Unlocking the potential of dyslexia and neurodiversity is a not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Core beliefs formed in childhood can fundamentally impact the journey, and the effects of early classroom experiences can linger into adult life. If not properly supported from an early age, dyslexia and neurodiversity can create underlying self-esteem challenges, and a range of emotions, limiting beliefs and conditions including guilt, shame, blame, a deep fear of failure, anxiety and depression.
Sometimes it can be appropriate to seek professional support – and this page outlines some of the support available to explore emotions, limiting beliefs and conditions that may have deep roots in experiences with dyslexia/neurodiversity. Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand is not in a position to recommend therapists per se, instead this provides an overview of different types of therapy available.
Firstly, though, some words of caution. Therapy and personal counselling can be a complex area, and some mental and emotional health professionals (ie. psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, and life coaches) may be less well equipped than others to support people with dyslexia and neurodiversities. Undiagnosed dyslexia can be a root cause of psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression, and it may remain undiagnosed – leading to inappropriate treatment being recommended – should the therapist not have an awareness and understanding of dyslexia and neurodiversity.
In the therapeutic process, frustration may ensue if therapists do not consider difficulties that some individuals may have in processing information, and/or provide the time and space for this to happen. Dyslexic or neurodiverse individuals may become retraumatized as they struggle to understand, process and connect with their therapist and if the therapist does not accurately understand them. This can bring up past traumatic memories and cement painful emotions. In contrast, if a therapist is dyslexia/neurodiverse aware, then some past experiences can be reframed in the context of challenges and associated emotions that have arisen through understandable/natural struggles with learning.
In addition, if an individual is not able to find words for, or process what they feel, the struggle they are having may be interpreted as something other than dyslexia/neurodiversity. Subsequent treatment may incorrectly be provided that is overlooking important aspects of the root cause. An example would be where a therapist suggests a list of positive actions an individual could make to move forward, but the individual feels overwhelmed and unable to concentrate or make a start.
We would like to thank individual and family therapist Jane Kjersten, MCouns (Hons), NZAC, MSACC (US) for assistance putting together the information on this page.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialised in psychiatry. They have particular strengths in understanding the biological side of mental health problems and generally prescribe medications like anti-depressants, stimulants for ADHD, anxiety stabilisers and other such drugs for mental and emotional issues. They can diagnose mental health issues and disorders and help to manage them. They will prescribe medications in collaboration with a GP. Some have an interest in psychological therapy and provide counselling.
Psychologists specialise in offering symptom and behavioural focused treatment. They usually work with both acute and chronic mental health issues. Psychologists use various techniques, but most commonly use evidence-based therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. They can help people overcome addictions, manage chronic illnesses, as well as anxiety and depression. They use tests and assessments to help diagnose a condition or evaluate cognitive strengths and weaknesses, vocational abilities, personality and neuropsychological functioning.
Psychotherapists work with people for a short term to help them process a specific goal or they work for a long period to address severe mental illness and emotional problems. They most often work with the deep issues that arise from childhood trauma, early childhood experiences such as insecure attachment with primary caregivers, and the role of emotions in shaping behaviour. Their focus is often on the unconscious patterns that have been established from these early life experiences and which are re-enacted in current relationships and within the therapeutic relationship. A psychotherapist can assist people with conditions such as stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, abuse, bipolar disorder, affect disorders, borderline personality disorder, and other mental and emotional disorders.
Counselling most often focuses on regular life problems rather than severe mental health disorders. Counsellors draw on a range of skills and interventions that help people to grow in self-awareness and explore challenges in their life. Counsellors assist people to work through problems such as anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, abuse, financial stress, domestic violence, divorce, relationship issues and loss. They may specialise in working with individuals, couples and families. Some people use counselling for vocational guidance, personal development, or life transitions. Counsellors most often help clients talk about their feelings and find effective ways to resolve the problems they are facing.
A life coach is a professional who helps people maximise their potential and reach their desired goals. Coaching primarily aims to help “healthy” clients to utilise their abilities more effectively than they have previously. They generally assist people with work-life balance, career choices, identifying and achieving personal goals, and to develop skills and attitudes that help them gain greater fulfilment in their daily life.