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Neurodivergence: An Interview with Joel Schwartz, PsyD

An interview Joel Schwartz, PsyD on neurodiversity, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and neurodivergence. Curt and Katie talk with Joel about how often our natural spectrum of neurodiversity is pathologized.

It’s time to reimagine therapy and what it means to be a therapist. We are human beings who can now present ourselves as whole people, with authenticity, purpose, and connection. Especially now, when therapists must develop a personal brand to market their practices.

To support you as a whole person and a therapist, your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy talk about how to approach the role of therapist in the modern age.


Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.

Photo ID: Picture of Joel Schwartz PsyDInterview with Joel Schwartz, PsyD

Dr. Joel Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in the South Bay of Los Angeles County. He specializes in therapy and testing for the misunderstood. As a therapist, he is warm, compassionate, and strongly humanistic, allowing for all the oddities and unexplored aspects of his clients to emerge and be validated. As a testing psychologist, Dr. Schwartz specializes in difficult and complex cases.

Dr. Schwartz grew up in Southern California. He developed an early interest in psychology, strangely enough, from a childhood filled with science fiction stories. These stories often provided fascinating looks into human psychology and the human spirit. Dr. Schwartz attended UCLA as an undergrad where he conducted research in the field of neurolinguistics. From there, he attended Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf School of Clinical Psychology for his Master’s and Doctorate degree. He has worked in various settings including colleges, clinics, a federal prison, and residential treatment centers. Through his experience with a vast array of individuals he has stuck with one important lesson among many; as the psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan said, “We are all more human than otherwise.”

In this episode we talk about neurodivergence:

  • The problem of the medical model
  • Looking at neurodiversity as a spectrum and a natural part of life
  • Defining neurodiversity and neurodivergence
  • Looking at differences as okay, and not disordered
  • Traditional versus neurodiversity affirmative practices
  • The strain of compensatory behaviors when one is neurodivergent and trying to fit in
  • Problematic assumptions that do not welcome neurodivergent folks
  • Practical ways to create an office that supports the full spectrum of neurodiversity
  • The importance of clear instructions, options, and sensitivity to the different
  • Radical acceptance

“You know, it’s almost better to be alone than it is to not be authentic and a group of people. And so that’s what I’m trying to bring out into the world. It’s understanding of different ways of being and how these ways are not only functional, but also good for humanity. And if we can accept people for their differences, we all benefit as a community, a society, as a species.” – Joel Schwartz, PsyD

  • The freedom and relief of not having to learn, when everything is explained.
  • The debate about ABA and behavioral interventions
  • The social justice aspects of working with neuro-minorities
  • The importance of representation of neurodivergent people in all aspects of society
  • Autistic people are demanding representation, are consulting, and are acting in roles
  • Looking at the nuance of radical acceptance – when intervention is required, rather than acceptance
  • The problem of behaviorism leading to repression and dissociation
  • Having the goal of decreasing a behavior, shouldn’t be the final goal
  • The problems of having ABA therapists not address their own emotions
  • The problem with having neurotypical people setting goals for neurodivergent people
  • Looking at the invalidation of modifying behaviors
  • How to balance what society will accept as well as validating the person
  • How do we set them up for success, without pathologizing their behavior
  • Self-regulatory behaviors – comparing them to coffee drinking
  • The need to move toward societal change

Our Generous Sponsor for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide:

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Katie Read

Thanks again to our sponsor Katie Read! Katie helps therapists grow and then OUTgrow their practices. If you’re in GROW mode, she can help you grow faster by knowing exactly how to create your therapist website to get the most possible calls with her two courses, Client Machine and Website Whisperer! If you’re ready to OUTgrow your office, Katie helps clinicians know the exact right steps to add big extra income streams in coaching, consulting, or courses! Check out for more information.

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together any resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links:

Joel’s LinkedIn Profile

Nick Walker’s notes

Facebook Page

The Neurodiversity Affirming Therapists Facebook Group

Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

Let’s Talk About Race

Let’s Talk About Race Again

The Modern Therapists Group on Facebook

Therapy Reimagined 2019

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is a Board Member at Large for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, a Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, Adjunct Faculty at Pepperdine University, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more about Curt at:

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant. As a helping professional for two decades, she’s navigated the ups and downs of our unique line of work. She’s run her own solo therapy practice, designed innovative clinical programs, built and managed large, thriving teams of service providers, and consulted hundreds of helping professionals on how to build meaningful AND sustainable practices. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more about Katie at:

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

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Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano

Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Curt Widhalm 0:00
This episode of The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide is brought to you by Katie Read.

