Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder (a condition that impacts how the brain functions) that can affect individuals of all ages. Characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that impact both daily functioning and quality of life, ADHD is estimated to be prevalent in over six million children ages 3-17 (per the CDC), with a lifetime prevalence rate of 8.1% in adults (per the National Institute of Mental Health).
Typically diagnosed in childhood, ADHD is nevertheless considered to be a chronic condition, impacting not only the individual but an array of family, educational, and work-related systems as well. However, just because ADHD is considered to be a lifelong diagnosis doesn’t mean that a variety of treatment options don’t exist to help individuals and their families better manage its unique challenges.
While ADHD medication is commonly prescribed for the management of associated symptomatology and is considered a first-line treatment, therapy also plays a critical role in treating ADHD symptoms and holistically addressing the hardships faced by individuals and their families. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the reasons why ADHD requires specific treatment in therapy, the benefits of therapeutic work for both adults and children and some of the various types of therapy and other programming available to help those suffering from ADHD.
Understanding ADHD and the Importance of Specific Treatment in ADHD Therapy
Being diagnosed with ADHD is not simply a reflection of being easily distracted or restless in the day-to-day—it’s a complex neurological condition that affects everything from cognitive processes, attention regulation, and executive functioning, as well as interpersonal relationships, academic performance, and employment. As such, therapy tailored for those with ADHD goes beyond mere symptom management; it aims to provide individuals and their loved ones with effective coping strategies, skill-building techniques, and a sense of support and understanding to better navigate the challenges associated with a diagnosis.
Targeted ADHD therapy helps individuals to better understand their condition, its impact on their lives, and to develop strategies to manage symptoms effectively, along with helping to process their emotions around their experiences. Unlike prescription medication, which only targets symptom reduction, participation in therapy addresses the underlying causes of ADHD-related difficulties and helps to empower individuals to develop self-awareness, resilience, and adaptive behaviors. Combining therapy with a medication regime is an extremely productive and powerful treatment regime for the symptoms of this manageable neurological disorder.
While stimulant medication and certain antidepressants have been effective in managing ADHD symptoms for many individuals, they do not provide a long-term solution. Although stimulant medication use can help improve core symptoms, it does not address the underlying aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In addition, when certain medications are used to treat ADHD, it can place individuals at risk of developing substance use disorders.
Benefits of Therapeutic Engagement for Children and Adults
Taking part in therapy offers several benefits for individuals with ADHD, regardless of age. However, the structure and modality of the therapy will likely differ depending on the stage of life at which the client is engaging with services. For example, with children, therapy provides a supportive environment to develop critical skills for managing their attention, impulsivity, and social interactions, all while scaling the work to be developmentally appropriate. It aims to assist children in building their self-esteem, improve academic performance, and increase their overall capacity and functioning. Elements of play therapy can be incorporated as well, along with engaging the family and school system for a comprehensive plan to assist the young person in improving their self-regulation.
For adults with ADHD, therapy is also a vital tool in learning to better manage their condition, though therapeutic work with adults will necessarily look much different than it does for children. Adult-focused services assist in understanding the unique challenges and strengths associated with adult ADHD, helping to manage executive functioning difficulties across life domains, improving time management, organizational, and coping skills, and fostering a better capacity for emotional regulation. Therapy can also simultaneously address co-occurring medical conditions such as an anxiety disorder or depression, which often accompany many adults with ADHD.
Four Types of Therapy for Treating ADHD
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Behavior Therapy:
Behavioral therapy uses reinforcement strategies to encourage positive behaviors and reduce problematic or difficult behaviors associated with ADHD. Learning to better control impulsive behavior or time management skills are the hallmarks of behavioral interventions, and can be beneficial for children and adults alike. CBT, which utilizes some elements of behavioral therapy, also focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and developing adaptive behaviors instead. It assists children and adults with ADHD to recognize and reframe unhelpful thoughts, manage impulsivity, and develop more-effective problem-solving skills.
