4 Types of Adult ADHD Therapy

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention and/or impulsivity and hyperactivity. ADHD begins in childhood but continues into adulthood up to 60% of the time. In many cases, ADHD is diagnosed in adulthood after it was missed in childhood.

ADHD is not curable, but it is manageable. Typically, medication is the first-line treatment for adult ADHD, but that is not always possible or preferred. Therapy is another effective tool that can be used to treat ADHD.

Read on to learn about therapies that can treat adult ADHD.

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What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person's ability to effectively manage a task, role, or situation. People with ADHD typically have trouble with self-regulation, causing difficulties with organizing, initiating, and sustaining functional actions over time.

Adults with ADHD may:

  • Have trouble focusing
  • Struggle with organization
  • Feel restless
  • Have difficulty listening to instructions and/or remembering details
  • Have trouble completing tasks

Symptoms and severity can vary among individuals. For some, ADHD symptoms may be mild, while for others they can severely impact day-to-day functioning.

ADD vs. ADHD

"ADD" (attention deficit disorder) is an outdated term that used to mean ADHD without hyperactive or impulsive symptoms. Now, "ADHD" is the term used for the condition as a whole, with these three subtypes:

  • Primarily inattentive (formerly ADD)
  • Primarily hyperactive/impulsive
  • Combination of inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive

ADHD Therapy Benefits

While medication is typically recommended as the first-line treatment for ADHD, it isn't always possible or preferable.

For some people, ADHD medication may:

  • Have side effects
  • Be unsuitable/hazardous
  • Not be effective
  • Not be preferred

Therapy can be effective as an alternative to or supplement with medication.

Medication and therapy may also target different areas. Medication helps to control the core symptoms of distractibility, short attention span, and impulsivity, while cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help with the habits and skills needed for self-management and emotional and interpersonal self-regulation.

It's common for adults with ADHD to have comorbid (co-occurring) conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders. Some therapies used for ADHD can also help address comorbid mental health conditions.

ADHD Therapy Types

There are several types of therapies available for adult ADHD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common non-pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD. Research shows positive effects from CBT on the primary ADHD symptoms and impairments in adults with ADHD.

CBT for adults with ADHD may include:

  • Cognitive modification (changing how you think about things)
  • Behavioral modification and coping skills (doing things differently)
  • Acceptance, mindfulness, or persistence
  • Implementation strategies

CBT programs have been developed specifically for adults with ADHD. These address challenges in the daily functions of time management, organization, and planning. Other focuses include emotional self-regulation, impulse control, and stress management.

CBT can also address coexisting anxiety and depressive disorders, which are common in the adult ADHD community.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines conventional cognitive behavioral interventions with mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness promotes an open and alert state of mind in which the person’s attention stays in the present moment. Thoughts and feelings that arise during mindfulness exercises are recognized but not judged.

Research suggests that mindfulness meditation can improve certain brain functions involved in ADHD, including attention control and emotion regulation.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy assists people with needs required to participate in everyday life activities, such as self-care, work, or leisure. This may involve skill building and/or modifying the person's workplace or environment so they are better able to engage.

While more research is needed, occupational therapy appears to be a promising intervention for people with ADHD.

Occupational therapy for adults with ADHD may focus on:

  • Organization: OT can help create structure, establish routines, and determine places for essential items.
  • Social interaction and awareness: OT can promote ideal and controlled social interactions, which may involve role-playing and/or educating family members about the person's experiences and behaviors.
  • Stress management techniques: OT can teach techniques to plan and manage time effectively. This involves adjusting to "planning mode" instead of "reacting mode." It may incorporate relaxation techniques.
  • Monitoring and regulating sensory stimulation: OT can help recognize situations in which sensory hyper-reactivity can occur and make efforts to minimize the effects on ADHD symptoms

ADHD Coaching

While not a traditional form of therapy, behavioral coaching can help adults with ADHD learn practical solutions to obstacles in everyday life.

ADHD coaching targets areas such as:

An ADHD coach helps the person learn practical skills and initiate change in their daily life by:

  • Identifying goals
  • Maintaining focus to achieve these goals
  • Determining actionable steps to work toward goals
  • Building motivation

ADHD coaching involves an initial in-depth, one- to two-hour meeting, followed by regular coaching sessions and check-ins that are conducted in person, online, by phone, by email, or by text message. Sessions typically last half an hour to an hour.

After the contract period ends, there is an evaluation session to go over progress made and next steps. The person with ADHD may choose to continue coaching with the same or readjusted schedule or stop coaching sessions.

ADHD coaches may include:

  • Licensed mental health professionals with a practice dedicated to ADHD coaching
  • Licensed mental health professionals who do coaching and have a general mental health practice
  • Educators, such as certified, college-educated teachers or professionals, who are trained in ADHD coaching

Keep in mind, there are no licensing requirements or regulations for ADHD coaching. Anyone can practice ADHD coaching. It's important to thoroughly research potential coaches before hiring them,

ADHD coaching is not typically covered by traditional health insurance.

Other Things That May Help Adult ADHD

While not treatments on their own, there are supplemental ways to help manage ADHD symptoms in addition to treatment. These may include:

  • Exercise
  • High quality sleep
  • Healthy eating habits
  • Relaxation exercises, such as yoga
  • Support networks, either with friends and family or a support group for other adults with ADHD

Who Needs ADHD Therapy?

Adults with ADHD who are having a difficult time managing their symptoms, with or without medication, could benefit from ADHD therapy.

Often, people with ADHD know what they need to do to be organized, plan, and focus, but have difficulty putting it into practice. ADHD therapy can help with implementing strategies to better manage life.

Things to Consider

Which type of therapy to choose is an individual decision. While CBT has the most documented evidence to support its effectiveness, another approach may work better for you.

Therapy and medication are not either-or treatments. They can be quite effective when used together, if possible.

You also don't have to stick with one type of therapy. You may find a combination, such as CBT and ADHD coaching, works well for you.

Finding a Therapist

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) offers a searchable directory to locate ADHD professionals and resources.

To find an ADHD coach, you can try the ADHD Coaches Organization.

You can also review professional support options for adult ADHD using the Verywell Mind guide.

Summary

While medication is often the first-line treatment for adult ADHD, some people may also want to consider therapy. Effective therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, occupational therapy, and ADHD coaching can be helpful either as an alternative to or in combination with medication. A patient and their healthcare provider can determine whether therapy would be a beneficial addition to their treatment plan.

A Word From Verywell

If ADHD medication is not for you, or you find medication alone is not effective enough, therapy may help you manage your ADHD. There are several types of therapies to choose from. Explore your options and speak to your healthcare provider or mental health professional about which one is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does "ADHD" stand for?

    "ADHD" stands for "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder."

  • What causes ADHD?

    The exact cause of ADHD is not known but is thought to have a genetic component. It may also involve environmental factors, such as:

    • Premature birth
    • Brain injury
    • In utero exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol, or extreme stress
  • How do you get diagnosed with ADHD?

    Diagnosing ADHD requires a discussion with a healthcare provider or mental health professional about symptoms, medical history, and family history. It may include filling out questionnaires and/or having an evaluation to rule out other medical problems.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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