Katie Vernoy 0:04
Katie Read has some issues with your website. She’s a friend of ours, a licensed therapist for many years, and she’s the website whisperer.

Curt Widhalm 0:11
Katie has created a totally free mini course to help therapists fix the five most common mistakes they make on their websites. Check out That’s k a t i e r e a to get the free course.

Katie Vernoy 0:26
Listen at the end of the episode for more information.

Announcer 0:29
You’re listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm 0:44
Welcome back modern therapists. This is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide, the podcast that addresses all the different areas that come up in therapists lives. I’m Curt Widhalm. My co-host is Katie Vernoy. And if you would do us a favor and go to wherever you listen to podcasts, then leave us a review and a rating, that definitely helps us out. And here on the show, we definitely try to address all sorts of diversity issues. We’ve had a few episodes on therapists of different racial backgrounds, and today we’re joined by Dr. Joel Schwartz. He’s a psychologist in Rolling Hills Estates, California to talk about another kind of diversity. This is neurodiversity and he’s going to explain to us today how to make a neuro diverse, friendly practice and work with clients from the misunderstood. So thank you very much for joining us today Dr. Schwartz.

Joel Schwartz 1:37
Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to this.

Katie Vernoy 1:40
So are we and as Joel, you and I are friends. This is always good to be able to chat. I love our discourse. And I’m really excited about the conversation because I know you and Curt have slightly different perspectives on autism spectrum disorders, and neurodiversity. So it’ll be really interesting. But as we always ask everyone, who are you and what are you putting out in the world? Let’s start there.

Joel Schwartz 2:00
I’m a clinical psychologist. And my tagline is, I work with the misunderstood. So usually that includes people who are neurodivergent, ADHD, autism, psychotic spectrum. Also a lot of depressed individuals, a lot of trauma, really just kind of anybody who doesn’t feel understood. I had a client a while back, when discussing how she understood me, she summed it up better than I ever could, she said, You just don’t want people to be alone in the world. And I thought that was just a fantastic way of conceptualizing it. And the neurodiverse folks that I work with, and neurodivergent folks that I work with, they often aren’t alone, physically, but because they have been conditioned, so much to not be themselves, the isolation is even more painful. You know, it’s almost better to be alone than it is to not be authentic and a group of people. And so that’s what I’m trying to bring out into the world. It’s understanding of different ways of being and how these ways are not only functional, but also good for humanity. And if we can accept people for their differences, we all benefit as a community, a society, as a species.

Curt Widhalm 3:22
So Katie introduced you as having a different perspective than me. And while I’m sure that this episode will allow that to unfold, where do you see you creating space that maybe traditional therapy or traditional psychologists has not done this?

Joel Schwartz 3:41
I think that we have all to some degree, bought into the DSM medical model, which has a fundamental belief that there is a normal and divergence from normal is disordered. And it creates this kind of Harry Potter sorting hat of diagnoses, and it’s probably just as magical as the sorting hat. I would probably say the Sorting Hat might be even more accurate, especially because when it comes to the neurodivergent people, their internal experience of the world is never taken into account. It’s always just the overt symptoms. And the overt symptoms are often masked, or they are different coping mechanisms that aren’t recognized by the you know, DSM proper. You know, I come from a humanistic psychology standpoint where phenomenology experience is really the area of treatment, and the area of understanding. And so in doing work, where lived experience and experience is so important, in and of itself, a whole different way of being with people develops.

Katie Vernoy 4:53
I like that there’s this perspective on being able to understand people and meet them where they are to really dig into their internal experience how they view the world. And that to me makes a lot of sense. I want to actually just go a little bit broader to start out with because I think there’s there’s two words that I’m hearing you say neurodiversity and neurodivergent and I want to make sure just for the audience, and everybody really understands what we’re talking about. So how would you define neurodiversity, neurodiverse, neurodivergent? Like there’s, I’m sure, some some tenderness around these words, and I want to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Joel Schwartz 5:30
That’s right. That’s right. Every social justice movement in neurodiversity is a social justice movement at its heart, you know, has its accepted terms and definitions. So neurodiversity is a fact of life just like sexual diversity, racial diversity, diversity of height, diversity of eye color, diversity of hair color, we all have different brains. I think that’s the fact we can all accept.

