Updated: 19 hours ago
There are many types of therapy that can be helpful for people with ADHD. No one particular type of therapy will always work for every single client. However, in my journey as a therapist, I have learned some of the more effective tips for helping people manage ADHD symptoms. I will share the basic structure of my approach, but before I begin, let’s remember that counseling cannot make ADHD go away. ADHD is a neurological condition. However, we usually find that ADHD symptoms are made more severe by traumatic experiences, lack of exercise, diet, and anxiety or depression. Therefore, counseling for ADHD often involves treating these things from a perspective that is informed by the struggles of ADHD. This is generally the approach I take. Once these factors are adequately addressed, it is much easier to learn the life skills that are needed for improving executive functioning and getting things done. My approach will cover the topics below, based on the order that we choose together to fit your needs:
It Starts With Psychoeducation. This is a fancy word for learning about ADHD. How does it work? Why can’t I ever get things done? Why am I always behind? ADHD generally involves knowing “what” you need to do and “how” to do it but never actually determining the “when” and the “where”, or planning out the boring specifics it takes to actually get things done. ADHD is a tendency to be impulsive, BUT it also comes with a superpower called Creativity. Creativity is your new best friend.
Creativity Is Coping. If boredom is like Kryptonite to the ADHD brain, then creativity is the superpower that makes it fly! Or, as national ADHD expert Dr. Ed Hallowell says, “What is creativity but impulsivity gone right?” This is why I tend to drop the label “ADHD” and just refer to someone as “a creative”. One of the most powerful things a creative can do to cope with distress or to manage their emotional energy is to use their creativity. You need a creative outlet to help you distract yourself, refocus your brain, calm your intense feelings, and soothe yourself. Even if you think you don’t have one, you likely already do.
Mindfulness Is Key. Before we can begin to employ any actual coping skills, we have to become aware of when we are in mental states that requires us to slow down. Most of us don’t monitor our mental energy level often enough, so we don’t put on the brakes when needed. Learning to put on the brakes helps us navigate difficult, boring, or emotionally complex situations, and allows us to better understand ourselves and others. Developing mindfulness means stopping to check-in with ourselves more often and evaluating our current level of mental energy.
Understand the Race. Daily life is like a Grand Prix race - a road course that winds and twists through multiple turns. You’re constantly having to metaphorically slow down and turn to stay on course between your morning routine, going to work, completing all the little tasks at work, navigating social conflicts, picking the kids up from soccer, trying to remember to do self-care, cooking dinner, considering your self-worth, and cleaning, you’re having to change gears a LOT! The problem is that most of us creatives aren’t built for Grand Prix courses, winding all over themselves. No, you and me and Ricky Bobby were built for one thing - We wanna go fast! Neurologically speaking, we are drag-race cars. We are better at doing one particular thing faster and better than anyone else with our full focus and all of our devotion. But we may not be super great at making tight turns or at slowing down. I’m a brakes specialist. I help you learn to slow down.
You’re Not Broken. When we feel out of sorts, it’s important to remember that we aren’t broken. In fact, we’re probably experiencing a call back to a very healthy lifestyle - the lifestyle of our ancestors. Think of the problem like this: Humans have been around at least 10,000 years. Only in the last 50 years or less have we forced children to sit in desks 8 hours a day so they can learn how to get a job that will require them to sit in desks 8-10 hours a day. This means that for over 9,950 YEARS our gene pool was evolving to be farmers, gardeners, gatherers, hunters, builders, cooks, and other highly physical roles in life. See, we’re not “hyperactive”! We were built to MOVE! We’re not “inattentive”, we’re just struggling to focus while living with the extra mental energy and stress that results from a very sedentary lifestyle. Mix in trauma, lack of creative output, anxiety, and/or depression, and you can see how it’s a perfect recipe for us creatives be become distressed! Distressed, that is, until we incorporate more varied physical exercise into our daily lives. (And no, this doesn’t mean just the gym.)
Know The DMN. Modern neuroscience is making great strides in explaining the problem. Simply put, we all have a neural network called the Default Mode Network (DMN) in our brains. It’s the cluster of neurons we’re using when we are just going about and doing normal, routine things. During these times, we likely re-hash some of the more negative thoughts about ourselves (blame, shame, regret, self-doubt, etc.) We all also have a Task Positive Network (TPN). The TPN gets things done and feels good when we use it. For people who do not have “ADHD”, the DMN shuts down to allow the TPN to turn on and focus on getting things done. In ADHD, however, the DMN doesn’t shut off! It keeps playing it’s stereo, often on repeat, like that neighbor you used to have who blasted that one Barry Manilow song at 2AM every night for 3 week until you complained to the landlord… No? Just me? Anyway, you get what I’m saying. We can learn to employ mindfulness to recognize that we are experiencing the DMN’s impact, and then we can disrupt it with a coping strategy. Once we reduce the DMN’s voice to a minimal level, we can more adequately focus on the task at hand until it’s done.
A person with ADHD is a person first. Before any labels are applied to their symptomology to produce a clinical diagnosis (blah, blah, blah) they are a PERSON. To clarify, a client may deal with the layer of ADHD in their life, but at the end of the day, we are just two people talking in a room. We each have a story, a mood, a thinking brain, a feeling heart, multiple parts of ourselves, and that can’t be forgotten. You are not ADHD. You are you. You might have a layer that is impacted by ADHD or another labeled condition, but below all of that you are YOU and I am me. Creative brains sometimes get caught up in figuring out the differences, but the similarities are so much more helpful and healthy to focus on. Click here for more information on how we treat Anxiety, ADHD, Autism, or to learn more about our services in general
This post scratches the surface of some of the strategies I’ve found helpful. After literally thousands of hours talking with clients about this topic, I’ve accrued a lot of wisdom about this. Like most professionals in many disciplines, I'm always learning. If this approach sounds like it would help you, then please give me a call or schedule an appointment on my website. My website is www.altmancounseling.com and my phone number is 770 613 6300. I am located in Vinings GA, I offer telehealth and in-person sessions, and I accept Aetna insurance.