What is CBT for Adult ADHD?
Many therapy options exist, and treatments can take different approaches to improve ADHD. One of the most valuable and evidence-based therapies is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This approach emphasizes the thoughts and patterns of behavior are creating difficulties for you in the present rather than any experiences you had in the past.
If you have adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you probably take medicine to ease your symptoms. But medications don’t always work. That’s where cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) comes in. CBT is a type of talk therapy that can help with challenges you face in school, work, and relationships. With or without medications, CBT for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can help you feel better and make day-to-day life more manageable. CBT can teach specific strategies to address those unhelpful thoughts and beliefs and promote positive changes in behavior.
CBT ADHD vs. Medications
Many people find they do best with both medications and CBT. But you might not want to take medicine or like the side effects. In that case, Cognitive behavioral therapy could work by itself. Talk it over with a mental health professional for a personalized treatment plan.
Only a few stimulant medications are used for ADHD. Side effects usually happen in the first few days of starting a new drug or taking a higher dose. The most common side effects of ADHD medications are loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. Other ADHD drug side effects include the following:
- Fast Heart Rate
- High Blood Pressure
The medications that treat ADHD, if abused, can lead to addiction. The most typically prescribed but habit-forming ADHD medications are Adderall (an amphetamine/stimulant), Vyvanse (also an amphetamine), and Ritalin (also a central nervous system stimulant).
- What is CBT for Adult ADHD?
- CBT ADHD vs. Medications
- CBT for ADHD Statistics
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD Facts Sheet
- How Can ADHD CBT Help With ADHD Symptoms?
- DBT vs. ADHD Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- How Effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adult ADHD?
- Techniques for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ADHD
- CBT ADHD Worksheets
- How To Find A Treatment Center that Offers Treatment for ADHD and CBT?
- CBT and ADHD Mental Health Treatment Center
- Popular CBT for ADHD Frequently Asked Questions
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CBT for ADHD Statistics
ADHD is a disorder across the lifespan and is relatively prevalent among adults. Greater awareness and more research are required to understand Adult ADHD and its effective management better. Fortunately, pharmacological management and psychotherapy, such as CBT for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are effective and the first-line treatment plan suggested by many mental health professionals for the best outcome. 
CBT alone is 50-75% effective for overcoming mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, after 5 – 15 modules.
In 2019, the number of visits to physician offices with attention deficit disorder as the primary diagnosis was 8.7 million.
1 in 5
In 2020, Nearly one in five U.S. adults lived with a mental illness. Including ADHD, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD
For many people living with ADHD, medication can help ease symptoms and improve quality of life. But medication can’t help you learn new skills that promote long-term change. That’s where cognitive behavioral therapy can make the most difference.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Numerous research studies suggest that CBT significantly improves functioning and quality of life. In many studies, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective as, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications.
In the 1960s, Aaron Beck developed cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or cognitive therapy. Since then, it has been extensively researched and found to be effective in many outcome studies for psychiatric disorders. 
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for various problems, including ADHD, depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol, and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.
CBT can be a beneficial tool ― either alone or in combination with other therapies ― in treating mental health disorders, such as ADHD, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or an eating disorder. But not everyone who benefits from CBT has a mental health condition. CBT can be an effective tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations.
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Overview
For a person to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity must be chronic or long-lasting, impair the person’s functioning, and cause the person to fall behind typical development for their age. Stress, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and other physical conditions or illnesses can cause similar symptoms to ADHD. Therefore, a thorough evaluation is necessary to determine the cause of the symptoms.
Researchers are unsure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genes play a significant role. Like many other disorders, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors. In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors that might raise the risk of developing ADHD and are studying how brain injuries, nutrition, and social environments might play a role in ADHD.
ADHD is more common in males than females, and females with ADHD are more likely to have inattention symptoms primarily. People with ADHD often have other conditions, such as learning disabilities, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, depression, and substance use disorder.
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How Can ADHD CBT Help With ADHD Symptoms?
Medication can help many people to manage their ADHD symptoms and enhance their quality of life. However, taking medicine won’t help you develop new abilities that encourage lasting change. Therapy has the most significant potential to help in this situation.