CBT and behavioral therapy help individuals develop practical skills, such as setting goals, managing time, organizing tasks, and breaking them down into manageable steps, in addition to helping process through their experiences and frustrations. Therapists working with these types of modalities work to assist clients in identifying triggers, implement strategies to improve their focus and attention, and to develop effective self-monitoring techniques to overcome their daily challenges.
Mindfulness, or the practice of drawing one’s attention to be aware of what they are sensing and feeling in the moment without judgment, has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for ADHD. Mindfulness-based approaches to therapy, such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and mindfulness meditation teach individuals relaxation techniques allowing them to cultivate their present-moment awareness in order to improve attention regulation and develop self-compassion for their struggles.
These practices can assist those struggling with inattentiveness or impulsivity to focus more on the present moment, increasing their attention span and lessening the tendency to become distracted or self-critical, both of which are often seen in adults and children with ADHD. With regular practice outside the therapy room, these skills can help to develop better emotional regulation, increased self-control, and improved overall well-being.
Narrative therapy is a therapeutic treatment by which individuals are encouraged to reinterpret their life’s events into true, more life-enhancing stories. When applied to ADHD, it helps clients to focus on their strengths, resilience, and personal growth, moving them away from perceived deficits and shortcomings that contribute to low self-esteem. Narrative therapy promotes a sense of agency and empowerment, with therapists helping to reshape the client’s identity beyond the challenges of ADHD and towards a deeper, more meaningful sense of self.
By participating in narrative therapy, individuals explore their experiences with ADHD and discover the skills and qualities that have helped them navigate their lives, many of which are often overlooked or minimized. By re-framing their own narrative, clients are able to develop a more positive and empowering perspective, building more self-esteem and confidence in their everyday lives.
Group therapy offers a supportive, safe environment to connect and learn from shared experiences. Opportunities for skill-building and social skills are also a primary focus in the group setting, providing attendees with an opportunity to process with their peers. Combating the inherent isolation of an ADHD diagnosis is an important ingredient to successful treatment, and group therapy allows for the fostering of community and mutual support around the shared experience and difficulties that inattention or hyperactivity can have.
Additional Beneficial Interventions as Companions to ADHD Therapy
In addition to therapy, several other additional or adjunct interventions can help to enhance its overall effectiveness:
Learning about ADHD itself helps to empower individuals and their families, increasing their understanding of the condition and reducing stigma. Psychoeducation comes from a wide variety of sources, including professionals, books, and community advocacy groups.
Coaching and Skill-Building
ADHD coaching provides personalized support to help individuals develop effective strategies for time management, organization, and goal-setting.
Collaboration with teachers, school psychologists, and educational specialists can ensure appropriate accommodations and support in the academic settings, along with potentially providing students with things like extra test time or an individualized educational plan (IEP).
Parent Training and Family Therapy
For children with ADHD, involving parents and other family members in therapy can be highly beneficial. Parent training programs provide parents with skills and strategies to support their child’s ADHD management effectively, whereas family therapy helps the important people in a child’s life to understand and support their child and each other.
Combining Medication Management with Therapy for Impactful Results
As mentioned earlier in the blog, a combination of therapy and medication typically yields the best results for ADHD treatment. Pharmacological-based interventions, including both stimulant and non-stimulant-based medications, can help manage the symptoms of ADHD and make therapy even more successful. As always, it’s important to work closely with a qualified healthcare professional to find the right medication and dosage for optimal symptom management, along with identifying a qualified mental health professional whom you’ll feel comfortable working with.
The Importance of Social Supports
Family, friends, and support groups can provide understanding, encouragement, and practical support to those struggling with ADHD. Loved ones can learn more about the condition and attend therapy themselves, not to mention participate in family therapy or support groups along with their loved ones to foster a supportive and understanding environment in which to heal. Many organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, can connect you to more resources in your community.
Find Meaningful Support and Helpful Strategies for ADHD at Clear Recovery Center
Accessing therapy and ongoing support is an essential component of any comprehensive ADHD treatment plan. With several treatment options available, Clear Behavioral Health is one of California’s leaders in progressive and effective ADHD treatment—and we’re even in-network with most major insurance plans. The choice is clear: give us a call to begin your journey today.