If you’re looking for a different ADHD treatment, you might want to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) treatment aims to reduce the impact symptoms can have on your daily life.
Medications can help reduce your symptoms, and therapy can teach strategies that help you understand and cope with your symptoms.
But what type of therapy is best for ADHD? Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be an option.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is psychotherapy that teaches you to identify thoughts that work against you and change them into helpful ones.
CBT is based on the idea that your thoughts affect your emotions, which can affect your behavior.
Slipping into a negative thought and behavior pattern is easy. CBT helps you identify these patterns and change them.
For example, you might have a large school assignment or work project with a deadline, and you’re concerned that you won’t be able to finish it on time.
- Thought. “I’ll never be able to finish this by the due date.”
- Feeling. You become overwhelmed.
- Behavior. You practice avoidance behaviors such as procrastination, and you end up missing the deadline and feel bad about your performance.
You might reflect on this experience and think that your problem was just procrastination. Your CBT therapist can help you identify the initial thought that led to your delays and change it to create a positive pattern.
- Thought. “It’s a lot of work, but if I start now and break it down into small pieces, it’ll be easier. And I’ll be able to finish on time.”
- Feeling. You feel hopeful.
- Behavior. You start working, notice your progress as you complete small sections, and continue with your efforts. You finish on time and are happy with your performance.
ADHD is more than just impulsiveness and distractibility. As you encounter more situations in which you feel unregulated, and out of control, you may develop negative thinking habits.
- “I’m not good at that kind of thing.”
- “There’s no point in trying.”
- “I’m not as smart as other people.”
- “I lose everything.”
- “I’ll never get my act together.”
- “Everything is just too difficult.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD helps you reframe thoughts like these and change them to positive and proactive alternatives.
- negative thought pattern: “I’m not good at that kind of thing.”
- positive thought pattern: “I’m better at other things, and no one is good at everything.”
Several CBT techniques can help you make positive changes in your life. A mental health professional can help you decide which ones to try and where to start.
If you have trouble with task completion, successive approximation can help. This technique involves working your way up to the task you find difficult by taking smaller and easier steps.
Your therapist can help you set small goals and choose a place to start. If you encounter a trigger, you can use exposure therapy to get past it.
This strategy can be used to help manage different types of anxiety. The basic premise of this therapy is that if you face your fears enough, they will eventually become easier to manage.
There are different types of exposure, such as imaginational and real life.
Interoceptive exposure allows you to feel the physical sensations of anxiety so that they affect you less as you become used to them.
Some exposure therapies may be done using virtual reality, such as targeting fear of heights.
In guided discovery, your therapist becomes acquainted with your viewpoints, then helps you broaden your thinking by challenging your beliefs. This offers you new perspectives that you may not have considered.
You might believe that you have a poor memory. The truth might be that you don’t retain information that doesn’t seem relevant or interesting, but your memory is OK in other instances.
Guided discovery can help you make this distinction, motivating you to try memory improvement strategies for information that doesn’t engage you.
This technique allows you to challenge negative self-talk and reframe it into more constructive and positive.
- negative self-talk: “I don’t even know why I bother. I won’t get it done anyway.”
- positive self-talk: “I’ve had trouble getting things done in the past, but I’m learning new tricks to stay organized and on task. So, I’m confident that I’ll get better at this.”
This technique helps you become more aware of the distractions that interfere with your productivity and gives you strategies to manage them.
One strategy involves using a timer to see how long you can sustain focus before your mind wanders. Once you know how much time you have, you can use this to plan your successive approximation exercise.
If you can focus for 10 minutes, you may want to ensure each step of the task is no more than 10 minutes long.
Distractibility delay also teaches you to write down your distractions rather than attend to them. If you’re in the middle of a 10-minute task, try to take note of the distraction and then address it once your 10-minute task time is complete.
Studies support the use of CBT to help treat symptoms of ADHD.
A 2018 review revealed that medication and CBT improved functioning and reduced depression and anxiety in people with ADHD, more so than medication alone.
Researchers found a similar result in a
CBT benefits appear to persist after therapy sessions have finished, as was demonstrated in a 2018 study featuring college students. Although their grades didn’t change much, the CBT therapy resulted in:
- reduced ADHD symptoms
- improved executive functioning
- declines in depression and anxiety symptoms
- increases in credit hours attempted and earned
The benefits persisted for 5 to 7 months after the CBT therapy sessions ended.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for many people with ADHD.
This type of therapy enables you to examine your thought patterns and restructure them in a more helpful way. There are several ADHD symptoms you can manage using this approach.
CBT with medication has been shown to produce better results than medication alone. The helpful effects of CBT may continue for months after treatment sessions have finished.
If you’re interested in trying CBT and don’t already have a therapist, consider asking a healthcare professional for a referral to a qualified mental health professional.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.