Psychological Interventions and Autism


Man sitting on a sofaPsychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour: how we think, feel, act and interact, individually and in groups. Psychology is concerned with all aspects of behaviour and with the thoughts, feelings and motivations underlying that behaviour.

In this section, we focus on psychological interventions not covered elsewhere on this website. For details of other psychological interventions, please see the links at the bottom of this page.

The psychological therapies described in this section are based on the idea that the practitioner can help autistic people to understand (and sometimes change) how they think, feel, and act.

Some people think that some psychological therapies can help autistic people who have psychological problems, such as anxiety or depression. Other people think that some psychological therapies can be used to treat the core features of autism, such as difficulties with social communication or social interaction.


Many autistic people have high levels of psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, as shown by strong research evidence.

No research evidence shows that any of the core features of autism are caused by underlying psychological issues. However, some research suggests that, when some autistic people are stressed, they may appear to behave in a more ‘autistic’ manner. For example, they may find it harder to communicate or to interact with other people, and they may retreat into restricted patterns of thinking or behaviour.

Some psychological interventions (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) may be effective in treating some psychological problems (such as anxiety) in some autistic people. Some creative therapies (such as music therapy) may be effective in improving social and communication skills in some autistic children and adolescents. Determining if other psychological therapies (such as mindfulness training) provide any benefits to autistic people  is not possible until further research of sufficiently high quality has been completed.

Risks and Safety

All psychological therapies pose some risks. For example, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists: "All effective treatments carry some risk. During psychotherapy there may be spells of being in touch with painful emotions, sometimes for the first time, which may temporarily lead to feeling worse. This is part of the process of facing, and learning to live with, one’s feelings." "Risks are minimised by skilful assessment of suitability for psychotherapy and by the availability of experienced and properly qualified psychotherapists."

Specific interventions

We have categorised psychological therapies as follows (although there are many other ways in which they can be categorised and many individual interventions will fall under more than one of the following categories).

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26 May 2022