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ADHD and Psychotherapy

You can have all the symptoms of ADHD and still thrive.

If you or someone you care about has ADHD and you have started to give up hope that things will get better, you might consider trying psychotherapy or coaching. I treat many people that come to me with the diagnosis of ADHD and by the end of 12 sessions, I observe improvements in impulsiveness, distractibility and difficulty concentrating.

Psychotherapy can be essential in the treatment of ADHD for several reasons. Psychotherapy can help decrease impulsivity by increasing the ability to let go of emotional reactions. Impulsivity can be tamed if you can put one step in between an impulse and an action. Impulsivity results when behavior becomes automatic. This means there is no thought process—there is simply an action that after the fact seems like a really bad idea. For example, an ADHD adult at work might let fly a scathing indictment of her boss before thinking about it. After a course of therapy, the same person would likely gain the ability to recognize the flash of anger first, before words popped out.

Psychotherapy can also target key symptoms of ADHD such as procrastination. Clients can be asked to predict how difficult a certain task will be and then after they complete the task to record how painful it really was to follow through. Most people find that resistance is caused by a "boogey man." The dreaded and avoided tasks are often not as bad as they seem. As an example, you may find it took 15 minutes to complete some paperwork that you imagined would take hours and would be tormenting to complete.

Simple shifts can help overcome procrastination such as asking clients to shift their attention from how terrible they imagine the task to be to how good they will feel when it is behind them. This shift in thinking can increase motivation enough to overcome procrastination.

Each day we have the choice to define ourselves by our strengths or weaknesses. By focusing on gifts, you will gain motivation and confidence for overcoming ADHD. If you focus on deficits, it gets in the way. It's harder to move forward, to experience motivation, to believe in yourself. If you focus on gifts, you'll get more positive results. Imagine defining a person as creative, enthusiastic, imaginative, intense and insightful with unlimited potential to change his brain through effort. How will that person fare compared to one whose identity is defined by a deficit disorder?

What if you defined yourself by what you are good at rather than by what you are not good at? What if you asked "What went right?" What if you believed that those talents that came as easily to you as falling off a log were your greatest gifts? Can you imagine the momentum you would generate if you called yourself or your child "innovative problem solver." It seems easy to believe that the motivation and confidence you gained by defining yourself or your child by his or her gifts would make it easy for you or your child to plow through weaknesses - lack of focus, difficulty paying attention to details, impulsiveness, lack of stick-to-it-iveness.

ADHD can be treated by a strength-based approach with a therapist who helps their clients find and focus on their gifts. In my work with children and adults with ADHD, I combine this strength-based approach with coaching and psychotherapy. For kids I include play therapy, parent coaching, emotional facilitation to build emotional intelligence and overcome impulsivity and stress management.

Psychotherapy can increase the level of functioning for children and adults who struggle with ADHD. Many people can have all the symptoms of ADHD but have successful careers and relationships. Psychotherapy can help you reach that state.

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Dr. Lara Honos-Webb is a clinical psychologist and author of The Gift of ADHD, The Gift of ADHD Activity Book, The Gift of Adult ADD, The ADHD Workbook for Teens and Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life.

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