Psychotherapists Need More Than Empathy to Help Neurodiverse Couples

Most psychotherapists don’t get it.

Of all of the people who should have the empathic skill to “get you,” you’d think it would be psychologists, and social workers, and marriage/family therapists. But in fact, they are sometimes the least prepared to help those of us who are in NeuroTypical/Autism Spectrum Disorder (NT/ASD) relationships, or Neurodiverse Relationships. Even those who claim to have special training in Autism Studies, may not necessarily get you or comprehend what you live with.

Why? It’s pretty simple really. These well-intentioned professionals make three damaging errors.

  • First, they assume that the underpinning of all psychological healing is an empathic relationship with their client.
  • Second, they teach empathic listening skills as if this leads to interpersonal change in all people; it does not.
  • Third, because of their emphasis on relying on empathy in the therapeutic relationship, they deny the emotional experience of the NeuroTypical — who lives with a partner without empathy; this mistake crashes the therapy.


As a result of these three errors, the ASD/NT couple often ends up moving on to yet another psychotherapist, who continues to get nowhere with them, and may even cause more frustration and anguish.

You need to understand just what Empathy is in order to fathom why EmD-0 is so destructive to relationships and family life. Further your therapist needs to grasp the problems created in a relationship where one partner lacks empathy — if they are going to be the least bit helpful.

Empathy is an elegant system of human interaction, in which we notice the person who is speaking to us (or engaging us in some way). We notice their gestures, their facial expressions, their tone of voice for example. We notice if any of these things change over the course of the conversation — and we respond to those changes. The most important part of any conversation for those of us with empathy — is the person who is speaking.


Your Therapist Needs to Imagine a World Without Empathy.

The problem with most therapists is that Empathy is their world. It’s how they interact all day long with others, their friends, family and clients. It’s also why we NTs get stuck in our relationships with those on the Autism Spectrum. For years, we have been making the same mistakes as the kind and empathic psychologist or social worker. Blindly using empathy to communicate with someone who has Zero Degrees of Empathy, is — well — not very empathic is it?

When it finally occurs to us that empathy will not provide the solutions to our relationship problems, we are truly stumped. We can’t believe it and try harder to impose our empathic ways onto our Autistic loved ones. We may become depressed, angry or sullen because of this failure. This is a tough place to be. It feels like a blind canyon, with no way out. If your therapist is stuck with you in that blind canyon, then all hope is lost. It’s at this point we absolutely must find a therapist who gets it. By getting it, I mean that the therapist uses their empathy to imagine a world without empathy. If they can do that, they can understand the “Aspie.”

It’s my job as a therapist to enter your world, no matter how foreign to me, and walk with you out of the confusion — and with a plan that works for all involved. Don’t settle for anything less from your therapist. 

If you are ready to receive help and you are looking for a professional with over 40 years of experience, please go to my Contact page to schedule an online video appointment. 

2 Replies to “Psychotherapists Need More Than Empathy to Help Neurodiverse Couples”

  1. I am working with a therapist who is renowned for work with neurodiverse couples, …. yet (as you have described)

    my therapist denies my emotional experience in living with a partner without empathy.

    My therapist repetitively teaches me how to “manage” my ND husband, simultaneously ignoring my anguish and frustration with my spouse’s “feels like mean” behavior.

    I don’t know how it would feel to have my emotional experience included in therapy.

    Could you hypothesize a “minimum number of sessions” that you would need with a client?

    Thank you,

    1. There are two parts to psychotherapy with a NeuroDivergent couple. One part is education and coaching on the dynamic of NeuroDivergence. It can take people quite awhile to make a breakthrough and acquire the skills of communicating across the NeuroDivergent divide.

      In the meantime, the other problems needing to be resolved are the emotional reactions to the NeuroDivergence. As you have expressed, it is very painful to live without being seen and heard, let alone have your therapist also brush off your concerns.

      In order to take back your life you need both education to help you see a new perspective on your Neurodivergent relationship. And you need psychotherapy to heal your broken heart. The therapist has to juggle these two things with two different people at the same time.

      I was very happy to see a couple recently, who had been struggling with these two aspects of their NeuroDiverrgent relationship. However, the NeuroDiverse husband had taken on the challenge I had given him of treating his wife like the precious love of his life that he claimed her to be. She reported that he still made all of the NeuroDiverse mistakes that used to hurt and confuse her so much —- but this time she felt so much better because he was making the effort to see and hear her.

      I think this is what you are asking for Sharon. Education and coaching are very important, but most important is to feel loved and supported.

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