How AI can help the neurodivergent therapist

May 3, 2024
min read
 How AI can help the neurodivergent therapist

We sat down with Stephanie Staco (they/them), LMHC, from New York to ask about life before and after Upheal. As one of our earliest fans and esteemed users, we’ve enjoyed getting to know Stephanie better – with a passion for helping people and cheered on by their macaws and canine pal, we loved Stephanie’s vibe from the beginning of our call.

A unique slice of our audience – or more common than we think?

One of the invaluable insights they’ve shared with us is that Upheal is extra helpful for the neurodivergent therapist. We’ve always aimed to simplify and automate administrative tasks but didn’t know we would become most supportive to this sub-segment of our audience. 

We had to stop and ask ourselves, is this the “typical” picture of a therapist, and we just hadn’t known? And what is a typical therapist, anyway? We probably won’t find an answer to that question here right at this moment, but we did discover that within our community, quite a few of our users had started to use Upheal for the very same reason as Stephanie. This quote just about sums it up:

“It’s all the paperwork. I have learning difficulties and a diagnosis in reading and math comprehension as well as difficulty with reading and sentence structure. Note-taking is a chore.”

Writing notes isn’t hard just because of a lack of time 

However, it’s not just the sheer volume and lack of time that makes documentation difficult for the neurodivergent therapist; it’s also the crafting and structuring of the notes. As most therapists will tell you, progress note writing is an art form in itself and a skill that takes honing. 

Some even advocate for keeping progress notes handwritten and not AI-powered, because it forces you to think more about your client and their care. You need to evaluate what to keep, what to delete, and what to prioritize. However, once you know how to do this, why not allow Upheal to delegate the session capture, while you simply edit and adjust? The client is there to spend time learning and growing from your presence. They need focus and your attunement.

Comprehension and other challenges can mean burnout

One of our other valued community members, Kathryn Thompson, a registered psychotherapist from Ontario, also suspects ADHD and several diagnosed learning difficulties. She shared, “It is helpful for me to keep track of the conversation in session. I like to focus on the client’s needs. While many  programs allow you to use your iPad and Apple pen to write directly into your files, my handwriting was never neat enough and I write slowly to boot.”

When you add writing and comprehension challenges to a session requiring much focus and energy and multiply that by 6 sessions a day – you can see how this might cause trouble. Combine all of this, and we have many talented, dedicated therapists burned out and unable to provide help to those who need it most. 

“I worked for almost 20 years in non-profit, but I was getting burned out by the note-taking and documentation I was required to provide. My agency was supportive, but they couldn't reduce my client numbers and couldn't really provide effective digital programs to help. I couldn't keep up so I left community work and now can work at my own pace.”

AI can help counter certain systemic issues 

Doing the paperwork is expected even if it means going above and beyond the job description, i.e., managing notes outside of working hours to maintain productivity. For neurodivergent therapists like Stephanie and Kathryn, notes can become extremely overwhelming and time-consuming. They may have all the information the client ever shared with them carefully stored in their brain, but getting it out into note format – well, that can be the tricky part. This can drive therapists into private practice – even when, like Stephanie, they love working for agencies that have a passion for supporting historically oppressed communities. 

“I love working with people from marginalized communities, but agency work is difficult. There isn’t a lot of autonomy in how we can assist clients, plus, there are clear systemic issues that make staying afloat difficult let alone provide the stable, existential grounding needed for true healing.”

Stephanie feels relieved that they can now work at their own pace in a private practice and get support through Upheal.

This doesn’t make systemic issues disappear, of course, but it goes a long way toward helping those with ADHD and other learning difficulties get through their note-taking and support a certain number of pro-bono clients in a schedule that offers more flexibility and freedom. It also offers us an opportunity to support neurodivergence and explore that being typical, often doesn’t mean being typical at all.

Neurodiversity is a spectrum and we’re interested in all of it

Our Head of Clinical Operations, Ted Faneuff, is neurodivergent too. “Being neurodivergent”, he shared, “encompasses a broad range of disorders and presentations. It spans from the Autism spectrum, and ADHD, to extreme anxiety in some cases. More importantly, being inclusive in our recognition of neurodivergent individuals means acknowledging that some of us will think differently and solve problems differently and, as such, will have different needs than neurotypical individuals whom the mainstream world was built around. We’re interested in all of it.”

Apart from the fact that we already knew MHPs were burned out and often undervalued and underpaid, we hadn't yet had a chance to look more deeply at our audience. We’re proud to be assisting in any way we can; and at least with Upheal, it’s not as overwhelming to keep up with documentation, whether you’re neurodivergent or someone who just hates writing and keeping up.

“I find that tasks with a lot of steps are a big deterrent. Even to get started. And EHRs, although customizable, aren’t user-friendly. With Upheal I can access a session fast and I don’t have that feeling of being so stressed. I can take on more clients and spend more time helping clients too.”

Upheal is committed to supporting all the therapists using our product. And, in the words of our Head of Clinical Operations, “Upheal is excited to explore how we can better serve all aspects of our population." Thankfully, it’s possible to review Upheal’s notes before and after a session, and minimal editing is needed once you do. 

Neurodiversity is a spectrum, and we value every contribution. The more we get to know and hear from different members of our audience, the better we can tailor Upheal to our users’ needs. Thank you, Stephanie, and Kathryn, for your time. If you would like to share more about your specific neurodivergent needs, please let us know. 

If you’d like to work with Stephanie, they pride themselves on being neurodivergent-affirming, sex-positive, culturally competent, and always open to feedback from clients on how sessions can be more beneficial. You can submit a consultation request on their website.

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