University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Psychology at the University of Copenhagen won’t help you understand neurodivergent people

Guinea pig — As someone with ADHD, autism and dyslexia on my medical journal, I have had first-hand experience with psychology and its experiments. I'm about to graduate as a psychologist myself, but I am afraid my colleagues won't know what to do with people like me. They certainly learn nothing about it at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH).

I’ve always had psychological issues. And I have often left meetings with doctors, specialist educators and psychologists with more mental scars than when I turned up in the first place. They all probably had good intentions, and according to their job titles they can heal. But their methods are not universal.

You cannot generalize the treatment of a broken psyche in the same way as you can the treatment of a broken leg. We lack knowledge about the limitations of methods when faced with brains that are different, like mine. This has become apparent to me during the course of my education.

Risk of injecting poison

I am about to graduate as a psychologist. And if my study has taught me anything, it is how little we still know about the human psyche. Scientific blind spots are always a danger, and the university should protect us from them. Unfortunately, I see a trend in the wrong direction.

Many of us are stunned by how outdated the curriculum has become

Psychologists in Denmark have methodological freedom. They can choose themselves which therapeutic method they want to apply in their meeting with a client. I do not believe that any methods are wrong in principle, but our knowledge about how the problem and the treatment method are linked is very limited. I myself have experienced how the profession has probed my body in its quest for knowledge. With ADHD, autism, and dyslexia written on my papers, I have been in the firing line for all the mistakes of an immature field of research. And the field of psychology is just that.

Methodological freedom combined with a lack of knowledge was also seen in the early years of medical science – and it was not a great success. Doctors no longer prescribe mercury for syphilis or cocaine for fever, as they once, incredibly, did. We have forgotten these crazy misunderstandings nowadays. I sometimes imagine that psychology is in a similar place as a science. But if we are not careful, psychology risks, like medicine, of injecting poison into the people it is trying to cure.

Cheese sausages and love

Cognitive behavioural therapy is the standard treatment of psychology. This method looks at the interaction between thoughts and behaviour, but it is not particularly useful when neither the behaviour nor the thinking is like that of the norm group.


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That’s what it is like for me, for example. I can easily think about how long to fry cheese sausages, a birthday present for my mom, and what love actually is, and a shopping list. All while I’m in bed with my partner. It’s all messed up and woven into each other at the same time. Thoughts bounce around like popcorn on a frying pan. They are impossible to pin down and get into order. I cannot, therefore, be understood with the usual cognitive therapy.

When I have been exposed to this method, it has only led to an inner change in the form of a feeling of being somehow wrong and defeated. The defeat is experienced even more intensely when my new mistake is that I cannot even figure out how to receive the treatment that would otherwise make me healthy.

Assembly line psychologists

One of my best friends has galloping ADHD just like me. We have an agreement that we can each call other up and shout non-stop into the phone for one whole minute every time a therapist suggests either mindfulness or meditation. Just to let the other person know how we’re doing. We’ve just added cognitive behavioural therapy to the list.

I started studying psychology because I was tired of shouting. I thought that the professors here would be at the forefront of our collective knowledge. I was sorely disappointed. A previously wide-ranging syllabus is being replaced by mainstream psychology textbooks from the US. Unfortunately I see a university that has a sausage factory mentality and only spits out assembly-line psychologists.

Last winter, students blockaded the Department of Psychology in protest over the narrowing down of the academic syllabus. One of the key points of contention for the blockade concerned the subjects developmental psychology and clinical psychology. In these subjects, autism and ADHD are presented, with possible treatment methods. But many of us are stunned by how outdated the curriculum has become.

The best hunter in the Stone Age

The teaching staff that I have met at the Department of Psychology do not consider neurodivergence to fundamentally be an innate biological normal variation. In this way I, and all other neurodivergent people, are considered sick. There is no wider understanding of how people with these variations can also contribute to society.

Neurodivergence can be transformed into an enormous force

This is the perspective that a critical cultural-historical psychology can offer. Here, the distinction between sick and healthy becomes a product of culture. In the Stone Age, my shifting attention would be a valuable gift. It would make me a good hunter who would be the first to detect prey and predators. In modern society, it is a hindrance because school and work require constant and steady attention.

A cultural-historical intervention would first and foremost consist of providing those affected with a liberating knowledge about how their problems are contextual and arise in the encounter with society. It does not live in them and is not their fault. Secondly, daily life could be organised so that what used to be limitations, are now strengths. Neurodivergence can be transformed into an enormous force if you know how to channel it.

The change starts at the Department of Psychology

Such a framework for understanding is on its way out of the psychology syllabus at UCPH. And this theoretical, and methodological, narrowing down, does not result in psychologists being able to understand deviants like me, quite the opposite. I fear for all the future school psychologists who will meet our children with a very narrow understanding of who they are and what they can do.

That is why I now stand up in the hope that neurodivergent children, adolescents, and adults, will be understood in their own right in the future. This is a trend that must start on the psychology study programme.