Adult ADHD: Finding the Right Therapy

Medication helped Katie Hamann manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms such as feeling inattentive and distracted. Still, she felt she could do more to navigate life with her condition.

Hamann, 38, started seeing a therapist 3 years ago to help him with time management and organization.

“Having the kids threw my time management system into a tailspin,” she says. “I wasn’t just in control anymore and I needed help.”

When it comes to treating ADHD in adults, the most effective approach is a combination of medication, skills training, and counseling.

Research suggests that adults with ADHD who have a treatment plan that includes medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (a form of talk therapy that aims to change patterns of thinking and behavior) manage their symptoms better. like those who only take medicine. Organizational skills and self-esteem also seem to be improving.

Hamann participated in CBT for 3 months. During the sessions, her therapist helped her end negative self-talk and boosted her self-esteem. She also received organizational tips for creating a project schedule.

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“There are behavioral skills that adults with ADHD don’t use as often or as effectively as adults without ADHD,” explains John Mitchell, PhD, assistant professor in the Duke ADHD Program at Duke University Medical Center. “CBT helps you learn new behaviors and learn how to use them consistently over time until they become habits.”

The primary care physician can refer you to a therapist. Although there are therapists who specialize in CBT for adults with ADHD, Mitchell admits that finding one can be difficult.

According to Hamann, the relationship is key.
“You need to find someone you can talk to,” she says.

Moreover, insurance may not cover the costs. A recent study found that one in four people do not have a mental health provider in their insurance network, and 15% of those people have to pay more than $200 out of pocket for mental health services.

Group therapy can be a more affordable and accessible alternative to individual therapy.

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“Groups can be very purposeful in addressing difficulties associated with ADHD and coping strategies,” says J. Russell Ramsay, PhD, associate professor, co-founder and co-director of the Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The advantage [group therapy] participate in the program with other adults who have experienced the same thing; you’re in a room with other people who understand.”

When it comes to relationships, group therapy can help with the burden ADHD takes on couples. If symptoms of ADHD, such as impulsivity, inattention, and failure to keep promises, are causing problems in your relationships, consider seeing a marriage and family therapist.

There are even ADHD coaches. They take a hands-on approach, helping adults with ADHD with tools for planning, time management, and goal setting.

ADHD coaches are not licensed mental health professionals, but Ramsay says coaching can be helpful and recommends it as a supplement to working with a therapist.

Even with effective therapy or coaching, it is important to incorporate stress management techniques such as mindfulness meditation into the treatment plan. Mitchell’s research shows that adults with ADHD who participated in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program experienced improvements in their symptoms.

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Mitchell admits that adults with ADHD have a hard time sitting still and focusing for a 30-minute meditation session. Look for ADHD-friendly ones that are usually shorter and more active, like a 5-minute walking meditation.

“Mindfulness meditation is very complementary to CBT for adults with ADHD,” she says. “It changes your self-talk and teaches you to let go of judgment and focus on radical acceptance.”

With the right therapist and the right therapeutic approach, you can develop the skills you need to cope with ADHD.