2021-11-26Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.1177/13623613211057973
A blind spot in mental healthcare? Psychotherapists lack education and expertise for the support of adults on the autism spectrum
Most adults on the autism spectrum have co-occurring mental health conditions, creating a high demand for mental health services – including psychotherapy – in autistic adults. However, autistic adults have difficulties accessing mental health services. The most-reported barriers to accessing treatment are therapists’ lack of knowledge and expertise surrounding autism, as well as unwillingness to treat autistic individuals. This study was conducted by a participatory autism research group and examined 498 adult-patient psychotherapists on knowledge about autism and self-perceived competency to diagnose and treat autistic patients without intellectual disability compared to patients with other diagnoses. Psychotherapists rated their education about autism in formal training, and competency in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with autism, lowest compared to patients with all other diagnoses surveyed in the study, including those with comparable prevalence rates. Many therapists had misconceptions and outdated beliefs about autism. Few had completed additional training on autism, but the majority were interested in receiving it. Greater knowledge about autism was positively linked to openness to accept autistic patients. The results point to an alarming gap in knowledge necessary for adequate mental health care for individuals with autism. Lay abstract Most autistic adults experience mental health problems. There is a great demand for psychotherapeutic support that addresses the specific needs of autistic individuals. However, people with autism encounter difficulties trying to access diagnostic and therapeutic services. This study was conducted by a participatory autism research group: a group in which autistic individuals and scientists collaborate. The group developed a questionnaire for psychotherapists in Germany to assess their knowledge about autism. Psychotherapists also rated their ability to diagnose and treat autistic patients without intellectual disability, and patients with other psychological diagnoses. Many of the 498 psychotherapists that responded reported little knowledge and outdated beliefs about autism, as well as little training on treating patients with autism. Their expertise about other psychological conditions was more comprehensive. However, many psychotherapists were interested in professional training on autism. Those with more knowledge were also more open to treating autistic patients. In conclusion, psychotherapists’ lack of knowledge and expertise seem to be a major barrier for adults with autism to receiving helpful psychotherapeutic support. The results demonstrate the need for an advancement in autism education during psychotherapists’ training and in continuous education.
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