Katie Vernoy 5:57

Joel Schwartz 5:58
But where neurodiversity kind of comes in is this idea that those differences, just like height differences and eye differences and skin differences, developed through natural selection for a reason. And that these differences might actually be something okay and important to not necessarily wrong or disordered. So neuro diversity is a fact of life. Neurodiverse, is kind of a noun of, we are all neuro diverse people are a group of neurodiverse people. And the term neurodivergent means somebody who diverges from what’s kind of culturally accepted as neurologically normal. And those might be different neuro types, or neuro minorities such as ADHD, autism, psychotic spectrum disorder. Some people would place like Down syndrome, and even brain changes due to physical and psychological trauma in that category as well.

Curt Widhalm 7:04
How does this kind of stuff show up in the office? I know for me, in my practice, I have several years of having worked very intensely with people in the autism spectrum. In my prelicense years, this is an area of my practice that I often get a lot of referrals to. So at least with autism spectrum disorders, I am very familiar with how it comes across in the office. But from kind of a broader perspective, for people who aren’t so familiar, how do you see these clients showing up in offices, the issues that they may face in a traditional therapy office? And how it might be coming across to clinicians who don’t have quite the experience?

Joel Schwartz 7:47
It’s a difficult question to answer because there are different categories of neurodivergence. Most ADHD people will have probably been identified as children. Except, if they’re women, often they have not been, they’ve been looked over. And also, if they tend to be highly intelligent, and did well in school, there’s a blindness to what their struggles have been, and what their compensatory mechanisms are, and how engaging in these compensatory mechanisms takes all of their psychological resources. And so they might come in, you know, empty and anxious and obsessional and the things that we kind of see a lot. And we have to be able to look past the mood and the symptom and really get into what is causing this. And sometimes it’s not even immediate, and there are a number of clients who I work with who even after, you know, three or four months and being specially trained in this, I’m like, Oh my gosh, this person is really ADHD, is on the spectrum, we need to get an assessment. But it’s underneath so many layers of masking that it’s really hard to see. With autism, and people who may be on the schizophrenia spectrum, and that includes people with maybe kind of subtle schizoid or schizotypal personality configurations. Usually, you’ll see just a ton of different diagnoses, they went and they got diagnoses from everybody, and it’s all different. And the underlying neurological difference has never been addressed or identified.

Katie Vernoy 9:37
And so when these folks are coming into your office, how do you create a different experience, a more welcoming experience, because I know that you’re very radically accepting and you’re in what you’ve already talked about is that you want to see from their perspective and so even getting to a diagnosis is not necessarily the end goal, right? But what do you think that you offer in your office that shifts the experience for them, because I think that’s that can be very telling for therapists is kind of how do you approach this, where you’re more welcoming of, of kind of the whole spectrum of neurodiversity, and you can connect with neurodivergent clients?

Joel Schwartz 10:16
Sure, using kind of an analogy, from LGBTQ movements, there’s this assumption of heteronormity, that they see everywhere, that they’re gonna go out in the world, and the form is automatically going to say, Are you male, or female? Or are you straight or gay, and the colors in between all of those aren’t considered in many places in society. And I’d say that the therapists office is the same way as the environments that we create, assume neuro typicality. And so I try to come from the alternate perspective that I assumed that anybody coming into my office may be neurodivergent, to some extent, and I think a lot of people who do, who feel misunderstood, do have subtle forms of neurodivergent. Some might call themselves highly sensitive people, empaths, you know, all these words that people use to describe what I say it, it’s harder kind of neurological sensitivities and differences. So it starts from my website, you know, I have, which isn’t up yet, but it will be. But when I have my I have my website up, there will be a sound, video and written instruction. Because I assume that not everybody can get the information in the same way. There will be a direct introduction to office procedures, and some of the social norms in my office, because I don’t assume that everybody will get that right away. And then when they come in, I am trying to be very aware of light, smell, sound. So I have a radio, a Bose radio, internet radio in my office, and there’s a sign there that says feel free to change the channel or turn it off if it’s bothering you, because some people have sound sensitivities. When I bring them into my office, I show them a vast array of stim equipments of all senses, I have a weighted blanket, I have various manipulatives. I don’t have it yet, but I’m planning on adding various jars of different scents that people can use to kind of ground themselves in smell. And then I also allow them to kind of adjust the lighting as necessary, to make them the most comfortable. And I think when you begin with the sensory, you begin to learn a lot about how people take in the world and how they mediate sensory information and make sense of it. And those are really some important clues to whether you’re dealing with neurodivergence or not.

