Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD adults

Can CBT actually help adults manage their ADHD?

Referred to as the “gold standard” of modern psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most successful treatments for a range of mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions. In recent years, CBT has become more popular among individuals with ADHD seeking treatment — and it’s easy to see why. Studies have shown CBT as an effective treatment option for both adults and children with ADHD as a means to empower the individual while substantially reducing the negative effects of their symptoms.

Interested in knowing more? You came to the right place.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

According to the American Psychological Association, CBT is defined as “a form of psychotherapy aimed at identifying and modifying the client’s maladaptive thought processes and problematic behaviors through cognitive restructuring and behavioral techniques to achieve change.”

In other words, CBT examines the interrelations between one’s thoughts, feelings, fears, and beliefs — and how those relationships may influence troubling behaviors or emotional distress.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Having ADHD can be an isolating experience, especially since people with ADHD often struggle with impulse control and emotional dysregulation. This means that they’re more likely to encounter setbacks, which can gradually chip away at a person’s self-esteem and their ability to reach their full potential.

To make matters worse, people with ADHD are also prone to develop comorbid mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

How does CBT actually help adults with ADHD?

CBT modifies thoughts and behaviors that exacerbate ADHD symptoms

One of the key components of CBT is a process called Cognitive Restructuring. Let’s use an example to illustrate what this means:

When someone with ADHD faces a challenge, they often hear that all-too-familiar critic in their head. “I’m such a failure,” the voice tells them. “I can’t do this. I always mess things up." Those who grew up with ADHD may have these thought patterns imprinted in their subconscious from a young age, eventually reaching the point of  internalizing and believing the critical voice. When these false beliefs become their reality, ADHDers will often struggle with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD).

Cognitive Restructuring, then, is the process of identifying which thought patterns are creating a negative effect on a person's self-image, uncovering the origin of those thoughts, and then replacing them with patterns that are more helpful and accurate.

CBT teaches ADHDers different techniques to manage their symptoms

People with ADHD are more likely to struggle with executive functioning, which regulates cognitive skills such as memory, organization, and planning — among others. Moreover, ADHDers often find it difficult to keep track of time, get enough sleep, and communicate effectively with others. Through CBT, a therapist and patient can explore when and where these challenges are arising, and discuss possible solutions to address these difficulties.

CBT improves self-image long-term

Lastly — and perhaps most importantly — CBT gives people with ADHD the tools they need to manage their symptoms in the real world — beyond the short amount of time spent with their therapist. Cognitive Restructuring techniques can teach us to become more conscious of their thoughts. This awareness gives us the ability to challenge that nagging, self-critical voice and transform it into self-talk that’s more productive. Through CBT, ADHD adults embrace new habits and acquire problem-solving skills that can empower them to overcome the everyday challenges of living in a neurotypical world.

In other words, they take control of their ADHD and reach their full potential.

ADHD resources and references:

NCBI: Description and Demonstration of CBT for ADHD in Adults

ADHD Institute: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Resources

ADAA: Understanding the facts about Adult ADHD

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