Adult ADHD: Find the Right Therapy

Time management is a key part of Bruce Claver’s job, but he was struggling with it. The 52-year-old hospitality management consultant often examines large luxury hotel suites, making sure they are clean and in good working order from top to bottom. One entire suite should be finished in about 3 1/2 hours. It was taking him nearly 5 to 7.

“Timing is critical for what I do, and I was blowing deadlines,” he says.  

The problem: Claver wasn’t aware he had ADHD. A visit to a psychologist for some career advice got him a diagnosis -- and an ally. Now he and his therapist work together on important life skills, so Claver can meet deadlines and be successful.

Research shows that along with medication, therapy can be a powerful tool for people with ADHD. Different types of therapy help with the symptoms and behaviors of the disorder. Other types teach practical skills that are harder for people with the condition. The key is to find the right kind of therapy and the right therapist to guide you.

Claver is grateful he found a good match: “Without his insight and suggestions, I’d be wandering.”

Meds and Therapy: A Dynamic Duo

“Medication for ADHD typically targets the core symptoms – hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention,” says Maria Edman, a psychologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Therapy picks up where the drugs leave off. Cognitive behavioral therapy works especially well because it teaches the skills you need to keep your work and home life on track.

Typically, you’ll learn one life skill each session, and practice it between appointments, Edman says. The therapist might help you learn:

  • How to use a day planner more effectively
  • Ways to stay motivated, especially during boring tasks 
  • How to improve your time management skills, including figuring out how long it actually takes to complete a specific job

Through therapy, Claver realized he had no sense of urgency while doing this work. Nothing was pushing him to move faster. His mind wandered. His therapist suggested setting a stopwatch for 20 minutes, the time it should take him to inspect a section of a hotel suite, and writing down when he started and ended each section.

Those tips worked. Claver is now more aware of time and stays on task. Recently, he completed two resort properties on schedule. “I beat my time by 4 hours,” he says.

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ADHD Therapy: Heal Your Emotions

Therapists also help people with ADHD work on any emotional issues, says Michelle Frank, a psychologist in Ann Arbor, MI, and vice president of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

ADHD symptoms can lead to trouble in school, at work, or in your personal life. That can trigger low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Maybe you were scolded for “being lazy” or called “stupid” and took those words to heart. Your therapist can help you turn those negative thoughts around.

Often people with the disorder may be living with grief or regret, too, especially if you were diagnosed as an adult, Frank says.   

 “They say if I had only known and gotten the help I needed, maybe things would look a lot different in my life,” Frank says.

ADHD: Call In the Coach

Along with therapy and medication, coaching is another form of help for ADHD. Coaches aren’t mental health experts, but they work with you on more practical, everyday skills.

Your coach may help you:

  • Set schedules and deadlines
  • Plan and prioritize
  • Break up big projects into manageable smaller ones
  • Provide daily check-ins and walk you through tasks step by step

Psychotherapists, coaches, and even professional organizers are all ADHD allies you can turn to when you need them, Frank says. Sometimes people do therapy for a while and then hire a professional organizer. After that, they might work with a coach, and then maybe do therapy again later, she adds.

ADHD is a lifelong condition, so “different phases of your life call for different things,” she adds.

Get the Most Out of Therapy

Pick your therapist carefully: It’s critical to find one who really understands ADHD, Edman says. “The real-life problems with ADHD are different than those associated with other conditions.”

Ask your psychiatrist or primary care doctor if they know a good adult ADHD therapist. You can also search for professionals in your area on the websites of organizations like Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) and the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA).

When you find one, ask them about their approach to treatment and tell them specific problems you need to work on.

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If you can’t find a therapist who works with adults, look for one who works with children with ADHD, Edman says.

Be a groupie: Research shows that group therapy for ADHD works, so Edman says she often recommends that first. But it’s not right for everybody. Individual therapy may be a better choice for people who can’t focus or improve in a group setting. Sometimes, Edman says, people learn skills in a group but can’t apply them. One-on-one therapy can help people brush up on lost techniques.

Do the work: Learn about ADHD so you understand the importance of changing your behaviors, Claver suggests. “There’s an old joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one -- but the lightbulb has to want to be changed,” he says. You can take a pill, but if you aren’t willing to put in the effort, nothing will change.  

Make sure you can afford it: Check with your health insurance company to see if your plan covers psychotherapy. If not, talk to you therapist to work out payment details. Most plans don’t cover coaching services.

Go with your gut. Therapists and coaches are people with their own distinct personalities. If after a few sessions, you’re not clicking, move on.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 01, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Bruce Claver, a 52-year-old diagnosed with ADHD.

Current Psychiatry Reports: “Cognitive behavior therapy for adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a review of recent randomized controlled trials.”

Maria Edman, psychologist, Icahn School of Medicine’s Division for ADHD, Learning Disabilities, and Related Disorders at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Michelle Frank, psychologist, Solden, Frank, & Associates, Ann Arbor, MI, and vice president, Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): “Coaching.”

ADD Coach Academy-Accredited Coach Training Program: “How ADD Coaching Works.”

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