Mental Heath Treatment for Clients with Developmental Differences

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Mental health clinicians are often reluctant to treat people who have intellectual and developmental differences (IDDs) for fear of doing something that could worsen rather than improve the client’s condition.

In this episode of Justice in Action, two JRI clinicians, Dr. Jacquelyn Kraps, Metrowest Area Director and Clinical Director of Outpatient Services, and Bailey McCombs, Licensed Metal Health Counselor and Expressive Arts Therapist, talk about the rewards and challenges of working with children with a range of differences, from autism spectrum disorder to chromosomal differences, cognitive challenges, and traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Kraps and McCombs have helped establish the Developmental Differences Specialty Team to assist other JRI therapists to work effectively with clients with both IDDs and mental health needs, including complex trauma.

Services for those individuals have long been siloed because they have been seen as separate and distinct. JRI is breaking new ground by having a single provider address the entirety of the client’s service needs.

Treating clients with both complex trauma and IDDs draw heavily on a therapist’s creativity, flexibility, and powers of observation, Dr. Kraps and McComb say. Sometimes it requires teasing out which problems are caused by trauma and which are part of the individual’s developmental difference.

They advise other clinicians to be curious, open, and willing to say the wrong thing. If an approach doesn’t work, they can always shift course.  Sometimes a client — especially a non-verbal client — can communicate most successfully by writing, drawing, or moving their body.

Individuals with IDDs deserve effective treatment for mental health needs, which they are at least as likely to experience as the rest of the community, and they can enjoy positive, healthier outcomes with the right therapeutic approach. For more information, visit

A note about language: IDD often stands for intellectual and development disabilities. JRI choses to use the word differences instead of disabilities to be as inclusive as possible, and honors that each individual and family get to decide how they identify.


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Rachel has been a part of the JRI team since January, 2000. For over 20 years, Rachel has been working in the field of human services assisting families with accessing and navigating services. Rachel received her Bachelors degree in psychology and Masters Degree in Public Administration from Bridgewater State University. She was promoted in July 2005 to Family Networks Program Director where she closely worked with the Department of Children Families for 10 years ensuring that children and families received the highest quality of individualized services ranging from community based through residential care. Rachel is very dedicated to helping the individuals she works with and is committed to improving the lives of children and families. Rachel’s passion for creative service programming inspires her in her role as JRI Service Navigator.