different from what I believe they really were.

As I said, after she told me, “You don’t have Asperger’s,” I took her word for it, believing that — as the trained, credentialed, experienced mental health professional in the room — she knew best.

And so our sessions proceeded to meander on numerous wild-goose chases, as she looked for deep emotional roots to issues that I now believe were really just my AS “acting up”. I can think of a whole slew of examples, but here are the Top 3 (for now):

Example 1: Hinting that my inability to tell when and how I’d bruised myself was a sign of a disociative disorder.

As with many folks on the autistic spectrum, I don’t always sense pain when it happens to me. Today, for example, I have a bunch of bruises I picked up over the past few days of a lot of manual labor and maintenance work around my house. But heck if I can remember when and how I got hurt. This is not unique to me. It’s common for people with Asperger’s. However, my therapist seemed to believe that I had suppressed memories of childhood trauma that were causing my issues. She repeatedly implied that I’d experienced some serious trauma as a young child, and I wasn’t dealing with it properly. She did a lot of “digging”, hinting and suggesting things, and trying to get me to “face up to the facts” that she was convinced were just-so. What an emotionally disturbing waste of time that was. Total boondoggle and wild goose chase. All because I have variable pain sensitivity.

Example 2: Treating my logical approach to life as a tactic I was (mis)using to avoid dealing with my emotions.

I’m a Aspie. I love logic. I seek out patterns. I find comfort and reassurance in approaching my life and the world around me in a rational way. I can’t for the life of me see what’s so terrible about this, but for women — especially — it seems like a logical / rational approach is suspect. We’re supposed to be more emotionally clued-in, more connected, more “soft”. And when we’re clear and “cold”, oh my heavens, what a transgression that is! Please.

This was such a “confounding issue” (read pain in the ass) with my therapist. She never really seemed to believe that my rational logic was a valid form of self-expression, but was an artifact of my oppression at the hands of the “right-brained” patriarchy. “Right-brain” logical, rational, linear, sequential activity (which we now know is a pop-culture fallacy that’s better at selling books than enlightening our species), was BAD. “Left-brain” emotional, intuitive, organic, flowing activity (which, I might add, drives me nuts at times), was GOOD. Sitting across from someone who not only didn’t understand me, but also didn’t respect my own personal mode of processing, wasn’t much fun.

On top of that, my therapist spent a whole lot of time trying to “press my buttons” to get me to emote. As though that was going to help anything. I constantly felt like I was somehow broken, damaged, deficient, because it didn’t come naturally to me. I couldn’t figure out what she wanted from me, or how I was supposed to be / act / think / feel. It was very disorienting for me, and I was convinced I was doing it all wrong, because I couldn’t muster the emotional responses she seemed to expect me to have.

Plus, I tend to process input differently from most people I know — there’s quite often a lag time of several hours to several days, till stuff sinks in, and then it really sinks in. “Being in the moment” when it comes to processing stuff I’m discussing with someone, doesn’t always work. So, all the stuff she was saying to me, to get me to emote, was like a bunch of timed explosives that didn’t go off till days later. The net result of that was some pretty intense meltdowns later, when I was in the privacy of my own home.

Example 3: While it’s known that women with may gravitate to friends and lovers considerably older (or younger) than themselves, my therapist thought the age difference between myself and my partner was an indicator of serious problems.

She said on several occasions that she believed my partner (who is 15 years older than me) had taken advantage of me when I was younger. Now mind you, I was 25 years old when we’d met, some 15 years before, and I’d already been married and divorced before I met her. So trust me, I made up my own mind about getting involved with the woman I married. But my therapist seemed to think that because my partner was older, and I was “immature”, she’d manipulated me into committing to her. I think she may have jumped to this conclusion because of my typical Aspie innocence — she seemed to believe I was trapped in a parasitic relationship that was depleting me. Actually, no. Life in general was depleting me — just by right of me being the sensitive Aspie soul I was / am.

More accurately, rather than being a divisive thing, the age difference has worked extremely well for both of us. I benefit from my wife’s life experience and perspectives, and she benefits from my outlooks and youthful vigor. It works for both of us, and personally I think the divide between men and women is a bigger deal than the age thing with my own same-sex marriage. And yet, we manage to navigate things pretty well, all things considered.

But, no. My therapist was locked onto the idea that I’d been hoodwinked into getting involved with my partner, and she’d been taking advantage of me for 15 years. How wrong she was. But I was completely unable to defend myself against these sorts of accusations. Plus, I was vulnerable and impressionable. I believed that my therapist meant well and had my best interests at heart, so I started to believe her, to some extent, which didn’t help matters at home. If anything, it caused considerable internal conflict with me, and it also may have contributed to my meltdowns, which happened pretty frequently during the years I was seeing this therapist.

But at the time, I didn’t want to judge her too harshly, and I wanted to really give it my best “go”.  I thought the problems I was having were with me so I stayed with her and kept trying to get it right, until she retired and stopped practicing a few years later. Thank God she did. Who knows how long that might have gone on, otherwise? And who knows where I’d be now?

Looking back, I see that she really did me (and my wife) a serious disservice, in treating traits of mine (that can be clearly mapped to Asperger’s) to emotional “wounding” and past trauma. She caused considerable stress and strain for me and my partner, at a time when we were very vulnerable and in need of informed, professional assistance — not narrow-minded biases that undermined me and my marriage, rather than building me up.

I can think of many, many more examples of this kind of (mis)treatment and mindset, but it’ll have to wait for later.

I need to calm down now.

Deep breaths… deep calming breaths…

I think it’s time for a walk in the woods.

9 thoughts on “#Autisticwomen and Psychotherapy – when your Asperger’s is treated as something else

    1. VisualVox

      Thanks very much. Truly, doesn’t it make life easier, to be paired with someone from a different generation? I think more people should try it. It can be just lovely.


    1. VisualVox

      It’s crazy in the purest sense of the word. I mean, it’s not like we don’t try. I tried and tried and tried, to no avail. I think maybe I appeared a little too successful to my therapist, but in fact I was failing myself. Terribly.

      Liked by 1 person

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