The main features of CBT for ADHD include the following:
- Organization and planning
- Navigation of distractions
- Development of adaptive thinking skills
- Reduction of procrastination behaviors
Psychoeducation is an essential part of the process because understanding specific symptoms can often help you address them more easily. Your therapist will:
- Explain more about ADHD
- Describe critical ways it can affect thoughts, emotions, and behavior
- Break down the process of therapy
From there, you’ll share some of the concerns that led you to seek CBT for ADHD therapy. Maybe you:
- Have trouble getting started on tasks or completing them
- Tend to forget (or put off) necessary plans and appointments
- Have a hard time managing emotions, especially when stressed or overwhelmed
- Notice frequent relationship tension and conflict
Your therapist will then offer guidance in developing a plan to achieve SMART goals related to these challenges. SMART stands for:
In other words, these concrete CBT for ADHD goals will align with your needs in the present.
How Long It Takes
Most people see progress after 12 to 15 CBT for ADHD sessions or about 3 or 4 months. You might want to go longer, though. When you spend more time in treatment, it’s easier to get new habits to stick. In the first few sessions, you and your therapist discuss what you want to work on. Usually, these are things you deal with in your day-to-day life. For instance, you might want to learn how to make plans, manage time, or finish projects.
You’ll agree on an action plan to help you reach your goals. Plan on some homework between sessions. It’ll help you practice your new skills in real life. For instance, if you’re always late, your therapist might ask you to wear a watch and put a clock in every room in your house. This is almost certain to make you more aware of time, but it’s also crucial to determine if your thoughts play a part. Maybe you think, ‘I’m always late; no one expects me to be on time.’ But that’s not true. And it’s an idea you can change.
Experts say people with ADHD spend a lot of time “putting out fires.” The goal of CBT for ADHD is to change your thoughts and actions so those “fires” never start. It’s important to note that CBT is one of the best treatments around for anxiety and depression — problems that are common in adults with ADHD.
DBT vs. ADHD Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT for ADHD seeks to give patients the ability to recognize when their thoughts might become troublesome and gives them techniques to redirect those thoughts. DBT helps patients find ways to accept themselves, feel safe, and manage their emotions to help regulate potentially destructive or harmful behaviors.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) for ADHD may help prevent intense emotions from throwing you off course. DBT focuses on the social and emotional challenges in one’s life. It is not a new therapy, having come on the scene with other CBT-oriented treatments for adult ADHD in the early 2000s. DBT for ADHD offers advice to improve self-regulation skills that may be helpful for those who do not respond to other approaches.
So what does DBT recommend to adults with ADHD who want to improve their lives? DBT is heavily based on Cognitive behavioral therapy with one exception: It emphasizes validation or accepting uncomfortable emotions before trying to change them. By coming to terms with troubling thoughts and emotions, change appears possible, and patients can work with their therapists to create a recovery plan. The therapist’s role in DBT for ADHD is to find the balance between acceptance and change.
Self-control is a theme running through group sessions. This involves recognizing behavioral and thinking patterns and learning strategies for dealing with stress and impulsivity. Although designed as a group treatment for adult ADHD, DBT is also used as an individual therapy. A benefit of the group format is the chance for members to share experiences and realize, “I’m not the only one dealing with this.” There is mutual support while discussing solutions and practicing new skills in the group. For some, DBT may be the right choice for adults with ADHD.
When it comes to mental health, there’s rarely a single solution that works for everyone every time. More commonly, several options are available, some of which are more suited to specific conditions and certain individuals than others. This is certainly true when it comes to Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder.
Overall, there are many different ways to treat ADHD, from medication to training programs and psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two of the most accepted forms of therapy used to help individuals successfully manage ADHD symptoms.
As research on the effectiveness of CBT and DBT as treatments for ADHD is limited, it’s hard to say which is best. Studies suggest that CBT could be a better treatment. But this could also be because more studies have been conducted into its effectiveness than DBT.
ADHD symptoms can vary widely in intensity and diversity. To determine which therapy is best for you, your therapist needs to analyze your symptoms and their severity. The type of problems you face daily will conclude the most effective form of ADHD treatment.
How Effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adult ADHD?
Clinicians and researchers noticed that many patients with ADHD carried symptoms over into adulthood, adversely affecting their socio-occupational functioning. ADHD in adulthood is a valid, prevalent, distressing, and interfering condition. Although medications help treat this disorder, there are often residual symptoms after medication treatment, and, for some patients, they are contraindicated.
CBT for ADHD intervenes to improve daily life struggles, such as procrastination, time management, and other common difficulties. But CBT is used not to treat the core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. CBT for ADHD sessions focuses on identifying the situations in which poor planning, disorganization, and poor time and task management create challenges in a patient’s day-to-day life.
