Helen Dawson is a counsellor in our Talking Therapies service and helps countless people in Lancashire with depression and anxiety each year.

Helen is sharing her story to help and inspire others this Neurodiversity Celebration Week. In 2021, Helen, a mother of two, received a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Her diagnosis came after her husband saw a comic cartoon strip detailing traits of ADHD and discussed with her that he believed they were all mirrored in Helen.

Helen explains:

“My husband recognised traits he saw in the cartoon, like starting things and not finishing them, inattentiveness, a tendency to be messy and be very talkative with boundless energy. Particular difficulties became more apparent after having my second child and the challenge of returning to work with a new family dynamic and he needed to help me a lot. He suggested looking into a diagnosis and his instinct proved to be right. Before I knew it, I was 41 and diagnosed with ADHD. My husband also saw my passion and energy for things, I have a lot of ideas and interests and I love learning new things. Since my diagnosis, a year later, my husband was diagnosed as autistic. His autism and my ADHD really complement each other, he’s really organised and that can be tricky for me and I have loads of energy which can give him confidence in social situations.

When the diagnosis came in my 40s my parents couldn’t understand, I had a lot of support growing up, I achieved well at school and was academic, so my family said ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’, but what they didn’t realise is some of the difficulties I have and had been masking all my life. I had found my own strategies and had parental support, but I was masking stress and anxiety, I worked so hard at school to compensate for not being able to finish things in class and spending hours doing homework, missing out having a chilled out evening. It was the over-compensating nobody saw.”

So Helen’s diagnosis made sense to her.

“I need to sit and listen to my clients very attentively and struggle with assessment tools which we use, as I can become distracted. Without adjustments I would need to spend an hour writing up my notes afterwards, which is a similar difficulty I had experienced at school all those years before."

Since diagnosis, positive feedback from Helen’s clients has gone through the roof. Helen added:

Since diagnosis my performance as a counsellor has got better, as I am a lot more self-aware and work with my strengths. I get a lot more positive feedback because I’m more empathic and naturally make adjustments for clients. I feel I can get to the core of the work quicker and say the right things, people relax and say they feel comfortable opening up because I understand them.”

One recent thank you comment from an autistic client read:

“Helen was truly amazing. I honestly think she saved my life. She was intuitive around when to push me about something and when to sit back. She gave me time to process before making an onward referral. Without her input and skills I don't know where I would be right now but I know it wouldn't be a good place. She's an asset to your service.”

Helen has started a new role as a supervisor of other counsellors since her diagnosis, something that she says can be a welcome challenge for her ADHD.

Helen’s had support from our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team and Access to Work and has reasonable adjustments in place to support her to do her work.

Helen added: 

“I’m half-way through ADHD specific coaching which is proving to be the biggest help, I’ve got a portable stand up desk because when I stand up I can concentrate more, because of my ADHD I walk to work which helps me concentrate. Now with my diagnosis and supported at work I’m a better counsellor and proof that with the right support anything is possible."

From Helen’s work in NHS Talking Therapies she knows that unrecognised and unsupported ADHD can be really challenging.

Helen concluded:

“It’s easy for undiagnosed people or those awaiting a diagnosis to feel frustrated, have real and perceived failures and imposter syndrome which can result in low self-esteem. ADHD is a lifelong condition and can change throughout life, so support needs can vary and change. My advice for the newly diagnosed is that learning to live with and love your ADHD is key, while being realistic with the challenges and reaching out for help as soon as you need it. I’d say try and connect with other neuro-divergent people, and learn skills in self-compassion.”