There are many different types of therapists out there. Many believe that the best therapists tend to be the ones who don't subscribe to any particular theory, but instead use a variety of therapies depending on what they think will help each individual client.
Seek Empathy and a Connection in a Therapist for Asperger's Syndrome
You don't want a therapist that makes you feel like you're talking to a wall and never gives you much of a response to anything. You don't want a therapist whose only contribution is to say "And how does that make you feel?" occasionally. While it's not bad to help you try to get to your emotions, they need to help teach you how to deal with the emotions, too. It's too easy for some therapists to just sit back and do nothing. Most children, teenagers and adults with autism need to be taught and given tips on how to process feelings and improve their communication. Seek a therapist who has this approach.
Top 7 Criteria for a Therapist for treating Asperger's Syndrome and High Functioning Autism
1. Engagement - You do want a therapist who is as engaged with you as possible.
They are asking questions, they are listening to your answers and showing they are listening (perhaps by repeating what you have said or some sort of verbal clue), and they are asking intelligent follow-up questions. Most children, teenagers and adults with Asperger's syndrome need to be constantly engaged in a social interaction in order to stay attentive and interested in what's going on.
2. Experience - It helps if the therapist has an intimate knowledge of Asperger's syndrome.
There are too many therapists who, knowing little or nothing about Asperger's, will attribute your social problems or anxiety to everything but what is really causing it. That's not helpful. In fact, it's a waste of your time. They will also fail to understand when you talk about how you see the world, because in all likelihood, they haven't spent a lot of time looking at the world in that way.
Now, this is not to say that all therapists without experience with Asperger's syndrome patients are ineffective, but they have to be willing to learn. And sometimes, you have to be willing to teach them. Don't stick with anyone who refuses to open their mind to your way of thinking.
3. A therapist treating Asperger's should have high affect/be able to show emotions well.
Most people with Asperger's have trouble reading nonverbal language. So, it only follows that a therapist that uses mostly nonverbal language to communicate is really NOT going to work for a person with Asperger's syndrome.
Most people with Asperger's want one thing -- to be understood. Now, a therapist likely thinks he or she understandings what the person with Asperger's syndrome is saying. But unless the therapist SHOWS it frustration may result.
A good therapist will communicate using exaggerated emotion in his or her voice and face, and by using verbal language such as "I see what you mean" and "You're saying that you feel like X". Unless a therapist uses these active communication methods, most children, teenagers and adults with Asperger's syndrome or high functioning autism will just sit there thinking that the therapist is yet another person who has no clue what their life and struggles are like.
In other words, don't bring your loved one to see a stone faced therapist who never cracks a smile, no matter how smart they are reputed to be. People with Asperger's syndrome want someone who understands what they are going through -- most people in their life won't.
4. The Asperger's syndrome therapist should be able to give advice or suggestions in a very concrete way.
Ideas presented should be short and to the point. They should be as blunt as possible. Nothing ever gets accomplished for a person with Asperger's syndrome or high functioning autism if the therapist is "beating around the bush". A good therapist treating a child with Asperger's syndrome can use visuals if necessary. Humor may help to break the ice. Above all, the therapist needs to be genuine. And no therapist treating a person with Asperger's syndrome should hide behind psychological terms. The therapist must ensure that the person with Asperger's syndrome is able to relate to them.
5. Physical environment of the therapist's office is important.
The physical environment is very important. The seats should be comfortable, the lights not too bright or dim, and there should be no aromatherapy or noticeable scents, as many with Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autism are sensitive to that. The receptionist, if there is one, should be friendly and helpful, as they are the first contact you have upon entering the office. There should be no blaring music. It should not be too difficult to get there. A stressful journey by bus or car will make it harder to get a person with Asperger's syndrome into an open state of mind upon arrival. This is not always possible, but it's one point to consider.
6. Patients should be able to feel some sense of connection or comfort with the therapist.
This goes for everyone seeking therapy, not just those with Asperger's syndrome. There are plenty of therapists out there. Don't stay with one you hate. You want to feel a sense of safety with them. (This may take a few weeks or longer to grow, however.)
7. The Asperger's syndrome therapist should be able to help you understand your own thoughts.
Many people with Asperger's, although by no means all, have trouble expressing their emotions. Children sometimes have trouble figuring out how they feel about a given situation--as do teen and adults. A good therapist will help the client verbalize their emotions, and ask yes or no questions to try to help sort things out.
If you are a parent, these are the qualities you should be looking for in a therapist for your loved one with Asperger's syndrome or high functioning autism. The same goes if you are an adult with Asperger's syndrome.
Finding the ideal therapist to treat may not be quick or easy and may take several tries. If you are having trouble finding a therapist, you may want to go to the Psychology Today site, which has a wonderfully useful listing of all the therapists in your area and what they specialize in. It is super easy to email them and ask questions to figure out which ones might be best for you. But typically the most effective methods to find a great therapist to help a child, teen or adult with Asperger's syndrome or autism is to ask for referrals from an autism society, friends with autism or with autistic kids, or local doctors.