How to be open and supportive with your neurodivergent Supervisees
By Kristen Dammer
As a clinical supervisor and therapist with ADHD, I have learned a lot about working with neurodivergent supervisees. I find it most helpful to be upfront with my own neurodivergent diagnosis when starting with a new supervisee. This openness creates an accepting environment right from the start.
If you are a supervisor that is not comfortable with sharing about your neurodivergence with your supervisee, ask yourself why. Working through your own acceptance and understanding of neurodivergent is the most important piece of becoming an effective supervisor with neurodivergent therapists. If you cannot accept your neurodiversity or are shamed by the diagnosis, the supervisory relationship will suffer, especially if your supervisee is also neurodivergent.
Perhaps if you are still in the middle of “doing your own work,” taking on a neurodivergent supervisee is not a good fit. If you find yourself stuck in the pattern of camouflaging and compensating, both parts of masking, the role model you portray as a therapist might not be authentic and your supervisee will sense this.
Screening Your Supervisees as a Clinical Supervisor
In my work as a supervisor, I know that there are certain types of supervisees that I don’t connect with and have learned to accept this without internalizing. I can tell within a few minutes into a consultation call with a possible supervisee if we are connecting or not. Neurodivergent people tend to draw other neurodivergent people towards them.
Neurodivergent people in general tend to be more accepting of all those executive functioning skills that might come up during a consult call. And yes, it is important to note that neuro-typical supervisors can still have a successful relationship with a neurodivergent supervisee. However, for me, I have found that there is an instant connection with supervisees that are also neurodivergent.
Neurodivergent Therapists and How They Work
People that are neurodivergent tend to have an overly self-critical voice and already know all the executive functioning skills they struggle with. As a clinical supervisor, if you are working with someone who is neurodivergent, it is helpful to understand this and work beside them to find solutions to challenges.
If for instance a supervisee struggles with getting notes done in a timely manner, point them in a good direction. It might be that listening to a podcast that focuses on therapists who struggle with notes might be helpful. It might be that the supervisee could find an ADHD coach or have a Body Double App to add accountability. There are several solutions to try, and remember that one solution might work for a while and then need to be tweaked. This is common with neurodivergent therapists.
Educate Yourself as a Clinical Supervisor on Neurodivergence
Having patience and educating yourself as a clinical supervisor is key to supporting a neurodivergent supervisee. Focusing and harnessing the supervisees’ strengths is so important to build confidence. Here are some strengths associated with neurodivergence:
General Neurodiverse Strengths
- Offering different perspectives that others may not think of
- Ability to hyperfocus and capture the whole of a conversation and connect relevant points, even when it meanders back and forth (this can be very useful in individual therapy sessions)
- Conversation skills
- Willingness to take risks
- Good in crisis situations
- Eager to contribute
- Intense studying of a topic
- Rule oriented/ obsessive with “things being correct”
- Pursuit of mastery
- Analytical intensity
- Consistent execution of processes
- Ability to sustain focus
Here is a list of other types of neurodiversity that you might work with as a supervisor:
Intellectual Disabilities, Communication Disorders, Autism, ADHD, Learning Disorders, and Motor Disorders. Although two of the most common are Autism and ADHD, it is helpful to note that many therapists get into the profession because of their desire to help others through an experience parallel to their own. Providing an open, accepting environment is crucial for a safe space of inclusion to nurture and strengthen their journey as a new therapist.
Providing clinical supervision to a therapist, counselor or social worker who is neurodivergent can be so rewarding if you understand the challenges and are patient in building a road map to soften the bumps in the road towards obtaining licensure. Embracing neurodivergence is the first step to supporting a neurodivergent supervisee.
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Kristen Dammer is a clinical supervisor, therapist, and blogger with Firelight Supervision and Catalyss Counseling. Kristen specializes in trauma, ADHD, and perinatal counseling with adults and is trained in EMDR. Kristen enjoys providing clinical supervision and consultation to beginning to advanced clinicians in private practice, hospital, and agency settings.