Many people have asked me how I managed the stressors of graduate school as a neurodivergent. I credit therapy. I may not have needed to rely so heavily on therapy if I’d have disclosed my neurodivergence to the university, but I didn’t acknowledge my neurodivergence until my final year, didn’t disclose to the university until my final year, and therefore didn’t receive any accommodations until my final year. I don’t recommend this. I recommend accessibility services. I also recommend therapy.
Finding a good therapist is difficult. The first couple of therapists I worked with weren’t helpful. They were residents, budding professionals, people who, like me, were learning (to fail in) their fields. My second year as a PhD student, my outgoing therapist, having graduated from her residency, recommended me to a newer resident. As we walked down the hall to this newer resident’s office, my therapist told me I’d like her because our personalities matched.
I believe this new resident therapist was neurodivergent, my neurokin. I don’t think it matters which of her neurodivergences matches mine. What matters is how well, how easily, we collaborated. We turned my mind into a project and work together to improve it. She thought like me, approached therapy academically, forming and applying theories, while sticking to plain, precise language, searching for true, nonpathologizing uses for medical terminology.
Like me, this therapist carried a deep knowledge of pharmaceuticals and psychological terminology, and didn’t find me strange for knowing and using these terms, didn’t find me strange for asking her to spell and define terms she used that I didn’t know.
I learned to say anything in her presence, learned to understand and grow more comfortable with my thoughts and past experiences, learning coping skills that eased the burden of graduate school—as I’ve said, since I hadn’t disclosed my neurodivergence, I had no help from the university.
She completed her residency shortly after I passed my comprehensive exams and advanced to candidacy. During my final appointment, when she asked how I felt about reaching this psychological independence, I told her that I felt optimistic because at the same time I was reaching my intellectual independence. I would no longer rely on therapy the way I would no longer rely on academic leadership or approval.
Though difficult processes, both experiences were greatly rewarding, and helped me tremendously, but I no longer need them. I do recommend them. I also recommend accessibility services.