Sessions may help an individual deal with responsibilities such as paying bills or completing work on time and encourage endeavors that provide personal fulfillment and well-being, such as sleep, exercise, or hobbies. Most adults with ADHD say, “I know what I need to do; I just don’t do it.” Despite having plans for what they want or need to do, they do not carry them out. CBT for ADHD concentrates on embracing coping strategies and managing negative expectations and emotions. The therapist uses takeaway reminders, follow-up check-ins, and other ways of applying new coping skills, so they are eventually used outside the consulting room.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for adults with ADHD treats a wide range of issues. It’s often the preferred type of psychotherapy because it can quickly help you identify and cope with specific challenges. It generally requires fewer sessions than other types of therapy and is done in a structured way.
CBT for ADHD is a valuable tool for addressing emotional challenges. For instance, it may help you:
- Manage symptoms of mental illness
- Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms
- Treat a mental illness when medications aren’t a good option
- Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations
- Identify ways to manage emotions
- Resolve relationship conflicts and learn better ways to communicate
- Cope with grief or loss
- Overcome emotional trauma related to abuse or violence
- Cope with a medical illness
- Manage chronic physical symptoms
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Techniques for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ADHD
In CBT for ADHD, the therapy process involves specific techniques designed to help create change. You’ll learn these strategies in the therapy room, but you won’t leave them there — one main goal of CBT is learning to reach for them as challenges arise. Techniques often used to address ADHD symptoms include the following.
Planning and Scheduling Activities
Your therapist can help you explore practical methods to:
- Consistently plan activities and responsibilities
- Organize your daily schedule
- Manage time productively
They’ll also teach specific strategies to put those skills into practice and keep using them.
For example, you probably already know planners can help you keep track of appointments and bills. Every time you try to keep one, you lose it, forget to write in it, or get frustrated with the amount of time it takes to write everything down. So, your therapist may encourage you to try a phone app that allows you to simultaneously set weekly or monthly reminders, cutting back the time you spend planning.
This technique helps you explore patterns of negative thoughts that create challenges at work or in your relationships.
Maybe you tend to:
- Catastrophize: “I messed up twice last week at work. They’re definitely going to fire me.”
- Overgeneralize: “I lost that application paperwork. I can’t be trusted with anything.”
- Mind read: “I know I get carried away and jump into conversations or interrupt people. Everyone must think I’m so annoying.”
Your therapist can help you recognize these patterns and reframe them into more constructive and realistic thoughts. “I never do anything right,” for example, might become, “Sometimes I make impulsive choices that don’t play out well. Taking time to think things through can help me make better decisions.”
This technique often accompanies cognitive restructuring. Your therapist will ask questions about your beliefs, assumptions, and self-perceptions to understand better how you approach situations. When they notice negative self-beliefs, they might help you consider alternate perspectives by asking you about the facts or evidence for and against that belief. The following are CBT therapy for ADHD examples:
- You say: “I can’t get anything done.”
- They might respond: “OK, you told me about one day when you didn’t do much of what you planned. Now tell me about a day when things went well for you.”
Describing that day can help you realize you can get things accomplished.
It’s pretty common to chastise yourself when you fail to accomplish your goals, but talking down to yourself often fuels feelings of anxiety, depression, and self-hatred. As part of CBT for ADHD, you’ll learn to replace negative self-talk with more positive messages of self-compassion and encouragement. Positive self-talk can help you feel more motivated to stick to your goals and complete tasks, but it can also reduce negative emotions when you face challenges.
If you tend to get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of tasks, this technique can teach you how to divide them into smaller, more manageable pieces. You can also learn to set time limits to reduce distraction and frustration. For example, you might note in your planner that you’ll work for an hour, then take a 15-minute break.
When you live with ADHD, distractions can often complicate the process of getting things done. While working on a task you don’t enjoy, you might think of several more appealing activities you could do instead. Escaping from higher priority or urgent tasks by doing less important ones can create an illusion of productivity. After all, you’re doing some work. But it’s still a form of procrastination. The distractibility delay technique teaches you to jot down any distractions you think of so you can set them aside until you complete the task.
Your therapist might also offer guidance on the following:
- Creating a distraction-free workspace
- Using an alarm or other reminder to check in with yourself and make sure you’re staying on task
- Scheduling and taking regular breaks
- Adjusting perfectionistic beliefs
Once you learn these skills, your therapist may assign homework to help you practice them throughout the week until they feel more natural. At your next session, they’ll ask whether you noticed any changes in your emotions, thoughts, or behavior.
CBT ADHD Worksheets
Your therapist will determine what works best or is personalized for you for a better outcome. Most of your CBT in ADHD sessions involve CBT ADHD worksheets and exercises for coping skills. CBT for ADHD worksheets aims to help you gradually apply what you’ve learned with the therapy to your daily living. Below is a simple example ADHD CBT workbook pdf. Your therapist will provide you proper tools once they determine your situation and condition.