Curt Widhalm 13:06
A couple of concrete examples on this that have come up in my practice. For those of you who aren’t familiar with clients who appear with these presentations, even things like the lighting that Joel brought up, that fluorescent lighting can be irritating to a lot of people just hearing the hum. But when a neurodivergent client has particular sound sensitivities, what we might find is just kind of annoying background hum that goes away after a few moments can become deafening are extremely distracting in these situations. What I particularly like about what Joel was bringing up here, though, is the concrete instructions. Because I had a client several years ago who really highlighted that when there’s a difference of what the expectations are when the client who takes the world very literally, is given kind of vague instructions that it can become overwhelming or just something where it’s easier to not do anything at all than it is to try and guess and be wrong. And the way that this came up was this particular client had never been to therapy before. And so I sat down in my waiting room looked around and saw that there was a couple of keys for the bathroom hanging on the wall and a bunch of light switches to turn on the call lights to different offices. But having never been to therapy before this client described it as It’s not that much different than just entering into an escape room. That’s a bunch of things that I’m supposed to figure out.

Katie Vernoy 14:42
That’s so funny. I think it’s something where being able to be concrete I think I just recently and this is these were not neurodivergent clients, but I recently had some new clients that were very new to therapy come in. And I think we can make a lot of assumptions that that people know what it means to be in therapy and if they’ve only ever watched it on TV or in the movies, like they’re not going to necessarily know like, I click this light, I leave this key alone, I make this phone call or I can schedule in this way like I think being so concrete is helpful for everyone. But if we’re if we’re looking at kind of the neurodivergent population, I think starting with that assumption makes it very comfortable. Because I think there was recently a client that I didn’t start with that assumption. And I had to backtrack pretty dramatically, to be able to meet that person where they were. And so I think it’s, it’s something where, when, whenever I talk with you, Joel, I always really see this, this notion of this radical acceptance of kind of, I’m going to see you I’m going to make sure that you don’t feel uncomfortable that you don’t have to, not necessarily that you don’t have to advocate and ask questions, but that that there’s not, there’s not a baseline that I’m assuming. I’m going to, I’m going to I’m going to like like I’m coming like, like I’m coming from outer space. And I have to sort through and understand something, it’s like getting into that level of detail of this is how this works. And I think so many people shorthand that, you know, and I’m thinking it related to like people saying, I want to be happy. And it’s like, well, what does that mean? And then when they actually try to define it, they can’t define it. And so it’s like, how can you be something that you can’t define? But I think being able to meet people exactly where they are, and accept them as they are is so empowering. And I can see that being a way to have neurodivergent clients be able to come into the office and feel heard and seen and respected because they don’t come in feeling like they don’t know what to do.

Joel Schwartz 16:32
There’s a really fantastic writer, an autistic writer and advocate in the neurodiversity movement named Nick Walker, he has a blog, neuro I forget which article it is specifically, but he’s said something to the effect of power is being able not to learn or having the position in society to not have to learn. And one of the themes that I hear over and over again, is how much neurodivergent people have to learn about neurotypical people in order to fit in and the extreme amounts of effort that they go through in a moment to moment basis, in order to make neurotypical people comfortable. And what they’re asking for us to do is just learn about them from their perspective and take a little bit of effort to meet them halfway. And if we can do that, the amount of anxiety and depression just melts away. Really quickly in some cases. I’ve had some cases where it was just years and years of trauma invalidation and within, you know, four sessions of being affirmative, they’re, you know, jumping up and down and being happy and, and making major changes in their life just because one person gave them permission to be who they are.

