Reflections on Therapy Ethics and Conflict Resolutions with Neurodivergent People

Recently, I saw that the Judge Rotenburg Center in Canton, M.A., had continued the use of electroshock treatments (a lot more harm being done, and it is not ECT).

Therefore, I wanted to write a statement of mine on ethics around therapy. When we talk about ethics, we are simply referring to a code that professionals are required to follow at all times. Each field has a different set of ethics, and not all are written the same, and not all countries, states, etc. follow the same set of ethics. That is why the whole concept of a “one size fits all” approach to therapy ethics does not exist. Hypothetically, I can be having a conflict with someone and be required to follow that code of ethics; otherwise, I could lose my job, especially because I still plan on becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Though I am only a therapy student, there is a difference; however, between systemic-oppression filled professionalism and professionalism that is non-oppressive.

Yes, there are many types of relationships that we as human beings have that require different levels of boundaries, and that is not black and white, either. None of these concepts are.

When I see the Judge Rotenburg Center (and any company that supports it) that follow, encourage, support, excuse, and enable: abuse, systemic oppression, violence, etc., it really concerns me. It concerns me that we have a specific field and “profession” that is so bent on focusing on fixing the autistic identity within autistic people. Therapy is simply the opposite (or, rather meant to be). We live in a society that is so focused on not accepting the neurodivergent identity, that the suicide rate has gone up to 72% in the autistic community, and research is still lacking for other forms of neurodivergence (meaning folks with other forms of neurodivergence experience suicide immensely, but the research community is much behind on current research for this information).

Which brings me to my next point: Neurodivergent people are people. We are not chattel. We are not required to prove our existence. And yet, somehow the neurotypical world still feels as though we owe them proof of our existence, proof that neurodivergence is a part an identity that we cannot change. Hegemonic-ally professionals do indeed oppress disabled people that are also neurodivergent, not just a specific part of the disabled community. No, disability is not a bad word. And yet, able-bodied people taught us that it was a bad word. Some view it as a bad word that is to be reclaimed. Some perceive that word to be bad because it has the latin root ‘Dis’ inside of it; however, that dismisses culture. Culture being *intentionally* spoken for by white people over non white folks is not only ableist, but also racist. Note: I used the word intentional for a reason within that sentence.

When other people bring their own opinions into the conversation, sometimes that can be harmful. Sometimes it can actually traumatize or re-traumatize a marginalized person, which is why mindfulness of neurotypical people matters. Some disabled people prefer specific language (person first vs identity first language is what I am merely referring to here). Some individuals prefer specific concepts, but it is not up to anyone who is not disabled as to what they are. I can educate a disabled person on the culture of disability, and not be able to force them to unlearn internalized ableism. However much I want to, I cannot (meaning, it is not up to me as to whether or not they are required to follow what I talk about, unless it is intentional discrimination). And therapists can be and do become ableist towards neurodivergent folks. Most of the time; however, that is not intentional. When able-bodied people attempt to educate disabled people on disability culture, they are not the authority on the subject. Period. Hard to hear that, right? I hear that. It’s not easy, especially when someone has been taught a certain set of information in education, and then come to discover that the information itself has bias. That, in psychology, is what is known as confirmation bias. We want a specific set of information to be deemed incorrect because we were taught specific theories, topics, and beliefs, and when that set of information is challenged, some folks feel the need to come back and add more information to it and defend the misinformation even more.

Yet, confirmation bias can be quite harmful at times. When able-bodied and neurotypical folk use confirmation bias to dismiss the neurodivergent identity, whether it is intentional or not, that can indeed cause the very oppression that disabled folks that are neurodivergent experience through micro-aggressions. Yes, micro-aggressions do in fact exist. And they can be just as harmful as macro-aggressions in the long run. It is a straw man argument, as well as post hoc, when the Judge Rotenburg Center continues to use electroconvulsive shocks (which are a macro-aggression) even after the FDA attempted to ban the use of aversives on neurodivergent children and adults.

It is quite unjust. The Judge Rotenburg Center is unhealthy, but also has a history of abuse. Yet; however, the institution somehow still remains in tact. I am very concerned for the safety of the autistic community. Just because a business doesn’t believe they are harming the autistic community they are working with, does not mean that they are not. And when a profession and a field don’t step up, and say enough is enough, that means that we have to do more collective power. Use more voices, even way more so to speak out than done in previous years. But enough is enough with talk alone. Actionable steps must be done to address these issues. What does safety over autonomy look like?

Safety means valuing consent. This means allowing the neurodivergent person to be able to have access and acceptance for their autonomy to be prioritized. What does that mean?

Please listen. Please take the neurodivergent community seriously. Just because a field has a code of ethics, does not mean that the profession and the field cannot be harmful at the same time.

What are some actionable steps one can take??

Please start working with activists, especially if you are a professional. The only way we can ALL do better is if we shutdown the current harm that is being done, while building a new therapy certification for ABA therapists to leave ABA and enter into.

We need to ask ourselves how we can provide justice, and the only ways we can do that are by becoming better and doing the hard work that many people haven’t wanted to do for years. Neurodivergent people deserve justice by doing what is on that list above. We need allies to step up and help us. We need acceptance!

Thank you for reading.

Stats can be found here for the above graphic made by the Neurodivergent Liberation Coalition.

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