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How To Find A Treatment Center that Offers Treatment for ADHD and CBT?
Finding the right therapist and centers that offer CBT for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can take some time. Generally, you’ll get more out of CBT for ADHD therapy when you have a good relationship with your therapist. It’s always worth taking the time to find someone you can open up to comfortably. The first (or second) therapist you try may not work out, but that’s OK. They understand the importance of finding the right therapist.
Good treatment plans will include closely monitoring whether and how much the treatment helps the person’s behavior and making necessary changes along the way. To learn more about adult CBT for ADHD recommendations and resources, contact We Level Up Florida mental health treatment center.
- ADHD is often treated with stimulants that boost brain chemicals linked to focus and thinking. They can help with symptoms while you’re at school or work, but they can also make you less hungry or cause headaches or sleep problems.
- Some ADHD drugs don’t involve stimulants and don’t have the same side effects. But they may not work as quickly. Your doctor might give you a combination of stimulants and non-stimulant drugs.
- Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to treat depression if you have comorbidity. These can take several weeks to work and may have side effects, including thoughts of suicide.
- Antidepressants may also help with the symptoms of adult ADHD and depression, either in place of stimulants or as part of a combination of drugs to treat both conditions.
Treatment for adult ADHD usually involves a combination of medication and meetings with a therapist. ADHD medication for adults can be more effective when combined with therapies. Psychotherapy can offer ways to manage your symptoms and live a healthy life. A therapist can give you strategies to deal with everyday challenges, such as issues with friends, family, work, or school.
To find the best ADHD medication for adults, your doctor might prescribe a combination of treatments, such as medications, behavioral therapy, and talk therapy. Some antidepressant medications can also help relieve symptoms of ADHD. For instance, your doctor might prescribe imipramine, desipramine, or bupropion. They may also prescribe stimulant medications for ADHD.
In addition to prescribing medication for ADHD, a mental health professional may recommend CBT for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (cognitive-behavior therapy) for comorbid anxiety. Some stimulant-drug treatments for ADHD may worsen anxiety symptoms in patients with comorbid anxiety disorders.
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CBT and ADHD Mental Health Treatment Center
We Level Up FL offers an ADHD treatment program at our mental health treatment center in Florida. Here, clients participate in clinical and experiential therapies as part of our comprehensive curriculum. If your loved one is struggling with their depression diagnosis or other comorbidities, we can help them understand their disorder and teach them the skills they need to reach their full potential.
CBT for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder aims to help you address and revise cognitive distortions and habits affecting your productivity and emotional mindset. This approach doesn’t just help improve your motivation and focus, either. It can also lead to improved emotional and mental well-being overall.
Behavioral therapy can help you develop coping strategies to manage your symptoms. It may help improve your focus and build your self-esteem. Talk therapy can also relieve symptoms of depression and other comorbidities common with ADHD and the stress of managing a chronic health condition. Leading a healthy lifestyle is also essential. For instance, try to get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, and exercise regularly.
A mental health professional should focus on the disorder associated with the most significant impairment. If ADHD is the cause of depression, treating ADHD may reduce depression. If depression is independent of ADHD, a doctor will determine the proper medication.
Living with the symptoms of adult ADHD and depression can be challenging, but you can take steps to manage both conditions. A mental health professional may prescribe stimulant and antidepressant medications. They may also recommend CBT for ADHD counseling or other therapies.
Popular CBT for ADHD Frequently Asked Questions
Can CBT help ADHD?
Yes. CBT could help reduce ADHD symptoms, improve executive function, and help ease feelings of anxiety and depression.
Is CBT effective for ADHD?
Yes. But it’s even more effective when combined with proper medication supervised by a mental health professional. Stimulant and non-stimulant medication has been shown in numerous studies to be effective for treating ADHD in adults.
How can CBT help address ADHD Symptoms?
CBT aims to change irrational thought patterns that prevent individuals from staying on task or getting things done. For an individual with ADHD who thinks, “This has to be perfect or it’s no good,” or “I never do anything right,” CBT challenges the truth of those cognitions.
What therapy approach is best for ADHD?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is generally considered the gold standard for ADHD psychotherapy. While “regular” CBT can be helpful for ADHD, there are also specific types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for ADHD.
Can you improve ADHD without medication?
ADHD and ADD can be successfully treated without drugs. However, that does not mean that a patient should stop taking ADHD medications unless they’ve been advised to do so by a Physician.
Search We Level Up FL CBT for ADHD Mental Health Topics & Resources
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 Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – NIMH/National Institute of Mental Health
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