Psychological Interventions and Autism

GuitarAdult with autism in a craft lessonAdolescent with autism dancing with a womanChild with autism in a playgroundMan with autism sitting on sofa

Psychological interventions include a wide range of interventions based on psychology, which is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour: how we think, feel, act and interact, individually and in groups.

Psychological interventions include talking therapies (such as as counselling and psychotherapy), creative therapies (such as art therapy) and cognitive and behavioural therapies (such as cognitive behavioural therapy).

Psychological interventions also include a variety of behavioural, developmental and educational interventions.

In this section, we focus on psychological interventions not covered elsewhere on this website.

Counselling and Psychotherapy 

Interventions based around talking to an empathetic listener in a stress-free environment.


Counselling is a type of talking therapy that allows a person to talk about their problems and feelings in a relaxed, stress-free and confidential environment. A counsellor is trained to listen with empathy (by putting themselves in your shoes). They can help you deal with any negative thoughts and feelings that you have. 

Counselling is based on the idea that talking about a problem may help to understand and to solve that problem.Sometimes you may also be encouraged to discuss problems with other people, in couple therapy, family therapy or group therapy Counselling involves regular meetings with a counsellor or therapist who has been trained to help you.

There are a wide range of approaches to counselling but they generally fall into three categories,

  • Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies focussing on unconscious patterns from childhood. 
  • Cognitive and behavioural therapies looking at cognition (thinking) and behaviour.
  • Humanistic therapies are based on an 'holistic' approach that encourages the client to think about their feelings, and take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.

In practice the approaches and strategies used in each of the categories tend to overlap.


Psychotherapy is a type of therapy used to treat emotional problems and mental health conditions. It involves talking to a trained therapist, either one-to-one, in a group or with your wife, husband or partner. It allows you to look deeper into your problems and worries and deal with troublesome habits and a wide range of issues. 

Psychotherapy usually involves talking but sometimes other methods may be used - for example, art, music, drama and movement. Psychotherapy can help you to discuss feelings you have about yourself and other people, particularly family and those close to you. In some cases, couples or families are offered joint therapy sessions together..

There are several different types of psychotherapy including psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive analytical therapy (CAT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), the humanistic approaches, group therapy, and family therapy.

More Information

Please see: 

Psychodynamic therapies

Interventions based on exploring an individual's unconscious thoughts and perceptions. 


Psychoanalysis is based on the idea that individuals are often unaware of many of the factors that determine their emotions and behaviour. These unconscious factors may be the source of considerable distress and unhappiness.

Psychoanalysis is designed to reveal how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behaviour, trace them back to their historical origins, show how they have changed and developed over time, and help the individual to deal better with them.

There are many different forms of psychoanalysis and each may use slightly different techniques. However most forms of psychoanalysis encourage the individual to explore and discuss his or her emotional and behavioural problems with the therapist. Sometimes the individual may also be encouraged to discuss problems with other people in couple therapy, family therapy or group therapy.

Creative therapies

Creative and expressive therapies are any interventions in which a therapist uses a creative or expressive art form to help a client.

Creative and expressive therapies are based on the idea that all individuals have the ability to respond to creative and expressive activities and that this can lead to positive changes in behaviour and emotional well being.

The client does not need creative or expressive skills to benefit from these therapies but the therapist does need a high level of therapeutic skill.

Creative therapies  include art therapy, drama therapy and music therapy and each of these may follow psychoanalytic principles.

More Information

Please see: 

Cognitive and behavioural therapies

Cognitive and behavioural therapies are based on the way you think (cognitive) and/or the way you behave (behavioural).  These therapies recognise that it is possible to change your thoughts or behaviours to overcome specific problems.

Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy deals with thoughts and perceptions, and how these can affect feelings and behaviour. By reassessing negative thoughts an individual can learn more flexible, positive ways of thinking, which can ultimately affect their feelings and behaviour towards those thoughts.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (also known as CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Modification or CBM)  is a type of psychological intervention used to change how people think and behave. CBT is based on the idea that how we think, how we feel, and how we act, affect each other. For example, a person who thinks that an increased heart rate is the sign of a heart attack is more likely to panic than a person who thinks that it is just a normal variation in heart rate. CBT uses a variety of techniques to help people become more aware of how they think, so that they can change how they think and therefore how they behave.
  • Mindfulness is a mind-body based approach that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences. Mindfulness training (also known as mindfulness exercises, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy or MBCT) are ways of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga. Mindfulness training are designed to help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, you are better able to manage them.

Behavioural Therapy

Behavioural therapy focuses on an individual's learnt, or conditioned, behaviour and how this can be changed.

More information: pleasee see section on Behavioural Interventions

More Information

Please see: 

Other psychological therapies

Any other therapies not included above.


Hypnotherapy is an intervention that uses hypnosis, an altered state of consciousness.

Hypnosis is widely promoted as a treatment for various long-term conditions and for breaking certain habits.

Some people think that it can be used as an intervention for reducing anxieties and/or alleviating symptoms associated with autism.

Packing therapy

Packing therapy involves wrapping the individual in towels previously wet in cold water. The individual is then wrapped with blankets to help the body warm up.

The supporters of packing claim that it reinforces childrens' consciousness of their bodily limits, which in some psychiatric conditions (such as autism) becomes fragmented.

However some autistic people and some health care professionals, have described this treatment as a form of child abuse and a gross violation of basic human rights.

More Information

Please see: 

Please see also behavioural and developmental interventions and educational interventions for details of other psychological interventions.

Related Pages

Quick link:
13 Feb 2019