By J. Lynn Holsman, PRS
Health & Recovery Content Specialist
Edited for Medical Content by Dr. Pennington, NP
Adult ADHD is a popular diagnosis, and it is extremely common for adults to have lived with ADHD their whole lives and not realize it until adulthood without having realized it. For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on Adults with ADHD. One of the popular treatments for ADHD are stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin. But there are behavioral therapies that can help manage some of the symptoms of Adult Attention and Hyperactivity Disorder. We will look at some of these therapy treatments, but first let’s briefly look at ADHD.
What Is ADHD Most of us have heard of ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but what is it, exactly? Here we will look at some of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, as explained by Psychiatry.org. According to the website, Adult ADHD is characterized by symptoms in six main categories.
Lack Of Focus Adults with ADHD have a difficult time focusing, and that can mean anything from being easily distracted to not finishing projects once they are started, or simply overlooking important details.
Hyper-Focusing This is when a person is so entrenched into what they are working on, that everything else around them sort of disappears
Disorganization Everyone can get a little disorganized at times, but for an adult with ADHD, it’s much more problematic. Keeping a tidy house or office desk can seem like an impossible task.
Time Management Those with ADHD struggle with managing their time, whether that means procrastinating on boring tasks, or completely ignoring tasks that don’t hold their attention.
Forgetfulness Sure, people can be forgetful from time to time, but for someone with ADHD, it’s much more pronounced. The act of forgetting happens significantly more frequently than an average person and can sometimes be confused with carelessness.
Impulsivity Acting without thinking through to the consequences is a problem for someone with ADHD. That may look like interrupting people before they have finished talking or making large purchases without looking into their financial situation. In some cases, it can even mean drug or alcohol abuse.
Keep in mind that while most things on this list are common instances that happen to everyone, people with ADHD experience these symptoms painfully often, and through no fault of their own. And like most disorders, they frequency and severity of symptoms are high enough to disrupt day to day life.
Therapy For ADHD In Adults
The most common form of therapy for ADHD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. This is talk therapy that has a long history of being used for mood disorders like depression. But it has a place in treatment for ADHD. CBT operates under the assumption that our emotional problems are the result of our automatic thoughts, belief structures, and thought processes. There are three main components of CBT used for treating ADHD: Cognitive Restructuring, Behavior Modification, and Skills Training.
Cognitive Restructuring Cognitive Restructuring is the “meat and potatoes” of CBT. The goal of therapy is to recognize the destructive ways of thinking, and help the individual create more productive, positive thought patterns and beliefs. Once a person recognizes these detrimental patterns of thinking, she can work on changing them in the moment, and stop herself from perpetuating negative beliefs about herself. For instance, if an individual is having time management problems, and is constantly running late for work, she might have maladaptive thoughts such as, “I am never going to be on time”. “I may as well not even try since I know I will not succeed”. “I am not a productive adult because I can’t seem to get anywhere on time”. This individual’s therapist would work with her to challenge these negative, problematic thoughts.
Behavior Modification Behavior Modification is a process of recognizing more destructive patterns, but this time instead of looking at thought patterns, the focus Is on negative, or unwanted behaviors. The therapist will help the individual identify problematic behaviors and specifically when they take place. Then the therapist and individual will work together to come up with a plan to slowly eradicate the unwanted behaviors and replace them with positive, more healthy choices.
Skills Training Skills Training is exactly what it sounds like. Adults with ADHD, particularly those who have been living with undiagnosed ADHS their whole lives, may lack skills that may make life a bit more manageable. Time management skills, emotion regulation, and social skills are just a few examples of some of the skills that can be taught.
The bottom line is that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be quite successful in treating those who struggle with ADHD. Jumping right to a stimulant medication can be dangerous for folks who already struggle with substance abuse problems and can be an unnecessary addition to an adult with ADHD. Some clinicians may be quick to start medication at the mere mention of ADHD, but you can advocate for your own wellness. Know what your options are, and as always, if you have any concerns whatsoever, always talk to your healthcare provider.