Curt Widhalm 17:57
In my experience, and I did ABA work for about three years in shadowing, doing public schools, sitting in a lot of classrooms. And now as my own kids enter into elementary school, I do really see kind of this difference as the longer that kids with neurodiverse backgrounds, whether it’s autism, ADHD, whatever it might be

Joel Schwartz 18:24
Neurodivergent backgrounds.

Curt Widhalm 18:25
Neurodivergent backgrounds, thank you for the correct. The younger kids tend to be more accepting of it. And I don’t know if this is, you know, a top down sort of situation where it’s the adults who are kind of singling out the kids who have the quirky behaviors, the ones that are unexpected, the ones that make up our practices, that further isolates them from the neurotypical kids. And so typically by about third, fourth, fifth grade, definitely by middle school, the neurotypical kids have largely excluded those who come from this background. And I’m wondering how you suggest in kind of this environment, because you and I both know that ABA is going to be prescribed to these kids far off into the dots? And the answer is, if if it’s not working, this kid needs more ABA, and if it is working, then this ABA is working and more ABA will work more but in a lot of ways, this does create kind of this treatment method that is something that further separates them out and puts all of the responsibility on to the identified client.

Joel Schwartz 19:41
Well said. Yes. The answer to your question, it goes into the social justice aspects of this and the social movement of this. If we look at the history of the way other minorities have been discriminated against and isolated, whether it be racial my minorities or sexual orientation minorities, we see really similar themes. And as soon as acceptance and representation occurs, the next generation starts to be like, Oh, this thing isn’t so weird, I can just be okay with this. And we’re already seeing it. People are reporting that as a result of having a nonverbal autistic person normalized on Sesame Street. Neurotypical children are like, Oh, it’s just like, I forget the name of the character. It’s just like this one, I know that if I go next to this person, and hand flap with them, it’ll be fun, and it’ll be okay. And then everybody’s laughing and nobody’s judging. And I think that’s kind of beautiful. And that goes back to stereotypes and representation and the stereotypes that we have of especially autistic people, but even ADHD people and people with psychotic disorders in the media are highly stereotypical and negative. They’re often just the butt of the jokes instead of part of the humor of being alive. You know, we see it in the Big Bang Theory, and we see Neurotypical, the Neurotypical has done little bit of a better job. I mean, not Neurotypical, Atypical has done a little bit of a better job, that I think other shows have done. And a lot of it is because autistic people are demanding that their voices be heard, and that they be consulted with when these characters are being created, or even actually playing these characters. Because there are a ton of autistic people who are great actors who are out of work because they might flub an interview. But you tell them to embody somebody else, and they can do it amazingly.

Curt Widhalm 21:48
On the flip side of this, does a radical acceptance approach collude with behaviors that may not be healthy, may not be adaptive, may violate the rights in the physical space of other people in their environments?

Joel Schwartz 22:11
All three of those things require individual answer. So, the last one, you said it encroaches on, you know, somebody else’s safety. That’s absolutely an area of intervention. If this person is throwing somebody else’s property, you know, punching them, hitting them. Obviously, that’s not acceptable. And that needs some intervention. The question is, how do we intervene? And when intervention is solely behavioral, and doesn’t take into account the emotional vulnerabilities, the sensory vulnerabilities, the feelings of the individual beneath the actual behavior, you’re just leading to a repression and a dissociation. That doesn’t mean that we don’t target the behavior. But I would argue we need to target it more holistically. And behaviorism can be part of that. But it can’t be the only thing.

Katie Vernoy 23:21
What do you mean by by targeting the behavior holistically? Because I think, in my understanding my limited understanding of kind of the behavioral work I’ve done because I worked as a childcare worker, and I’ve, you know, talked to a lot of folks that have the ABA background. To me, it seems like at least how it’s currently practiced ABA, it or other behavioral models do take in the perspective in the in the environment, and, and do have more of that holistic approach. And so what are you seeing that that’s not happening? Or that might be harmful? Because I think you’ve kind of publicly talked about kind of the dangers of ABA. And I think, to me, that’s not been how I’ve seen it necessarily in practice.

