Medication has helped Katie Hamann manage symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) such as inattention and feelings of distraction. However, she felt there was only so much she could do to help herself deal with her condition.
Hamann, 38, started seeing a therapist 3 years ago to help her manage and organize her time.
“The kids have thrown a curve ball into my time management system,” she says. “I just couldn’t manage myself anymore and I needed help.”
When it comes to treating adult ADHD, the most effective approach appears to be a combination of medication, skills training, and counseling.
Research shows that adults with ADHD who have a treatment plan that includes medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of talking therapy aimed at changing patterns of thinking and behavior) are able to manage their symptoms easier than those who take medication alone. Organizational skills and self-esteem also seem to improve.
Hamann participated in CBT for 3 months. During her sessions, her therapist helped her end negative self-talk and boost her self-esteem. She also got organizational tips to help her set project schedules.
“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 learn new behaviors and learn how to implement them consistently over time until they become a habit.”
Your primary care doctor can refer you to a therapist. While there are therapists who specialize in CBT for adults with ADHD, Mitchell admits that it can be difficult to find one.
Communication is crucial, Hamann says.
“You have to find someone you feel comfortable talking to,” she says.
Furthermore, insurance may not cover the cost. One recent study found that 1 in 4 people do not have a mental health provider in their insurance network and 15% of those people must pay more than $200 out of pocket for mental health services.
Group therapy can be an affordable and accessible alternative to individual therapy.
c says Russell Ramsey, associate professor, co-founder, and co-director of the Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania: “Clusters can be highly targeted in addressing ADHD difficulties and coping strategies.”
“righteous [group therapy] being on the program with other adults who have been through the same things; You’re in a room with other people who understand.”
When it comes to relationships, group therapy can help overcome the toll that ADHD can take on a couple. If symptoms of ADHD such as impulsiveness, inattention, and failure to keep promises are causing problems in your relationships, consider sessions with a marriage and family therapist.
There are even ADHD coaches. They take a hands-on approach, helping adults with ADHD with planning, time management, and goal setting tools.
ADHD coaches are not licensed mental health professionals, but Ramsey says coaching can be beneficial and suggests it as an addition to working with a therapist.
Even with effective therapy or guidance, including stress management techniques such as mindfulness meditation to your treatment plan is important. Mitchell’s research shows that adults with ADHD who participated in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program saw improvements in their symptoms.
Mitchell admits that adults with ADHD may struggle to sit and focus for even 30 minutes. Look for ones that are coping with ADHD, which tend to be shorter and more active, such as the 5-Minute Walk Meditation.
“Mindfulness meditation is very complementary to CBT for adults with ADHD,” he says. “It modifies 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 thrive with ADHD.