Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that analyzes the underlying reasons for certain thought patterns and helps people to change the way they view themselves and the way they react to these thoughts. For example, people with ADHD often have issues of low self-esteem. Thoughts such as "I am worthless" or "I can't do..." can interfere with the ability for someone to succeed. CBT would help to look at these thought patterns as hypothesis rather than fact. This can allow a person to be open to other thoughts, such as, "I can do this..."

Recent research has shown that CBT is helpful in the treatment of ADHD. It has not been shown to be a substitute for medication or other treatments. One study, conducted at Boston General Hospital found that medication along with CBT provided more help in managing symptoms of ADHD than medication alone.

Many people will see results from CBT rather quickly. While psychotherapy can last for months (or years), CBT normally shows results after 12 to 15 sessions (lasting one hour each.)

CBT provides people with an opportunity to discover how thoughts impact action and how your views of yourself and the world are influenced by your thoughts. By learning to understand your thought process, you can change patterns that negatively impact your life and improve organization, personal interactions and more.

Some examples of how CBT can help people with ADHD:

  • To not see individual situations as part of a pattern of failures. For example, a child may say, "I will fail this math test because I always fail math tests." This math test, however, is dependent on understanding the concepts taught, rather than a history of taking tests. CBT helps an individual understand that a single negative event does not need to be part of a pattern.

  • To not view your life as "all good" or "all bad." Many times people with ADHD will lump all events into one. For example, someone may say, "Always" or "never" when discussing their life instead of seeing events and situations as singular events.

  • Changing your perception of "should." Many people live their life comparing success of failure to how he or she believes it "should" be. CBT can help to view situations as they are rather than how they should be.

  • Measuring your success against other people. Many of us continually compare our life and our activities to how other people act. CBT helps to view your situation as your own and base your idea of success on your own life rather than the lives of your friends, relatives or other people.

While medication helps to manage symptoms, CBT helps to manage the negative thought patterns that develop because of years of frustration and perceived failures.

CBT has been used more extensively in treating anxiety and depression, but has also been found to be effective in helping people with ADHD. Most CBT therapists, however, may not specialize in treating individuals with ADHD. You may want to talk with a therapist before setting an appointment about their experience and training in treating people with ADHD.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.