Joel Schwartz 24:04
Yeah. So give you a great example, kid throws a tantrum in the middle of class. An ABA person might say, Okay, well, the antecedent is their in class, their overwhelmed behavior. And the consequences that they get to escape class if they throw the tantrum. So we need to do is not give them an escape. So oftentimes what will happen is the person will be restrained, or the person will be separated in a way that is painful to them, or they’ll be put in another environment, which is sort of an escape, but oftentimes, you’ll see people stepping in and holding them down. And if we don’t actually get to know what is this person reacting to, we can’t effectively change the environment. We’re just demanding that they change their behavior, and we give a different consequence, often what is learned is repressing the anxiety or the fear or whatever happens, that causes the behavior. So if we don’t address that in and of itself, it’s kind of an incomplete intervention. And what often happens in ABA is there’s this assumption of the behaviors is gone. Well, we’ve, we’ve managed it, we’re done. But we never go back and say, Well, what, what is the emotion? What is the experience? And if you talk to behaviorists, they’ll they’ll agree with you, they’ll say, Yeah, we’re focused on behavior. That’s what ABA is, is a behavioral intervention. And I’m not against behavioral interventions. What I’m against is behavioral interventions in isolation, focusing on behavior as the end all be all goal.

Curt Widhalm 25:56
And I’ll even jump in and say that there’s bad ABA, and there’s good ABA. And part of this is just with the way that professionals are often introduced to this without really understanding, even in your example, but even the behaviorists in kind of the traditional way that I’m seeing them be trained, they’re not even looking at their own emotions, going into how this affects the implementation of these behavior goals.

Joel Schwartz 26:24

Curt Widhalm 26:25
And so there’s a lot of families that I ended up, creating behavioral goals, where I’m working with the children, and talking about the goals are really about expressing anger in the correct way and being rewarded for it. And it’s always kind of met with an initial, like, very confused, sort of look of like, What, like you want me to get angry? And I say yes, because the goal is not to prevent emotions, the goal is to, you know, kind of come from this internal worlds, of being able to appropriately encourage what would be, as opposed to punish what shouldn’t be. And I think that this is really where I kind of got burnt out in that ABA world, because so much of it was just focused on consequence only oriented action and not being able to look into that antecedent and behavioral aspect of, you know, there is other options other than just don’t do that.

Joel Schwartz 27:31
Yeah, I’ll throw in an other major concern that I have, which is that when the goals are being set by neurotypical people who don’t understand the neurodivergence, yes, you can get those goals. But nobody ever questions should we be having these goals? Are these goals really, for the person? Or is this for our comfort, and our acceptance of what may or may not be normal?

Katie Vernoy 28:05
I think there’s, there’s kind of I have mixed feelings, because I think in the with the behavioral folks that I talk to, I really hear this the emotional connection there, I hear, trying to understand from the person’s point of view and setting up behavioral plans, or cognitive behavioral plans or whatever that align with who they are, and, and kind of the goals that I hope are collaboratively set. So I can’t speak intelligently to that completely. But I think that’s not been my experience, I think, for me, the acceptance…

Joel Schwartz 28:39
Well let me interrupt you because how do you do that for a nonverbal person? And how do you do that for a child who doesn’t really know themselves yet, and is basing their experience on the adults around them. And the adults have, you know, it comes from a good place of I want this person to be a functional member of society. But our core assumptions of what a functional member of society are, are often incorrect, or they’re based on you know, your personhood is how well you can do a job and fit into kind of an American capitalist economy. And so I can give you an example of oftentimes behaviorists will target kind of the obsessionality and special interests of autistic people. And I have one client who understands the world and themselves through a specific pop culture medium. I don’t want to give it away the behaviorist and that he’s working with one of the best behavioral companies out there with some people who are really well known in the field. And they have been working on trying to extinguish this obsessionality and not listen to him. And, you know, I spent some time listening to him, playing with him on this, and got to know quite a lot about him. I brought in his parents and I tried to explain to them how what he’s doing is expressing himself in a very deep way. And they got very weepy. And they said, I don’t even know who my son is. And I’ve heard this so many times now from parents who went into behavioral therapies, because they were told to, they have no clue who their children are underneath, because they spent, you know, 10 to 40 hours a week in modifying behaviors, and that invalidation in and of itself is harmful.

