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Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Help Manage ADHD?

Updated: 16 hours ago

✎ Written by: Dubravka Rebic

Inability to focus, being easily distracted, hyperactivity, poor organization skills, and impulsivity – these are only some of the symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), a neuro-behavioral disorder that affects 11% of school-age children and 4.4% of adults in the US.

As a result of encountering setbacks in their everyday life due to their symptoms, many people with ADHD become self-critical. They tend to blame themselves for experiencing difficult emotions, low self-confidence, or anxiety. That's where cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) comes in.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps people with ADHD identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that negatively influence their behavior and emotions.

But how exactly does CBT work? Let's dive in.

What Is CBT and How Does It Work for ADHD?

CBT is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion), and how we act (behavior) all interact. In other words, our thoughts determine our feelings and our behavior. Therefore, negative or unrealistic thoughts can cause us distress and distort our perception of reality, thereby causing us to behave irrationally.

A therapist who specializes in CBT aims to help someone with ADHD change irrational thought patterns that cause them distress and prevent them from staying on task or getting things done. The goal is for a person with ADHD to be able to identify their harmful thoughts, assess whether these thoughts are an accurate depiction of reality, and, if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

This approach is problem-oriented and, unlike many other psychoanalytic approaches, it doesn't focus on discussing the person's past to gather understanding and insight. Instead, CBT focuses on the present circumstances and emotions in real time while looking for an effective solution to a specific problem.

For example, if a person with ADHD struggles with poor time management and procrastination, one of the CBT approaches would be to first uncover the role of negative thoughts and emotions that may contribute to procrastination and identify the person's rationalizations, such as "I'll watch a TV show and then I'll sort out my mail."

Then, it offers a specific solution for the problem. For instance, a therapist may ask something along the lines of, "When you walk through the door after work, you may drift towards the television and rationalize that you need to relax. What can you do differently to make sure that you get your mail before you sit down? Where can you sort through your mail that day? What will you say to those rationalizations in favor of procrastination?"

After talking through the thoughts with a therapist, a person with ADHD is usually provided with a CBT worksheet and exercises that they can do at home in order to practice behavioral change and enhance their therapy experience.

Most Used CBT Techniques for ADHD