Whether you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or you are just pursuing other treatment options for the condition, you may have heard of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If this ADHD treatment method has piqued your interest, read on to learn more about it and how it is used on the mental health field to help patients with ADHD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy incorporates self-instructional training that is taught in a group or on an individual basis in order to help those with ADHD to comprise a more planned and reflective approach to behaving and thinking. CBT is an umbrella term for a number of different treatment interventions (also used to treat disorders like PTSD and anxiety). It is a short-term form of psychotherapy
CBT can also assist people with ADHD to find a more systematic, reflective and goal-oriented way to take on everyday tasks as well as problem solving. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy that helps people to learn to change the way a patient feels about herself, her future and her abilities. This therapy often requires patients to be more in touch with their thoughts and feelings so they can learn how to modify them when they are dysfunctional.
How CBT Works
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that recognizes that automatic thoughts or cognitions lead to difficulty with emotions. Automatic thoughts are considered to be spontaneous interpretations of events, which are susceptible to distortion or unfounded assumptions about oneself, others, the future or a situation. This could produce an unhealthy internal dialogue that may prevent someone from developing new, positive habits or working toward goals.
CBT helps people to address thoughts or cognitions that relate to working through a task. This includes thoughts that relate to organizing, prioritizing and planning. CBT helps people with ADHD to learn to address those behaviors, such as physical skills and habits (like learning how to employ a planner for organizing plans and thoughts).
How CBT Changes Behaviors
Everyone procrastinates at some point or another in life, but when one procrastinates regularly, thinking it is perfectly fine to put things off until later, they create unnecessary stress and/or miss due dates and deadlines. CBT helps to re-train the ADHD brain to think instead about examining all that is involved, including steps along the way, to ensure that deadlines are met. Cognitive behavioral therapy essentially replaces dysfunctional patterns of thought with thought patterns that are functional and better equip people with ADHD to get things accomplished.
CBT vs Medication
CBT and medication both work differently to help patients with ADHD. CBT intervenes to lessen the impairments that ADHD-thinking often brings to life, including time management, procrastination and other difficulties with executive function. CBT does not treat the core symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. Medication is better for helping with basic attention functions by reducing distractibility or prolonging one’s attention span. Medication helps people with ADHD to better focus but CBT helps train them to learn what to focus on.
Many people with ADHD battle struggles with procrastination and disorganization even if they are on ADHD stimulants. CBT helps to target those ongoing struggles. CBT is often given in combination with medication to treat the broad spectrum of effects brought on by ADHD.
One randomized controlled trial that examined CBT in adolescents with ADHD who received pharmacological therapy in conjunction with atomoxetine or methylphenidate found that the patients who received CBT exhibited a significant reduction of ADHD symptoms in comparison to the control group. The trial also found patients who received CBT displayed a significant reduction in functional impairment in comparison to the control group.
CBT and Emotional Sensitivity
Many people with ADHD are considered to be “sensitive” to criticism. “Selective attention” is a term commonly used to describe this symptom. If a person with ADHD has a boss who makes a negative comment about his or her work, he may ignore everything else the boss said (even if everything else was positive) and immediately jump to the conclusion that he is unworthy or that he messed up.
CBT helps by examining the facts and determining whether they really support the conclusion the patient has drawn about the situation/conversation. In most cases, the facts don’t add up and patients will learn over time to respond to criticism in a more helpful and encouraging way.
CBT for Children
CBT has been proven to be effective in the treatment of anxiety in children but few studies have found it to be successful in the treatment of ADHD in children. Many medical professionals do believe that the most effective approach for children with ADHD, however, may be combining elements of CBT with other forms of more traditional behavioral therapy, including interventions from parents and teachers.
Finding a Therapist Familiar with CBT and ADHD
Many excellent CBT therapists exist but not all of them specialize in ADHD. Therapists typically employ treatment manuals for professionals to treat ADHD patients by way of CBT. CHADD, the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (ACT), ADDA, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) and the ADDitude Directory each have features on their website that may help patients to find an appropriate therapist. Additionally, the American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders (APSARD) has made efforts to develop a list of ADHD specialty clinics – some of which offer recommended clinicians in the area who provide CBT.
Some people have wondered if CBT can be done by phone or Skype but because of various health-care laws at both the state and national level, licensed mental health care professionals are bound by laws that may limit this option. However, there may be other video session possibilities that comply with healthcare-related privacy laws.
Talk with your therapist to address ADHD-related issues faced by you or your loved one to determine if CBT is a good treatment option.