Katie Vernoy 30:43
Yeah, and this is exactly what I was, what I was trying to get to is, there is acceptance, and validation and connection that I think is really important. I think there are also realities around how society will respond to some of these things until we can make those changes, right. And so, to me, it’s something where I, I want to connect and support, you know, and do those things. But I don’t want to necessarily set someone up to be completely, you know, repeatedly rejected or, or not included, because society is not there yet. And so how do we balance that? Because I think being able to, to hand flap with somebody, or or, you know, I think certainly having the ability to adjust our environments, and be very accepting, I think that feels good. But I know that there’s going to be misunderstanding, and I know that there’s going to be pain and harm that could come from those things continuing. And so I don’t, yeah, I’m not saying this well, but I’m trying to get to like, how do we balance: Here’s what society where society currently is, here’s where we want to go, here’s how I understand you and validate you. And here’s how we help you navigate the society as it is now.

Joel Schwartz 32:01
I think it goes to how all of us are authentic in society, as we all have feelings and things we do and ways of being that aren’t acceptable. We all have to come to our own understanding of how authentic do I want to be? And what are the consequences. And a good analogy is, you know, to have this conversation with a gay person, 40 years ago, you can’t hold your lover’s hand in public or else you’re going to be beat up. Yeah, that’s true. But we have to validate that that’s fine and that the person is still okay being gay, and they could hold their lovers hand at home as much as they want.

Katie Vernoy 32:44

Joel Schwartz 32:45
But we don’t pathologize that. We don’t say if they’re wrong for wanting to do that, for being out in public and wanting to give their, their their significant other a kiss and hug them when they’re feeling anxious. But there’s a consequence of that. And we have to make them aware of what the societal consequences are. But we don’t make the decision for them about what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Katie Vernoy 33:08
Got it. Got it.

Curt Widhalm 33:10
And there’s also a sort of understanding that comes along with this of for any of you out there who can’t start the day without your cup of coffee, or your morning yoga, or whatever that might be and you just justify whatever, you know, happens to the day, I didn’t make it to Starbucks to get my cappuccino this morning. And that’s why I’m off. That for a lot of people from neurodivergent backgrounds that this is equivalent to some of the feelings that they might experience with not being allowed to steal, or to be able to engage in some of their self regulatory behaviors. And we can justify for ourselves, so I didn’t get my blast of caffeine, and that excuses me. But because that looks different, or because that’s kind of annoying, or because that’s unexpected, that this is a level of the acceptance that we’re asking for, and making the world a better place for clients coming in and needing to be understood. So our guest today is Dr. Joel Schwartz. Thank you very much for coming in and in broadening out this this conversation. Where can people find out more about you?

Joel Schwartz 34:24
There will be a website soon. I am on LinkedIn, Joel Schwartz, PsyD – P S Y D. I have a Facebook page. I run a Facebook group called Neurodiversity Affirmative Therapists. So if a therapist wants to join that but be warned, you will have your fundamental assumptions challenged and oftentimes people will join and when they engage in kind of discussions that feel not affirmative or ableist they’re called on it. So it is a challenging place to be. But if you want to come and listen for a while and try to understand how this kind of thing works, you’ll find a pretty amazing community of people.

Katie Vernoy 35:11
We’ll have all that stuff on our show notes. Thanks, Joel for being here and, and and sharing with us. We really appreciate it.

Curt Widhalm 35:18
And you can find our show notes on our website While you’re there, check out the Therapy Reimagined 2019 conference, our tickets are going on sale, like literally any second now. And it’s going to be two days October 18 and 19th in Universal City, California. This is The Modern Therapist Conference, presented by SimplePractice. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy and Dr. Joel Schwartz.

Katie Vernoy 35:49
Thanks again to our sponsor, Katie Read.

Curt Widhalm 35:51
Katie helps therapists grow and then outgrow their practices. If you’re in grow mode, she can help you grow faster by knowing exactly how to create your therapist website to get the most possible calls with her two courses, Client Machine and Website Whisperer.

Katie Vernoy 36:06
If you’re ready to outgrow your office, Katie helps clinicians know the exact right steps to add big extra income streams in coaching, consulting or courses.

Curt Widhalm 36:15
For more information check out That’s read like read a book…

Katie Vernoy 36:21
And she’s a modern therapist and she’ll be joining us for Therapy Reimagined 2019 in October.

Announcer 36:27
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