Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Autism
What is CBT?
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and is a kind of talking therapy used to treat a range of conditions, including depression and anxiety.
There are different ways CBT can be delivered. One-to-one sessions with a therapist are common but online therapy and groups sessions are also available. Sessions tend to focus on trying to identify and then change unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours. There is normally homework/work to be done outside of the structured sessions with CBT.
Does CBT help autistic people?
Since CBT is so adaptive and can be used to treat a whole range of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and PTSD it is often the first suggestion when it comes to poor mental health. While it can be used to help autistic people with various problems, there are a couple of issues when it comes to CBT and autism.
Firstly, CBT should never be used to ‘treat’ autism itself. There is nothing wrong with being autistic, it is not something that can be ‘cured’, and no good therapist will try to treat autism on its own. It should only be used for mental health problems, which autism is not.
Secondly, because CBT is generally geared towards helping people to stop worrying about unrealistic scenarios it isn’t always very helpful for autistic people, who are often anxious about very real scenarios that really do happen. When the thing you’re anxious about is having to engage in small talk at the till in a shop then telling yourself you won’t have to make small talk is of little help since it’s not true – you probably will have to make small talk!
Should I pursue CBT?
Some therapists are very good at adapting CBT for autistic people and some autistic people seem to respond to it better than others. So, while it is important to be aware of some of the issues and limitations around CBT for autistic people, it is often worth trying if you can find a good practitioner.
See our ‘how to recognise a good therapist’ page for some tips on finding the right fit for you.